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Navigating a complex political landscape is a priority

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ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa meets and greet people during the party’s campaign trail in Saulsville. One of the fundamental insights gleaned from the electoral results is that the electorate wants change, and the status quo is no longer tolerable, the writer says. – Picture: Oupa Mokoena / Independent Newspapers / Taken on May 10, 2024

By Paul Kariuki

The 2024 elections have come and gone. However, they have exposed the political shifts that have been taking place in the country for the past five to seven years. The country’s political and socio-economic challenges largely influenced citizens’ voting behaviour.

One of the fundamental insights gleaned from the electoral results is that the electorate wants change, and the status quo is no longer tolerable. Admittedly, the political reality is that South Africa does not have a deep culture of co-operative governance.

We have seen a few coalitions at provincial and municipal level; however, they have been unstable.

In some way, the national election outcome indicates the end of the 30-year electoral dominance of the ruling party, ANC.

The implication of the outcome indicates that the nation must start coming to terms with co-governance at provincial and national levels.

While the ANC has accepted the outcome and citizens’ voices through their vote, the party has conceptualised several guiding principles to aid in establishing provincial governments and national political leadership to lead the country into a prosperous and hopeful future.

In the race to set up the Government of National Unity, there are pertinent questions that all political parties exploring joining the ANC in forming the new GNU must reflect on. Some of them are:

  • Whose interests do these elected political leaders and their parties represent?
  • How can South Africa’s political and electoral landscape be stemmed from its current trajectory?
  • Can political parties embrace the principles set out by the ANC to form the Government of National Unity that best serves the citizenry’s interests and not narrow political party interests?

To address the questions, the preparation and exploration of the GNU possibilities, political parties must do the following:

  • Commit to defending the Constitution, promoting the rule of law, social justice, human rights and equality in society to ensure every citizen is included in the new political arrangements.
  • Reflect on their manifestos and ensure they commit to delivering their promises and managing the economy more effectively and efficiently.
  • Repeal any laws and policies that exclude people experiencing poverty and the working class from the mainstream economy. Failure to address these pieces of legislation will deepen the anger of the excluded social groups and create opportunities for social instability.
  • They must focus on the future and resist the temptation to be stuck in the past. The past cannot be solved. It has happened. The nation is looking for progressive economic policies that will create job opportunities for the unemployed, attract foreign direct investment, invest in skills development, reform public service to reduce the public wage bill and improve the manufacturing sector, among other aspects.
  • Promote political configurations to ensure the marginalised population (women, youth, the differently abled and so on) are also considered in their coalition discussions so that no one is left behind.
  • Devise clear action plans for promoting transparency and accountability among themselves while co-governing, including conflict mediation processes, to ensure government business is not stalled due to misunderstandings and conflict.

The electoral outcome calls for civic education across the country. Civic education plays a vital role in maintaining and strengthening democratic societies across the globe, particularly in the period following an election.

Some key reasons why post-election civic and voter education is essential:

  • It promotes democratic values – post-election civic education helps reinforce the values of democracy, such as the rule of law, respect for human rights, and the importance of participation. Moreover, it ensures citizens remain committed to these principles, regardless of the election outcome.
  • It encourages accountability – educating citizens about their rights and responsibilities can empower them to hold elected officials accountable. Understanding mechanisms for oversight and the importance of transparency ensures that elected leaders and the political parties they represent remain responsive to citizens’ needs.
  • It fosters civic engagement – civic education encourages continuous engagement in public life beyond just voting. It fosters a more engaged and informed citizenry.
  • It builds social cohesion – after an intensive election campaign, relationships among citizens and inter-community relationships get strained due to political preferences that differ significantly across society. The relationships among citizens become fragile and may not sustain any post-election engagement unless communities are convened, and meaningful conversations are convened to help bridge any divides due to the intense political campaigning season. Post-election civic education comes in handy to address any divides by promoting inter-communal dialogues and inclusivity, ensuring all voices are heard and respected, focusing on shared societal values and common goals of deepening democracy and protecting it from any dangers that threaten its existence, and promoting the rule of law among other aspects.
  • It supports the post-electoral processes – post-elections civic education helps unpack electoral results, their interpretation, and their implications on the country’s future. Understanding the intricacies of the electoral process is essential to ensure citizens remain informed so they don’t fall prey to misinformation and disinformation. More importantly, this critical thinking enables citizens to analyse political messages, differentiate between credible and false information and make informed decisions. Therefore, post-election civic education helps prepare for future elections, laying the groundwork for higher voter turnout.
  • Post-election civic education helps combat political apathy by keeping citizens informed about political discourses, planned government configuration because of coalitions, and the implications of all these political shifts on their lives. An informed electorate is more likely to remain engaged and participate in future elections and civic activities.

In conclusion, the electorate has spoken and indicated their choice of political era in which they aspire to deliver on their expectations.

Given the complexity of our political landscape, there is no business-as-usual approach to governance. In the meantime, it is worth noting that the concerns raised by the 26 political parties remain unresolved. Until they are addressed, the electoral business remains unfinished.

The next 12 months are critical in further shaping the nation’s political trajectory in the lead-up to the 2026 Local Government elections. The call to action for all vital stakeholders (social partners – civil society, political parties, labour, business, and government at all spheres of governance) is to work together in promoting a citizen-centred Government of National Unity that prioritises the interests of the masses and the working class.

Anything short of this ideal will be costly to the nation, the economy, the political parties and the citizenry.

Dr Paul Kariuki is executive director of the Democracy Development Programme. He writes in his personal capacity.