Menu Close

Party interests vs country interests: Where to from here?

Add to my bookmarks
ClosePlease login

No account yet? Register

Share This Article:

Such was the interest in making their mark, many voters queued until late in to the night. Here voters at the Thokoza Fire Station who made it into the queue by the 9pm deadline are still waiting to cast their ballots hours later. – Picture: Timothy Bernard / Independent Newspapers

By Bheki Mngomezulu

On May 29, the nation came to a standstill as voters flocked to the polls to exercise their democratic right to vote to determine their political future. Once they had done so, politicians held their breath, waiting patiently for the results.

What was remarkable about the election was that there was increased interest from the electorate. Importantly, the number of young people who registered to vote was significantly high.

When the system of the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) crashed in the early hours of yesterday, there was anxiety. This was so because the numbers on the IEC boards stopped moving, making it impossible to see which party had either improved or regressed.

Soon after voting, the electorate changed its focus – from one of excitement about voting to one of thinking about what the future holds. They started thinking about various scenarios of what would happen to their lives if certain political parties emerged victorious. Drawing from experience and given what has happened since the general election in 2019 and the Local Government Election in 2021, some were optimistic while others were engulfed by pessimism.

The main question in the minds of many South Africans is whether party interests will take precedence over the country’s interests. To answer the question, we can draw from experiences and consider what happened in the build-up to this historic election.

During the campaigns, political parties made many promises on what they would do if they were given a chance to lead the country. What was intriguing was that some began thinking about the possibility of coalitions while others ruled out the possibility and said they would meet the 50-plus-one threshold and run the country and provinces alone.

The latter group demonstrated irrationality and political arrogance which placed their parties’ interests before those of the country. Given the number of political parties and the fact that independent candidates were allowed to contest the election, any party that had political maturity would have placed the country’s interests first instead of nursing the political egos of its individual members.

Another noticeable development was that some parties, such as the DA and ActionSA, said they would, under no circumstances, work with parties such as the ANC and the EFF.

They did not consider that such statements placed party interests before country.

The parties that started thinking about the possibility of coalitions also demonstrated they were placing party interests before those of country. For example, the EFF is on record as saying if it were to work with the ANC, its condition would be to have the party’s deputy president, Floyd Shivhambu, as minister of finance. In response to the demand, ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe adamantly stated that that was never going to happen.

This example alone vividly shows that politicians place the interests of their parties before those of the nation. If a coalition, such as the one mooted above, could take the country forward, why would there be resistance?

One of the newly formed political parties, the uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MKP), spent time in courts as other political parties were campaigning. This was due to the cases launched by the ANC against the IEC, former president Jacob Zuma and the MKP.

The ANC was fighting for its survival while the MKP was fighting for its right to exist. Each of them claimed to be fighting for the interests of the people. The reality was that the parties were advancing their interests.

Claims of the MKP’s infiltration by the ANC had nothing to do with national interests but everything to do with party interests. Moreover, individual interests crept in.

When Jabulani Khumalo and four others were expelled by the MKP, he tried to have Zuma removed as the face and leader of the MKP. Surely this had nothing to do with national interests? When this did not work out, Khumalo approached the Electoral Court, even though he knew that chances of survival were slim.

As the results came in, one thing that became clear was that some provinces would be governed by coalitions. While this was not an ideal situation, given the country’s bad experience with this system of governance which has failed the country in many municipalities, it is the reality we are faced with.

Now, going forward, political parties must put their personal egos aside and place the country’s interests first. The tendency to vehemently dismiss the possibility of working with certain political parties does not advance national interests.

Constitutionally, parties have strictly two weeks to constitute the government. To meet the constitutional imperative, parties must put the interests of the country before theirs.

Lodging section 55 objections is the prerogative of all political parties and independent candidates who contested the election. However, invoking the section should be driven by national interests, not party or individual interests. If contestants use the section to force some recounts or even re-election, simply because they want to emerge victorious, that would be regrettable. Those who invoke the section must do so to advance democracy, not to satisfy party and individual interests.

The people of South Africa have played their part in this election. They spent hours in the queues and patiently waited as some technical glitches, like the operation of the Voting Device Management systems, were being addressed. The onus is now on political parties to play their part in placing national interests before party interests. Any abuse of our electoral laws for political expediency would be lamentable.

Thirty years of democracy must demonstrate political maturity among all South Africans. This includes political parties. The focus should be on fixing the country’s challenges, not satisfying political egos.

This is not the last election. Anyone who does not do well in this election will have another chance in 2026 and 2029.

Prof Bheki Mngomezulu is Director of the Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy (CANRAD) at Nelson Mandela University