Picture: Timothy Bernard / Independent Newspapers / Taken November 5, 2023 – More than 5,000 EFF supporters filled up the Standard Bank Arena in Johannesburg as the party prepares for the 2024 elections. To encourage voters to vote, all the contestants are busy compiling and popularising their election manifestos in a quest to define and distinguish themselves in the eyes of the bemused voters, the writer says.
By Trevor Ngwane
“Here we go again.”
There are, amazingly, many singers who have used this phrase as a title for their songs. Is this perhaps because there is nothing new under the sun?
In South Africa, many voters are bracing themselves for a flood of bombastic claims and promises during the “silly season”, which is well under way and picking up steam as we move towards an election that Rise Mzansi has dubbed “2024 is our 1994”.
This slogan by one of the many new political parties which have sprouted like mushrooms in anticipation of an election that marks 30 years of democracy, is meant to suggest the need for and the possibility of renewal, a reset for a country that everyone agrees is on a downward spiral under the ANC government of national liberation.
Not everyone buys into the optimism of the slogan. Repeatedly disappointed by the false promises of the ANC, struggling to take care of themselves and their families under difficult socio-economic conditions, many working-class people ask themselves, and each other: “Who must I vote for? Why must I even vote?”
The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) has suggested that a record number of political parties – perhaps as many as 500 – will participate in the elections, with independent candidates being allowed to contest for the first time.
To encourage voters to vote, all the contestants are busy compiling and popularising their election manifestos in a quest to define and distinguish themselves in the eyes of the bemused voters.
The manifesto lists the issues and problems that the party sees as a priority, and states the corresponding policies or measures it will implement to address these. With so many parties contesting, clearly the voter must do a lot of reading if they are to make the right choice!
This raises questions: To what extent do these manifestos help the voters decide whether and who they should vote for? Can voters hold the parties accountable to the promises they make in the manifestos?
Herman Mashaba and his ActionSA launched their manifesto on December 2 last year in Hammanskraal, his home town. His party is one of the new and relatively small ones that first appeared on the scene in 2021, during the local government elections.
The party distinguished itself by its anti-immigrant stance, which mercifully Mashaba seems to have toned down in his 2024 election manifesto. The manifesto is very strong on crime and corruption without delving into the roots of these problems, namely, the high rates of poverty, unemployment and inequality in the country.
Gayton McKenzie and his Patriotic Alliance half-launched their manifesto in a desultorily attended 10th-anniversary celebration event at Orlando Stadium in November last year.
Jumping on the stage in a frenzy and shouting “Mabahambe!” (they must go, referring to immigrants in South Africa), he made clear the main platform of his party’s election manifesto would be xenophobia. This policy or threat is arguably reckless, unconscionable, unrealistic and undoable.
Julius Malema’s EFF will launch its manifesto in February, in the same month and same venue – the Moses Mabhida Stadium – as the ANC, with the IFP following in March. Clearly, these parties have decided to zero in on KwaZulu-Natal, the province with one of the largest numbers of voters in South Africa.
The EFF projects itself as socialist, although a more accurate description would be that it espouses a strong anti-imperialist impulse of radical African nationalism, very similar to the ANC that it split from before the latter assumed the reins of power and capitulated to the capitalist class.
The EFF’s policy of nationalisation without compensation is only the first step because the factories, mines, farms and banks would still need to be run and managed by the working class.
Trevor Shaku, the national spokesperson of the SA Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu), complained that the 2024 elections are full of “bourgeois political parties who differ in logos but are similar in their ideological inclinations”. It can be argued that ANC, DA, IFP, ACDP, Rise Mzansi, Bosa and many other parties that feature prominently in the public sphere fall into this category, despite the enthusiasm and innovation that the new ones exhibit.
The political and economic system in South Africa is racial capitalism and none of these parties, except perhaps the EFF, are willing to rattle the capitalist cage. The problems of the working class and the poor emanate from the system of private property, which is the foundation of the exploitation of labour.
It is thus a lie to promise workers that their daily struggle for survival can be solved by voting for this or that party which espouses capitalism.
This explains the lack of enthusiasm by the masses, despite the excitement around the ANC losing its majority and opening a new era of coalition governments.
Indeed, coalition governments are further cause for concern for workers because so-called socialist or radical parties will go into coalition with capitalist parties, thus diluting their anti-capitalist manifestos and collaborating in the implementation of anti-
working class policies. They will cover their betrayal of the working class by hiding behind the coattails of their bourgeois coalition partners.
The working class cannot vote for capitalist parties. It must demand control of Members of Parliament by subjecting them to the right of recall.
The working class must build its own party, which will not promise workers heaven and earth, but will call the masses to struggle and fight to overthrow the system of exploitation.
We need a society where there is no exploitation, a socialist society based on the principle: “From each according to her ability, to each according to her needs.”
Trevor Ngwane is Director of the Centre for Sociological Research and Practice at the University of Johannesburg.