Peter van der Merwe
Peter van der Merwe

Time to make good on the promise of democracy

Quick, what’s the difference between a catfish and a politician? The one is a slimy, predatory, bottom-feeding opportunist that would eat its own young. The other is a fish.

That’s the overwhelming feeling washing over South Africa’s battered middle-class as they watch the bizarre events unfolding ahead of next year’s elections. There’s a new logo for the DA, and the unseemly spectacle of the ANC rendering itself asunder – but not much promise of dramatic change.

Already, there are suspicions of skulduggery around the exact date of the elections. What do you do if you’ve got real opposition looming for the first time? Why, you bring forward the date of the poll, so they have even less time to prepare. Standard operating practice in the halls of power.

As anyone who has ever watched the television quiz show The Weakest Link will testify, democracy is not a particularly fair system. But it beats the hell out of the alternatives. Cynics would suggest that what South Africa has is a kleptocracy – a system in which politicians practice the transfer of money and power from the many to the few.

The ruling elite whiz along the country’s highways in cavalcades of luxury vehicles, guarded by besuited buffoons who pause only to shoot out the occasional tyre of some peasant who refuses to give way. Meanwhile, millions of the people who put them in power live in tin shacks and choke on wood smoke and body odour every day, waiting in vain for the better life that was promised them.

Still, if you have the vote, it’s a crime not to use it. Problem is, how? And that is the big dilemma facing your average middle-class person in the street right now.

For many, the ANC’s not really an option, for no other reason than it’s still never fully managed to make the transition from liberation strugglers to a real political party that needs to run a country. It’s been at the helm of government for a decade and a half, but all too often, the discourse remains at the level of “us and them”.

What’s more, it’s still run like a guerrilla warfare operation in many ways: dissenters aren’t quite taken out and shot anymore, but the fate of the unfortunate 40% who trimmed their sails the wrong way in Polokwane suggests that lively debate is not something that is encouraged within the hallowed halls of Luthuli House.

Hence the emergence of the Congress of the People, which has been born out of a common dislike of the Teflon Man of South African politics, Jacob Zuma. Exactly what else they stand for is not clear at this stage. At best, it will probably be ANC Lite, and if nothing else, will offer an alternative to those who want to cast a vote, but don’t want to give it to the ANC – the role played by the ill-fated UDM in previous elections.

The DA, that trusty refuge of the politically disenchanted from across the spectrum, is not a great option either. No amount of rebranding can hide the fact that it’s still seen as too lily-white in its make up, history and thinking to be really credible. Don’t take my word for it, though. Ask the millions of people who were so unconvinced by the DA in the last elections that they voted for the ANC anyway, in spite of a glaring lack of service delivery.

What about the IFP? Too regional and not much substance beneath the bluster of Buthelezi. The Independent Democrats? Too lightweight and not much substance beneath the opportunistic rhetoric of Patricia de Lille. The Freedom Front? Too niche. The rats and mice? Puh-lease.

So which party stands for which principles? Are there any politicians who care about the plight of the people? Small wonder the voters are distinctly underwhelmed. Here’s the bottom line: whoever you vote for, you’ll always end up with a politician. And that’s a sobering thought.

  • Grant Walliser

    Terrible selection, I agree.

    I would, however, timidly like to suggest that the DA is the only party that seems to have both a principled leader and a proven track record. Dismissing them on the basis of colour instead of listening to their politics, which is constantly on the money, is rather silly when the voter who does this ultimately has to live with the politics and not the colour. Not so?

    That fact that the DA has a white leader (globally recognised as a firecracker of a effective woman!)is something the electorate might have to get over if they actually want some kind of credible governance because all of the other major parties with the correct shade for president have shown themselves to be dismally corrupt, largely ineffective and self-serving.

    They probabaly won’t get over it though because SA is all about race, puking, race and will doom themselves and the rest of us, who do look beyond race and demand performance above colour, to the endless horrors of yet another ANC term. Dog help us all.

    Viva puking democracy and the manipulated voter viva!

  • John Smithy

    very nicely put 😉 Captures the lack of available choice precisely!

  • Siphiwo Qangani with kangaroos

    * DA- same old lady, new dress. Ever-clamouring. Too remote from reality

    * ID- over-obsessed with Arms deal, one woman party. No policies, no substance.

    * UDM- addicted to ANC, hardly completes a sentence without mentioning ANC…a tyrant in laboratory,

    * IFP- too tribal, forever dying…Lead by the so called knows-it-all Old man, who’d do anything to cling on power & everything to drag the party to drains…One man 1%party, a fully fledged autocrat,

    * COPy- just an angry extended arm of ANC. No substance. Disillusioned. Disgruntled. Hypocrites. Mbeki’s product. Losers.

    * FF+- trapped in the 80s

    * PAC- everlasting clamour about “land”, despite the fact that 30% of people are unemployed, more than 4millions have HIV, high crime rates, poor health care services, expensive education.

    * ACDP- not really surely what they want, they’re also not sure.

    * ANC- leads

  • Avishkar Govender

    Dear Mr van der Merwe

    I agreed with your position for many years – and it was only recently that i decided that instead of speculating – i would wade in and change things

    so decide on a party – of the 147 parties registered with the IEC… if none appeal to you – start a new one

    i will arrange funding, support, all of your campaigning and i will personally headhunt honest hardworking leaders from other parties for you.

  • Fadista

    Very well said, Pedro!!

  • Slumdweller

    I choose the ‘Swing Vote Party’ I will swing my vote to the official opposition on the left or right, depending how far the ruling party are from centre.

  • Craig

    Anybody who thinks that politicians will solve their problems deserves their inevitable disappointment.

    If I were to be more specific I would accuse politicians of being like the Goonch – some of these catfish have been known to eat humans whole in India. :-)

  • Belle

    The DA has my vote. Ive actually been READING the different policy options offered by various parties.

    Frankly none seem to hold a candle to the DA’s policies, which are practical, focused, and uncluttered by struggle rhetoric.

    But mainly their policies grab me because of what they propose for CHILDREN, to the point that they almost revolve around the health and welfare of the future generation. That does it for me.

    I challenge you all to read the policies on offer and then make your choice. If you cannot be bothered, because your vote is already decided on the basis of loyalty then, in all honesty, you need to admit that your vote is for the Past and not the Future.

  • Sayitbetter

    Viva Siphiwe Viva,


  • Craig

    @Siphiwo Kangaroo – to be fair:

    * ANC – Belligerent and no accountability because they do not fear being removed from power. Making non-delivery an artform.

  • Mandy de Waal

    The scary thing is all the rhetoric and mud slinging that it going on. The parties are all about ego and personality and nothing, but nothing, is being said about policy.

  • katrina

    promise will always cherish for the rest of our life but our love onen will not be ours forever. Its hard to think that we broke up and she will going to married this next year, i never know that it will make me mesirable and hopeless.. Life is to short but am still alive

  • Lyndall Beddy

    The ANC never stood for democracy anyhow – it was always in favour of a communist one party state. At one stage the only person on the ANC-NEC who was not also a communist was Oliver Thambo.

  • DdayDoll

    Bottom line? If you don’t vote, you decide not to have a say. It’s not so much who you make your cross for, but that you actually get off your bottom and atleast indicate your disgust in the ruling party by adding a cross someplace else. And yes, it will still leave us with politicians! The alternative?