The looming local elections have been labeled as critical due to the advent of; student movement protests, local service delivery protests, and demarcation violence. Politicians will, once again, descend upon us with their bandwagon of political promises that often seem unlikely to be fulfilled. The country is posed for an interesting contest amongst the top 3 parties, who will be flexing their muscle and jostling for prime position in the 2016 Local Government Elections. This is how they hope to hook South Africans on some key aspects of the current socio – economic condition.
A manifesto for the vulnerable
The entry of the EFF into local government politics is interesting when one considers the impact they have made in Parliament, following their coup of the 3rd position in the past national elections. Their presence in Parliament has been characterized by seeking accountability and the representation of youth and working class issues.
The EFF’s recent election manifesto continues to address these issues, seemingly, left unattended to by the African National Congress (ANC) and the Democratic Alliance (DA). In the address launching the EFF’s Local Election Manifesto, Julius Malema’s focus was on vulnerable industries. He spoke about legislative reform in the mining, retailing, construction, farming and manufacturing industries that will ensure that workers are compensated above average living wages. These industries, in the past 2 decades, have been marred with worker abuse, violent protest, strikes and exploitation.
In contrast, the DA’s Mmusi Maimaine, in the party’s local elections manifesto, failed to address these sectors. This exclusion was also evident in their past manifesto despite asserting, through their slogan, DA for Jobs. The party fails to go into length on how it will curb unemployment and instead refers to offering its electorate opportunities for employment by investing in infrastructure-led growth.
Beyond fronting – real economic equity
The last 20 years of ANC’s governance has implanted legislation that seeks to balance the scales on equality such as; Broad Bases Black Economic Equity act for businesses and both the Employment Equity Act and Labour Relations Act for employees. The EFF contributed its thoughts on these acts by promising to implement better BEE and Affirmative Action (AA). Concrete analysis on how these acts can be improved for better implementation was not offered.
A missed opportunity, by both political parties, that would have benefited the political discourse would have been addressing the antagonistic fronting exercises that plague certain business sectors such as; the lacking transformation in the construction industry’s Big 5 companies who are also the major recipients of multi-million rand public projects.
In addition, this discussion should include the lacking transformation of the board of trustees of the majority of big businesses, those in the top 40 companies on Johannesburg Stock Exchange. The lack of transformation within these boards translates to real transformation and equality in the workplace remaining stagnant. Furthermore, the disparities in salaries between black and white counterparts remain a festering wound for black professionals.
It would have been very interesting for the DA to actually articulate their views on the spaces where transformation is transgressed and what can be done to achieve compliance. This is particularly important because the DA, in the last 5 years, has experienced significant growth from the youth black urban voter who seek to fulfill their aspirations and success within their career paths. The perception that EE and AA are reverse apartheid will continue to be challenged within the party and their pro-action in taking a strong stand on this will be of benefit to the political party. However, one cannot ignore that any position that the DA takes in this discussion could plunge the party into a difficult position. Primarily as its traditional support base is already feeling alienated from the current political discourse of the country.
#Feesfalling – Access to education
2015 ended with wide spread student movement protests and the call against an increase in university fees. This has positioned the state of tertiary education as being critical to the country’s development, and perhaps, on a micro level, the ability for political parties to secure the youth vote.
In recognizing that there are gifted individuals, who lack means to access tertiary education, the EFF has promised to; send 15 000 students to the country’s best universities; increase capacity at universities; enroll more students at universities and increase the attainment of tertiary qualifications. In addressing education, the ANC, through Jacob Zuma, used their manifesto to reflect on what they have achieved in education in the last 20 years. In failing to address the persisting cracks in the education system, the ANC attempts to erase the concerns of the student movements.
South Africans can appreciate the ANC’s efforts in increasing access to tertiary education through institutions being mandated to increase their intake of previously disadvantaged student. However, access to university, even for the qualifying remains a struggle for many students. The failure of a sustainable funding model remains a black mark on the current government.
The DA’s response to the burning education issue offers a solution for graduates who are unable to find employment. In their manifesto, the party promises a responsive local government, that will actively recruit the next generation of municipal officials through a graduate recruitment program. This proposal can be strengthened through collaborations between the businesses and tertiary institutions to create programs for self-sustaining graduates. Education has been recognized as a tool to eradicate poverty, but without employment or business opportunities, that tool is not effective.
In considering their choice for the local elections, the electorate should interrogate all these manifestos thoroughly and reflect on the priorities impacting their livelihoods and improving the socio-economic politics of the country. These elections are an opportunity for all these political leaders to account to the populace on how these promises will be delivered and lives systematically improved.