Quick, Simple and Crucial – ANC Acceptance of Electoral Power Downgrade is a Gift to SA Democracy

Stephen Grootes

Over the years there have been many examples of arrogance by some in the ANC – the party that had so fully dominated our politics that it felt it was destined to do so in perpetuity.

When Jacob Zuma was president he claimed, confidently, that the ANC would be in power “until Jesus comes”.

This arrogance extended to a blurring of the line between party and state. It even allowed Zuma to use the political power of the ANC to force the National Prosecuting Authority to withdraw corruption charges against him in 2009. 

As recently as just over a month ago, just three weeks before the election, ANC secretary general Fikile Mbalula used a Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen worth more than R3 million to campaign in Inanda, KZN, an area marked by extreme poverty. And yet, on the Sunday after the election, the ANC’s leader, president Cyril Ramaphosa, stood up to accept the results.

He made the point that parties that did not accept the results were wrong, in what was obviously a jibe at Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK) party.

Even before then, as it became clear the ANC had lost around 17 percentage points since 2019, the party’s leaders had clearly decided to accept the results.

The importance of this cannot be overstated.

If the loser of an election does not accept its legitimacy, the entire order will be in mortal danger. If a governing party refuses to give up power, a country is no longer a democracy.

Situations where this has happened have seen explosive conflict and strife. All of this has been avoided in our country. It has almost been a non-issue.

There are several reasons for this.

TRANSPARENCY OF THE SYSTEM

The first is that there was never a question of whether the ANC would accept the results. It had no choice.

This is because of the transparency of the voting system, in which party agents can monitor the voting, the counting and the announcement of results.

Our free media also plays an important role here: It reports on the election results and it would be difficult to stop this from happening.

As a result, voters are informed and people know if their votes are taken from them.

In particular, the public broadcaster, the SABC, is free to report the facts, ensuring that the majority are kept informed.

The Electoral Commission, too, plays a vital role. Its ability to publish the results quickly, in a form which many millions of people can access, is vital.

The systems it has in place to resolve disputes transparently also matter as everyone involved knows what has happened and why. 

The actions of a party’s leader also matter.

Zuma, who once suggested that he would like to be a dictator for six months, and now wants to remove the Constitution, send pregnant girls to Robben Island and appoint traditional leaders to make laws in their own parliamentary chamber, may well have reacted differently.

The fact he has refused to accept these results may also be proof of his willingness to accept people’s will as long as it is to his advantage. 

Another factor in the ANC’s acceptance of these results is that while the scale of the loss of support may have come as a surprise, indications that it would fall below 50% had been present for many months. 

This removed the sense of shock, which could have led to anger and frustration. In other words, the party and its leadership had a long period in which to understand and accept it.

The process of this acceptance started more than two years ago, when the party received the results of the 2021 local elections.

The fact that it received 36% of the vote in Gauteng then may well have helped it to deal with the fact it won the same share of the vote in that province now.

The decision by the ANC to deploy deputy president Paul Mashatile to lead discussions about coalitions with other political leaders in August last year was the biggest possible signal that the governing party was preparing for a new era – and to give up a significant portion of its power.

THE MILITARY AND THE POLICE

Underneath all of this is another important series of facts which will matter in the future.

Currently, there is no evidence that our police officers and soldiers are politicised in any major way. 

This is very different to the situation in Zimbabwe, where the military and the police give the impression that they act in the interests of Zanu-PF.
In Lesotho at one point the army and the police were aligned to different political factions, which is a recipe for disaster. 

(It is important to note here that the ANC’s acceptance of election results was also made easier by the simple fact that any government in power for the next five years will have to be led by … the ANC again. – Ed )

Also, as was underscored during the pandemic, the army and the police together lack the capacity to institute any kind of repression in our country.

There is also the fundamental truth, known to all, that our nation is difficult to govern even when a president and a government are democratically elected.

It would surely be nigh impossible to govern if the government did not have legitimacy. 

Even EFF leader Julius Malema, who has made a career out of criticising the establishment, said while voting that he would accept the outcome of the polls, and that they would be free and fair.

The example set by the ANC (and almost all other parties) also serves to isolate the one party which has refused to accept the election results, MK.

The parties representing the vast majority of voters have accepted the results, even if many leaders must have personally been disappointed by them.

This demonstrates how undemocratic Zuma’s response to the election results has been.

Also, if any party were ever to use violence as part of a refusal to accept election results, they would be shown to be a complete outlier and the vast majority would regard it as unacceptable.

The example of the ANC also makes it harder for any party in future to refuse to accept the results of a transparent election. This may turn out to be the real power of the ANC’s actions.

It has normalised something that is very difficult to do: To give up the full power it once commanded.

This could resonate for generations to come.

– Stephen Grootes is the host of the Sunrise show on SAfm. He’s been part of the political hack pack since before the Polokwane tsunami.
– This article originally appeared on the Daily Maverick; www.dailymaverick.co.za

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