Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Voting for your president is like voting for your favourite Idols contestant

At the opening of East London’s new mega-mall last month, I couldn’t help noticing that few people paid much attention to a speech by the province’s finance MEC, Mcebisi Jonas. And it wasn’t because they were being rude as everybody had listened closely to the speech before, from the hugely respected BEE developer and home boy Sisa Ngebulana.

Jonas is no stranger to controversy and had the gall to start his speech by saying something along the lines of “When I was asked to speak at the opening, I didn’t want to…” (now that’s how you win friends and influence people). But as the decision-makers of the Eastern Cape, such as they, tucked into the canapes and chatted away in a desultory fashion throuhg the MEC’s address, it got me thinking about how South Africans view our leaders.

The record turn-out in the April national election and whopper of an endorsement for the ANC surpirsed many — myself included, especially here in the Eastern Cape. Sure, it’s the ANC’s historical heartland but the vast majority of Eastern Capers in townships and the rural areas have also been largely abandoned by their ANC leaders. Clinics, schools and housing are in a shocking state and the Bhisho’s bigwigs continue to mismanage, look after their buddies through dodgy tenders and siphon off taxpayers’ money. Hell, even the quality of the water in this poor benighted province is going to the dogs — and if you can’t even deliver clean water to your citizens, what can you do?

I personally thought Cope would do much better than it did in the national poll in the Eastern Cape though, all told, the party did well for its first time at the stumps and it is now the province’s official opposition. The DA lost ground as did the UDM and the PAC; the ANC still has an overwhleming majortiy in the provincial legislature.

But then, there’s the 2011 local government elections to come and I wonder if that’s where we will see the real shift. The local East London paper, the Daily Dispatch, has been running a series of what they call “Dispatch Dialogues” over the past year and the ordinary folk who turn up, black, coloured and white, are gatvol of their local authorities and are demanding better services.

My feeling is that the vast majority of ordinary South Africans – and by that I mean the millions of people in the townships and rural areas – see the ANC national government as something far away, emblematic of their decades of struggle for democracy but essentially meaningless to their worlds. Voting for the country’s president is akin to voting for an Idols contestant, methinks.

Provincial government is one step closer but also difficult to access and to influence but when it come to your local municipality and ward councillors, that’s what people really care about. Bring on 2011, I say.

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