Skewed in favour of political parties with deep pockets

Political parties are gearing up for the elections. Picture: Khaya Ngwenya/Independent Newspapers

Political parties are gearing up for the elections. Picture: Khaya Ngwenya/Independent Newspapers

Published Mar 3, 2024


Prof. Bheki Mngomezulu

With the date of the 2024 general election set for May 29, there is no turning back. All political parties and independent candidates have their eyes focused on the big prize – to do well in the election, and possibly win.

While everything seems to be in order, the reality is that the playing field is not even. The IEC has set March 8 as the final date for over 600 political parties and independent candidates to meet all the requirements that will qualify them to contest the election. Some will pay as high as R700,000 if they want to contest all ballots. Failure to do so will render certain political parties and independent candidates unsuitable to participate in the election and will be disqualified.

This means that the balance of forces is skewed in favour of big parties compared to the smaller ones and independent candidates. Already, some independent candidates are complaining that the number of signatures required for them to qualify to participate in the election is too high. This is even though the number was reduced from 15% of the voting population in an area to just 1,000 signatures overall.

Another issue is the flexing of the financial muscle by some of the bigger parties that are financially stable. Instead of investing in campaigns to lure voters, they are doing all they can to either weaken or eliminate their political competitors.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has been in and out of court challenging the ANC’s cadre deployment policy. Having received a favourable ruling from the Constitutional Court recently which forced the ANC to hand over to the DA the minutes of the meetings of the Deployment Committee, they are determined to move a step further. The DA now wants to target the ANC’s cadre deployment in provinces and regions.

What remains unclear is the DA’s honesty in this exercise. It is a known fact that the DA has been attracting black voters and members to its fold. During campaigns, black faces dominate. Once the election is over and positions are allocated, white faces dominate. This is evidenced in the composition of the Western Cape Parliament which is the only one run by the DA and in the party’s Federal Council. Both institutions have been dominated by whites. Now, the question becomes: how does that DA explain this? Is it not plausible to think that they also have a cadre deployment policy which is not made public? Should they not also do what they are asking the ANC to do – to be transparent on how they appoint people into positions? Failure to do so would amount to hypocrisy and double standard. As the saying goes, what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

The ANC is also flexing its financial muscle by challenging the newly formed Umkhonto weSizwe Paty (MK). The fact that the ANC has been struggling to pay its employees at Luthuli House and staff in certain provincial offices did not deter the party from taking the MK to court.

A few questions arise. Is the ANC being honest through this challenge or is trying to decisively deal with its evident competitor? What do we make of the fact that there has never been an MK party in the past but Umkhonto Wesizwe military wing of the ANC which was established on December 16, 1961? Is it not true that all military formations such as MK and Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA) were disbanded in the early 1990s to clear the way for negotiations? If that is the case, who still lays claim to a name that was abandoned?

These are some of the questions which cast doubt on the ANC’s frankness through this court challenge. Moreover, the same happened when the Congress of the People (Cope) was formed in 2008 by disgruntled members of the ANC who were not happy about the ousting of Thabo Mbeki as the president of the country. The ANC lost that battle only for Cope to die a natural death.

Many of the smaller and new political parties might not be able to sue their political competitors for one reason or the other. The same goes for independent candidates, some of whom cannot even afford to challenge the IEC in court for what in their view are stringent requirements which they must comply with by May 8.

Importantly, while it is true that there are bigger political parties with a large following, what is clear is that chances of having an outright winner in this year’s election are very slim.

There are many reasons for that.

Firstly, the number of political parties has reached an unprecedented high. Secondly, for the first time since the advent of democracy, independent candidates will contest the election. Thirdly, both the ANC and the DA have been on a downward spiral. Meanwhile, parties like the EFF, IFP and FF+ have been on the upward trajectory. However, they have not grown enough for them to replace the ANC.

Therefore, while it is true that the balance of forces favours certain political parties compared to others, it looks almost certain that we may end up with a coalition government. Given what we have seen in local government, this would be a huge disaster for the country!

*Professor Mngomezulu is Director of the Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy at the Nelson Mandela University

**The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL