Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Weekly Newsletter to the Nation
Friends and fellow South Africans,
We are approaching an election which is of paramount importance for the future of South Africa, but we are doing so under an electoral system which is deficient, because it provides insufficient accountability for those who are elected.
The purpose of elections is to enable citizens to choose representatives who ostensibly will make the type of decisions that the citizens would like to see coming out of Parliament and Government. The key to this system is the possibility of holding the political representative accountable, which our system does not do.
This is not only my opinion or that of my Party.
When I was Minister of Home Affairs for ten years, I carried the residual responsibility of electoral matters, which included the duty of formulating legislative policies. The Electoral Act under which the 1994 elections were held was valid only for that and the 1999 elections, and had to be substituted with something else for the 2004 elections.
Because a new Electoral Act had to be drafted, I appointed a Commission with the best experts in the field to highlight the relevant issues and give us direction. The Commission was presided over by Dr F. van Zyl Slabbert and had international experts of the stature of Professor Fink Haysom, former adviser to President Mandela.
The Commission concluded that the old Electoral Act was adequate to provide fair representation and simplicity of voting, but inadequate to provide accountability – which is the most important thing. Therefore they suggested another system which combines constituency representation with proportional representation, as is done in Germany. They went as far as drafting a Bill, which was attached to the extensive report on their findings.
When I brought their findings and the Bill to Cabinet, the most incredible sequence of events occurred, as revealed through several leaks from Cabinet sources at the time. At the insistent instance of Minister Kader Asmal, the full Report was effectively censored. The Report was already bound and thousands of copies had been printed, but I was requested to reprint it so that it would no longer have its various attachments which criticised the present electoral system and proposed the details of an alternative one.
I abided by the letter of this Cabinet instruction, as my duty required me to do, and I published the Report without the attachments. But because the Cabinet Resolution did not prohibit me from doing so, I made all the attachments available to the media and universities alike as it would have been terrible for such precious research to be wasted. For this, I was raked over the coals in Cabinet.
In the end, Cabinet did just the opposite of what the van Zyl Slabbert Commission recommended and maintained the old Electoral Act which provides insufficient accountability. This is the Act in terms of which the 2009 elections are being held.
When Cabinet maintained the old inadequate Act in 2004, it promised to consider and implement the recommendations of the van Zyl Slabbert Commission after the 2004 elections. Yet, like many others, this promise was also dishonoured.
Nonetheless, democracy is something which cannot wait for the actions of a ruling party. For this reason, within the IFP we applied the constituency system ourselves in respect of the process of nominations of our candidates. We developed a process in which our branches and constituencies had to nominate candidates for them to be carried in our lists.
This has brought about profound transformation in our lists, both in terms of having new faces and in terms of senior faces finding themselves lower down on the list, after many of their junior colleagues. This is true democracy in the making.
When I gave my direction as Minister of Home Affairs to the van Zyl Slabbert Commission, I stressed that the electoral system is that which constitutes the terms and conditions of the contract between the voters and the electorate. For this reason, it is a unique piece of legislation which ought not to be written by politicians alone, as they are likely to write it for their own benefit. No one single party can write a contract by itself and impose it on another.
For this reason, the van Zyl Slabbert Commission was widely representative of civil society so that the Electoral Act could emerge as a genuine contract between voters and their representatives. But those in power would not have it that way and rewrote that contract, by themselves and for themselves, so that party bosses could have a free hand in choosing and firing anyone they wanted.
Under the present system a voter can only choose a political party and its leader, and then relies entirely on the will of that party and that leader to choose candidates and hold them accountable. The voter has no control over who their representative will be and there is no one to contact to complain if they are not doing their job.
Elections are really a fleeting moment in which, once every five years, the citizens become sovereign – only to find themselves immediately thereafter again disempowered for the following five years. This is not the way the IFP would have it.
We tried to change it in our own lists, and will continue to fight in Parliament to have the electoral law changed so that the people of South Africa may indeed be sovereign, not only during the few seconds in which they make a cross on the ballot paper, but at all times, by holding their political representatives truly accountable.
It is no wonder that under the present system so many voters feel alienated, which weakens our democracy. I therefore invite them to vote for a political party which will maintain a constant liaison with them, day in and day out, reporting to them and accepting to be held accountable by them at all times.
This party is the IFP.
Yours in the service of our nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
President of the Inkatha Freedom Party