Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Weekly Newsletter to the Nation
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
One is so often reminded of that oft-quoted remark of Winston Churchill:
Democracy is the worst form of government - except for all the others".
Well, we should know! South Africa, the continent's economic and political powerhouse, I fear, is failing to set an example to a continent that has been blighted by electoral fraud and intimidation. I cannot think of a single example where an election has been held in Africa that meets the gold standard test of being truly "free and fair".
The problems which beset African elections - Kenya, Zimbabwe and now Angola, to name a few recent examples, are, I believe, a direct result of the disdainful manner in which complaints about irregularities are ignored. And here in South Africa, not one South African election has been held without complaints of fraud, irregularities and other alleged shenanigans.
Zimbabwe has become the premier textbook example of tainted electoral processes. Only the IFP component of the South African Observer Mission and Dr Brigalia Bam of the IEC, alongside the European Union Mission, declared that the 2002 election was not "free and fair". All African states, including South Africa, endorsed the result.
The most recent example of a flawed election is, of course, Angola. (I wrote about the recent Zimbabwean election in my online letter of 30 June 2008).
This, however, does not seem to be just an African problem as such malpractices often take place in other parts of the world. But let us call a spade a spade: empirically speaking, it happens more often in Africa than on any other continent.
This brings me directly to the question of whether African elections are judged by the same strict criteria that are applied in older democracies or if, indeed, less stringent criteria are used for elections held in Africa.
Is there such a thing as an election that is "free and fair" by African standards? It is a tough question is: but what are these African standards?
The widespread irregularities and violence, which characterised the elections in Kenya recently, were particularly disturbing because Kenya had become an independent democratic state long before 1994 when South Africa held its first democratic election. Indeed, for a whole generation, Kenya had been held up as a poster country for peace and democratic stability.
All of this has led me to ask, is this not the time, particularly in South Africa, to have a multiparty approach to the forthcoming elections to ensure that the irregularities that have taken place in previous elections do not take place again.
One of the problems is that because the ruling party has an overwhelming majority, which one does not dispute, there is a tendency for some to dismiss any complaints that are raised - especially when they come from us - as being a bad case of sour grapes!
I suggest that before the 2009 elections, all parties work together to see that if between ourselves and the IEC, we can find ways of preventing a recurrence of the irregularities that have occurred at every election that has taken place previously. I am aware that the leader of the UDM, General Bantu Holomisa, has mentioned to leaders of other parties the need to come together to look at the forthcoming general election before it overtakes us.
This is something, I guess, similar to what African leaders tend to call "African solutions".
I do not suggest that before the advent of conquest and colonialism we Africans did not have our own solutions. We did, after all, manage our own matters without foreign interference. Lately, I hear this view bandied about any problem, particularly by countries in the West. They imply that African problems require African solutions. The latest example has been the situation we face as SADC countries in Zimbabwe.
Most of these problems start when the many complaints about fraud and irregularities during elections are just dismissed. The rot sets in at that point. The situation in Zimbabwe has deteriorated to what it is today because we patently ignored the first complaints that were raised about electoral irregularities.
Here in South Africa, the IFP has been a victim of electoral fraud since 1994. In the absence of a voters' roll, vote rigging was so widespread in the 1994 general election that the IEC announced the electoral results whilst counting was still taking place in rural KwaZulu-Natal. Boxes full of ballots were transported to centres where counting was taking place.
Thousands of boxes containing IFP votes were scattered all over the valleys and hills of northern KwaZulu-Natal, never to reach their destination where counting took place. No wonder President FW de Klerk was to describe our first democratic election as being an "impressionist" one. I thought that was too kind.
The same pattern was repeated at the local government elections of 1996.
These elections were held in KwaZulu-Natal a year later than the rest of the country in order, I maintain, to enable the ANC to concentrate its national resources in KwaZulu-Natal, which stubbornly remained outside of the ambit of the ruling party.
Electoral fraud against the IFP in the 1999 general election was fully documented and presented to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). The IEC took the strange position that there was nothing they could do because the relevant deadlines according to the Electoral Act had lapsed. Talk about the letter of the law usurping the law's spirit. One would have thought that the sacrosanct principles of free and fair elections would have been paramount.
This widespread fraud was clearly documented by an IFP Member of Parliament, Ms Janet Vilakazi, who showed that in elections by electoral district, votes cast for the IFP (up to a million) were, in fact, shifted to the ANC and other parties. In the same voting stations, the IFP received thousands of votes for the national ballot but apparently received zero votes in provincial elections. This was absurd.
The 2004 election was again characterised by examples of widespread electoral fraud in KwaZulu-Natal.
The IFP fully documented these irregularities at the Electoral Court. We could not pursue the case because of narrowly defined technicalities. Nor could we prove that the result would be "materially" different in terms of the electoral law.
Yet, I felt, morality was defeated. We also felt that we should not be seen to be creating "trouble" for the sake of it. I was to be severely rebuked by my party - and people outside - for not pursuing this case to the bitter end. I recount this sorry saga not to fight old battles, but in the hope that we ensure that the 2009 elections are "free and fair". This is of importance not only to the vitality of our democracy, but also to the entire continent.
Last year, I saluted former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the newly elected President of Nigeria for candidly admitting that April's presidential vote was characterised by voting irregularities, acts of intimidation and open rigging. Such raw honesty, on the part of an African leader, is rare.
Readers might recall (especially as we fast approach this year's epoch-making American election) that last year the US-based International Republican Institute observer mission said that the entire election process had failed to meet international standards. Their preliminary findings showed that the election processes "fell below the standard set by previous Nigerian elections and international standards witnessed by IRI around the globe".
I plead that this will not be said of us in 2009. Let our leaders execute their responsibilities in accordance with the spirit of all South Africans who love democracy.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
Contact: Jon Cayzer, 084 5557144