MEDIA STATEMENT BY THE
INKATHA FREEDOM PARTY
Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Weekly Newsletter to the Nation
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
This year, as so often has been stated, is probably the most important to the future of our country since the advent of democracy in 1994. The ruling-party will be holding its policy conference and choosing its new leader who, will, in all probability, be the next President of South Africa. Change is in the air. The next election, I believe, provides an opportunity to inject new life into the democratic process. Our democracy, let’s face it, is looking a little jaded. I attribute this mainly to the rounds of floor crossing since 2002, which have seriously undermined the people’s freedom to choose.
In a democracy, it is, of course, the right of the government of the day to promote it’s legislative programme and do what it believes is in the interest of the country. It should also be acceptable in a democracy for the government to say "sorry, we got it wrong". Such a time is now. The government and the President have indicated willingness to revisit and repeal floor-crossing. Yet, if we are to do so, the next round of floor-crossing is only a few months away in September. Time is of the essence.
For the record, I will, once again, recount floor-crossing’s sorry history. I used the term "crosstitution", among others, in response to the introduction of floor-crossing legislation in 2002. This legislation, I believe, was the most undemocratic piece of legislation to have been passed since 1994. And let’s be frank, there are some strong legislative contenders.
The legislation stands as a totem of the African National Congress’s hegemonic impulse and poses a dangerous threat to our political system. Designed primarily to end the marriage between the former New National Party and the Democratic Party, the legislation envisaged the removal of opposition party coalitions from office in the two provinces, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, which were then outside the orbit of ANC control.
Since its introduction, floor-crossing has deepened the electorate’s disenchantment with the political process, brought into question the value of voting at all and, generally, undermined multi-party democracy.
The rotten fruits of floor-crossing have been cheque-book politics and the fragmentation of an already weak opposition. Let’s call it legalised corruption. Until last year, when we finally got our act together, the opposition’s divided response must have looked pathetic to the electorate.
During the ten year celebration of the adoption of the Constitution last year, I said that in order to practise liberty, a nation must have a critical mass of individuals who truly grasp it. Well-constructed institutions and well-crafted texts do not of themselves ensure democracy and freedom. Floor-crossing, in view of the foregoing arguments, is snuffing out the lights of liberty and freedom.
Floor-crossing has been the source of much controversy since its introduction in 2002, with many political parties, the IFP most consistently, arguing that the exercise disenfranchises voters, by effectively allowing politicians to ‘reallocate’ votes as they see fit.
Floor-crossing is particularly controversial because South African MPs, like in Germany and Israel, are elected by proportional representation, and are nominated by political parties on a party list before a general election. Voters thus vote for a political party, rather then for an individual MP. Floor-crossing, however, allows for MPs to change parties, leading to accusations that the process undermines the choices made by the electorate.
Generally speaking, the ruling ANC has benefited the most from this system since floor-crossing encourages "cherry-picking" where larger parties offer more attractive positions to members of smaller parties and so lure them away from their party. The system is designed to ensure that only members of smaller parties can cross the floor while those of the largest party, the ANC, are firmly locked inside.
In 2005, five members of the Inkatha Freedom Party stole the votes given to the party the previous year. Four went to NADECO and one went to the DA, despite my party having an anti-defection agreement with that party.
I have to concede that floor-crossing legislation was structured in a clever way. The devil, in this case, was in the detail. In a party with up to 9 members, one may cross the floor as one pleases. In a party such as mine, it requires a conspiracy of at least three people. But in order to cross the floor from the ANC, as many as 28 people must conspire to do it at the same time, without being caught in the conspiracy before the window of opportunity opens. Crafty or what! This makes it impossible for ANC members to cross the floor. One cannot but notice that floor crossing is therefore a one-way street aimed at either disintegrating the opposition into smaller components, or creating havoc in its ranks.
Most importantly, there is also ample empirical evidence that floor-crossing does discourage voters from taking part in the elections. According to a survey conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council
(HSRC) most South Africans view floor-crossing as a wasted vote.
The survey was conducted among 5 000 participants throughout the country in the run-up to the 2006 local government elections and the intention was to determine the state of political culture with respect to voting behaviour in South Africa.
The survey revealed that half of the respondents stated that floor crossing discourages people from voting and about 46 percent stated that it meant that they had wasted their vote. Less than a third (31 percent) indicated that it was a true reflection of a real democracy. Apart from this survey, many members of my Party, when I have been out and about, have repeatedly told me that as long as this legislation is on the statute books, they will not vote. Ominously, voter turnout has been dramatically slipping since 1994.
And while the ‘free choice’ and ‘constitutional rights’ of parliamentarians is frequently evoked, the ‘free choice’ of the voters who elected them in the first place seems to have been completely expunged from the political discourse. It cannot be overemphasised that at present there is not a link between the constituency and representatives in the present electoral system. If members want to express their freedom of expression and association they are free to resign and stand for election at the next poll under their new banner.
The IFP simply cannot see how floor-crossing can be separated from electoral reform because the two are fused together. The legislation should have been enacted within the context of wider electoral reform so that members can cross the floor with the moral legitimacy that they are accountable and directly linked to the electorate who put them there.
That is one of the primary reasons why in 2002, as the Minister of Home Affairs, I established the Electoral Task Team, chaired by Dr F van Zyl Slabbert. The Task Team recommended a mixed system with a constituency element and proportional representation. The time is now ripe to do so.
I believe there is widespread popular support for electoral reform and that our teenage democracy is old enough to sustain it. In the meantime, as a first step, I call upon government to table legislation in the next parliamentary session, starting in May to repeal this legislation. I accept an intellectual, if not moral, case can be made for floor-crossing, but it simply has not worked. Repealing floor-crossing would not be a climb down or a ‘U turn’. On the contrary, if the ruling-party has the courage to do the right thing, not only will they enjoy the support of the IFP – and most South Africans, they will give a clear signal of their commitment to a healthy and strong democracy. Such a signal is badly needed.
Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP