Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
Standing on the koppie outside Marikana where 34 miners were shot dead by police last year, I looked out on a crowd of people who still live in need and grief, and in hope that their circumstances might change. Yesterday’s commemoration of the Marikana Mine Massacre reminded South Africa than many questions remain unanswered.
Among those questions is why the lack of funding for the Farlam Commission of Inquiry ended up in the Constitutional Court, rather than being dealt with swiftly by the State. Another is why mineworkers attending today’s commemoration forfeited a day’s pay from Lonmin, in a decision that may be financially justifiable, but still feels callous. Another question is whether conditions have improved at all for mineworkers in our country, since the Marikana miners so tragically lost their lives.
The underlying question, though, which will remain even when all the other questions are answered, is how could this happen in a democratic South Africa? How could citizens protesting against unfair wages be mowed down in cold blood by the State’s security services?
Marikana was a watershed moment for South Africa. We were shaken out of the false sense of security that came from believing that an ANC-led Government could never act the way the apartheid forces acted. We thought we could never go back to the past. It was too ugly, too despicable; and we fought too hard to leave it behind. How, then, did we open the space for history to repeat itself?
There is, without a doubt, a culture of entitlement in the ruling party. The ANC believes they have some sort of divine right to rule, as expressed in the flippant comment that the ANC will rule until Christ returns. This has created a sense of infallibility; that they could never possibly be wrong and if the facts say otherwise, the facts must be wrong. Accountability is not a central theme in the ANC.
Because of this, they have failed to put in place adequate, or adequately functioning, checks and balances, to ensure that power is never abused. For how could the ANC possibly abuse power, when everything it does is right, justified and beyond interrogation?
When South Africa gathered around the negotiating table to chart the way into democracy, the IFP worked hard to focus attention on the future form of state. Neither the ANC nor the National Party saw the need for provinces. The ANC preferred that all power be held at the centre, which would leave no space for questioning national ANC policy. There would be no alternatives offered, and nothing else on the table to compete with what the ANC decided.
The IFP saw the inherent danger in this approach, and we fought against it, offering instead a federal system of governance for South Africa in which provinces could determine their own policy and write their own legislation on matters within provincial competence. While we didn’t win all the features of a federal system, we did secure provinces, and that was a tremendous victory for the IFP.
It allowed us to develop and implement policy in KwaZulu Natal during the first ten years of democracy that was not a carbon copy of national policy. It enabled us, for instance, to roll out anti-retroviral treatment to mothers and new-born babies, to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV/Aids. The IFP saved thousands upon thousands of lives in KwaZulu Natal.
Nationally, the ANC refused to roll out anti-retrovirals, claiming that it could not be done. But we had done it, and we had done it successfully. The example we set convinced the Constitutional Court that the ANC-led Government really had no excuse for not saving lives and was in dereliction of its constitutional duty. They were ordered to roll out Nevirapine across South Africa.
Today the ANC boasts about how it has reduced mother-to-child transmission of HIV/Aids. They don’t mention that the IFP had to take them to court to get them to do it. It seems unthinkable that the ANC would refuse life-saving medicine to women and babies. But they did.
It seemed unthinkable that under an ANC Government policemen would open fire on civilians. But they did.
We need to disabuse South Africa of this notion that serious tragedy and serious lapses of moral leadership cannot happen under the ANC. We need to stay vigilant, and hold the ruling party to account. To do this, we must strengthen the opposition, so that the opposition can balance unfettered power with the demand for accountability, transparency and justice.
The only way we are going to create balance in South Africa is through the ballot box. Voters need to grasp anew the value of their vote and accept responsibility for shaping a future in which a multitude of voices can be heard, and can compete on a level playing field.
The IFP has something better to offer. Just as we did when we were able to shape provincial policy that competed with national policy and challenged it to become better. But unless our influence is strengthened through the ballot box, the good that we have to offer will be drowned out with whatever policy the ANC decides to pursue, whether it’s nationalisation of mines or Eskom price hikes or a Secrecy Bill.
I therefore urge South Africans to strengthen the IFP with your vote. Young people, in particular, need to understand that your vote shapes your future.
I am surprised that, according to the Independent Electoral Commission, only 10% of 18 and 19 years olds in our country are registered to vote. But almost more surprising is that only 52% of South Africans between the ages of 20 and 29 are registered to vote, which means that almost half the young people in our country who have the right to cast their vote aren’t interested in exercising that right.
Moreover, more than 20% of South Africans who were registered to vote didn’t go to a polling station in the past two national elections.
What does all this means? The fact that voter turnout has decreased since 1994 is expected, since the exuberance of our first democratic vote could not reasonably be sustained in three successive democratic elections. That first flush of excitement settled into normality.
But the fact that so few young people are registered to vote, compared with the number of people from my generation who are registered, speaks of something more sinister. It tells us that young people do not see the point in participating.
The parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs has begun asking whether there is scope in legislation to make registering and voting compulsory for all South Africans. It seems unthinkable, considering our long fight for political enfranchisement, that just nineteen years into democracy we may need to coerce people to vote.
But by now we should know that the unthinkable can happen. It is up to us to create balance in South Africa.
Yours in the service of our nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP