The Economist endorses more of the same

Marius Roodt | Apr 27, 2019
The latest edition of The Economist shows a lack of understanding of South Africa’s political institutions.

The Economist, the great British magazine (which insists on calling itself a newspaper) has, in its latest edition, endorsed the African National Congress (ANC) for the upcoming election.

The magazine seems to base its endorsement of the ANC on the strength of its leader, Cyril Ramaphosa. The Economist argues, like many others, that giving the party a strong mandate at the ballot box will strengthen President Ramaphosa’s hand in cleaning up the state and implementing reforms. Although the magazine says there is a case to be made for the Democratic Alliance (DA), it argues that because there is no chance of that party winning the 8 May election, it would be pointless to vote for it.

It's important to bear in mind that Ramaphosa has been in government for the last five years, serving as deputy president under Jacob from 2014 to 2018.

The magazine says that a poor showing at the ballot box on 8 May will weaken President Ramaphosa’s hand, and give his opponents in the party ammunition to weaken him. However, this reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of democracy – the best way to punish a party and make it change its course is withdraw support, not increase it.

Even the ANC is not immune to the pressure of the vote. When the ANC’s share of the vote dropped to 53.6% in 2014 in Gauteng, it appointed the relatively capable and clean David Makhura to run the province. Something similar happened in 2015 in Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth). When it became clear that the ANC was in serious danger of losing the city to the DA, the ANC turfed out the geriatric Ben Fihla, and appointed Danny Jordaan, an excellent administrator, as mayor – although this proved a case of ‘too little, too late’, as the DA still emerged as the single biggest party in the city.

The ANC does react to electoral pressure. The best way for voters to force the ANC to embark on a path of reform, which will allow South Africa to recover from the lost Zuma decade, is to vote for someone else. Giving the ANC a strong mandate will only result in more of the same.


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