A shallow anatomy of SA’s political and electoral structure

I am becoming increasingly aware that most South Africans don’t full understand the structure of Government in South Africa and how our electoral system works. Below I have attempted to summarise this as best I can.

Government in South Africa comprises 3 separate but related spheres:

  • Local Government = Municipalities and the elected Public Representatives (politicians) are councillors.
  • Provincial Government = Provinces and the Public Representatives (politicians) are MPL’s (members of the provincial legislature)
  • National Government = South African Government and the Public Representatives (politcians) are MP’s (Members of Parliament)

In Local Governments, half the councillors are directly elected to represent the people living in municipalities’s wards and the other half are “Proportional Representation” or PR councillors and are chosen by the party on the basis of the % the political party won. Thus there are twice as many councillors as there are wards in a municipality. Usually PR councillors are “deployed” to shadow the ward councillor in another ward with a view to winning the voters of that ward over in the next election.

Only in Local Government is any politician elected directly – ie. you vote for a person. In the rest of the spheres the political parties choose who will be appointed.

Thus, if a politician must be replaced in the Provincial or National spheres, the party just replaces them.

In the local sphere however, because ward councillors are directly elected, a by-election must take to allow the community to elect a new person to represent their community.

All SA reps are elected for 5 year terms.

Good Luck Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, Mr President.

There is something about Jacob Zuma which makes me feel genuine hope for the ability of the ANC to do good on the promises they have made for the coming 5 years.  At the same time, I am confident that someone who has gone to the lengths he has to stay out of court, must have something to answer to, but we would not be the first country in the world to have a head of state with a cloud above their head – Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi has been the subject of several criminal allegations and court cases.

So, while still firmly seated in the opposition camp and convinced he should have the charges against him tested in a court of law, I wish Jacob Zuma well as he embarks on his new challenge as President of the Republic of South Africa.

Sir, your political responsibility is a privilege and opportunity afforded to very few.  Execute your duties well and in the interests of all South Africans.  Show us what it means to be a civil servant.  Indeed, usher the return of “civil” back to “civil servant” and your term will have been one well spent.

– Msholozi ushaya isqueakie takkie

A POEM FOR JZ by Mark Berger

O JZ dear JZ
Our new leader you are
From humble beginnings
You’ve really come far.

And now is your time
To shine and be strong
And make a real difference
And prove them all wrong.

We hope you will show us
The man that you are
With the mind of a politician
And the voice of a rock star.

The ladies will swoon
And many will say
That you use much less botox
Than Zille of the DA.

You’ve shrugged off the charges
You’ve given us hope
You even have managed
To fight off the COPE.

We hope you are firm
We hope you are fair
We hope you will never
Put colour in your hair.

We hope you can calm us
When voices are shrill
We hope you get along
with Patricia de Lille.

As well as the opposition
Who will question you so
And challenge your decisions
To ensure that we grow.

For we really do need you
And you really need us
But who really needs
The Freedom Front Plus?

Our politicians are many
Their ideas are too
But it’s not what they say
It’s about what they DO!

We want you to solve
The serious dilemma
Of that very strange man
Called Julius Malema.

And also the Taxis
Who break all the rules
And endanger our lives
And drive like real fools.

We need lots of jobs
And houses and things
And maybe in our parks
For the kids, some swings?

We need much less crime
And violence and fear
And much less of those who
Make corruption their career.

We want service delivery
And efficiency and speed
And competent people
We do urgently need.

To run the departments
Which impact the lives
Of our sons and our daughters
And our parents and wives.

And Africa she needs us
To show her the way
Out of gradual decline
And rapid decay.

But don’t try to fix Africa
By neglecting the South
As was tried by Mbeki
With his pipe in his mouth.

Our economy is strong
And it can still get stronger
If the minister of finance
Could just stay a bit longer?

Cause we want this to work
And we need you to win
And make better lives for those
Who voted you in.

Without grabbing the farmland
Without calling for war
Without making the mistakes
Of Mad Bob next door.

We’re a Banana Republic
I’m hearing some say
But I think we are more like
A Choc Nut sundae.

With some white and some brown
And some nuts in between
And a warm, rich black topping
With a dollop of cream.

So we hope you’re a fighter
Who will fight the good fight
For the blacks and the coloureds
And indians and whites

We hope you will lead us
With vision and grace
So we can become
A much better place.

Yes you are our leader
And we wish you the best
As the next few years
Put you to the test.

So we send you best wishes
And hope you do well
And as they say in the classics

Good Luck Msholozi!

What is the Open Opportunity Society for All?

“Realising The Open Opportunity Society For All: A Policy Platform”, June 2008, Ryan Coetzee – Democratic Alliance


The Democratic Alliance’s vision for South Africa is of “an Open Opportunity Society for All”, a society in which every person has the right, the space and the capability to be himself, develop herself and pursue his own ends as an equal and fully legitimate citizen of South Africa.

Our updated policy platform – the Open Opportunity Society in Action – gives substance to that vision.

The purpose of this introduction is to fill out our understanding of the Open Opportunity Society for All, providing a clear exposition of the values and ideas on which it is based.


The three components of the Open Opportunity Society for All

The term “Open Opportunity Society for All” brings together three key concepts – individual freedom under the rule of law, opportunity with responsibility and full equality for all – and in doing so, creates a fourth concept that underpins our vision of the proper relationship between individuals, the state and society in South Africa today. Our vision is grounded in the idea that every human being has a right to dignity. Human dignity is the foundational concept that informs our values and vision.

An open society

There are six key components of an open society:

  • A constitution that enshrines the rule of law, individual rights and freedoms and the separation of powers;
  • Transparency and accountability, without which governments abuse their power and compromise the freedoms enshrined in the constitution;
  • Security of person and property;
  • An independent and free-thinking civil society, including a free and independent media and a free and independent political opposition that is loyal to the constitutional order;
  • A general tolerance of difference on the part of the population; and
  • An economy that is characterised primarily by the free choices of individuals.

The two key ideas that unite these five components are the related ideas of individual freedom and the limitation of state power. They are related because an extension of state power necessitates a limitation of individual freedom and vice versa. In other words, an open society is one in which individuals are free to be themselves and pursue their own ends, and in which both the law and the attitudes of the population provide the space for them so to be.

In protecting and promoting an open society in South Africa, the Democratic Alliance must identify and oppose attempts to limit the space for individual freedom and actively promote the extension of such space.

An opportunity society

Every person in an open society enjoys the same formal freedoms, but those freedoms can be impossible to take advantage of in practice if the people concerned do not have the wherewithal – the money, power and opportunity – actually to be themselves, to develop themselves and to pursue their own ends.

For example, how can a child really be herself, develop herself and pursue her own ends if she is born into poverty, without the prospect of a decent education, without access to basic healthcare, with little prospect of gainful employment, without the money to fight for her rights in a court, constrained all the while by cultural traditions that pay little heed to her own wishes?

What is required then is for people to be offered the opportunity to develop the capabilities needed to take advantage of the formal freedoms they enjoy; the wherewithal actually to be themselves, to develop themselves and to pursue their own ends.

In an opportunity society, therefore, your path in life is not determined by the circumstances of your birth, including both your material and “demographic” circumstances, but rather by your talents and by your efforts. That is why, in an opportunity society, a child born in poverty should nevertheless be able to become a brain surgeon, provided he has the talent and puts in the effort required to succeed.

Both civil society and the state have a role to play in creating opportunity for citizens, while individuals have a responsibility to make use of the opportunities on offer.

The proper relationship between the state and the individual in an Open Opportunity Society for All is outlined below, and this relationship is given concrete expression in our policy platform.

First, however, the final concept in the Open opportunity Society – the idea that South Africa is “for all”, or as Nelson Mandela famously said, “belongs to all who live in it, both black and white.”

A society for all its people

There is a long history of racial and ethnic division in South Africa; of racist discrimination; of racial suspicion and competition.

In order to transcend this past, and usher in an era in which people are judged by their character, their effort and their contribution, and not by their race, we believe that attitude and policy should be based on the following:

  • An absolute rejection of discrimination on grounds of race and other characteristics of birth;
  • A clear acknowledgement that there is a long history of racial discrimination and oppression in South Africa, that it was wrong and that positive action is now required to make it right. That positive action must be targeted at individuals who still suffer the effects of discrimination, not at groups. It must provide opportunity to the disadvantaged without shutting off opportunity to the advantaged;
  • A clear acknowledgement that all South Africans are legitimate and enjoy full moral equality – that is what it means to say South Africa “belongs” to all who live in it; and
  • The active protection and promotion of the language and culture of all South Africans.


The proper relationship between the state and the individual in an Open Opportunity Society for All

In acting to extend opportunity to all, the state must ensure that it does not compromise the freedom of the individual. To do so would be to shut down the open society. On the other hand, to neglect those without the wherewithal to direct their own lives in the name of freedom is to shut down the opportunity society.

Therefore, in an opportunity society that also values individual freedom, the state’s role must be to facilitate, not direct, the activity of citizens; if it provides services, it must seek to expand choice, not determine choices; it must not simply “deliver” to a passive citizenry, which takes what it is lucky enough to get, but must allow the citizenry to determine which opportunities it requires; it must encourage independence, not dependence.

In other words, the free, independent, active individual is at the heart of the opportunity society, both in determining the opportunities required and in taking advantage of them.

Each policy put forward by the DA will tease out more concretely the relationship between the state and individuals in that area. But in each case, our policies will:

  • Seek to give citizens a say in determining the opportunities and intervention they require from the state, not determine for citizens what they need;
  • Expand choice, not contract it;
  • Require people to take personal responsibility for making use of their opportunities, not reward laziness or a sense of entitlement;
  • Promote excellence in performance;
  • Not be accepting of mediocrity;
  • Promote independence and the attainment of self-reliance, not dependence and passivity;
  • Be grounded in care and compassion for people, not coldness or callousness.
  • Respect and promote the history and culture of all South Africans, not privilege some over others, whether explicitly or implicitly;
  • Reject discrimination on grounds of race and other characteristics of birth, and not engage in practices that re-racialise South Africa; and
  • Promote redress for those individuals who today suffer the consequences of past discrimination, but not shut off opportunities for the advantaged in the process.



The DA’s vision for South Africa is achievable. Our cause is to promote it and, through winning support for it, to put it into action.

We believe it is a compelling vision, harnessing all that is best in human kind, grounded in a rightly optimistic view of our capacity to live well together, and to succeed.

Our policy programme gives concrete expression to our vision. On the one hand, it is conservative: it seeks to protect the gains we have made in establishing a democratic society under a constitution; on the other hand, it is an agenda for radical change: it seeks a fundamental transformation of South Africa, from the racial division, abuse of state power, patronage and dependence of the past to a society in which every person really does have the right, the space and the opportunity to be themselves, develop themselves and pursue their own ends.

The ANC, COPE and the DA in a rapidly maturing Democratic South Africa

Contrary to popular belief, the ANC is not first and foremost a political party, but rather a liberation movement which has, since 1994, been attempting the near impossible task of transforming itself into a homogenous political party.

The ANC was established in 1912 as the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) to pursue the interests of the oppressed black South African population living under the laws and social constructs that came to be the most formalised racial discrimination in the world: Apartheid.  Between 1912 and 1994, the ANC defined itself around the singular challenge of securing a free and equal South Africa for all South Africans, regardless of their race.

During the 82 years between 1912 and 1994, the ANC gradually transformed from a pressure group into a militant liberation movement.  During those years the organisation utilised every conceivable form of campaigning, protests, passive resistance, international appeals and the like before eventually resorting to armed resistance in the 1980s.

The ANC’s membership comprised everyone willing and interested in a free and equal South Africa; anyone interested in the liberation of non-white South Africans from the injustices of the Apartheid regime.  The membership of the ANC was thus not as one might find in a traditional political party such as the Democratic Alliance – an organisation rooted in liberal politics, and thus comprising largely liberal thinking South Africans – but rather it was diverse in political ideology, ranging from communists to capitalists, all united under the banner of liberation.

When freedom came to South African in 1994, the ANC as a liberation movement achieved the goal which it had worked to secure for over 80 years, and thus began the transition from liberation movement to political party.  Since 1994 the ANC has struggled to unite ideologies within its ranks ranging from peaceful free market capitalism to militant communism, and the recent rift which saw the birth of another political party was the inevitable result. The ANC is rapidly maturing into a more leftist political party and is shedding much of the ideological baggage that its current leadership bloc no longer tolerates.

The split of the ANC spells the death of this liberation movement and sees the birth of one political party and the purification of another.  The ANC will finally have ideological purity, more left leaning than it has been since 1994; and the Congress of the People (COPE) will attract the more centrist and progressive members of the ANC.

These events will go some way to bringing clarity to the voter, letting them know exactly what the ANC is and what it stands for.  The voices of Jacob Zuma and Julius Malema, influenced as they are by their SACP and COSATU alliance partners, will no longer be tempered by moderate or liberal ANC leaders who have attempted to maintain the centrist image of the ANC.

COPE and a resurgent Democratic Alliance (DA) pose a significant threat to ANC dominance in post-independence South Africa.  COPE will appeal to a range of South Africans for a variety reasons from ethnicity, where it is perceived as being Xhosa aligned, to competence where it may be able to lay claim to having attracted more qualified and experienced leaders and politicians from the ANC and other parties.

The DA has a new leader in Helen Zille who is as yet untested in a major election, but if the results of the recent round of by-elections in South Africa are anything to go by (the DA won as many wards as the ANC, 11, followed by COPE with 10), then the DA should have a good showing in the April 2009 poll.  Helen Zille has proven herself able to connect and identify with the average South African and her prominent and effective mayorship of the City of Cape Town has won her many supporters, especially from the Coloured community.

Many prominent South Africans, most notably Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, have expressed their dissatisfaction with the performance of the ANC government, especially with regard to pertinent issues such as the provision of basic services, housing, land reform and crime.  Tutu recently publicly expressed his intention to withhold his vote in the upcoming poll in what has become a clear example to other disenchanted ANC supporters that they can apply pressure on their party without actually voting against it.

In the two polls since 1994, the number of voters turning out for the ANC has dropped by an average of 1.5 million votes.  The ANC, however, managed to increase its winning margin due to the decrease of more than 3 million voters participating in the polls as a whole.  The notable exception to this trend has been the Democratic Alliance who, as the Democratic Party, secured only 1.73% in 1994 but won significant increases at each of the 1999 and 2004 polls.  Nearly six times as many people voted for the DA in 2004 than did for the DP in 1994, resulting in an over 7-fold increase in the percentage vote when compared with 1994.

Table 1: Comparison of Election Results since 1994


ANC Votes


DA Votes

DA %

Total Votes



















The emergence of COPE and its mobilisation of a significant proportion of ANC supporters, atop widespread dissatisfaction with the performance of the ANC, pose a very real threat to the ANC at the upcoming poll.  The Democratic Alliance’s recent by-election successes and increasingly popular leader also hint at the possibility of a significant increase in DA support in April.

Consider a scenario where the Democratic Alliance, with a revitalised brand and Helen Zille at the helm, manage to increase their support to 17.5% of the total vote by consolidating opposition support and winning over a small number of ANC voters; COPE secure 10%, largely from ANC voters but potentially also consolidating the opposition vote; and minority parties such as the IFP, UDM, ID, ACDP, FF+, MF manage to secure 15% (down from around 17% in 2004).

Such a scenario would leave the ANC with 57.5% of the vote and only 230 out of 400 seats in the National Assembly (down from 279 in 2004), revoking the constitutional majority held by the ANC since 2004.  Additionally, were the ANC to lose control of the Western Cape, the Northern Cape and possibly the Eastern Cape, this would result in the upper house of Parliament, the National Council of Provinces, becoming a more useful democratic institution than it is now.  Presently, the ANC controls all 9 provinces and the NCOP effectively rubber-stamps all resolutions sent through the house.

The changes in the South African political landscape since the recall of President Mbeki in late September last year have been numerous and significant.  The recall of the President on the basis of a court judgement that has since been set aside, alienated with finality many ANC supporters from the post-Polokwane leadership of the Party.  The decision created the precedent upon which the National Convention was called and held in Sandton and ultimately, The Congress of the People formed, all within less than 3 months of President Mbeki leaving office.

Democracy in South Africa will be strengthened in three significant regards as a result of these changes, making 2009 the most important year for South Africa since 1994.  First, and most importantly, ANC will find it extremely difficult to maintain more than two-thirds of the vote and will thus lose its constitutional majority.  Second, the emergence of COPE will add another opposition voice to the fray, greatly increasing the number of people who can oppose abuse of power or poor performance by the ANC. Third, the potential is created for COPE and DA to form coalitions to win provinces and municipalities and ultimately work closely together to form a united opposition – with a merger a real possibility within 10 or even 5 years of this election.

The election in April this year provides an opportunity for every South African to make their choice about the direction our democracy takes.  In the 15 years under the stewardship of the ANC the South African Government has failed to realise the potential this country holds to create prosperity for all.  Every South African must be encouraged to make their mark and get out and vote for CHANGE.

The State of the Nation: A Response

I write this response as proud 25 year old South African living in Durban. I will acknowledge now that I am writing this letter from the ‘ivory tower’ that is the upper-middle class lifestyle that many white South Africans are fortunate to be living in. I do not believe, however, that my fortunate socio-economic status renders me any less qualified to comment on the state of our Nation than any other South African.

In 1994, to a 12 year old boy, the miracle taking place in our country was not something I was able to fully understand. Fortunately, with the support of my ex-Rhodesian parents, I came to understand just how important freedom was to the majority of South Africans and how unique the South African passage to democracy had been when compared with the Zimbabwe/Rhodesia example and, indeed, that of virtually every other African state.

I was proud: proud to be a part of the miracle; proud of our people and their willingness to work together for greater good; and in the early years that followed, proud of the achievements of the Government of National Unity and the new ANC-led government under Nelson Mandela.

Mr Mbeki was someone I was intensely proud of – he was a moderate and reasonable President, which, after the magic of Madiba, was what the young South African democracy needed. ‘Mr Delivery’ was going to see to it that the ANC did indeed create a better life for all by focusing on the delivery of basic services to the poor, growth in the economy and the creation of jobs.

Unfortunately, President Mbeki remains somebody who I was proud of. In time he showed himself to be consistently poor in his leadership of both Government and the ANC. South Africa can be thankful it got a centrist leader in Mbeki, but further than the political and economic stability such a leader provides, our President failed to deliver on his party’s promises to the people of South Africa.

ANC MP Kader Asmal, who will be retiring from Politics this year, was forthright about the risks involved in Government’s ever aggressive stance on transformation at a recent conference on racism: “People are being appointed who have no experience. We need to do an introspective evaluation of affirmative action. You can’t employ a tone deaf person to direct an orchestra or a brain surgeon who doesn’t know science.”

Minerals and Energy Minister, Buyelwa Sonjica, said in Parliament that “[the] government cannot give up its transformation targets in order to solve the energy crisis”. In 2001, Robert Mugabe led his government in Zimbabwe, in a grand manifestation of what I believe is the same sentiment expressed by Minister Sonjica, to seize white-owned commercial farms because land reform was more important that safeguarding the fundamentals of the Zimbabwean economy.

In that single campaign, Mugabe effectively whipped the rug from beneath the feet of the Zimbabwean economy and in the wake of the resultant crises, greatly reduced the means with which the Government could, if it wanted to, support the people of Zimbabwe – all in the name of the people.

In South Africa, the Land Bank is a key state institution in the drive to effect land reform and more importantly, the promotion of sustainable and economically productive activity in the agricultural sector. A forensic audit of the Land Bank, performed at the instruction of cabinet by Deloitte & Touche in 2007 brought to light the misappropriation of at least R20 billion worth of agricultural development funding in a stark example of the ANC Government’s wavering focus as cronyism and patronage politics take root. The credibility of the Land Bank came into question again at the end of the February 2008 when their auditors Ernst & Young indicated that unless the bank appointed senior officials with suitable qualifications it would terminate its relationship with the bank.

If one day the South African Government decided to answer the land reform question in a manner similar to what happened in Zimbabwe in 2001, would it be because of unwillingness on the part of white farmers to sell land that they, reasonably, feel they have claim to – quite possibly; but will it also be because the Department tasked with resolving this critical and sensitive issue was fraught with incompetence, mismanagement and corruption – most definitely.

Economic growth is the fundamental underpinning precursor to Government meeting its Millennium Development Goals by 2014, and electricity is fundamental to that growth. Indeed, the top 5 of the President’s list of Apex Priorities were related to “the further acceleration of our economic growth and development”, but without sufficient economic growth, accelerated transformation will serve only reduce the productivity of business and parastatals by replacing experience with inexperience.

‘Business Unusual’ is how the President describes the work ahead of the country over the next year. If the ANC was proud of the work it has been doing and impressed with the progress it has been making then, most certainly, they would be ordering more Business As Usual – but they are not. ‘Business Unusual’ means Government has realised it must greatly accelerate delivery on the promises it made when 69% of the people of South Africa voted for the ANC in 2004.

This year will be the fourteenth year that the people of South Africa have been waiting on the ANC to deliver on its many promises and indeed some promises made in the 1994 campaign have yet to be delivered upon. During President Mebki’s second term as President, we have seen conditions deteriorate in areas from food security to electricity and government accountability, health and education. All of these issues are considerably to the detriment of the millions of poor and understandably expectant South Africans who voted the ANC back into power in 2004.

South Africans in the middle to upper-class brackets are less materially affected by deteriorating social and economic conditions than their poorer and less fortunate compatriots, and are thus more likely to weather the economic storm. In January 2008, CPIX, which best represents inflation as it affects middle to upper-class South Africans, rose to 8.8% whereas CPI, which best represents lower income earners rose to 9.3%. Poor South Africans are bearing the brunt of the economic woes resulting from poor ANC government policy and even poorer policy implementation.

President Mbeki’s ‘Business Unusual’ address and its accompanying Apex Priorities thus, unsurprisingly, list, among the top fifteen projects (of 24 in total), six ‘Social Cluster’ projects aimed at shoring up the “War against Poverty”. I would suggest as plausible the assertion that the ANC is worried that a great many poor South Africans are tired of waiting for the ANC and their promises and that in 2009 voters will seek other political parties to champion their rights. The General Election next year will test this assertion and it is my sincere hope that the ANC meets with stiff competition.

Written for and in the interests of a free, open and prosperous South Africa served by a committed, open and accountable government.

Warwick Bruce Chapman