Time for citizens to have their say

In addition, there was land restitution, radical economic transformation, and the immigration and urbanisation issues associated with foreign nationals. These themes permeated speeches made over the weekend and are the basis on which voters were asked to vote. The sub-context is that they are even prepared to coalesce around these in the event of a less than 50% performance.

The commonalities in the rhetoric and realism of manifestos attest to the call by Thabo Mbeki, incidentally supported by President Cyril Ramaphosa and influential civil society leaders, for a national dialogue.

The economic crisis, intertwined with threats to democracy as manifested by public infrastructure decay and myriad service delivery dysfunctions, demands the renewal of political and societal systems to align with national realities. This requires a renewed commitment to the constitutional and democratic order, leveraging collective intelligence and civic engagement to confront and adapt to the challenges of disintegrating social cohesion. This was the sub-context of several speeches over the weekend.

The land issue, acutely represented by the remonstrations around the Ingonyama Trust, as the abstraction of the general, indicates that land as a national grievance issue is generating echoes of conversations that must burst into the open. 

The potential disintegration of the centre in certain provinces will rapidly erode the stability of the democratic order. Polls indicate a dramatic change in voting patterns in KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape, Gauteng and Limpopo, which account for 66.56% of the registered voters. With a stretched margin of error downwards of the polls, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng will not have a party polling above the 50% required threshold to govern.

The MK party dynamic has made this a reality in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, while the Patriotic Alliance and the Gaza crisis will be dynamics in the Western Cape. Whatever the messages, the numbers indicate a coalition-intensive political future for SA, a context favourable for an anti-majority rule favouring economic establishment.

A complex coalition government-induced intergovernmental relations system will be an outcome the centrist bureaucracy will be challenged to handle in the national government. Beyond the vote, SA might have several reset buttons to press, the most critical being the government of national unity button.

Among SA’s political parties, acutely many in their national executive committees or C-suite levels, not one of them is ready to meet the coalition government, government of national unity and sheer bureaucratic demands of the post-election context to be triggered by the accompanying political mandate asymmetries. Political mandates will be federal, while political parties are still centralist.

As voters will be responding to the politicians they have heard during campaigns, the great question is to what depth are the listening competencies of the politicians. Our emerging politics tells us that the new form of the voter is nothing common or mediocre. It tells us that the SA voter has become more predictable, and the electoral outcomes in 2016 and 2021 in urban municipalities are evidence.

Evolving democracies are like a map where the boundaries expand into untold possibilities. The true test of the templates our constitutional order is about will be stretched and tested to their limits. 

• Dr FM Lucky Mathebula is a public policy analyst and founder of Tshwane-based think-tank The Thinc Foundation.

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