Elections 2024 A New Dawn For South Africa

I remember the day as if it was yesterday – April 27 1994. I was standing in a long row of people – all eager and ready to vote. For many it was the first time ever. So many people had waited for this day so long. The first all-inclusive democratic elections in the beloved country. My heart was so full of joy that this day, for which millions had prayed for years, had finally arrived. As I waited for hours to cast my vote – I did not mind how long I had to wait – my heart was filled with gratitude. Everyone I could see was chatting to another nearby. I heard no moans – only saw friendly faces. This surely was one of the most wonderful days in my life. At last, we were one nation.

I remember the honeymoon years of Mandela’s leadership

This momentous day was 30 years ago. I remember the honeymoon years of Mandela’s leadership after that. We were the toast of the world. In 1995 we won the Rugby World Cup. Economically we made fabulous progress. Houses were being built for the poor, so many more children attended school, health services were being opened up for everyone. I was in the higher education sector then, and it was a dream to teach students from all backgrounds, hungry to learn.

But heaven on Earth did not last. The priorities of our leaders shifted. So many opportunities for personal enrichment seemed to open up. Service delivery to the people started taking a back seat. Our currency steadily lost value against the dollar, pound and other currencies. Joblessness increased and now stands at 32%. State entities, like ESKOM, the health sector, municipalities, South African Airways, South African Railways and the Post Office started becoming dysfunctional. National infrastructure like roads and water treatment works, started showing severe deficiencies. Even our revenue service came under threat. Our leaders allowed foreigners to plunder some of the wealth of the country in return for personal favours, and a new term state capture was on the lips of concerned citizens for more than 10 years. Corruption became so endemic that law enforcement agencies like the police service, the National Prosecuting Agency, and the courts are being viewed with suspicion.

Opportunists would find loopholes

Maybe the growth of widespread corruption was to be expected. With many new operators, largely inexperienced, entering the different sectors, it was to be expected that opportunists would find loopholes, and exploit systems that do not have tight security or performance checks in place.

Not everything in the beloved country has been doom and gloom over the past 20 years. There are many people who have never given up the ideal of Ubuntu. Ever since 1994 they have embraced it as a new way of life. They interact with compassion, love and a real sense of caring. Every day they greet others – strangers from all walks of life – with a friendly comment, which is returned with the same cheerfulness. Ubuntu (humanity to others) has become a way of life – it is part of Africa’s soul. And we do it because we love every one we meet daily.

What can leaders do?

So, the question is: how do our leaders take us out of the downward spiral? What is going to be different this time round after the elections? How will we create a new future for all the people?

I believe that there will be a significant change this time round. Allow me to give you some of my reasons.

Wrong actions are being exposed. In the past seven or eight years we have had people who were courageous enough to effectively communicate that self-enrichment through corporate or other types of corruption is not ok. Some of these are in government positions, from which they use their power to oppose wrong actions – members of the opposition who fearlessly have exposed questionable practices. Despite being initially unsuccessful, they have persevered in bringing corrupt actions to the public’s attention. They have inspired young people to follow their example and do what is right. The youthful mayor Christopher Pappas of the uMngeni municipality springs to mind. Their respectful, principle-based leadership achieves greater positive results than the disruptive, often outrageous statements made by other opposition parties.

Decisive action of courageous leaders. Another phenomenon which is changing South Africa’s political landscape, is that some people who were in powerful leadership positions have resigned from these because they disagreed with the principles by which the organizations in which they were, were being run. I am thinking of people like Patricia de Lille, Mmusi Maimane and Herman Mashaba.

Patricia de Lille

De Lille was a former Member of Parliament with the Pan African Congress. She exposed the arms deal from which many South African politically connected persons (Tony Yengeni, Shabir Shaik and many others in official government positions) benefited. The Government under Thabo Mbeki in 1999 and later under Jacob Zuma procured modern defense equipment from European arms manufacturers. De Lille persevered under death threats and severe criticism by parliament colleagues for many years to bring this opportunistic self-enrichment into the light.  She is now the leader of her own political party, the Good party which will participate in the 2024 elections.

Mmusi Maimane

  1. Mmusi Maimane, former leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA), from 2014 – 2019, left the DA because he wanted to transform it into a party that was trusted by the black majority of South Africans. His methods and initiatives were not embraced by a dominant white leadership sector of the party who had been members for many years, and he found it too difficult to transform the DA culture to make it attractive to the majority black population. In 2022 he formed the BOSA party – Build One South Africa – which will contest the election on May 29.

Herman Mashaba,

  1. Herman Mashaba, former DA mayor of Johannesburg (2016-2019) resigned his position as mayor, and his membership of the DA because, in his own words: “I cannot reconcile myself with people who believe that race is not important in their discussion of inequalities.” He formed the Action SA party in 2020, which will also contest this election.There are many other courageous people who have left powerful leadership positions because they did not receive the necessary support of co-leaders in their organizations. In the coming elections there will be 52 parties and independent candidates standing for election to Parliament.

Changed decision-making process.

This is a sign that we have a new, strong set of leaders who are not afraid to face tough circumstances and are prepared to give what it takes to change these circumstances so that all people can have a better life. There are many more political parties now in government than were originally in 1994 when the country first became a democracy. The result is that in many structures at the local and provincial government level, very few of the parties enjoy a clear majority.

In order to function adequately, the political parties that participate in these structures have to form coalitions. The decision-making process in coalitions is more complex than in single majority structures, because so much more communication among different participating groupings is necessary. Before decisions are taken, consensus has to be reached on the wording of proposals as well as the communication of decision criteria. This complexity, however, has the benefit of enforcing a greater degree of carefulness and personal responsibility in public debate, as well as an awareness of the need for courtesy in formal discussions.

The need for effective, efficient coalitions is much greater

While many of the coalition structures have not yet achieved the levels of courtesy that the public expects from their leaders, all participants are becoming aware of the negative impact that undisciplined behaviour has on the reputation of the party to which they belong. The need for the formation of effective and efficient coalitions after the 2024 elections is so much greater, since this time there are 52 parties and independent candidates standing for election to parliament alone – more numerous than ever before.

Communication channels are more extensive

The communication channels between political leaders and ordinary citizens are much more extensive, and effective. Through the different social media platforms (Instagram, X, Facebook) any person can broadcast his/her opinion of the actions of leaders to millions of people within very short timespans. This forces public figures to be extremely careful as to what information becomes public property. The platforms can also be used powerfully as information channels to advance the actions of the various government entities. Those parties and leaders that use these platforms effectively can bring about far-reaching change within limited time spans.

I am looking forward to a new chapter in the life of beloved South Africa and all her beautiful people, that will be ushered in by the elections of May 29. Aren’t you?

Wolfgang Bernhardt is an engineer by profession. His passion is empowering professionals to achieve outstanding project execution.

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