Monday the 23rd of August saw the first inaugural meeting of the City of Johannesburg’s new council.
As had been expected, the meeting was going to be a showdown between different political parties on who should govern the economic hub of the Gauteng Province.
The ANC, although receiving the highest amount of votes and seats in council, would like any other party need to inspire confidence in fellow councillors within council on the candidates it would nominated for the position of Speaker, Mayor and Chief Whip in order to get the above 50% plus one.
Thus the rights for councillors to vote and be voted for freely in these position was a critical component of a maturing democracy void of any intimidation.
One cannot proclaim to be a defender of democracy on one hand and in the work to its detriment.
Although such hypocrisy is to be expected from the Economic Freedom Fighters, never has one experienced it as such a close range as was the case with having to oversee the election process with the party’s deputy leader Floyd Shivambu as a counterpart party agent.
Perhaps one should have expected it when Shivambu decided to be a party agent (the only party to send a national leader to do this task) Indeed all parties have a right to delegate any member of their organisation to be party agent, but surprisingly the EFF choose him.
At first hand, one suspected that the EFF sent its second most senior member as a reflection of the lack of confidence they have in their ordinary member or leaders of their regional structures in Joburg. One can’t imagine the ANC, DA or IFP sending a National Leader of their organisation to oversee voting of regional areas when there are other layers of capable leadership at lower structures of the organisation. The EFF felt the process could only be managed by its Deputy President through the use of intimidation tactics.
So it started, first a scathing attack on the credibility of the proceeding officer before we had even agreed on the voting processes.
The words and phrases of “we are in charge here”, “we won’t be told by you” and “we are going to tell you how things are going to run here” flowed easily from the honourable Deputy President of the EFF’s lips.
What startled me the most is the lack of basic understanding of the right to cast your vote in secret, which was consistently undermined and wrongfully interpreted by the so- called commissar of the EFF.
Perhaps the EFF’s own insecurities, rightly or wrongly so, of the fighters they were deploying to Joburg council, was on display.
This induced such high levels of intimidation that EFF and DA councillors felt obliged to contravene Section 47 subsection 6 (B) and (C) of the Municipal Electoral Act, which not only require one to “mark the ballot paper of papers in secrecy” but further to also “fold the ballot paper or papers to conceal the voters vote”.
As the ANC raised this objection with the IEC that councillors must not open their ballots upon marking. This as was viewed on TV by South Africans translated to halting of voting for over 20 minutes. At this stage, it was remarkable to see the response and arguments of the “defenders of the democracy and constitution” in the form of the EFF and DA party agents.
It was clear, presented to them by the ANC in black and white as contained the Electoral Act of 2000 as amended.
Yet the second highest member of the so called government in waiting could not appreciate the need for the voting process to be in secrecy.
At the core of this procedure is the right to express your choose void of any intimidation even from the ranks of your one’s own party members. Thus the debate, or the lack their off from the EFF and DA party agent, ensued against a visibly clear clause which did not require for one to have a masters in law degree from Harvard to understand, but more importantly appreciate.
When it was clear that they had run out of insults against us and that their argument was slippery to say the least, they began to retreat to their station with what we thought was a free lecture on South African Constitutional law and the legislative requirement on voting.
This was however short lived when 5 minutes later the ANC had to once again object to fighters now taking pictures in the voting booth.
These are lessons we must not take lightly as a young democracy in the process of robust change in some of our areas in our country.
The ANC has a responsibility in its defence of democracy not only to protect those who voted for it, but even those who voted against it even when it is their own party members who apply this pressure. Thus the IEC ruled in favour of the ANC in Joburg on both these issues, accordingly the ANC objection not only protecting the choice of its councillors but also that of its counterpart councillors in this new peculiar coalition of the EFF and DA.
CDE. TEBOGO THOTHELA IS DEPUTY PRESIDENT OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN UNION OF STUDENTS (SAUS)