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Toilet elections need fresh air

Posted by: Pumelela Nqelenga

Pumelela Nqelenga



These Toilet Elections have made our democracy reeked of media incompetence and lack of public engagement.

The 2011 local government elections have made me look at politics and the process of democracy differently.

We have all heard the infamous notion of “my vote is my secret” which as lead large portions of South Africans using this notion as motto of what elections mean to them.

In other words the elections for these citizens have always been about the “self” and fulfilling what “I” desire. Thus my vote is for my needs, my wants, my party, my financial aspirations, my, my, my... 

When I asking the apathetic voter about why they didn’t vote, their answer came down to one sentence; “there is no political party that meets my needs”.

Media mediocrity   

Some media and political experts believe that the coverage of the Toilet Elections disappointed our democratic nation.

For example, political blogger of Constitutionally Speaking, Pierre de Vos, expresses that the media failed to give smaller parties coverage in the 2011 elections. He states that:

“Judging from the media, smaller parties have almost completely disappeared from the electoral radar screens. This election was presented in the media as a two-horse race between the ANC and the DA, which probably benefited the DA (whose stature was enhanced by being treated as being in the same league as the ANC) and for obvious reasons disadvantaged the ANC.”

To many South Africans who voted on the 18th of May, they must have felt the shock I felt when I realised there were so many other candidates on the ballot sheet whom I did not see in my local and national media.

Grubstreet publisher and freelance journalists Gill Moodie further supports de Vos by stating the that the lack of sophistication my South African media failed the process of the elections.

I agree with de Vos and Moodie but I feel to some extent it is the nature of which we practise politics in this country that has allowed us to be a one party state.

Public to Private

As much as the media is at fault, I believe the way in which we have personalised politics to be about the ‘me’ and not about the ‘we’, has failed us as a democratic state.

People have dragged politics to the private realm and not allowed it to flourish in the public sphere where it belongs.

Debating with the television screen (since your vote/politics is your secret) will not solve the problems in your community and yours for that matter.

Instead it will drive you mad to the point where you switch off your TV set and as a result; switch off politics until normal programming resumes.

In other words your frustrations of not being heard (since the TV screen will never talk back to you) will result in the ever popular feeling of apathy towards politics.

The fear of openness and public-ness about elections (perhaps inherited from our Apartheid past) deprives us of the most important part of democracy and that being the freedom of expression.

Local government should never be about big parties but be about the community leaders who serve the community.

Digital Solution

If we all know that national politics is very different to local politics, then why do we trouble ourselves with toilet issues in Cape Town when there are issues in your own community?

Let us start with public platforms where my neighbour and I can start making decisions about what is happening in our community.

Each ward councillor should have social networks where we can experience transparency and interaction with our leaders.

Chances are your community leaders will never make it on the television screen, unless, of course, it is about a scandal or something concerning corruption and has national interest.

Well, my point is that they will not speak to you on a national platform.

Thus social networks places politics where it belongs and that being the social and the public and perhaps as South African our political culture will develop for the better.


Comments (1)Add Comment
written by Politrix, May 30, 2011
Isn't a ward councillor's social network his or her community? And isn't the body that is supposed to keep him or her accountable supposed to be a ward committee? Social media and networks can be used to augment and extend those spheres for accountability but would have limited influence in poorer communities due to digital divides. I think there are arguments needed for more sophisticated strategies for political communication of all politicians with their constituents. However, that still doesn't solve the problem of the 43-45% of South Africans who registered to vote but didn't turn up at the polls. They don't need more social media - they need alternatives - and the racial and racialised nature of South African politics militates against this.

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