Heroes of Democracy Are In South Africa

By Martins Oloja

AFTER WATCHING all the shenanigans, peccadillos, frills and thrills of the strange Democracy Day June 12, 2024, last week, I had wanted to write on the inconclusive list of ‘Heroes of Democracy” President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s historians drew up and made public on May 29, 2024.

I wanted to deconstruct the list, which markedly diminished the democratic landmark as an event rather than a process. I intended to reveal from my June 12 “diary of a debacle” as Professor Olatunji Dare’s book on the subject calls it, and list more significant “Heroes of June 12 Debacle” that the Tinubu Government curiously forgot last Wednesday.

But the wind of our perilous time had after the June 12 self-glorification in Abuja digitally blown me to South Africa where I think we should share more significant lessons on how to nurture democracy for development at this time. That is where they have organic heroes of democracy. Or so it seems.

And so, I would just like us to join others to tell our leaders that South Africa has left us behind and we can’t continue deceiving ourselves with stale statistics and data that rebasing of the economy alone done so many years ago will continue to make us Africa’s richest economy without reforming our political culture.

I took my time to follow the South Africa’s elections as a process, not just the events of the last few days in their parliament. And I came to the conclusion that really that the people of Nigeria and indeed the elites must begin to build a consensus to restructure our political system away from this very expensive and opaque presidential system of government. Yes a presidential system that can easily facilitate state capture, which can render the majesty of the principles of separation of powers useless. This is not a reflection on systems of government that cannot work.

But from the democratic system I observed in South Africa last week, we are still far away into the wilderness.  Interestingly, the South Africa’s organic law doesn’t have immunity for the president and the premiers.  In their National Assembly, no powerful political leader can decide election of all the presiding officers. I think we need another Constituent Assembly that will lead us to a quasi-parliamentary system of government where even minority parties can shake table at a critical time of leadership recruitment.

The world has just witnessed a peaceful election in South Africa where there were no excuses of technical glitches. There was no serious allegation that political party primaries were marred by dubious processes and court injunctions. The election of presiding officers of the South Africa’s unicameral legislature was done with the involvement of the country’s Chief Justice inside the Chambers of the National Assembly. Despite their wealth and industrial and entrepreneurial power, they have only one chamber of the legislature. They also elect their regional premiers through a very simple and transparent process, no one disputes in court.

What is more interesting, there has emerged a national democratic culture of electing female speakers, sixth in a row, not through an affirmative action that some groups prefer. The female speakers have always evolved from sound education background and political party management experience and engagement.

I think we should swallow our pride and vanity to learn some lessons from South Africa that has emerged a clear leader of the continent. After last Friday’s conclusion of the election of the president at the National Assembly, the country’s president and regional premiers aren’t going to spend a dime from the country’s treasury on election petitions.
What is more, the election management agency isn’t going to parliament to ask for supplementary appropriation for by-elections and petitions. There will be no bill to the same parliament on how to set up electoral offences tribunal that will further blow up public expenditure. It is amazing how their democratic and governance institutions work for development.
The fact file:
It is all over the global media now that South Africa’s 2024 election holds key lessons for democratic maturity in Africa. The maturity of democracy hinges on the active participation of an informed electorate, the integrity of the electoral process and the willingness of political leaders to collaborate for the common good.

Doubtless, our leaders in Nigeria need to reflect on why not many Nigerians actually celebrated the so-called 25 years of unbroken democracy with them last Wednesday. All over the country, our leaders were just talking to themselves, making more promises the people knew would never be fulfilled.
In the elections in South Africa, which actually took place on May 29, 2024, the ruling ANC has lost its majority power in parliament but South African voters won. They now have an emerging Government of National Unity (GNU). One of the consequences of the new coalition government is that there will be a new deal in South Africa: South Africa’s ANC strikes coalition deal with free-market Democratic Alliance (DA).

The country’s second-largest party, DA agreed on Friday to support re-election of Cyril Ramaphosa as president and that is consequential.  The ANC and the DA have agreed to form a coalition in which the former liberation movement and the pro-business party will set aside their rivalry in an historic governance pact. The ANC lost its parliamentary majority in 29 May elections for the first time since it swept to power in 1994 at the end of apartheid. Its vote share collapsed from 57.5% in 2019 to 40.2%, as supporters defected to breakaway parties amid chronic unemployment and worsening public services.

Final results in seismic South Africa election confirm ANC has lost majority position.

The free-market-supporting DA, which received almost 22% of the vote, thereafter supported Ramaphosa’s election by lawmakers for a second term. In the new deal, DA’s MPs also voted for an ANC speaker of parliament in return for the position of deputy speaker. The deal was successful on Friday night. An ANC-DA coalition was favoured by large businesses and international investors, with Ramaphosa expected to continue to try pushing forward policies such as allowing the private sector to generate renewable energy, which has contributed to a fall in power cuts.

Negotiations will continue this on policies and cabinet positions, Steenhuisen DA leader said, adding that the two-week period after election results that the constitution mandates for the election of a president was not long enough to reach a full coalition agreement.

Meanwhile, two smaller parties, the Inkatha Freedom party (IFP), a Zulu nationalist party, and the Patriotic Alliance (PA), which wants to bring back the death penalty and deport illegal immigrants, have also said they would join the government.
The inclusion of the IFP, which received 3.8% of the vote, is seen as a way to deflect criticism of the ANC for working with the white-led DA. The PA, led by the self-described reformed bank robber Gayton McKenzie, got 2% of the vote and has its support base in South Africa’s coloured communities.

The ANC’s vote share collapsed in large part due to the new uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party, named for the ANC’s armed wing during apartheid. It came a surprise third place in the election with 14.6% of the vote, just six months after it was launched by the former president Jacob Zuma in December, who has feuded bitterly with Ramphosa since being forced to resign the presidency in 2018. Ramaphosa’s call for a GNU, however, was in keeping with his cautious political approach, some analysts said, and positioned the ANC as inclusive, with parties that didn’t join excluding themselves.

Another lesson here is that the ANC faces tough decisions after losing majority. But in Nigeria’s presidential system, you can lose majority and still win with our constitutional provision as long as the highest court in the land can confirm  your victory. Thereafter, the winner takes all (the decisions) and a compliant National Assembly can confirm anything for even a reckless executive head.  Now in South Africa’s constitutional democracy, the party without a majority will have to pick coalition partners and then try to reform itself in response to declining support. After losing majority, this is how conciliatory Ramaphosa sounded:

“Our people have spoken; whether we like it or not, they have spoken,” he said, adding that South Africans expected political parties to work together and find common ground….”
There is no protection for an incumbent president in South Africa. And so we can recall what led to the fall of Jacob Zuma:
A judicial inquiry alleged that Zuma fired competent officials, appointed loyal ministers and influenced the awarding of large contracts while he was a leader from 2009 to 2018. The deal was to benefit the Indian businessmen brothers Atul, Ajay and Rajesh Gupta, the 2022 Zondo commission report said, in a scandal known as “state capture”. Zuma, 82, who has waged a bitter feud with Ramaphosa, 71, since being ousted as president by the ANC, is due to go on trial next year on charges that he took bribes from the French arms manufacturer Thales in 1999. Zuma pleaded not guilty in the Thales case and has separately said the “state capture” allegations were part of a conspiracy against him.

In 2022, President Ramaphosa was under mounting pressure to resign when an inquiry found evidence that he might have committed serious misconduct in relation to a large amount of cash stolen from his game farm in 2020.
Trouble began when a South Africa’s former spy chief, Arthur Fraser, walked into a police station in June and accused Ramaphosa of money laundering, corruption and covering up a large theft of cash. In a sworn statement, Fraser said thieves had raided Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala game farm in February 2020, found at least $4 million in foreign cash hidden in furniture, and made off with the money. Police opened a criminal investigation into the case after Fraser’s statement, which raised questions about how Ramaphosa had acquired so much cash and whether he declared it. The media dubbed it the “farmgate” scandal. Ramaphosa was later cleared of the allegation.

As for Nigeria where it is well known that systemic corruption has produced the wealthiest people from a tribe of former political office holders, none of its former leaders is facing corruption charges. There is a curious immunity clause in Nigeria’s constitution for serving President and Governors of the 36 states of the federation. What is worse, no anti-graft agency can try former leaders for allegations of corrupt practices after leaving office. Any wonder then that South Africa is a member of the influential G-20 and BRICS (now expanded) and Nigeria isn’t. Should we be surprised too that the giants we worship in Nigeria, Multi-Choice and MTN are from South Africa? Is there any more doubt that there can be nexus between good democratic governance and development? Let’s hail the authentic heroes of democracy in Africa.

Martins Oloja. Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief. The Guardian Newspapers.

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