Pheladi Sethusa, a second year Media Studies student, attended a local government elections debate held by the Wits Politics Department on East Campus today. She presents a report on the positions put forward by three representatives from the ANC, the DA and COPE.
The topic up for debate was the local municipal elections, which will be upon us in a matter of hours now. There was quite a large turnout. I suspect with the elections a matter of hours away people are desperate to gain as much insight into the various parties so as to cast a vote that will both benefit them and make a difference.
The first party to have their say was of course the African National Congress (ANC). Godfrey Madja, a representative of the Wits ANC Youth League, opened his speech with the classic “Amandla-Viva” chant to which the ANC supporters in the crowd responded positively. He spoke for eight minutes in what turned out to be a speech on ANC policy. He made the point that the ANC, unlike other parties, does not have a “cut and paste manifesto, but it has a historical policy”. He went on to speak about how the ANC will and is already implementing programmes for the creation of jobs, education and training programmes, health etc. Everything he had to say was related to what we have all heard President Zuma talk about in his addresses.
Next up was a representative from the Democratic Alliance (DA), Mohammad Sayanvala. For the first time in a speech about the DA, I heard about their manifesto and not just a speech that berates the ruling party. The DA’s policy platform is to create opportunities for all in society and to deliver to all. He emphasized that the DA rebukes the “jobs for pals” system that seems popular within the ruling party. The DA aims to award tenders and other such opportunities to the most qualified applicants irrespective of their race. Mohammad ended off on a strong note, saying that “the DA is no longer just an opposition party but a party of governance”.
The last representative was a young lady from the Congress of the People (COPE), Mukondeli Mphigalele. Her main argument was that people should not dismiss COPE as a joke of a party, as they are merely trying to fight for their rights like everyone else. She went on to comment on members who recently left the party and went back to the ANC as people who are clearly “capable of vomiting and once done, being able to eat that vomit”. This remark had the audience in stitches. There was no talk of policy and empty promises, merely the acknowledgement that the time for blind loyalty was over and that voters need to now vote for their own interests.
Then the floor was opened up for questions to the representatives. The first was a young black man who asked how the parties planned on putting a person like himself, who was born disadvantaged, on equal footing with a person who was born advantaged. Mohammad answered that “the DA will eradicate the legacies of Apartheid by creating opportunities for all”. The ANC rep Godfrey said: “We all need to remember that our democracy is only 17 years old. It did not take the apartheid government 17 years to marginalise us, so it cannot take us 17 years to eradicate all inequalities”. The COPE rep shied away from this question.
Another interesting question was why public servants like Helen Zille and our President do not make use of the public services they promote like public transport. The DA rep vouched for Zille saying she frequents public transport and the COPE rep followed in that vain. Godfrey said “as an ex-MK member and a public figure, President Zuma cannot travel with public transport for safety reasons. You forget that the AWB and people in Orania are still planning things and ready to attack”, ushering in another roar of laughter from the crowd. Most of the questions asked were left unanswered as we ran out of time.
I went into the debate thinking the ANC was the scum of the earth, the DA was merely the jealous middle child who wanted a chance in the spotlight and I honestly had no feelings about COPE. Unfortunately the latter has not changed. The COPE rep was not as convincing as she could have been. As for the DA I think they fail to point out how they plan to do the things they say they will. For instance, their response on affirmative action left the person who asked the question still wanting. The ANC appealed most to me in that the representative answered all questions posed effectively. If there was a winner, he would be it.
However, I am still not willing to be complacent in voting for the ANC or the DA. Neither parties proposed changes that met my immediate needs and neither were willing to offer evidence conducive to these planned changes of theirs. It is one thing to look fantastic on paper, but as we are all very aware, delivering on those promises is the number one problem.
**NOTE: Post first appeared on exPress imPress on May 17 2014.