Monday, 13 May 2019 17:46

[OPINION]: In praise of South Africa’s elections - Issa Aremu

The chairperson of Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) Glen Mashinini on Saturday night conclusively declared the 2019 6th national and provincial (:read parliamentary !) elections free and fair, during an official announcement ceremony in Pretoria. What lessons then for Nigeria from South African process? This question is itself indeed the first lesson for Nigerians. It is another rude reminder that it’s time we inculcated a sense of urgency in development and democratization! There was once a Nigeria that thought the South Africans a lesson on how to attain freedom and democracy.

Nigeria got independence from British colonialism in 1960. Thanks to vibrant political parties, with programs and vision ably led by the first Republic politicians. It is a paradox that South Africa that we helped to liberate from tyranny and apartheid dictatorship has outpaced Nigeria voting and votes counting.  In 1989, FW de Klerk replaced PW Botha, the notorious apartheid’s last president. PW Botha suffered a debilitating stroke against the backdrop of massive courageous domestic resistance by South Africans against the crime against humanity (which apartheid was!).

The struggle of the blacks with attendant apartheid repression and violence was reinforced by unprecedented global solidarity and economic sanctions against the outlaw regime (in which Nigeria and Nigerians played a frontline role). FW de Klerk in 1990 unbanned Africa National Congress (ANC), Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) and South Africa Communist Party (SACP).  On 11th of February 1990, Mandela in a historic spectacular scene walked out of Victor Verster Prison holding Winnie’s hands after 27 years in prison. In fullest of time, Nelson Mandela made historic African “thank-you- tour” with Abuja and Lagos as the first bus stops. He led the most challenging negotiations with apartheid oppressors. Within four years, precisely in 1994, South Africa had the first democratic election with Mandela as the first elected President of GNU (Government of National Unity!).

Ten years before Mandela walked out of prison, President Shehu Shagari in 1979 was elected as the Second Republic President under the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). Sadly Nigeria’s fifth military coup ousted Shagari in 1983 while the 6th military coup in turn removed Muhammed Buhari the then military Head of State. Mandela was still in prison in the 80s when IBB military dictatorship started the most protracted political transition. He promulgated a new constitution in 1989 with two government promoted parties of NRC and SDP, shifted presidential election dates which later held peacefully and fair but was nonetheless annulled on the June 12th.

Last Saturday, the free and fair polls marks South Africa’s uninterrupted 25th years of democracy. Nigeria returned to civil rule in 1999 marking 20 years of uninterrupted civil rule and almost 60 years of rudely intermittently terminated democracy by the military. Three years (between 1967 and 1970) the country was also in an avoidable civil war. Again no thanks to military intervention. South Africa’s chief electoral officer Sy Mamabolo said (and I agree with him!) that this year’s elections were the “most complex, highly contested, logistically demanding” in South Africa’s history.”

According to him, the elections “ … tested” South Africans never before”. He added further that the institution and the country had emerged stronger. “Once again we have shown the world that despite our differences and challenges we still unite under a vision of a common destiny for our country as a democratic, free, just and equal society.” he observed.  Mamabolo is right on point.

Nigeria and indeed Africa must learn to keep faith with democracy just as South Africans had commendably done in the last two and half decades. We must turn electoral adversities to creative opportunities to make votes even count more. 2019 elections in Nigeria introduced new lexicon of “inconclusive” elections but elections nonetheless! As we are set to inaugurate the 4th Presidency on May 29, Nigerians should not give in to despair. We dare not return to dictatorship and senseless wars of attrition precisely because they are not alternative to democracy.

Alternative to democracy is more democracy. We should reject unhelpful “Venezuela model” in which domestic political challenge offers dubious opportunity for imperial America to subvert Venezuelan sovereignty. 

South Africa has produced five democratically elected Presidents. Two of them namely Thambo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma were democratically recalled by their party ANC! Sensing that a motion of no confidence in parliament, was inevitable following serial allegations of corruption, Jacob Zuma announced his resignation on 14 February 2018. He was succeeded by Cyril Ramaphosa who won the weekend elections. That’s was a lesson in democracy made possible by strong party with strong values of ideology and discipline.  The next lesson for Nigeria therefore is sustainable party building as a fundamental requirement for democracy and development. Again this is a paradox for Nigeria. The first political party in Nigeria was National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon’s (NCNC). It was cofounded by both Herbert Macaulay and Nnamdi Azikwe in 1944, 12 years ANC was formed in 1912.

But despite apartheid oppressions and bans, ANC still remains a party of liberation and development.

This is unlike Nigeria. Since 1944, Nigerians have formed hundreds of parties, most proscribed by military regimes thus denying the country rich heritage of organizing, visioning and needed ideological consciousness. Despite the daunting challenges of undoing apartheid legacy of poverty among the blacks, ANC has commendably sustained majority in the parliament. Saturday elections show that ANC, with over 10 million votes, secured 230 seats in the Sixth Parliament. There is also a robust contestation with opposition parties. ANC lost 19 seats to opposition.

On the whole there are as many as 13 political parties in the parliament unlike Nigeria with preeminence of two parties with no clear cut ideological distinction. Congratulations to South Africans! Long live Democracy in Africa!!

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