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It’s election season, and while it exercises the minds of prospective voters — all 27.4-million of them out of an eligible population of 42.3-million — it palpably affects the pockets and prospects of politicians as parties present their lists of eligible candidates like belles at an electoral ball.

These candidates will have been appropriately vetted according to various parameters, ranging from constituency work, legislative contribution, fundraising, grasp of values and principles, to ability to speak publicly and write cogently. At least, that’s the theory.

This is certainly what the DA set out to do in a cumbersome process that is riddled with inappropriate weighting and faulty scoring, not to mention the political meddling that favours some over others. Par for the course, I suppose. 

However, the result for most parties is inevitably a hodgepodge of candidates, with many in the upper echelons of lists who would be better suited to the ranks of middle management in failing companies destined for bankruptcy. But it matters little under the current system, because a small coterie of controllers manage both the fates of SA political parties and the spoils of power.

Some do a better job than others: the ANC has squandered the goodwill it had and its ability to govern responsibly under the deadweight of chronic corruption and mind-boggling mismanagement; the DA has fared better where it governs — not entirely free of creeping corruption but clearly more adept at producing visible improvement and more sensible management. But neither party has really managed to dent the iniquity of apartheid’s spatial injustice.

When it comes to having the wherewithal to run the country and navigate its institutions and structures, the ANC had a head start, but now relies on a mostly venal corps of corrupt and woefully dim politicians, while the DA counts on the righteously indoctrinated fervour of a zealous, if inexperienced, cohort of aspirant governors. There are exceptions, of course, but they are few and far between.

Lay this at the door of a political system so aptly captured by PJ O’Rourke in his attempt to describe the US government in his irreverent book, A Parliament of Whores. As he says, “Politics are collective, and like any collective activity, they are always tending towards brown-shirted goose steps on the one hand or red-flagged brainwashes on the other... politics are a lousy way for a free man to get things done. Politics are, like God’s infinite mercy, a last resort.”

This is compounded by the absence of a constituency-based system that might have allowed for a measure of accountability, and managed properly in a technology-driven age, could have been structurally tailored to embed transparency. Alas, we have instead, as O’Rourke scornfully adds, “those who lord it over their fellows and toss commands in every direction and would boss the grass in the meadow about which way to bend in the wind” — all having been ostensibly suitably vetted to do so under the tight rein of über controllers.

Mercifully, this 30-year-old political child is growing up, and the dawning of the age of independent candidates may open doors on an advent calendar heralding much-needed change. It will take time, though, before the preferred calendar adorns the walls of evangelised voters desirous of a second coming.

Politics would not exist but for special interests. This is the stuff that underpins debate and the need for coalitions, parties and intrigue. It’s only when something touches the lives of every person — like the prospect of a third world war (not so far-fetched under current circumstances) or the interprovincial highway system — that government becomes apolitical (at least, as O’Rourke alludes to, until defence and civil engineering contracts are handed out).

I guess the rule of thumb must be as Robert C Schenck, a Union general in the American Civil War, said (as quoted by O’Rourke): “Put not your trust in kings and princes. Three of a kind will take them both.”

• Cachalia is a former DA MP and public enterprises spokesperson.

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