No slow-blinking meat-suit would make my political dream team
There are efficient people labouring among the politically appointed idiots – but we can’t vote for them
Look at us. All dressed up and nobody to vote for. Well, nobody we’d admit to in public.
On Sunday, as the last voter registration drive came to an end, a question settled over the country like soot from some faraway industrial accident.
Voting, we all seemed to sigh, is probably a good idea. But who do we vote for?
In less balkanised countries, where fluid, fragile coalitions endlessly court highly discriminating voters, such a question might have been a threat that voters have reached their limit and that politicians need to start pulling all-nighters.
In SA, however, politicians sleep long and deeply, curled up in downy nests made of interwoven banknotes, soothed by the lullaby of our endless patronage.
This is not to say that we aren’t frustrated, furious, despairing or depressed. But will voting patterns change dramatically in May? I don’t think so.
When people say “I don’t know who to vote for”, I think what most are saying is: “There is no party presenting me with an intelligent, sensibly practical set of policies that allows me to vote for it with cautious optimism.”
For a few idealists, that means refusing to vote or spoiling their ballot. For the rest of us, however, it means putting a dirty-feeling X next to the same well-fed face we chose last time. It’s not that we like our party’s policies, we tell ourselves, but if it’s a choice between them and [insert name of your personal political antichrist], well ...
This instinct – to vote against someone rather than for something – is how the ANC keeps winning elections, even though for the past two decades it has been nothing but a gigantic tapeworm that crawls out of our nose every few years to hiss “A better life for all!” It’s why the DA isn’t even trying to woo voters with policy: half of its lamppost placards are simply a variation on “Barbarians at the gates!” It’s how the EFF can toast its long con with champagne paid for by other people.
(To be fair, it’s also why so many politicians have so little self-respect: imagine building an entire career on the fact that people despise you but not quite as much as they despise the other guy.)
No, in May we’re going to do it all again; this miserable shopping trip where we shuffle past empty shelves and line up at the one functioning counter, to peer at the small selection of grim little morsels, hoping to find the least stale loaf of bread.
So what’s the solution?
Well, it’s a long shot, but one answer might be international sport. Let me explain.
Corruption is an existential threat to SA. But beyond the dramatic headlines and gasp-inducing testimonies, their lies a more banal but no less destructive enemy: ineptitude.
Speak to anyone trying to bring about progressive, intelligent change in any project linked to the state, and you will hear the same nightmare story: of skilled idealists being slowly crushed under tons of dead wood; of politically appointed idiots staring slack-jawed across conference tables, unable or unwilling to perform even the most basic tasks; of gigantically inept team leaders commissioning 10 reports into whether bears crap in the woods and then ignoring their findings.
Almost without exception, where progress happens it is achieved not by committees or war rooms but by individuals who have somehow managed to stay sane and efficient in a system clogged with slow-blinking meat-suits.
These are the people who will drag this country out of the swamp we find ourselves in. These are the people I want to vote for. But I can’t vote for them, because they belong to different parties, or don’t belong to any parties at all.
Which brings me back to international sport and an apparently silly question: what if we selected our leaders the way we select our national sports teams?
It sounds ridiculous, until you realise that, we are living in a system whereby the winner of the country’s domestic competition becomes the national sports team. Instead of sending the Springboks to play the All Blacks, we’re sending the winners of the Currie Cup. And, unsurprisingly, we are getting smashed and are turning against each other the way losing countries inevitably do.
How grand a thing it would be to move beyond this parochial system; to have the freedom to select a political “dream team” – the best from every party, joined by the best of our apolitical experts – to free ourselves from the worst of them.
It’s a dream, I know. But when your choices are Bad and Less Bad, sometimes a guy has to dream.