Why the security guards and chiefs can’t be ignored at the polls
As South Africans head to the polls on May 8, certain election traditions have thrust some parties into the spotlight. This year, the Independent Electoral Commission announced that the African Security Congress (ASC) would take up the first position on the ballot party - selected by method of a random draw for fairness. All other parties follow in alphabetical order, with the Woman Forward party as the lowest ranked.
All remaining parties starting with the letter A then follow, with the African Renaissance Unity (ARU) taking its spot at the bottom of the ballot paper. Despite their political rankings and social support, the first and last position on a ballot paper matter, for a number of reasons. But who are these two parties who hold the prime positions on the ballot papers, and what do they stand for?
African Security Congress
The ASC purports to represent the interests of security guards, cleaners, petrol attendants, factory workers and even call centre agents. If a video posted on their Facebook page is anything to go by, they’re determined to earn their spot in the Parliament of South Africa.
Security guards are amongst the most poorly paid workers in South Africa. According to a statement from the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU), some guards who work outside major cities are likely to earn just R4 160 if the minimum wage is implemented. At the moment, some are earning less than that.
Security guard salaries are also pushed down by the practice of outsourcing, providing security services via a company to a client. Workers under this practice often retain the status of casual workers while working for a ‘client’ company on a near full-time basis - without any of the same rights or privileges awarded to full-time employees, regardless of how long they have been serving at the client company.
A Constitutional Court ruling in July 2018 held that a worker who is initially employed through a temporary employment service provider to a client becomes an employee of that client after three months. Under this ruling, as a permanent employee, the worker becomes entitled to employee rights as outlined by relevant labour legislation and policy.
This judgment, however, offers little relief to security guards or other outsourced workers as they are usually in the employ of the company providing the outsourced service. This places them in a different league, as they have not been placed to offer a temporary service.
African Renaissance Unity
Taking up the last position on the ballot paper, the fact that this party is led by traditional chiefs gives a few clues about its priorities and the grievances it hopes to address. The party is led by Bonginkosi Bryce Mthimkhulu - who goes by the title of His Royal Majesty Mthimkhulu III, King of the AmaHlubi.
Mthimkhulu’s leadership role in this party of traditional chiefs is telling. Traditional leaders have long made their voices heard, but say their grievances fall on deaf ears. According to them, South Africa’s democratic dispensation left sovereigns stripped of most, if not all, of the power they formerly held.
Bonginkosi Bryce Mthimkhulu. Image: Hlubikingdom.co.za
In addition, the Hlubi-kingship is still a contested topic, with Bonginkosi Bryce Mthimkhulu and Muziwenkosi Johannes Radebe, also known as King Langalibalele II, both fighting for the throne. A political party might be a prudent prudent way for some leaders of the kingdom to get closer to power by means other than a kingship. Mthimkhulu has been taken to court to stop him from referring to himself as King of the Hlubi, especially as doing so implies that the seat of his kingdom would be in Uitrecht, Kwazulu-Natal - something which angers King Goodwill Zwelithini, the Zulu King seated in the same region.
Professor Thandabantu Nhlapo headed the independent commission into the institution of traditional leadership. Image: UCT
There is another reason why a Hlubi-traditional leader would be well-served to be at the helm of a political party with a parliamentary voice. Hlubi leaders feel they were handed a bitter pill to swallow when the Nhlapo Commission made public its recommendations.
The independent commission, set up in 2004 to investigate the institutions of traditional leadership, found that AmaHlubi people did not have a kingship
Muziwenkosi Johannes Radebe. Image: @AmaHlubiAmahle (Facebook)
These findings cannot be taken under review by government, a fact that has seen some traditional leaders turn to the courts of law for relief. This remains a sore point for the Hlubi, who hope to restore their kingdom to the glory it enjoyed before it was weakened by the ethnic chaos of the Mfecane dispersals in the 1800s and the jailing of King Langalibalele I on Robben Island in 1874.
Why would traditional leaders want to contest an election?
The supreme law in South Africa recognises the institutions of traditional leadership, but on one condition - that the institutions themselves, their customary laws and the governing powers of traditional leaders are subject to the country’s constitution.
According to some traditional leaders, this equates to the sovereigns being subjected to Roman Dutch Law - a legal framework which many of them contest, especially due to its use until recently of convicting kings and leaders.
South Africa’s criminal courts, it seems, have no scruples when handing down heavy sentences regardless of the guilty party’s standing, be it king or commoner.
The Government of South Africa has been in a difficult position in its relationship with traditional leaders since the Eastern Cape High Court convicted AbaThembu King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo on “multiple counts of arson, kidnapping, defeating the ends of justice and assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm”. The additional charge of culpable homicide was dismissed by the Supreme Court of Appeal when handing the AbaThembu King a 12 year prison sentence.