Political leaders have a responsibility to educate their members

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OPINION | By Prof. Bheki Mngomezulu

With the elections only a few days away, the onus is on all political leaders to ensure that their followers operate within the parameters of the law. Importantly, they must educate their members about the danger of provocation, misinformation, and propaganda.

Recent events in various provinces are a cause for concern. They demonstrate a lack of political education and political parochialism. Both these factors have the potential to trigger unnecessary violence which could result in the loss of life.

In Atteridgeville, a township located West of Pretoria, members of the Democratic Alliance (DA) opened a case of assault at the local police station. This followed an attack they faced as they were putting up posters for their party. This was an unwarranted incident that was carried out by people who fail to understand the political mood in the country – especially given the nature of this year’s election.

In Braamfontein, the Azanian People’s Organisation (Azapo) opened a case against people who vandalized their billboards. Being a small party, Azapo complained that this was a setback. They do not have enough money for the campaign. If their campaign material is destroyed, replacing such material eats on the very little budget the party has. Such incidents are regrettable.

In Limpopo, the MKP complained that its posters were either being destroyed or removed. According to the reports, the ANC was responsible for this alleged vandalism. Stanley Mathabatha refuted these claims, arguing that the MKP did not have a significant presence in Limpopo.

While this response is plausible, it did not address the main issue. What would have been advisable for Mathabatha was for him to simply say that he did not have evidence of such vandalism and should have committed to investigate. Importantly, as a leader, he should have used the opportunity to make a call that party members and other South Africans should be tolerant of one another so that the elections could be free and fair.

In the same province (Limpopo), there were reports of clashes between the African National Party (ANC) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) supporters. Sadly, this resulted in the death of an innocent child who was hit by a stray bullet.

Commenting about this issue, EFF leader Julius Malema demonstrated leadership when he accused his party members of retaliating when they were said to have been provoked by the ANC members. In his view, the EFF should have not succumbed to being provoked and drawn into any squabble. This was a welcome statement coming from a political leader.

In KwaZulu-Natal, the taxi industry blocked the N3 due to the many complaints they have against provincial officials. Unfortunately, one ill-disciplined man made a video in which he claimed that the blockade was caused by members of MKP who wanted Former President Zuma to go to parliament even though the Constitutional Court interpreted Section 47 (1) (e) which had been invoked and set aside the Electoral Court’s decision which had given Zuma the green light to go to parliament if his party (the MKP) obtained seats in the elections.

Making such a reckless video and circulating it under the current political climate was negligent and childish at best, but dangerous at worst with the potential to stir emotions. If that were to happen, it would have negative implications on the elections by brewing unnecessary violence.

These are some of the incidents that should not be encouraged. The political leadership across all parties has a responsibility to educate their members and alert them to the implications of their actions and/or utterances.

Politicians are drawn into this discussion because before the election campaigns began, they all signed an oath with the IEC in which they committed to campaign fairly and not to provoke other political competitors. Ordinarily, the signing should have been followed by educating party members on how to behave during the campaign period. What we have seen happening as outlined above should not have happened.

A spark has the potential to cause an inferno which could result in severe destruction of property and loss of life. Drawing lessons from history, politicians should know better. As leaders, politicians have a clear responsibility to educate their followers. Reckless actions like the ones enumerated above should be condemned!

Prof. Bheki Mngomezulu is from the Nelson Mandela University Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy.