The “Vote No” campaign, for and against

Ronnie Kasrils and Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge have launched their “Vote No” campaign to staunch criticism. Political analysts, journalists and naysayers have slated the movement, claiming the ANC will not be affected by the campaign.

The Daily Maverick’s Ranjeni Munusamy slates the timing of the launch of the campaign:

Had the “Sidikiwe! Vukani! Vote no” campaign started a year ago, taking on board the losing faction from the ANC national conference in Mangaung, those fed up with the monocracy in the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the disgruntled sections of Cosatu, it might have grown into a significant force. It might have had the impact it seeks to achieve and created a bloc mounting a rebellion within the ANC. After all the purpose of it is not really to impact the election result but to send a message to the ANC in the hope that it would self-correct.


While Mumusamy admits that the campaign puts “the issue of disillusionment within the ANC firmly on the agenda”, she dismisses the possibility that this campaign will translate to real pressure on the ANC.

Kasrils and company are hoping their campaign resonates and catches fire, and perhaps will translate into something else after the election. As things stand, the obvious trajectory for this disgruntled bloc in the ANC is to coalesce with forces on the left, most notably the metalworkers’ union Numsa, to form a new workers’ party.

For now, however, it appears to be nothing more than a group of tormented people, adopting a tough love approach in the hope that the ANC will admit its faults and go into political rehab.

But the ANC will not do so. The ANC is concerned with the preservation of its electoral dominance, not with notes on the margin. The only way to get its attention is if defiance within the ANC builds to such an extent that it causes a significant downward slide to its numbers.

To do that, the “Vote No” campaign is too little, too late.

Read more here.


Over at Business Day, Professor Steven Friedman says spoilt votes are ultimately a blunt instrument of democracy but he refutes allegations that the the campaign is inherently undemocratic.


Contrary to some responses over the past few days, spoiling a ballot is an entirely democratic decision. Good democrats do not have to like any of the parties on offer — spoiling a ballot is a greater contribution to democracy than staying at home, as it signals that voters value taking part in the democratic process even if they can’t find a party to support. It also tries to make a statement rather than opting out.

Those who have denounced the spoilt ballot option as irresponsible or antidemocratic seem to forget that democracy is the right to choose, which includes the right not to choose a party. Like those who want voting to be compulsory, they forget that voting is a right, not a duty.

But is spoiling your paper effective? Does it really send a clear message to politicians, as it is meant to do?

Read more here.

The Mail & Guardian’s editorial this week has also placed its lot firmly agains the spoiled votes campaign.

Spoilt ballots will be ignored. Coming up with a big number of “spoils” after the polls, and using it to show that there is a groundswell of protest against the ANC, is not so much to close the stable door after the horse has bolted as it is to leave it open at all times. Spoiling your vote is a waste of a trip to the election booth. Numbers-wise, and contrary to intentions, it will ultimately count as a vote for whichever party wins.

So, don’t opt out. Exercise your right to vote, not just because so many suffered and died for this fundamental right but because any ruling party that has become arrogant and heedless needs a wake-up call. A reduced majority would be a salutary jolt.

Read more here.

Former Arts and Culture Minister Pallo Jordan, who has been a rather vocal critic of the ANC in recent weeks, has also criticised the Vote No campaign. He argues that no political party is absolutely faultless and the ANC is, according to him, still the best choice available to South Africans.

But only the really naive would argue that one supports a political party only if it has a spotless record. With all its faults, the ANC remains the principal agent of the transformation in our country. Even these dissenting comrades cannot recommend an alternative. Withholding a vote from the ANC will not advance a progressive agenda. But it will indirectly benefit a bankrupt opposition whose policies take us backwards and whose only election message is that public funds have been misused.

Read more here.

Richard Pithouse, politics lecturer at Rhodes University, refutes these critics and spells out the many ways in which the ANC have already shown they are affected by Kasrils’s calls to “Vote No”.


In October last year Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane told protesting residents in Bekkersdal that “People can threaten us and say they won’t vote but the ANC doesn’t need their dirty votes.” Thabang Wesi from the Bekkersdal Concerned Residents Association responded that “If the ANC does not need our dirty votes anymore, it is fine. We will take them to other political parties that will wash them and once they are clean utilise them effectively, taking care of the voters, unlike the ANC.” In moments like this the wider process in which the ANC is steadily losing its once grand stature are illuminated with striking clarity.

Read more here.

Pithouse reminds readers, however, that Kasrils’s movement “is not rooted in popular organisation and struggle”. Instead, it is activated by disgruntled elites who have found space in a public sphere dominated by elite discourse. Nonetheless, “Vote No” echoes the growing discontent many South Africans feel about their ruling party. As the ANC “limps and stumbles into its decline”, Kasrils and Madlala-Routledge have created a platform that has already left the ANC shaken.


At Daily Maverick again, Raymond Suttner says South Africa’s near history demands more sensitivity from such a campaign:


Any campaign around the vote needs to be tackled with great sensitivity: it is a right for which many gave their lives. Some of the most famous campaigns in liberation history surrounded that right. The need for caution is illustrated by the apparent ferment around the vote, as reported in the Sunday Independent, covering ANC General Secretary, Gwede Mantashe’s visit to Soweto, where residents challenged him to explain why the ANC had not honoured its previous election pledges. It is not clear what such exchanges signify in terms of people’s intentions in relation to their vote. One thing that is clear is that the campaign to ‘Vote No’ must take into account how people feel. This would require wider consultation and intensive discussions.

Read more here.

And perhaps the nation’s favourite puppet put it best: