No Holds Barred – South Africa’s politics get dirtier as 2014 poll approaches
Harare – A fortnight ago, South Africa embarked on massive registration of voters ahead of a general election that is less than 200 days away. According to the Independent Electoral Commission, the body that runs polls in South Africa, ballots must be cast between April and June 2014.
The IEC says there are 1 088 015 new registered voters, bringing the total electorate to more than 25.6 million – representing 77 percent of eligible voters.
Some notable statistics from the exercise include how over 80 percent of all new registrations were youths, with 22.6 percent dubbed “born frees”. This latter group consists of people aged 18 to 19 years old, that is, citizens born after the official end of apartheid in 1994.
Naturally, political temperatures have been rising and this is only going to continue as the polls draw closer. Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s recent statement – and the polarised reactions to it – best captured the seriousness with which the South African polity attaches to the forthcoming elections.
“If all South Africans don’t vote, we will regress. The Boers will come back to control us,” Ramaphosa was widely quoted as telling residents of Seshego, Polokwane. The remarks awoke serious debate around the issue of race.
But they seemed to conform to an April poll that found that 46 percent of youths of all races believed the Democratic Alliance led by Hellen Zille would bring back apartheid if it comes to power.
The DA is the ANC’s biggest political rival. And the DA itself has been – interestingly ‑ encouraging voter registration most likely in the hope that the new voters will be more likely to vote against the ANC than their older counterparts who directly experienced apartheid.
This is a hope that another opposition party across the Limpopo River, MDC-T, had in the July 31 elections in Zimbabwe. And it proved to be a false hope.
Zille said in a message on her party’s website: “If everybody votes in next year’s election, we can bring the ANC below 60 percent of the vote nationally. This will pave the way for a change of government at national level in 2019.”
Agang, the party led by academic and Black Consciousness Movement stalwart Mamphele Ramphele, urged her faithfuls to register so that “just as we unshackled the chains of apartheid, we must unshackle the chains of a corrupt government”.
She told a rally that “… for the first time young people are the majority and they must shape a future they can be proud of”.
Yet it is Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Front, who is shaking things up.
His usual brusque self, Malema, after appearing in court last week, took on Ramaphosa’s Boer warning and threw it back to the ANC.
He said, “Cyril is right. Boers, real white Boers, will come back if we don’t vote black Boers in government out. Ramaphosa is a black Boer and his hands have the blood of Marikana victims, same (as PW) Botha’s hands have got the blood of innocent people.”
He added: “Who is (Ramaphosa) to tell people that Boers will come back? Boers are in government today. We fought against exploitation of our people and this government continues exploitation of our people.”
All eyes are on which way the young voters will go. According to a Times report last June, a significant number of young people are dissatisfied with the ANC and could turn to Julius Malema as an alternative.
This was the conclusion drawn from a survey done by a consumer insights company called Pondering Panda. The survey polled 3 585 young people aged between 18 and 34 across South Africa.
Of those polled, 35 percent said they would vote for the ANC, 26 percent said they would go with Malema, and 15 percent said they would vote for the DA.
However, 14 percent said they would stay away from the polls and six percent said their vote would go to another party outside of the “big three”. According to analysts, for Malema to get a seat in Parliament he will need just 0.25 percent of the vote.
Zille commented on the importance of the youth vote thus: “A young person’s vote … can make all the difference. Young people have the power to shape the future of this country …
“We only have one chance every five years to exercise our right to vote, so it is important that we don’t waste it.” Keith Somerville of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies last week noted how decisive the youth vote could be.
“The ANC may not be about to lose office, but it wants the lion’s share of the born free vote as it seeks, as Zuma has said repeatedly, 75 percent of the vote and so the ability to totally dominate Parliament and be free to amend the constitution and rule without let or hindrance.
“This ambition could be hard to achieve. The EFF is hardly likely to become a challenger for power but it could take away votes.
“Mamphela Ramphele’s Agang party might take some of the votes of educated, middle class voters (old and young) sick of the corrupt and increasingly violent and intolerant image of the ANC, and the DA could increase its share of the vote while retaining power in the Western Cape, to the ANC’s immense irritation.
“This could all eat away at the size of the ANC majority, though without threatening its hold on power,” Somerville said.
He suggested that the ANC was concerned that many of the “born-free” generation were not interested in voting, “but is perhaps even more worried that those who do might not vote for the ANC, as a matter, of course, not being of the struggle or lost generations of the 1980s and the early 1990s or what could be called the grand apartheid generation that preceded it”.
Malema’s message of black empowerment through the radical redistribution of South African mineral and land wealth has fired up the political scene. He has been preaching “economic freedom in our lifetime”, and it has resonated with the poor.
Notably, the message has spurred the ANC, as it sees its exclusive claim to leftist politics challenged. Analysts describe the EFF as being “left of left”. The EFF in turn describes the ANC as neo-liberal.
The ruling party has facilitated access to business ownership through “broad-based black economic empowerment”, a model said to simply co-opt a few blacks into the ranks of the rich. Ramaphosa is one of the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action and is now a mining magnet.
The DA rejects affirmative action altogether, creating the genuine impression that it will continue to protect white privilege if given power. The EFF and DA converge in their criticism of ANC government corruption, though Malema himself faces a slew of graft-related charges.
In fact, Malema’s own relative wealth sits uneasily with his “left of left” public posturing. President Zuma is accused of profligacy with public funds in the R206 million upgrade of his rural home, including spending R1m for improving a cattle pen.
How political leaders address the high levels of crime, poverty, poor education, poor healthcare and inadequate housing will also be of much importance among voters. A significant proportion of the South African electorate also worries about ablution facilities and there have been some very dirty – and this is meant literally – demonstrations about this.
In the Western Cape stronghold of Zille, “poo protests” in which residents poured buckets of human waste on government buildings and cars, showed the world how bad the lack of proper toilets in South Africa is. Yes, it is dirty now, but it is only likely to get dirtier as D-Day approaches.
Wake-up call for ANC
South Africa’s ruling ANC party seems to have lost its ground as champion of the poor majority. The liberation movement enshrined national participation in and ownership of land and economy by all living in the country, more particularly by the poor majority, in its Freedom Charter.
The torchbearers of the ANC – Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Duma Nokwe, Albert Luthuli, Walter and Albertina Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Anton Lembede and Chris Hani – defended the defenceless and thus, kept the hopes of the poor masses high.
By 1994, however, the ANC was totally disarmed. Negotiated and manipulated to become an organisation of patronage, the Freedom Charter was dropped and replaced by among others, the secret “Sunset Clauses” brought by whites as preconditions to Independence.
Negotiations with the criminal colonial-apartheid powers and their imperialist Western backers ensured that the ANC accommodated the former Bantustan administrations as well as the racist regime’s national overt and covert structures in the “Rainbow Nation”.
Stratcom agents, murderers, spooks, money launderers, downright criminals (like the Selous Scouts from the former Rhodesia, and Koevoet and 32 Battalion from former Southwest Africa), hit squads of the apartheid military intelligence’s Civil Co-operation Bureau (trained in Argentina and Israel in urban warfare, assassination and sabotage), as well as a host of other groups were legitimised by the “Sunset Clauses”.
Today, many of them are card-carrying members of the ANC: a frightening scenario indeed!
This would explain the continuous low-key sabotage of many government activities, tender rigging, bribery and corruption; all of which are steadily undermining the ruling party and badly affecting the poor majority.
Instead of employing and deploying real cadres, new, unknown, corrupt, untested and untried people build their career in the ANC and its government. This causes degeneration and eventual decay of the broad church of the ANC.
The national debate and dialogue with the masses has been stifled. Instead, corrupt and compromised praise-singers have moved into senior state positions.
An elite group in the ANC thus participates in rightwing actions. And we consequently get certain “technocrats” within the ANC elite adopting imperialist neo-liberal policies through GEAR, the Growth, Employment and Redistribution policy. GEAR sparked the downward spiral.
It was never debated, nor dialogued. “Technocrats” took over and decided that this was how the country would go without any consensus or debate. A senior member of the ANC told this writer that, “Most of the real ANC members are kept uninformed and in the dark. The question often raised is, who is leading whom?
“The last straw that would break the camel’s back is the insensitivity towards the poor and unemployed majority by not dealing with the issues of numerous inequalities.
“Examples are a continuation of resembling the ‘grand apartheid structures’,”.
He went on, “The ANC fails to dialogue with its communities across the board. The movement has forgotten to take the national debate forward and continues to show rightwing anti-poor actions such as the upcoming e-tolls.
“The ANC knows big business will absorb those new expenses and pass them on to the poor masses. This will leave them to deal with a massive increase of basic living expenses and eventual starvation.”
Those misguided decisions entrap the ruling party and create a vacuum for new, small and opportunistic political groups such as Agang SA, COPE, EFF, AMCU and new political alliances to be formed after the forthcoming elections in 2014.
Another respected ANC stalwart states: “For the ANC to get out of those traps (from the ‘Sunset Clauses’), it would have to abolish the ‘proportional representation system’ and replace it with a ‘constituent assembly system’, based on ‘one person, one vote’.
“It is most important that communities will be able to directly elect their representatives into Parliament.
This is the system the ANC fought for.”
The senior cadres I spoke to express their concern about the leaders’ fear of undoing what has been done already.
However, the ANC has no choice and will have to move fast, even at the expense of the “technocrats” and their supporters.
The broad majority of the population has to participate directly in re-shaping its democracy and in the process re-build their lives and reclaim their country.
The present situation of keeping the broad masses uninformed and, therefore, marginalised makes the general population vulnerable to rightwing propaganda which is hard at work misleading and destabilising the country.
The more the ANC retreats into defensive mode, the more vulnerable it becomes. Its enemies will abuse every opportunity to penetrate and destroy the movement. It is a fact that the original principals of the ANC brought it a huge following.
“A ‘party boss’ style will kill the ANC, as the … people are ignored. The elite will rule in isolation. It denies the people the freedom they actually own,” a senior ANC member has warned.
The masses will only follow the ANC when they are included in national debate and can participate in directly voting for their leader. The ANC’s policy to grow new cadres cannot work for as long as it follows proportional representation.
It certainly stifles broad debate. It also makes people to become position and resource-focused and hence corrupt.
It is important for the ANC to right now reflect on its history and structure a viable way forward.
• Udo W Froese is a political and socio-economic analyst based in Johannesburg, South Africa. His Twitter handle is @theotherafrika, and you can visit his blog at theotherafrika.wordpress.com