Wed Apr 22nd, 2009 at 02:31:44 AM EST
This Wednesday, April 22, South Africa will have its fourth general elections since becoming a full democratic country in 1994. The outcome of the winner is practically ensured: with the eradication of apartheid only 15 years ago, the ANC party will remain, hands down, the biggest party. That doesn't sound exciting, but there's much afoot underneath the surface. This will be the most contested elections in South Africa's history - more and more parties are rattling at the gate and after the 15 years that the ANC has been in power, there is growing discontent within the nation. Therefore, a more interesting question for this election will probably be: how much credit will the ANC keep, and how will the rest be displayed in the opposition parties?
Doubtlessly, democracy is alive and kicking in SA. There are some 40 parties contesting in these elections, although not all 40 of them are active nationally: tomorrow's voting will elect a new National Assembly (with 400 seats at stake) and provincial legislature. It works like this: in the Assembly, 200 seats will be divided between national parties, the other 200 seats are elected from the provincial parties in each of South Africa's nine provinces. Hence, if I understand this right, even when a political party is active in only one province, there's a possibility it can end up in the National Assembly. Proportional representation uses a closed list approach: people vote for the party they like best, and the party selects the persons most qualified to end up in the assemblies.
Then, the National Assembly will choose South Africa's fourth president, after Mandela, Mbeki and currently seating Kgalema Motlanthe. All projections point that ANC's president Jacob Zuma, recently cleared from fraud allegations, will get the presidency.
In my previous diary I listed some of the troubles that plagued the ANC, and the political damage Thabo Mbeki had wrought by his interference with the judiciary, wrecking his already tainted political heritage and subsequently renting the ANC party. (I'm glad to report that I'm not the only one who thinks this.)
At the end of 2008, the ANC was beleaguered with a set of internal headaches (mostly dealing with excesses of graft). One of the more recent cases was the Carl Niehaus affair, the ANC foreman who quit the ANC in February when the Mail&Guardian exposed him as a hopelessly indebted and frenetic fraudster, and plenty of allegations circulate that the ANC kept him on board, despite having knowledge of his financial situations. With Zuma now cleared of corruption charges, and other cases of fraud effectively swept underneath the political carpet, the ANC has made strong efforts to get back on the moral high horse. While I've sincere doubts that this will be the last of fraud exposed within the ANC, the party should not be portrayed as a party that's totally corrupted - as is all too often a major focus in Dutch and English newspapers. The ANC party still draws in many well regarded thinkers. Unfortunately such people, like Zackie Achmat, who can show humility and are open about the ongoing problems that face South Africa, have been reduced (in my personal opinion) to a minority voice in the ANC:
A majority is good enough - Mail & Guardian Online: The smart news source
Apart from a handful of courageous people, the two-thirds majority failed to produce resistance to the collective madness of Mbeki's HIV policy between 1999 and 2006. Then the bubble finally burst in Toronto at the government's vegetable stall. Denialism is now dead, but not its effects. Access to ARVs and the promotion of criminal behaviour such as that of Matthias Rath were not the only issues in the struggle against denialism.
What about Naledi Pandor, who refuses to make condoms available in our secondary schools? Is she immune to evidence that every public school will have an educator, learner or support staff member who has HIV? Or what about the leader of the split, Mosiuoa Lekota, who refused to employ or deploy members of the SANDF with HIV until the courts told him to do so?
Just to ensure a two-thirds majority, the darling of the Mbeki administration -- Manto Tshabalala-Msimang -- still makes it into the top 30 of our party's list. And is she to be rewarded with a new "Ministry of Women"? Am I in Wonderland, or do we intend to use our majority as a "changed" ANC to give the person responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of women that position?
Part of the reason why ANC's position was especially threatened at the end of 2008, was the creation of a new party, Cope, that filled with ex-ANC members who split after Mbeki resigned as president. In practice, the foundations of Cope are formed by a cadre of Mbeki loyalists (Mbekites). Led by two former ANC veterans, the authoritarian Lekota and the more gregarious Shilowa, Cope had all the potential to swing a battle-ram to crack the ANC fortress. But as I wrote in November:
European Tribune - Mbeki's legacy - The breaking of the ANC
[T]he "Shikota" party (COP) is making inroads in at least seven of the nine SA provinces, where many people are disillusioned with the direction of the ANC. Only KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga provinces, two of Zuma's strongholds, appear unimpressed with the new kid on the block.
Of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating: how large the damage for the ANC will be in the 2009 national elections will really depend on how well the COP can spread around their new message, how much traction it has, and how much of the electorate will be able to choose another party over the biggest liberation movement that buried apartheid - a not insignificant factor!
At the end of March, shortly before my departure, Cope had all but failed to spread that message. The only way they reached the headlines was either with internal squabbling or with promises of more defectors from the ANC. It is an open secret that Lekota and Shilowa can't stand each other's guts and other body-parts. Driving through Johannesburg, there were no visible Cope flyers or Cope posters around, and a week later I read this was the same all around. There were no long interview with candidates, let alone that there was a proper figure head. It took until the end of February before Cope members got their act together and decided (wisely) to choose the affable Mvume Dandala (a Methodist minister and a close friend to Mbeki) over Lekota - although tongues wag that also here Shilowa played a significant role behind the scenes. Whereas November polls showed that support was strong for Cope - eating up to 20% into the ANC electorate - most of that support has waned in the past 4 months of inaction. Despite its roots tracing back into the ANC, Cope now faces the same struggle as all other opposition parties: they are not ANC.
Cope struggles to win support - Mail & Guardian Online: The smart news source
The emotional connection to the anti-apartheid struggle is still an ANC trump card, even though Cope figures such as party leader and former defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota also boast strong credentials from that era.
On top of that, many voters give more thought to patronage or tribal ties than policies, undermining the impact of Cope's vows to clean up government and improve public services.
"In a society like South Africa's, economic performance is not closely related to who you're going to vote for. Other issues of identity and loyalty are very profound," political analyst Nic Borain said.
Other notable opposition parties are the Democratic Alliance (DA) led by the doughty Helen Zille (aka GodZille), the Freedom Front Plus (FF+) (the vociferous stronghold of Afrikaners) and the Inkhata Freedom Party (IFP), of course still led by the increasingly fossilising Mangosuthu Buthelezi (now 80).
The Democratic Alliance is currently the most significant opposition party. With its base in the Western Cape, and with Zille also serving as mayor of Cape Town, DA has a good chance to re-win the province or even build out its support. The party is also expected to grow beyond the 12% of national support they currently hold in the National Assembly - even with competition from Cope fishing in an overlapping electorate. Although a dominantly white, Cape oriented party, the DA has been admirable in attempting to create a truly multicultural face.
The opposite can be said of the Inkhata Freedom Party, whose bulwark always has been in the KwaZulu-Natal province, particularly now the ANC no longer has any qualms to venture deep into Zulu-land. Jacob Zuma has never been shy either to use his Zuluness to gain votes. All this gets Mangosuthu Buthelezi terribly annoyed, as he retains the idea that KwaZulu-Natal is his fiefdom, and his grumbling gets some of his supporters throw stones and bottles at ANC convoys. None of it really helps, the party is on the decline for years, and Buthelezi has now resorted to sour plums and accusing the ANC of electoral fraud for the past 15 years. Considering that the volatility between the IFP and ANC goes back all the way to the apartheid era, the violence has been relatively mild, although at least nine people have died.
IFP: Elections won't be fair: Elections: News: News24
The IFP had been a victim of electoral fraud since 1994, said Buthelezi in the presence of international election observers.
The IFP said its final rally in Nseleni showed the party still commanded huge support and was ready to take over the control of the province from the ANC. More than 10 000 people attended the rally, the party said.
Highlighting the importance of winning elections, Buthelezi said the elections would be a two-horse race between the IFP and ANC in the province.
When the lists with party candidates were released in February, there was new ammunition for the opposition parties: because on spot number 5 for the ANC stands Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Nelson Mandela's former wife, resistance icon and also a convicted criminal for (predictably) fraud. Apparently, according to the Constitution a person sentenced to such a degree is not allowed to hold a seat in Parliament (not until 5 years after completion of the sentence anyway). Complaints were lodged but the IEC (Independent Electoral Commission) wisely refused to make decisions, and kept Winnie on the ANC list, in effect handing over the responsibility of the decision to the judiciary. Which, as far as I know, hasn't provided a judgement. It might still happen after the elections, I'm not sure.
In SA, this kind of election fever results into further comedy that makes you laugh whilst banging your head against the nearest brick wall - a common feature in South African politics, I am afraid. I introduced Julius Malema, leader of the ANC Youth League and a gifted Foot-in-Mouther, already briefly:
In April this year, the ANC Youth League chose its new leader on its second annual convention - for the first one was marred by such a display of debauchery (overall drunkenness, sexual misconduct and delegates throwing food and beer bottles at each other) that the presidential voting needed a repeat. Incumbent president Fikile Mbalula, who at Polokwane had been rewarded with a seat in the NEC for his relentless Zuma fawning, was replaced by yet another Zuma hardliner: Julius Malema.
In the course of the next six months, Malema managed to become the biggest joke of the country. Malema's most notorious comment, which set a lot of people atwitter, came in July when he casually remarked:
Malema hardens his heart - Mail & Guardian Online: The smart news source
Malema, at the rally, said the youth league was "prepared to die for Zuma. We are prepared to take up arms and kill for Zuma."
But, he said, media reports on his speech were "blown out of proportion with a clear malicious intent and consequence".
"We have noticed a distortion, misinterpretation, vulgar insults and defamatory comments which have been hurled against the ANCYL."
Malema said it was all part of a political agenda to discredit the youth league.
It led many to comment on the gradual devolution of the ANC Youth League, which has after all a renowned history.
Well, he was at it again early this year:
Malema 'wet behind the ears', says Zille - Mail & Guardian Online: The smart news source
Malema on Sunday declined Ramulifho's challenge to engage in a public debate with the DA on issues affecting the youth, saying that he won't debate with "Helen Zille's garden boys".
While Ramulifho slammed the remarks as racist and elitist, he said the DA is not deterred by Malema's tactics.
"They are not going to be a threat to us. Malema is attacking personalities instead of focusing on policy issues. I know it's election time, but we must not act unprofessionally and lose our manners," Ramulifho said.
Emphasis mine. Perhaps unnecessary to elucidate, but "garden boys" is quite an inflammatory insult in SA's festering legacy of apartheid. Helen Zille snapped back wickedly:
Malema 'wet behind the ears', says Zille - Mail & Guardian Online: The smart news source
Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Helen Zille stands by her remark made on Sunday that Julius Malema is an "inkwenkwe", which refers to an uncircumcised boy.
She told the Mail & Guardian Online on Tuesday that she meant the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League leader is "a little boy who is wet behind the ears".
Zille knows her stuff - inkwenkwe (with two clicks) is an isiXhosa word, the dominant black language of the Western and Eastern Cape. There is a hidden sting here too: Malema is uncircumcised, as he is Zulu, and unlike Xhosa, Zulu don't go through a traditional rite of passage to manhood. Buthelezi, who was already piqued by Malema, piled on Malema as well and of course now the ANCYL was outraged by such travesty. And so on. Not that Malema can only get outraged about these ribald affairs, apparently the ANCYL is also sputtering perplexedly about his caricature in one of Nando's commercials.
And thus democracy in South Africa fledges onwards and, I daresay, might have ventured into its puberty - with a streak of coarse humour and brazen arrogance while the wise enter the twilight.
Latest polls indicate that the ANC will retain its two-third majority in the Assembly. Cope is projected at 11%, the DA at 13%.
Results are expected on Thursday.