South Africa Sticking Out
It has happened again – South Africa comes with a surprise. Signs were clearly pointing towards a continuous decline in all sorts of ways, and one of the main reasons for this was a ruling party that had become complacent and too comfortable in being at the helm.
Of course many were those who were not taken by this positive surprise. But having come back recently as I have to the country (26 July), I have indeed been positively surprised by the local elections that took place last Wednesday.
Corruption in high places, for example the president spending more than ZAR 150 million on his own home for his retirement in Nkandla, and some months ago the president sacking the current finance minister Mr Nnene (a member of the Lutheran church ELCSA nogal), for no other reason than this Nnene having opposed spending massive sums of money on Russian nuclear technology, and other things as well have made it look very bleak for South Africa.
But now the local elections – they were free and fair – and were done in an atmosphere of good will and acceptance of there being a multiparty democracy.
The media coverage has been extensive – so, for example, public television as well as independent channels have sent reports around the clock. Much of it has been from the local scene, with interviews with local people. Thanks to such coverage it was possible to enjoy the flavour of the various parts of the country, so richly endowed with a diversity of peoples, languages, cultures and climates.
So South Africa is sticking out, not least in relation to the rest of the continent. What we saw was democracy at work. In some ways these elections were more impressive even than the first democratic elections that were held in 1994. Why do I say that? These were of course absolutely historical, unique and one thing was at stake: give the people the mandate to do away with apartheid once and for all.
Now it was a different story. The party that symbolizes the new South Africa, the ANC, had now become a party with entrenched power on all levels, and all signs were there to tell that there was no willingness to give up any such position. The ambivalent description of the party as a liberation movement and as a political party in a multiparty world is to this day ominous. In similar places (read Zimbabwe) that is how such a party fairly easily has been able to argue that they are, and always will be the party for the country, and as president Zuma vividly described it, “we will rule until Jesus comes back”.
It was impressive seeing the leadership of the country, with president Zuma in the lead, being assembled at the IECs (Independent Electoral Commission) announcement last night, giving the final results of the election.
What we are talking about is not a national shift of power, this was a local election, but a blow to a number of former ANC strongholds locally. This was the case especially when it came to the urban metropolitan areas. So ANC has lost the majority in Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth), Johannesburg and Tswane (Pretoria). Cape Town was already in the hands of the Democratic Alliance. This party DA has now made such substantial inroads in these mentioned areas and will at least be at the helm in one of them (Nelson Mandela Bay).
The election day(s) went very peacefully, but in the months before there were incidents of severe violence, in KwaZuluNatal for example several candidates were murdered. It seems to have been an intra-party problem rather than an inter-party problem and the incidents mentioned here were from within the ANC.
More than anything else, I am simply impressed by the people of South Africa. They have shown resilience, grace, magnanimity, patience and now also maturity in the sense that they seem to understand that building a functioning democracy takes time. Twenty-two years down the line and we get this kind of election! Great.
The third biggest party, the EFF (Economic Freedom Front) did also well but lags behind the two bigger ones in numbers. In Sunday Times ZA editorial of 7 August one can read: “The EFF also showed in these polls that it is no one-election wonder, and that, unlike the soon-to-be defunct Congress of the People, it is here to stay. It would be disappointed that it did not win any municipality, but the party did well enough to be regarded as a kingmaker in a number of hung councils.”
This means that in order to gain an overall majority in for example Tswane or Johannesburg, the ANC or the DA would have to make a deal with one of the smaller parties, like EFF, then becoming a “kingmaker”.
Two more comments; first, one cannot help saying that the current leaders in all the major parties do not exactly measure up in stature to expectations. Maybe they are becoming more like the type of politicians that we are used to in the west. The new leader of the DA, Mmusi Maimane does not impress one, but I still know too little about him. The two leading women now in the background did also not impress me much from what I heard. Patricia de Lille, the Cape Town Mayor, said on Friday night that the ANC definitely are racist. And the last few days there was another example of the former party leader Hellen Zille’s arrogance when she had tweeted about a University of Cape Town student that she perhaps was not worthy of her student bursary (probably the worst thing you can say a year after the fees-must-fall-campaign among South African university students, and one should not be surprised if Zille knew exactly that).
These things do not impress one. So is the ANC so much better? Certainly not; racial slur has been prevalent the last few years which has made the debate very base, very low.
What impresses me though is the fact that the ANC leadership showed up last night in full force, just to listen to a long list of ANC defeat, and formally accepting the outcome of course. I think that is democracy in operation. How long that will last is another thing, but when it comes to South Africa, one would never ever lose hope.