25 April 2009

After the ball(ot) is over

Our fourth democratic elections have come and gone. Most of the votes have been counted and it is clear that the ANC will form the national government for the fourth term running, and will control the government of eight of the nine provinces.

There are no great surprises there, so what’s to write about?

Some people have asked me what I thought of the elections and how i feel about the results, and what will happen next. So even though I’m not a great political fundi, and nowadays don’t take much interest in politics until there’s an election, since they asked, and for myself to refer to later, I’m jotting down a few thoughts.

There's a rather sentimental Victorian song, After the ball is over.

After the ball is over, after the break of morn,
After the dancers' leaving, after the stars are gone,
Many a heart is aching, if you could read them all—
Many the hopes that have vanished after the ball.

The ANC had a ball after the ballot in the library gardens in Johannesburg, and some of the hopes of opposition parties had vanished.

That the ANC won the election was no surprise -- it has increased its majority at every election since 1994 -- but this time its majority was reduced in every province but one, the exception being KwaZulu-Natal.

There was also far more interest in this election than in the 2004 one. One reason for that may be that floor-crossing has been abolished. For the last few years, because of a weakness in the constitution, members of parliament were allowed to switch parties in mid-term without losing their seats in parliament, which made a mockery of elections. In effect the voters elected parliament for 18 months, and thereafter the politicians elected themselves. This led to cynicism among the youth, especially. Our sons refused to vote in 2004, but floor crossing has been abolished, and they did vote this time.

A more significant reason for greater interest was a split in the ruling party, the ANC, and the formation of a new opposition party, COPE, the Congress of the People Party, mainly from disaffected ANC members who were pushed aside when Jacob Zuma was elected as president of the ANC in 2007. There was considerable resentment in the ANC of Thabo Mbeki’s top-down leadership style, and Jacob Zuma was supported by a variety of interest groups, perhaps initially because it was felt that he had been unfairly victimised by Mbeki. Those who left, however, were not simply motivated by sour grapes. Jacob Zuma had been accused of corruption when he was deputy president, but instead of taking the matter to court to clear his name spent a lot of time and money and energy trying to avoid appearing in court at all. The leader of the ANC youth league, Julius Malema, for one, was proclaiming, in effect, “We want Zuma, corrupt or not”. COPE, perhaps to emphasise the contrast, brought in a former head of the Methodist Church, Mvume Dandala, perhaps because he could be presented to voters as Mr Clean.

So this is what happened:

With 400 seats in parliament, a party needs 0,25% of the vote for each MP.

Two of the smaller parties that have been represented in parliament since 1994 seem to have been wiped out in this election: Azapo and the PAC. The former represented the Black Consciousness movement of the 1970s, whose best-known exponent was Steve Biko, murdered by the security police in 1977. The PAC (Pan-African Congress) tried to keep alive the Africanist vision of the 1950s and 1960s. Its logo shows light streaming to Africa from Ghana, the first British colony in Africa to become independent in 1957. There was a vision of a postcolonial United States of Africa. The PAC tried to keep the Africanist vision alive, but the ANC’s Thabo Mbeki stole their thunder with his vision of an African Renaissance, and their only young and dynamic MP, Patricia de Lille, sick of the dithering and squabbling among the leaders, broke away to form the Independent Democrats, which did quite well, for a new party, in the 2004 elections, but saw its electoral support halved in 2009.

So we come to the Independent Democrats.

I voted for them in 2004, mainly because I thought it was a good idea to have Patricia de Lille in parliament. And I think there were quite a lot who voted ID for the same reason. De Lille asked awkward questions of ministers, and kept them on their toes. If there was a whiff of corruption, she would be on to it, trying to lay bare the truth. Unfortunately she was not able to attract other leaders of the same quality of herself to her party. It was, and remains, basically a one-woman party. Some of the elected leaders were opportunists, who disappeared through the floor-crossing windows when offered suitable inducements by other parties.

Then along came COPE, and stole most of the ID's thunder. Its policies were not identical, but were close enough to attract many of the same people. As I pointed out in another blog post, I did one of those quizzes to see which party’s policies came closest to my thinking, and the ID and COPE tied for first place, so I voted for both - the ID nationally, and COPE at the provincial level.

The opposition party that did best in the elections, and indeed better than last time around, is the Democratic Alliance (DA).

Like the ID, it is now led by a woman, Helen Zille, who has apparently done a good job as mayor of Cape Town, and gathered a lot of support that way, especially in the Western Cape, some at the expense of the ID. Its family tree goes back to 1959, the same year that the PAC started, when a group of MPs broke away from the (white) parliamentary opposition party, the United Party, to form the Progressive Party, which was one of the distant ancestors of the DA of today, and it has tended to pass on one rather undesirable gene to its offspring. The Progressive Party and its successors never saw themselves as an alternative government, but as an alternative opposition. They raised opposition not merely to a fine art, but to an obsession. The rivalry between them and the United Party was far fiercer than that between them and the ruling National Party. They would induce a few “young Turks” from the UP to join them, and each time this happened they changed their name, to the Progressive Reform Party, then the Progressive Federal Party, and each time they moved a bit further to the right, since the people they were absorbing were further to the right than they themselves were. Eventually the United Party disappeared, and the Democratic Party was born. In the 1994 elections the previous ruling party, the National Party, became the official opposition, and the Democratic Party, led by Tony Leon, set their sights an replacing them as the official opposition, and so set out to make itself the party of the white right. They contested the 1999 elections with slogans like “Fight back” (against what? democracy?). Well, they were the opposition weren’t they? In their view the function of the opposition is to oppose everything that the government does, good or bad. So not for them the constructive opposition of Patricia de Lille, opposing the bad, but supporting the good, and offering suggestions for improvement. The DA opposed for the sake of opposing. Eventually they absorbed the rump of the National Party, but a lot of them couldn’t take it and went on to join the ANC.

It looks as though the DA has mellowed a little since Helen Zille replaced Tony Leon as leader (what is it about politicians called Tony? Leon, Blair or Yengeni, they all seem to go wrong). But when we drove to the polling station to vote on Wednesday we were faced with posters saying “Stop Zuma”, so it looks as though they are still up to their old tricks. I’d rather know what they are for than what they are against. And I’d rather know what they are against than who they are against.

At one municipal election a few years ago I was met at the polling station by two burly gentlemen sporting rosettes, who escorted me, one on either side, to the polling station, each telling me that his party was the only one that could “stop the ANC”. One was from the DA and the other from the Freedom Front +. I couldn’t get a word in edgeways, otherwise I would have asked what it was they wanted to stop the ANC doing, and why they automatically assumed that I would want to stop it too. What they did not tell me was how they would run the city better than the ANC had been doing, so I went in and cast my two votes, the proportional one for the ANC, and the local ward one for the only candidate who did not seem to be affiliated with any political party.

There’s one other party I’ve occasionally considered voting for, but never have, which also lost support heavily in this election. That is the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP). My biggest gripe with them is that they claim to have a monopoly of Christian principles, when some of their principles don’t seem all that Christian to me. What really clinched it, though, was that in previous elections, just when I was thinking of voting for them, the ACDP would send me a bundle of right-wing propaganda written by one Ed Cain. Ed Cain used to publish far right political propaganda, some of it subsidised by the former Department of Information (remember Muldergate?) aimed at the Christian market. He could publish radically different theological views without a qualm, side-by side, and didn’t care how theologically inconsistent they were, as long as they promoted a consistently right-wing political point of view.

The other parties are composed of sinful men and one expects to find human failings among them. Until Christ comes again, human politics will be tainted by human sinfulness. But when a party has the hubris to claim that its equally tainted principles and organisation have somehow had an immaculate conception, even when they are (like Ed Cain’s) the most ungodly of the lot, that’s when I look elsewhere on the ballot paper.

And there are two parties that I was never tempted to vote for, both regional. One is the United Democratic Movement of Bantu Holomisa. The quiz I did actually placed it second, tied with the DA. But Bantu Holomisa once staged a coup in Transkei, and I’ll never be tempted to vote for a politician who has tried to bypass voting and seize power. They lost most of their support to COPE, I should think, and that’s probably a good thing. The other is the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), which was started as a cultural movement, but Gatsha Buthelezi (as he was then known) turned it into a rival to the ANC when he was snubbed by the ANC. It seemed like a silly and unnecessary quarrel, and provided a lever for PW Botha’s “third force” to try to destabilise the first democratic elections. Hundreds of people died as a result. And now that the ANC has a Zulu leader, people in KwaZulu-Natal are switching their votes to the ANC, because they can see that the propaganda that painted the ANC as “anti-Zulu” was grossly exaggerated, or simply false.

So that’s my take on the election. A view of one voter out of about 17 million, and if you asked all of them you’d probably get 17 million different views, so it doesn’t really count for much. Now my political interest has dropped. There was a time, years ago, when I was more politically active, because then we were indeed fighting an ungodly government, founded on ungodly principles. But those political goals were achieved, in 1994. And on Wednesday, standing in the queue to vote autumn sunshine in the school yard, seeing the big thorn trees with their heavy seed pods, seeing the people of South Africa, black and white, moving slowly forward to vote, that was my political goal achieved. If someone tries to take that away from us, as has happened in Zimbabwe, then I might become a political acvtivist again. But one of the advantages of democracy is that one can, within limits, leave politics to the politicians.

But, if I’m still alive in 2014, maybe I’ll look back on it and see what I missed, and what I thought would happen, but didn’t.

So what do I think will happen? How important is it to “stop Zuma” as the DA exhorted us?

I have my doubts about whether Zuma will ever get to start. I don’t find him impressive as a political leader, that’s why I didn’t vote for him. He doesn’t strike me as a person with visionary leadership. He’s basically a shrewd politician who’s good at getting himself elected. What he does when he’s elected is a different matter. And the people who agreed to support him at Polokwane in 2007 -- they’re all hoping for different things from him. I doubt he’ll be able to deliver everything that they are expecting. But if he knows what’s good for him, he’ll concentrate on getting competent people who can improve service delivery for the millions who voted for him, and if he succeeds, he may stand a chance of being reelected in 2014.

But the ANC is still the ANC. It’s a popular organisation, and a lot of people in it still take seriously the slogan “the people shall govern”. Thabo Mbeki forgot that, and they kicked him out. And if they kicked Mbeki out, they can kick Zuma out too.

See also Cori's Blog: Why I would still vote ID.


bigbluemeanie said...

Only 17 million voted? Isn't that a bit low? What was the turnout?

Steve Hayes said...

Now that the final figures are out, it was 17680729, and Azapo and PAC did scrape in with 1 seat each.

Fr David MacGregor said...

Thanks a lot Steve for this very helpful commentary. I have posted the address to my son in New Zealand so that other SA's interested can read it too.


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