Repercussions from the result of last week’s municipal elections continue to reverberate around South Africa. While the post-mortems of most pundits focus on challenges of forming ruling coalitions in the 27 “hung” metro and municipal councils, political veteran Douglas Gibson takes an upbeat approach. For him, the elections show a different reality. The fear-based racist campaigns failed dismally. Gibson says the seismic voting shifts show South Africans really do buy into their icon Nelson Mandela’s message of hope; of a non-racial democracy where everybody can enjoy a place in the sun. For him, it is not only the ANC which should see the election as a wake-up call. Chavez-idolising EFF, too, would have expected a far better showing. Perhaps the Venezuelan disaster hasn’t gone unnoticed by an electorate that is a lot smarter than the “voting cattle” description it is tagged with. A reminder to never under-estimate the intelligence of the common folk – especially in an age when it has never been easier to become properly informed. Just because people are poor doesn’t mean they are stupid. – Alec Hogg
By Douglas Gibson*
In his famous address from the dock when he was fighting for his life Nelson Mandela said, “I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I’ve cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.1 It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
The ANC turned its back on these ideals during the election campaign. The president and many others in that formerly non-racial party fought a disappointingly racist campaign. They forgot the values of our constitution and deliberately divided people by race. Some of their campaign speakers stated openly that black people who did not vote for them were mad or bad and that a black person could not really lead the Opposition without being a puppet. The DA was a white party and therefore bad and unacceptable.
Another party that rejects the Mandela ideals, the provisions of the Freedom Charter and the solemn commitment of our Constitution to equality and freedom for all, is the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).
Many people think the EFF had a good election. It certainly cemented its position as the third party in South Africa, but that is not the whole picture. Bravado aside, while they have found themselves as the “kingmakers” (not the kings) in some councils, they must be hugely disappointed by their relatively poor showing.
At the time of writing, they had around 8% of the vote. Remember that in the General Election in 2014 they polled 6.7%. Given everything they have done in the past two years, they were expecting to double their vote to about 12% nationally. They are miles off that mark. The voters didn’t like their racism.
The party that promoted the ideal of national unity; of equality for all; and against domination by black or white, was by far the biggest winner. Those who still dismiss the Democratic Alliance (DA) as a white party and therefore a lesser form of life are racists needing extra arithmetic lessons. The white voters now number around 8% of South African voters. Most, but not nearly all, vote for the DA and therefore to get to 27% as it has now done, the DA support base is without question far more black, coloured and Indian than white. Mmusi Maimane says it is a party for all South Africans. Many voters liked that.
It is for this reason that I say the Rainbow nation is back and increasingly the voters are receptive to a message of hope, of national unity, of equal rights and freedom for all. What Mandela and Tutu promoted is not some discarded, outdated, rather old-fashioned idealism; it is as fresh and relevant today as it was then.1
All parties engage in post-election introspection – some will conduct post-mortems. What is required now is open eyes and open minds? If the ANC decides to become more racist in an attempt to outflank the EFF, it will make a great mistake.If the ANC heeds the siren calls of the communists and decides to move further to the left it will make an even bigger mistake. The reason is simply this: socialist policies will not and can never move our country in the direction of creating new jobs. That can only happen if the economy grows and it will be the private sector – not the government at any level – that creates jobs. The government, whether national, provincial or city council, must create the climate in which the private sector and entrepreneurs can flourish.
Apart from the racist nature of the campaign, voters reacted negatively to corruption, to the cronyism of cadre deployment, the arrogance of those who described themselves as our “rulers,” and the feeling of those in power that they had become the important ones.
The other significant factor is that the ANC is so poor at governing. It was great when it was fighting against apartheid and enjoying the applause of the world. Quite soon after it took over the government at every level, it proved inadequate to the task. Political appointees everywhere, owing loyalty to the ANC rather than to the public, could not always do the job. Clinging to attitudes and policies fashionable in the 1950s compounded the problem. Slowly things deteriorated.
Then, of course, came Mr. Zuma. From the outset, he was an unwise choice for the ANC to make and the doubters about him were soon proved right. His rapaciousness, economic illiteracy, unwillingness to listen to anything other than what he wanted to hear, together with some lamentable appointments and actions both of a personal and a public nature, contributed to the steady decline of government.
Then came the arrogance. The president on several occasions stated that the ANC would rule until Jesus came again. Although well on the way to accepting that the ANC rules by divine will, the president seems to have omitted to consult Jesus on the matter.
The ANC vote nationally dropped to around 54%. The voters have administered a stinging rebuke. It is they who are important, not the politicians. In 2019 at the general election, we might well be seeing Mmusi Maimane busy putting a coalition together to govern our country. That is why the rainbow is visible.
- Douglas Gibson is a former Opposition chief Whip and a former ambassador to Thailand. This article first appeared in The Star.