Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

The municipal elections

The municipal elections have come and gone. The votes have been counted. The talking heads have talked and are still talking. Why do I add to the verbiage by writing this? Partly to see if events bear it out.

The results show that the ruling African National Congress (ANC, aka “the ruling party”) is losing support. One image keeps coming back to me: the Windhoek carnival in 1970. Namibia was then under South African rule, and they had a float procession through the streets of the city. One of the floats had a lot of chairs falling off the back, with the words “We are losing seats”. The National Party had been in power for 22 years, as long as the ANC has been in power now, and it seemed like an eternity. And for the first time since 1948 the NP had lost ground in an election, losing some seats, and showing reduced majorities in others.

Think of all the things that had happened — the Suppression of Communism Act, the Defiance Campaign, the Treason Trial, the Sharpeville Massacre, the Sabotage Act, the 90-day Detention Act, the Terrorism Act. By comparison the ANC is still blaming its own failures on apartheid, and subjectively yes, our democratic constitution and the like seem quite recent. But 22 years after coming to power the ANC, like the National Party at the same stage, is losing seats.

But though those 22 years of National Party rule seemed like an eternity, we weren’t even halfway. There were another 24 years to go before freedom came.

The ANC has lost control of a number of municipalities, and has a precarious hold over a few others. The exact picture isn’t too clear. One major difference was that back in 1970 the media told us exactly what was going on — how many seats the NP had lost, and by how much its majority had been reduced in others. The reporting in this election has been much more vague.

The biggest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA) has gained a bigger proportion of the vote, and interprets this as a gain in support. I am not so sure. While the proportion of ANC voters has decreased, the absolute number has increased.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which was formed only 3 years ago, failed to gain control of a single municipality, but they were happy with the result. Indications are that their support mainly came from supporters of other parties that had broken away from the ANC, like COPE and Agang, which had destroyed their own chances by leadership struggles and infighting. The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) regained some lost ground in the heart of Zululand, indicating that voters there had tried the ANC, had not been happy with the result, and gone back to the IFP.

The DA worked hard to get their supporters to vote, and the percentage poll was higher in DA wards than in ANC wards. Some ANC spokesmen attributed this to the weather. DA supporters interpreted this as a win, but the DA didn’t win many wards in traditional ANC areas. I do know some former ANC voters who voted for the DA, but not enough to make much difference. The main difference was that many ANC voters simply abstained, and not because of the weather, as the spin doctors would like us to believe. The DA didn’t win, but the ANC lost. Even though the ANC controls more municipalities than all other parties combined, it controls fewer than before, and that is a loss. The question is, can the ANC recover from the damage inflicted on it by Zuma and his cronies before the abstainers seek an alternative political home? And can the opposition parties attract the abstaining ANC voters, because they don’t seem to have done so yet?

Some have criticised South Africa’s electoral system, saying that the proportional representation system means that MPs are accountable to party bosses and not to the electorate. That is true, but in the municipal elections there is a mixture of proportional representation and constituency systems, which combines the advantages of both. A pure ward system would have favoured the ANC, and it is proportional representation that gives the smaller parties a voice. In Tshwane, COPE had two city councillors in the old council, and will have one in the new council, even though they didn’t win a single ward. For all its faults, the proportional representation system does allow minority views to be heard.

The biggest question arising out of the 2016 local governmentl elections is whether the ANC can repair itself in time for the 2019 general election. Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa thinks it can — ANC not arrogant, self-serving, says Ramaphosa | IOL:

African National Congress deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday said, unlike what many South Africans think, his party was not an arrogant, self-serving political organisation.

“The ANC, as opposed to what many people may believe, they think we are arrogant, self-centered, self-serving and I would like like to dispute all that by saying we are a listening organisation,” Ramaphosa told a scrum of reporters at the ANC desk in the IEC’s results operations centre in Tshwane.

But Ramaphosa himself demonstrated the ANC’s arrogance and failure to listen — Gauteng e-tolls here to stay | News | National | M&G:

Gauteng’s e-tolling system is not going anywhere. In fact, motorists will need to settle outstanding e-toll fees before their vehicle licence disks can be issued when up for renewal.

Announcing the new e-tolls dispensation, including price reductions of up to 50% and compliance measures, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said the new dispensation was about addressing the concerns raised by people in the province of Gauteng and beyond.

But what the people wanted was not reduced toll fees, but the abolition of toll roads altogether. The ANC leaders like to blame apartheid for our problems, but toll roads were introduced by the apartheid government in the 1970s to pay for the invasion of Angola, and the ANC has retained and expanded the system in spite of objections. This is a clear example of the ANC not listening.

Toll roads are not the only issue, of course, but they are a particularly clear example of the ANC’s arrogance and refusal to listen.

There was an even more powerful demonstration of this when, at the final results announcement by the Independent Electoral Commission, four young women stood in in silent protest front of the stage where President Jacob Zuma was making his speech, and leading members of the ANC women’s league went ballistic, demanding that the security people and the Defence Minister do something about it.

Silent protesters at President Jacob Zuma's speech at the IEC's final election results meeting

Silent protesters at President Jacob Zuma’s speech at the IEC’s final election results meeting

The silent protest was brilliant, and perhaps summed up the whole election and the reasons for the ANC’s loss of support. It was far more effective than burning twenty buses and innumerable tyres.

But the response of leading women in the ANC demonstrated once again the ANC’s arrogance and refusal to listen — SUNDAY TIMES – “You sold us out!” furious ministers tell Mapisa-Nqakula over Khwezi protest:

Furious ministers Nomvula Mokonyane, Lindiwe Zulu and Bathabile Dlamini were seen by the Sunday Times confronting Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula over what they saw as a serious security breach. The four women protesters, dressed in black, stood silently in front of the stage carrying placards as Zuma spoke.

The protesters, who included student activists Simamkele Dlakavu and Naledi Chirwa, staged the protest to mark 10 years since Zuma was acquitted on a charge of raping a woman who became known as Khwezi. The women all had IEC accreditation tags that identified them as part of the EFF election team.

Today is National Women’s Day, and the reaction of these women to the protest shows that any resemblance between the ANC Women’s League today and those who marched on the Union Buildings sixty years ago is not merely coincidental, but quite delusional. The watching world could see the arrogance and the failure to listen for themselves.

As one of the protesters said, “Tomorrow they will be singing wathint’ abafazi wathint’ imbokodo (you strike the women, you strike the rock), yet they touched and violated us in front of everyone” (Woman in Zuma #Khwezi protest speaks out | IOL)

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