Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “ANC”

Election 2019: Who can one vote for?

Some time later this year there is to be a general election in South Africa. With our proportional representation system we have a large variety of parties to choose from — some say over 200 — which will make the ballot paper look more like a book — yet it has never been more difficult to choose. As one friend wrote on Facebook this morning:

Being a person with quite clear opinions, I never thought I could be classified as an undecided voter. But that’s where I am as elections loom.

And most of the comments on that took a similar line.

I see no point in voting for a small party that is unlikely to get at least 0.25% of the vote — that’s what is needed to get one member of parliament. Anything less than that and the party will not be represented in parliament at all. So it has to be one of the bigger parties. In some previous elections I’ve chosen by a process of elimination — which of the bigger parties is least objectionable.

Here are my thoughts this time around.


Quite a lot of people have been saying that since Cyril Ramaphosa has replaced Jacob Zuma  as president of the ANC the Zuptas are in decline, but a poor showing in the election  will make Ramaphosa look bad and strengthen the hand of the Zuptas, therefore one should vote for the ANC to strengthen Ramaphosa’s hand. and enable him to deal with the Zuptas.

My inclination is to wait and see who is on the party list. A lot of prominent politicians have been fingered by the Zondo and other commissions as having been involved in corruption on a massive scale, and stealing public funds. If any of those people are on the ANC party list, I’m not voting for the ANC. It’s no use playing the “innocent until proved guilty” card — I’m not voting on their guilt or innocence, I’m voting for who I want to represent me in parliament, and I don’t want those people to do so. So that’s a relatively simple criterion.

The DA

I haven’t even considered voting for the DA since Tony Leon’s “Gatvol” and “Fight back” campaign of 1999. Admittedly that was the Democratic Party, which later united with the rump of the right of the National Party to form the Democratic Alliance (the left of the National Party joined the ANC).

In 2003 we had a municipal by-election, in which the choice was between the right, the far right, the super right, the hyper right and the ultra right. I considered not voting, then thought that Willie “stem reg, bly weg” Marais of the HNP would take a non-vote as a vote for him, so I went along and parked up the road from the polling station. As I got out of the car my right arm was grabbed by a burly gentleman from the Conservative Party and my left arm by an equally burly gentleman from the DA, each of whom was assuring me that his party was the only one that could “Stop the ANC”. I wanted to ask “Stop the ANC from doing what?” but I feared that if I did so I would be there all afternoon, and i just wanted to vote and go home. There was in any case no ANC candidate in our ward. None of the parties or candidates said anything about their vision for the City of Tshwane. The only thing they claimed was that they would be better than any of the others at “Stopping the ANC”. I want in and voted for the only independent on the ballot paper. I didn’t know what he stood for either, but at least he wasn’t a party hack.

As far as I can see the DA just wants to stop the ANC. If the ANC does something bad, they’ll try to stop it (but the EFF was more effective at that). And if the ANC does something good, they’ll try to stop that too. Their policy is simply to “Stop the ANC.” It’s entirely negative., at least in the public image they try to cultivate.

And then there is this: Herman Mashaba, the DA Mayor of Johannesburg, writes in An open letter of apology to all South Africans | News24:

We had witnessed how an oppressive government had been defeated by the people of our country. It was a magical moment.

With this belief, I voted for the ANC in 1994 and 1999.

For this, I offer my most profound apology.

Well I too voted for the ANC in 1994 and 1999, and I see no reason at all to apologise for doing so. I believed then, and I still believe now, that it was the best party to vote for at that time. It wasn’t perfect by any means, and I had plenty of complaints about it (the arms deal, abandonment of the RDP and more). But voting for it then did not turn it into what it became after December 2007. To Herman Mashaba I say Bah! Humbug.


The Economic Freedom Fighters, like the DA, are largely negative. You know what they are against, but when you ask what they are for, the story is tailored to what they think the particular audience wants to hear. They gained quite a lot of support when Zuma was president, and I think their vociferous opposition was more effective than the DA’s whinging. They exposed a lot of corruption among the Zuptas, but the VBS bank affair has left them with mud on their faces. Zuma’s recall took the wind out of their sails, and since then they have been flip-flopping trying to catch the slightest breeze.


I never considered voting for the Congress of the People Party before, because of their in-fighting leadership struggles, which made them seem to be more about personalities than policies. But that seemed to settle down and I was seriously considering voting for them until they recently allied themselves with a militantly racist organisation called Afriforum, and a militantly anti-Christian organsation called Dignity, whose leader spouts hate speech against Christians at every opportunity. Thanks, but no thanks.


I have long had two reservations about the United Democratic Movement led by Bantu Holomisa. One is that he once led a coup, and the second is that he seems to enjoy being sycophantically addressed by journalists as “General”.

To these an additional reason has recently been added: when the UDM conspired with other parties including the EFF to remove the DA mayor of Nelson Mandela Municipality in order to replace him with one who appears to be just as corrupt as any of the Zuptas.


The Inkatha Freedom Party resisted the first democratic elections in 1994 for several months, and as a result more than 700 people died. Enough said.


The African Christian Democratic Party claims to uphold Christian principles, but I’m not so sure about that. For one thing, they favour capital punishment, though on the credit side they are opposed to abortion on demand. Being “pro-life”, I am opposed to both.

Whenever I have, in the past, considered voting for the ACDP, my mind has been decisively been made up by receiving a bundle of far-right wing propaganda pamphlets sent in the name of the ACDP by one Ed Cain. Ed Cain used to publish a right-wing “Christian” paper called Encounter, which was funded through the old Department of Information of scandal fame — one of the few instances of government corruption exposed in those pre-democracy days of media censorship. Encounter published articles from people with enormous differences in theology. The only thing they had in common was a right-wing political stance.

A friend of mine who supported the ACDP assured me that Ed Cain was a loose cannon and did not represent the party, but the fact remains that the party did not officially repudiate Ed Cain and the publications he sent out in its name. That made me suspect that a lot of the party’s support came from the right-wing followers of Ed Cain, and they could not afford to alienate them, just as Cyril Ramaphosa cannot afford to alienate the Zuptas in the ANC.


Well, I have to admit that I voted for Agang for parliament in the 2014 election, mainly because I thought Mamphela Ramphekle had things to say that the country needed to hear, and that even as a minority she could have an influence in parliamentary committees etc.

What happened? There seems to have been an internal party coup in which Mamphela Ramphele was ousted, and Agang is represented in parliament by a couple of jobsworths who are just waiting for their parliamentary pensions, because I doubt that anyone will ever vote for them again.

Oh, and also in the 2014 elections I voted for the EFF for the provincial council, because I thought they might be more effective in opposing things like toll roads in general and e-tolls in particular — another reason why I won’t vote for the ANC in Gauteng province, even if, in the event of their leaving all the Zuptas off their list, I might consider voting for them for parliament.

Oh, and there’s also the Freedom Front Plus. They are at leas more honest about their right-wingness than the ACDP.

Where next?

So here I am, the proverbial floating voter.

Are the pubs still closed on election day? Perhaps I’ll vote for the first candidate who offers to buy me a drink.

I’ve heard rumours of a “Revolutionary Workers Party”, but they are either keeping a very low profile, or the media are pretending they don’t exist, preferring to give publicity to clowns like Hlaudi Motsoeneng, who, having destroyed the SABC now wants to destroy the country as well with his local content party. The Revolutionary Workers Party sounds a bit like the MDC in Zimbabwe, but if they keep such a low profile no one will be able to find their name in the ballot book.

Are there any more promising candidates among the 200 or so others?




Inside Quatro: ANC and Swapo prison camps

Inside Quatro: Uncovering the Exile History of the ANC and SWAPOInside Quatro: Uncovering the Exile History of the ANC and SWAPO by Paul Trewhela
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It’s taken me nearly six years to read this book. It’s about prison camps run by the ANC and Swapo, mostly in Angola and Zambia, in which party dissidents were detained without trial, and sometimes tortured. The book consists mainly of essays reprinted from a publication called Searchlight South Africa edited by the author, Paul Trewhela, and his colleague Baruch Hirson, both of whom had been jailed for anti-apartheid activities in South Africa.

The articles, it seemed to me, varied greatly in quality, and that was one reason it took me so long to read it. Another reason was that there seemed to be no way of verifying the claims that are made, and so I didn’t really feel competent to write a review — so let anyone reading this review beware.

Some of the articles seemed factual, and thus believable, while others seemed to be much more tendentuious. The title, too, is misleading. It is not the exile history of the ANC and Swapo — that has yet to be written, or maybe it has been, but I haven’t seen it. There were some things I knew a bit more about — churches in Namibia, for example — but Trewhela dealt with a period after I had been deported from Namibia, and so was out of touch. But again, it did seem to be very patchy and incomplete. In part that is because of the nature of the material.The articles were all topical articles in a magazine, and so could not really be expected to provide a comprehensive history.

I was initially put off be a couple of the early articles, which had “Stalinist” in almost every paragraph, to describe the ANC. Paul Trewhela had been a member of the South African Communist Party, which was inclined to be Stalinist. He left it and became a Trotskyist, and I had read somewhere that many of the American Neocons who had pushed the US into war in the early years of the century had originally been Trotskyists, and some of the early essays seemed to lend support to that thesis. They seemed to be the kind of thing the National Party government would say to try to discredit the ANC and Swapo as “communist”. So I put the book aside, and only picked it up occasionally to read another of the essays.

The later ones generally seem better than the earlier ones, but there is no way of determining how accurate they are without a great deal of historical research, and that is the kind of research that I would prefer to leave to others. I’m interested in writing about periods that I do know something about, where I have at least some first-hand knowledge.

View all my reviews

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)

Racism and the #ZumaMustFall movement

A few days ago I suggested that the #ZumaMustFall movement is predominantly middle class, at the moment at least, because Zuma’s latest blunder had its most immediate effect on the middle class. Unemployed people living in informal settlements won’t be complaining about the increased cost of their next overseas holiday because of the fall in the value of the Rand. When it hits the petrol price and taxi fares the working class might begin to sit up and take notice, but that will be sufficiently long after the blunder for the connection to be less obvious – it will take some populist rhetoric from the EFF for that to happen.

Also, the appointment of Pravin Gordhan as finance minister has stopped the slide for the moment, even if it hasn’t restored the status quo ante.

Comments on the #ZumaMustFall movement have also revealed a lot of racism. As one commenter put it Why I didn’t march or chant #zumamustfall — Medium:

The #zumamustfall bandwagon has perpetuated a political discourse that troubles me. Subtle and, at times, overt racism has trumped good intentions. Zuma’s ability to lead this country, while questionable, does not give us the liberty to spout racist rhetoric. I’ve heard people commenting on black people’s inability to lead this country; that whites would do it better. This suggestion repulses me.

And the following exchange on Twitter shows another aspect of this racism:

Zwelinzima Vavi Retweeted charles modisane

Correction it’s us who organised the march & all SAfricans joined. Must we cancel if whites join or chase them away?

Zwelinzima Vavi added,

In this case, there appears to have been a misunderstanding. The #ZumaMusFall marches took place on 16 December, which was also a day on which some people gathered at the Voortrekker Monument, and some people there were displaying the old flag of apartheid South Africa. At least some people, like the Tweeter quoted above, thought the photo was taken on the #ZumaMustFall march, and was criticising Zwelinzima Vavi for apparently associating himself with such people.

We live in a society in which people are different in many different ways. Race, culture, class and religion all contribute to our “identity” and what makes use different from one another. “Racism” is what happens when people make “race” the primary and most significant characteristic, and when they interpret all the other differences in terms of race, and especially when they think that that overrides all the things we have in common.

I once had a friend whom I had known for a fairly short time. We grew up in different parts of the country, in different cultures. He was black, I was white. He was Xhosa, I was English. He was from the Eastern Cape, I was from Natal and what is now Gauteng. We were both Christian. When we went to England to study, and found ourselves in a foreign culture, we realised how much more we had in common: we had grown up under the same sky, under the same oppressive government, we were homeboys. I’ve written about these things more fully here: What is African? Race and identity | Khanya

Zulma2The piece I quoted above, about why the writer did not take part in the #ZumaMustFall march, goes on to mention “white privilege” as a factor. “White privilege” is something that is often misunderstood. Many white people say things like “Apartheid ended more than 20 years ago, we are all equal now. If anything white people are discriminated against in things like affirmative action.”

And it is true that we now have a non-racial constitution. There are no longer any legal privileges attached to being white, and the constitutional court is there as a watchdog.

But twenty years after the end of apartheid, inequalities persist, for example in education. Indeed, one of the criticisms of Zuma and the ANC government is that it has not done enough to redress these inequalities and to improve education. Towards the end of apartheid, the previous National Party government came up with a scheme to allow formerly all-white schools to decide their own admission policies, and admit pupils of other races. When several of them did so, the NP govvernment hastily privatised the schools.

The result was that middle-class black pupils were admitted to formerly all white schools, and that has persisted. But what was the result? White pupils were privileged to meet black middle-class children. But black working-class kids in the townships continued to go to all black schools. So twenty years later, cultural and class barriers remain.

To understand the effect of the cultural barriers still perpetuated by white privilege, please read this article, by someone who understands both cultures: How Mainstream Media Unknowingly Helps The #ANC Use #Zuma As Its Racial Jesus |:

Jacob Zuma – the person and the president, the body that is depicted visually and the figure that is related to politically – is the terrain on which South Africa’s race issues have played themselves out in weird and telling ways. Without realising it, mainstream media has done the ANC a huge favour in playing up the DA’s “Zuma is corrupt” trope because as well-intentioned and truthful as it may be, what it’s done is exacerbate the friction among the races – especially between black and white people – because white people do not know how to level an insult so it lands where it’s intended. This is because colonialism and apartheid skewed racial relations.

Zuma Must Fall

No, I’m not going to add my own little rant to all the others explaining why Zuma’s presidency is bad for the country. My 2c worth is about the #ZumaMustFall movement, rather than about Zuma himself.

Zuma’s shortcomings have been explained far more eloquently by others than by anything I can say — by Barney Pityana here, and by Zwelinzima Vavi here. As Zwelinzima Vavi puts it,

We are on a rollercoaster without a driver, and we are about to come off the rails! The captains of the ship of state are about to run aground, and are completely discredited and enjoy no credibility or moral authority with those they are supposed to protect and represent

HumptyZumaOne interesting thing about the #ZumaMustFall movement is that it is not driven by opposition parties trying to make political capital out of Zuma’s latest blunder. Their voices have been drowned out by a clamour from all kinds of people, mainly on social media like Twitter and Facebook. Many of these voices have been from people who have hitherto supported the ANC, and who played a significant part in the freedom struggle. It is becoming clearer to many that the ANC today is not the old ANC of Mandela, Tambo and Sisulu. The credo of the old ANC was The People Shall Govern. The credo of the new ANC of the tenderpreneurs is The Guptas shall govern.

This may look like the beginning of a popular movement, but we need to remember that the Twitterati do not represent the broad masses of the people. The Twitterati are predominantly middle class, and it is middle-class people who are most sensitive to the immediate effects of Zuma’s blunder, such as the fall in the value of the Rand, which has been almost as spectacular as P.W. Botha’s Rubicon Rand of 30 years ago.

The middle class are aware of these things, because they know that it will increase the cost of their next overseas holiday, or the cost of imported goods that they were planning to buy — the new tablet computer or home theatre or whatever.

Because of this, some have said that the only people who will be affected by the economic fallout from this are white capitalists, and that the rest of the people need not worry. But over the next few months we will see how it could begin to affect others.

The intelligentsia are already aware of it because the victory they gained a few short months ago from the #FeesMustFall movement can be wiped out because milliards of Rand have vanished from the economy within the space of a day or two.

The working class may became aware of it when the price of petrol rises, and taxi fares increase, but that will be sufficiently long after Zuma’s blunder for the cause and effect link to be less obvious. Perhaps it will need some rousing populist rhetoric from Julius Malema and Co to make that connection clear.

Perhaps the last people to become aware of it will be the rural peasants. The benefits of democracy may have taken longest to trickle down to them, but on the positive side the disasters take longer to trickle down too.

I suspect that something similar will happen here to what happened in Zimbabwe 15-20 years ago. There the immediate trigger was the eagerness of their rulers to intervene in the Congo civil war. Foreign military adventures are expensive, and caused foreign exchange reserves to fall. That meant there was not enough money to buy fuel, and rationing was introduced. Businesses that depended on exports began to fold, and unemployment increased. The working class revolted and formed the MDC, and Zanu found its electoral support dwindling in a referendum which they lost. To prevent the losses spreading to the rural areas, they confiscated land from commercial farmers and redistributed it to peasants so they would continue to support them (and to party cronies, of course). The commercial farms produced mainly export crops, so foreign exchange reserves dwindled still further, and it became a vicious circle.

The same thing could happen here, if the value of the Rand drops further, the price of fuel will rise, and rationing may have to be introduced. Transport costs, for both goods and people, will rise, and a similar vicious circle could develop here. And the working class here could become aware of what had caused the problem, as they did in Zimbabwe. But bear in mind that millions of Zimbabweans voted with their feet and came to South Africa. Perhaps they can go back to Zimbabwe, but where can the South Africans go?

Dr Azar Jammine, one of the country’s top economists, explains more of the possible economic consequences of Zuma’s bluder in an article here. Dr Jammine also explains why he thinks that the populist economics proposed by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) will not be a solution either, but the ANC has never had a populist economic policy; it has been neoliberal, and indeed thoroughly Thatcherist for the last 15 years at least, as this article by Andile Mngxitama points out.[1]

I don’t think the ANC has been quite as bad as Andile Mngxitama suggests, though. It did not suddenly change overnight (even though the abandonment of the RDP may have given that impression). But people like Kader Asmal worked very hard to bring clean water to every community, and there are many people who have continued to support similar ideals. If there weren’t, our country would be in a much worse state. Such people have sometimes been sidelined and displaced by the new tenderpreneur class, but many of them are still around, and still working for the ideals that the ANC, at its best, was fighting for 25 years ago. So perhaps a few of them may take courage from recent events, as this article suggests — Zuma’s opponents have smelled blood | News24:

There is a possibility that we would look back at the Nene/Van Rooyen debacle in the not so distant future and conclude that although our economy had lost billions through Zuma’s bizarre decision, it represented a turning point. It broke the back of Zuma’s power in the ANC and gave the top brass in the Cabinet and Luthuli House their mojo back. It is hard to see how Zuma can ever again make damaging decisions or statements without being corrected by his party.

I’m not exactly enthralled by the thought of Cyril Ramaphosa being our next president — he has too much blood on his hands after Marikana — but I don’t think he would be quite as recklessly irresponsible.


[1] My own view of populist, neoliberal and socialist economics is not really relevant to this article, and in any case I’m not an economist, but if anyone was wondering, I’m against the privatisation mania of neoliberal economics, and I’m against the nationalisation mania of populist economics.

  • I believe that some things should never be nationalised: mining and manufacturing, for example.
  • I believe that some things should never be privatised: e.g. transport and communications infrastructure (roads, railways, posts and telecommunications). Privatised toll roads are an abomination. Deregulated heavy goods transport leads to potholes and disused railway lines etc.
  • Other things may be a mixture of one or the other — education, farming, wholesale and retail trade, service industries, health care, banking etc. My preference for many of those sectors is private enterprise socialism — building societies and credit unions for banking, for example, cooperatives for farming and retail trade, and so on.




Forward to the past

Yesterday was “Back to the Future” day, the day on which Marty McFly and Doc Emmett Brown travelled in a time machine to 21 October 2015 in the 1989 film Back to the Future II. We watched the film on DVD for old times’ sake, and I thought that Doc Emmett Brown looked a good deal like the real Dr Who.

But, in other news, it was also forward to the past, with police beating up students outside the Houses of Parliament in Cape Town. It was like 1968-1972 all over again.

Back to the future day -- cops beating up students outside parliament, just like in 1968

Back to the future day — cops beating up students outside parliament, just like in 1968

Daily Maverick Chronicle: #FeesMustFall – Violence at the Gates of Parliament | Daily Maverick:

When students stormed Parliament’s grounds on Wednesday afternoon, SHAUN SWINGLER was there to document the police’s brutal response.

For those old enough to remember 1989, when Back to the Future Part II was made, it was the annus mirabilis, the wonderful year in which freedom was breaking out all over, and repressive regimes all over the world were falling, including here in South Africa. It was the year of the fall of the Berlin Wall and PW Botha.

And for those even older, 1968 was a rehearsal year for 1989.

It was the year of student power, flower power, and the Prague Spring. Flower Power probably saw its greatest victory five years later in the Carnation Revolution, which overthrew the Portuguese dictator Marcelo Caetano.

Student power touched South Africa too, and there were student demonstrations in universities here. After the early 1960s South African students seemed to have become rather timid, but in 1968, perhaps encouraged by the world-wide student protests, things began to liven up again, especially in the period 1968-1972. In June 1972 there were protests in Cape Town outside Parliament. The NP government banned protests in the grounds of parliament itself and in public places, so students gathered on the steps of St George’s Anglican Cathedral, which was private property belonging to the church, though visible to passers-by in the street. The police rioted, chased the students into the cathedral and beat them up. Back to the future.

I suggest that protesting students wear T-shirts with reprodtictons of this poster on them

I suggest that protesting students wear T-shirts with reproductions of this poster on them

In 1994 we had our first democratic elections, and we had a new government, which promised to redress the injustices of the past, and to transform society, including education.

One of those promises, relating to education, is displayed on this old election poster.

I suggest that students protesting against the increases in study fees should wear T-shirts with reproductions of this poster, to remind the politicians of their promises.

And the politicians should also rein in the aptly-named riot police. They rioted in Marikana, and now they are rioting in Cape Town, at parliament where the politicians can see them in action.

Forward to the past, to Sharpeville.

Where is the “transformation”?




Walter and Albertina Sisulu biography

Walter & Albertina SisuluWalter & Albertina Sisulu by Elinor Sisulu

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the things that I like about biographies of political figures is that you get a more personal view of the times they lived in. Here one gets two for the price of one — Walter and Albertina Sisulu were a married couple forced to live much of their life apart, and for several decades it was rare that there would be a time when there wasn’t at least one member of the Sisulu family in jail or banned.

Walter Sisulu was Secretary Gerneral of the African National Congress (ANC) at the time it was banned in 1960, and resumed his organising activities when he emerged from prison and it was unbanned 30 years later. Albertina was a leader of the ANC Women’s League, and was in jail, detained without trial, and banned for many years.

They belonged to my parents’ generation, but the second half of their life story was about times that I myself have lived through, and so casts new light on those times for me. It was written by their daughter-in-law, Elinor Sisulu, who knew them personally, and so they come alive in a way that is not possible in biographies written by impersonal outsiders. And perhaps because Walter was a political prisoner, the securocrats kept much of his correspondence from jail, and so, even though what he wrote was censored, there is something very warm and human that comes across in his letters to family and friends.

On reading the story of the Sisulus, I am acutely aware of how the leadership of the ANC, and of the country, has deteriorated since then. We will not see the likes of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu again, more’s the pity. The time that Albertina Sisulu was a Member of Parliament, from 1994-1999, was a high point in our country’s history, though we did not realise it at the time. It is sad to see how much things have declined.

But the Sisulus would be the last to claim the credit for that. They believed in party discipline, and collective leadership. They believed that leaders must be responsible to the community, and this comes out in the sharp contrast between the disciplined and humble Albertina Sisulu and the publicity-seeking loose cannon Winnie Mandela. There were events involving Winnie Mandela that received a great deal of publicity at the time, such as her notorious football club. One did not know what to believe in the media reports, so I held my own counsel at the time, because judgements based on incomplete reports are usually wrong. Albertina Sisulu held her own counsel too, but now the story can be told.

One of the things that struck me was that in a sense people like Nelson Mandela, the Sisulus and the Tambos were larger than life, and this seemed to contrast with the idea of collective leadership and being responsible to the community, in fact collective leadership works best with people who stand out from the crowd, yet see themselves as part of it.

One small point that shows how far the ANC has fallen is that when Walter Sisulu was invited to visit the People’s Republic of China, and the latter asked him not to visit Taiwan, he refused, saying that he went where he was sent by the ANC, and not by the hosts of one of the places he was visiting. The contrast between that and the present ANC government’s refusal to give visas to the Dalai Lama could not be more stark.

In some ways the book is also a family history, and here there is a shortcoming. There are pedigree charts showing the ancestry of Walter and Albertina Sisulu (though not of Walter’s father, who played little part in his life), but there is no chart of their descendants, and as they had numerous grandchildren a family tree chart (or even several) showing them and their relationships would also have been useful.

It is also a love story. One of the lasting effects of apartheid was to destroy family life, especially for black people. But in spite of having to live almost half of their married life apart, Walter and Albertina Sisulu were an outstanding example of family life, and life as a married couple.

It is, however, a readable and well-researched book, and for anyone interested in South African history from 1940-2000, it’s a must read.

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Reflections on the election

Though the fat lady hasn’t sung yet, most of the votes have been counted, and one can begin to see possible trends in the 2014 General Election in South Africa.

One of the most significant things that strikes me is that in the great City of Tshwane, where I live, the ANC thus far has polled less than 50% in the Provincial polls. Though all the results are not yet in, the current figure is 49.54%. If that trend continues to the muncipal elections in two years’ time, the ANC could lose control of the city council.

The figure for the national poll in Tshwane was a little over 51%, and that is in itself quite interesting. Nearly 47000 people voted for the ANC for parliament, but did not vote for the ANC for the provincial council.

In fact the ANC appears to have lost a lot of support in Gauteng generally.

I’m quite surprised at the result in Tshwane, because on the whole I think our city council has performed fairly well. Roads are repaired, rubbish is removed, the infrastructure seems to be working most of the time. I know that it’s a big place, and some parts of the city may be worse off, but generally Tshwane has not seem the same kind of service delivery protests that have been seen in other parts of the country.

E-oll gantry (photo from the linked article)

E-oll gantry (photo from the linked article)

One issue that has probably affected citizens of Tshwane more than many other residents of Gauteng, and affected Gauteng more than other provinces, is e-tolls, for which Sanral announced an increase in tariffs the day after the election.

Though that is probably not the only issue that has caused a drop in support for the ANC, it is certainly one of the ones that was most publicised in Gauteng and affected large numbers of people, and almost all the opposition parties said that they were opposed to e-tolls.

Taking a wider view, and looking at the country as a whole, one of the outstanding features has been the even more spectacular decline in support for COPE (the Congress of the People Party). I don’t think that was unexpected, or that anyone was greatly surprised by it. COPE did quite well in the 2009 elections for a new party, but the unseemly and very public squabbles among its leaders from then until now meant that no one could take them seriously at all, and so most voters didn’t.

If e-tolls was an issue that affected Gauteng, the Marikana massacre was one that affected the North-West Province, and the platinum miners in particular. And the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) were the party that took their plight most seriously.

The polling districts marked in red, where the EFF got the most support, are where the platinum mines are located.

The polling districts marked in red, where the EFF got the most support, are where the platinum mines are located.

I suspect that the EFF drew some of its support from the moribund COPE, and and more from disgruntled ANC voters who felt that the ANC had betrayed the working class and the unemployed.

I suspect that it also drew some support that might otherwise have gone to Agang.

Agang, like the EFF, was a new party in this election, but, like COPE, it shot itself in the foot before it really got started, with Mamphela Ramphele’s disastrous flirtation with the DA. I suspect that many of those who might have been willing to support Agang would never have voted for the DA, and were looking for an alternative to both the ANC and the DA. After the flirtation with the DA, I think many potential voters probably transferred their votes to the EFF and the other smaller parties, and would not have voted for the DA even if Agang had merged with it.

I think it is a pity in a way, because Mamphela Ramphele had some good things to say about education, and perhaps if she makes it to parliament as the sole representative of her party (there have been precedents for that) she might be able to exercise some influence for good.

Agang did get some votes, and I suspect that, rather unusually for a proportional representation system, people were voting for a person and not for a party list. Some may have voted for sentimental reasons, seeing Mamphele Ramphela as a vestigial representative of Black Consciousness, which flourished in the 1970s — and Azapo seems to have lost some if the little support that it had.

The DA has increased its support, but I think that it has almost reached its limit. I don’t think it can hope to get much more than 25%, 30% at the very most. I think the EFF has more potential for growth, because their potential support base is much larger — the workers and the unemployed outnumber the middle class who vote for the DA, though, to be honest, I think I prefer WASP (the Workers and Socialist Party) to the EFF. They stand for many of the same things, but they lack the fat cat leaders.



Who should I vote for?

In theory our proportional representation voting system should give one lots of choice. There are lots of parties to choose from, and if any of them get 0,25% of the votes they get representatives in parliament. Unlike a constituency system, there are no unopposed or safe seats, where you have no vote or a wasted vote. Every vote counts.

But I still find it difficult to decide.

What I do when following news of elections in other countries is to take one of those quizzes that you find on various web sites, where the quiz is designed to match your expressed values to the policies of one of the parties or candidates. For example, in the 2012 US Presidential election, I did one of those quiz thingies, and at the end it told me that if I had a vote in that election I should cast it for Jill Stein.

Jill who?

I’d never heard of her.

But you can read about it in American elections: rhetoric and reality.

But I couldn’t find any similar quizzes in South Africa, until I came across this one, sponsored by City Press.

Play: Who deserves my vote.

It’s pretty clunky and unsophisticated compared with the overseas ones — instead of matching your expressed values with the manifestoes of the parties and statements by the candidates, they just give you chunks of the manifestoes themselves, and ask you to pick the ones you like the most.

Well, I tried it.

At least it might give me a clue about which parties I should look at more closely before decided which one to vote for.

The answer? All of them. Well, nearly all of them.

Parties I should vote for in 2014

Parties I should vote for in 2014

That’s not much help, is it? The percentages in the graphics also seem to be a bit inconsistent, though the trend is clear enough.

But of course policy manifestoes are not the only criterion. There are other co0nsiderations, like their historical record, how much you trust their leaders, and so on.

Vote14aI’ll cross Cope off the list for a start. They seem to have spent most of their energy since the last election in internal party squabbles with various leaders taking each other to court. If they can’t manage their own party properly, there’s little hope that they will be able to manage the country.

Then there’s the ANC. But they seem to be living on past glory. Yes, they had a good story to tell — 15-20 years ago. But the recent past looms larger, and three things stand out: Marikana, E-tolls, and Nkandla. And that procession of very expensive cars in ANC colours doesn’t help; too much bling, angling for the IziKhotane vote, perhaps? Thanks, but no thanks.

The FF+? They seem too much like a retreaded version of Andries Treurnicht’s old Conservative Party to me, still standing for sectional interests, and even many of those who might in the past have identified with those sectional interests seem to prefer to throw their lot into a wider South Africanism.

Vote14aEFF. The wrong party at the wrong time. If Cosatu had broken from the tripartite alliance and started a Labour Party, I’d be interested. But the EFF looks a bit too much like fat cats selling snake oil to the poor. The sight of Julius Malema leading a march from Joburg to Pretoria from the back of a bakkie seems to sum things up. They say some good things, and some incredibly silly things that they don’t seem to have thought through. But I might, just might, consider voting for them at provincial level. That wouldn’t help Juju get into parliament, but I suspect that they might have some good people on their provincial lists.

Then there’s the DA, the Democratic Alliance. They have several stories to tell, one good, the others middling to bad. They’ve been telling us that they fought apartheid. Well some of their ancestors did, and some of their ancestors introduced apartheid, so those seem to cancel each other out. I’m also suspicious of political parties that promise jobs. The ANC used to do that too. Politicians who promise jobs usually end up giving jobs to pals. And after the Democratic Party’s “fight back” campaign in 1999, to attract those of the white right who were gatvol after five years of democracy, which enabled them to absorb the rump of the National Party which had fought against democracy for 40 years and more.. well, that isn’t easy to forget. But, like the EFF, I might, just might, consider voting for them at the provincial level.

Vote14aThat leaves Agang.

Which has the biggest chunk of the teething ring, the only one that got more than the other parties. I was pretty sure I would vote for them until Mamphela Ramphele shot herself in the foot by toenadering with the DA. But even though she’s blotted her copybook, what’s the alternative? I still think she could make a useful contribution in parliament.

So the City Press quiz, plus thinking aloud, as it were, in this blog post, is all part of the process of trying to make up my mind about where to put my cross come Wednesday. I’ve more or less decided where I won’t put it.


Just found another “choose your party” site (hat-tip to Ryan Peter), which is a bit mor sophisticated than the City Press one — I don’t know if it is more accurate. It had a different set of recommendations:

Vote14cI’m even less sure about those than I am about the City Press ones.

I thought the UCDP was Mangope’s party, and I have a kind of built-in distrust of former “homeland” leaders, especially those who opted for “independence”. But maybe I’m missinformed about that.

I’ve never heard of the People’s Alliance before, and I hope it isn’t the sushi king party!

I know of the ACDP, but would not vote for it for reasons explained in the comments below. I’m also pro-life, and so would prefer to vote for a party that is against both capital punishment and abortion.

Well, now you can try both these tools to help you decide which party to vote for!


The official Mandela memorial: how embarrassing

I didn’t go to the official Mandela memorial service yesterday. I watched it on TV. I thought about going, but it was raining, and I had neither umbrella nor raincoat.

Many people said (on Twitter) that they were embarrassed by the booing of Jacob Zuma, but for me that was one of the few redeeming features of the event.

We organised a rugby world cup in 1995, and Nelson Mandela attended the final at the FNB stadium, and we won. The following year we organised the the soccer African Cup of Nations at the FNB stadium, with twice as many teams, and we won. We organised the cricket world cup, and we organised the soccer world cup in 2010, and the organisers did us proud.

But the memorial service for South Africa’s greatest president was chaotic, amateurish and embarrassing.  I watched it on eNCA news, and the broadcast was incompetent and disrespectful, with speakers being interrupted to show the presenters (Nikiwe Bikitsha and Jeremy Maggs) chatting to each other or to other random people. Sometimes they were telling us what was happening instead of showing us.

It didn’t start off too badly, though it did start an hour late. I didn’t notice that at the time, but I did notice that even though it started an hour late, US President Barack Obama arrived later still. That seems to be an American habit, because the start of Nelson Mandela’s inauguration was delayed by ten minutes because US Vice-President Al Gore was late. We make jokes about “African time”, but African-American time seems to be something else.

It was noticable that some people in the crowd booed and made the soccer substitution sign when President Jacob Zuma appeared, but former president Thabo Mbeki got much louder cheers. I’ve seen the booing and the substitution sign (rolling hands) at soccer matches when there is an unpopular player, or someone makes a stupid mistake, and probably quite a large part of the crowd were soccer fans, and were used to doing that kind of thing at that venue.

Was it an appropriate occasion?

Well after the Soweto massacre in 1976 funerals of political activists were also political demonstrations, and that became part of the culture of funerals in many parts of South Africa, In his first speech after his release from prison Nelson Mandela paid tribute to the efforts of the people, which had gone him released, and the political demonstrations at funerals were part of those efforts, so I think those who are complaining that it was “inappropriate” are forgetting our own recent history.

Another point is that the recent debacle over toll roads has shown, especially to the people of Gauteng, that the ANC leadership is not prepared to listen to the people, and forced e-tolls on Gauteng in the very week that Nelson Mandela died. The ANC provincial and national leadership was gathered as a captive audience, and such an opportunity might never arise again. It was simply too good to be missed.

Some conspiracy theorists have suggested that it was organised and orchestrated in advance. Perhaps it was a flashmob, gathered by tweets and SMS messages. If so, it would appear to have been better organised than the memorial service itself. But I think there is a simpler explanation. It was a soccer stadium, and people were used to going to it to watch football matches. Soccer fans knew what to do without having to be told.

The memorial service opened with prayers and tributes by Jewish, Hindu and Muslim clergy. So far so good.

Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma spoke, and could hardly be heard, even on TV, because the crowd were walking in and out, singing and dancing, or talking or tweeting on cell phones. The editor of City Press tweeted that it was a long walk to a woman president, if that was how much attention was being paid. Someone tweeted that a sound engineer would be fired. The eNCA cameras showed the speaker, but not the deaf interpreter, which was another piece of incompetence. But it seems that the incompetence was worse than I thought, because even though the deaf interpreter was there, he was so incompetent that no deaf people could understand him. The one redeeming feature was that the broadcasters managed to get the lip sync right, which DStv hardly ever manages to do.

By the time US president Barack Obama got up to speak (after he eventually arrived) many in the crowd were already leaving, and the singing and dancing continued for a while until people realised that he actually had something to say. That was perhaps where watching on TV was better. I knew from his first election campaign that he was a good orator, but a year into his second term I was also aware that many of the things he promised so earnestly have not come to pass. He spoke of the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela on Robben Island, and I was acutely aware of his unfulfilled promise to close Guantanamo Bay.

As he continued speaking, the crowd began to quieten down, and fewer people moved to the exits. Whatever the gap between words and reality, the spoken words themselves wove a spell. He was followed by the Vice President of China, the President of Brazil, and of India. All of the BRICS were there. No, not quite. There was no sign of anyone from Russia, no one at all.

The crowd seemed to listen more attentively to the President of Brazil, even though she spoke Portuguese and it was interpreted. Perhaps it might not be such a long walk to a woman president after all. Perhaps we just need the right woman. I thought of Mamphela Ramphele, but we’ll be lucky just to get her into parliament, where she can perhaps be heard.

The move to the exits resumed. It looked as though the home team was losing, and so it was, as things went steadily downhill.

President Zuma spoke. The content of his speech was not bad, but his delivery, especially after Barack Obama, was atrocious. He barely looked at his audience, and read his speech painfully slowly. And even when he did look up there was no eye-contact, as there had been with Barack Obama, because he wore dark glasses which made him look like a Mafia gangster.

As usual, Zapiro gets it right

As usual, Zapiro gets it right

Then came a Bible reading, about Elijah going to heaven and leaving his mantle to Elisha, but Jacob Zuma made an unconvincing Elisha, and the delivery was as bad as Zuma’s, so the reading flopped too.

And then a bloke started to sing a Xhosa hymn, Lisalis’ idinga lakho. I recall it from my Anglican days as the only singable hymn in the Xhosa hymn book. All the others were translated from English, and in every single one the rhythm of the words classhed with the rhythm of the music, syncopation on steroids. Lisalis’ idinga lakho was written by a Xhosa speaker, and so the words and music fitted. Perhaps for that reason it was Nelson Mandela’s favourite hymn. But why, O why, could the organisers of the event not muster up a decent choir to lead the singing of it? It is a well-known hymn, and most of the people in the stadium would have joined in and it could have sounded magnificent, like a Welsh rugby match, perhaps, and not like a faded away old soldier’s funeral in a funeral parlour chapel with five old soldiers, and one of them playing the last post on a cell phone.

And then followed the sermon by Nikwe Bikisha and Jeremy Maggs Ivan Abrahams, which I didn’t hear, though those who did tell me I didn’t miss much.

Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu gave the final blessing, which was at least a little better. It really needed someone who knew a little about liturgy.

Some have said that the booing of Zuma spoiled the event, but nothing spoiled it as much as the bad organisation and dull speeches. As for the booing, I think the best comment is here It’s our party and we’ll boo if we want to | Daily Maverick

I’m glad I’m Orthodox, and I hope my funeral will be a little bit better than that. It really was embarrassingly badly organised, especially after we had successfully organised world cup matches in cricket, rugby and soccer.

We did have a memorial service for Nelson Mandela in church on Sunday, and that was much better too

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