Last Post on South African politics


Dear All,

I’m still reading Peter Hain’s book and will outline what I’ve found most interesting.  He grew up in South Africa with parents who were committed apartheid opponents and were banned under the Suppression of Communism Act which severely restricted their rights of association.   The family eventually left the country with one way passports which didn’t allow them to return, moving to London . He went to University where his leadership of the Stop the Tours Movement to prevent South African Rugby players and Cricketer teams being involved in sport outside their country was very successful. After leaving university Peter Hain joined the Liberal party and in the 1980’s he shifted his allegiance to New Labour and  became an MP for Neath in Wales.  He visited South Africa just after the 1994 elections with his parents. This visit was very moving because of the respect with which they were treated by the ANC and old friends with whom they were involved before emigrating.

His approach as an outsider provided Peter Hain with negotiating options which he used in his work as Northern Island Minister from 2005, bridging the divide between the Unionists and Republicans to form an Assembly with these main parties sharing power which I found gripping. Peter Hain led the process, meeting separately with Sinn Fein, Unionist and other party leaders, forming an opinion what settlement was possible then working to achieve it  which lead to the re-establishment of a devolved Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly. His working relationship with Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley in particular ensured that when an outline agreement was accepted that neither party could derail the process by extracting last minute changes. His legacy there is completing the final phase in the  Northern Ireland peace process in 2007, 10 years after the Good Friday agreement, tying in most of the paramilitaries to disarming. This has left only the Continuity IRA and Unionist fringe groups still pursuing armed conflict. On a person level I admire the man, before I left London I read the description he gives of himself on his constituency site where he writes that he’s a socialist which I like.

‘The Fall of the ANC What Next ‘by Prince Mashele and Msukize Qobo provides a useful guide to the change process in South Africa after Nelson Mandela was released from prison, the transition to majority rule and 20 years of democracy with the ANC leading the country as the majority party. They describe the change process as one where the Nationalist Party elite transferred  power to the ANC elite. Their analysis shows how the leadership established citizen’s expectations similar to other post-independence African countries of the party’s entitlement to power which extended to using South African resources for personal financial gain. They think the ANC is beyond change with irreparable factional conflict and Zuma loyalists dependent on him by corruption opportunities he provides.

The authors believe the ANC vote will continue to reduce, however they don’t identify any of the existing parties as future governments which makes the future uncertain. In the May 2014 elections the ANC vote reduced, with significant support for the Economic Freedom Front led by Julius Malema who has survived his expulsion from the ANC and a threat that he’d be declared bankrupt because of unsustainable debts. From the campaign he’s certainly a charismatic leader, with clear policies to shift wealth from the minority to the majority community which was clearly popular with voters who didn’t want to support the ANC or DA. The problem is that Julius Malema is corrupt which conflicts with the radical position the EFF proposes.

Statistics show that urban voters support for the ANC reduced to about 50% in the main cities, support from rural areas being very important which is pushing the ANC into a more conservative position. A significant change with the Provincial Administration has been Jacob Zuma having to accept as party leader in Gauteng David Makhura, a politician who’s viewed as not supporting the leadership. This is because they are more independent, haven’t always kept to the party script and have been critical of their leaders.Gauteng (which includes Johannesburg and Tswane (Pretoria)) is the main commercial hub of the country which provides leaders here with more influence than other provincial councils.

I thought the election process here was dominated by the ANC controlling the media through the State broadcaster SABC. TV coverage focussed mainly on Jacob Zuma’s campaign although Helen Zille the DA leader obtained some publicity at the start. Julius Malema was shown as the ‘wild card’ leader but continued to obtain some coverage until the end. All parties bussed supporters to rally‘s, provided them with party shirts and sometimes served food which may have been an inducement to support the party whose rally voters were attending. There were unfounded rumours that welfare recipients were told they would lose their benefits unless they voted ANC. Provincial authorities, councils, health services and para-statals like railways all had large posters about improved services that were being provided through ANC policies. Elections usually favour the ruling party, what I thought was that the ANC still has a strong grip on power because of the party history, with the media and state agencies supporting their campaign.

Where the middle class and intellectuals were mistaken was in assuming that information about corruption, poor service delivery and poverty which affects the majority of South African citizens had the potential to defeat the ANC. My sense here is that Jacob Zuma and his supporters still dominate the ANC and citizens mind-set, giving an impression of absolute power. In the absence of an effective opposition and no credible new parties emerging to challenge the party the ANC’s grip on power will continue. My view is that the party cannot retrieve the reputation it had after the 1994 election even if corruption in its leaders is effectively addressed because factional conflict in support of and against the President will continue.

The ANC reaction to their election victory as expressed by President Zuma at the inauguration was contrite about the faults by the previous government, promising to improve service delivery everywhere. He was also relieved that voters had given the ANC another chance. The first Sunday newspapers after the election described a shift in power from the cabinet to the Party Chairman, Gwede Mantashe whose office base at party headquarters in Johannesburg is the government’s executive base. There were suggestions that Jacob Zuma wouldn’t finish the term as president, being forced to resign by ministers or losing his position as party leader at the ANC National Conference before provincial elections in 2017, like when the Zuma faction defeated Thabo Mbeki in 2010.

Last weekend the Sunday City Post reported that Zuma has health problems which could be a further reason for him resigning.  In the previous week’s City Post the ANC tone became more critical of party dissent. Another report was of senior ministers suggesting they’d found a way to end the Nkandla controversy about spending on Jacob Zuma’s official residence by persuading rich benefactors paying back the amount charged to the State which in my view he ought to have paid so this response would be a continuation of deep corruption.

Another article, written by an activist about changes in the small town Daggaville where he grew up  showed how the fabric of the town not changing. Significant change there was that children going to School are now bussed rather than having to walk 12 miles like him. At School they have porridge when they arrive and a free lunch. Government agencies based in the town have increased working opportunities, however unemployment is still very high. The headline was striking, with a part quote from The Leopard by Lampedusa book The Leopard,’ Everything has to change (to remain the same) which epitomises the absence of significant change here.

With Father Michael Lapsley, the priest who wrote ‘Redeeming the Past’ I think his work getting former enemies in South Africa together has been an important continuation of the reconciliation process which has extended to working in other countries where civil conflict has occurred. As Bishop Tutu wrote before the last election Nelson Mandela serving only one term as President ended the ANC commitment to a continued reconciliation process.  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission gave victims a chance to meet their oppressors and tell their stories which were very powerful. Compensation paid however didn’t match the seriousness of crimes committed against them. Unlike Germany there has never been an acknowledgement by white South Africans that they were complicit in apartheid crimes which has left a gulf between the oppressors and oppressed which hasn’t healed.

Once again I’ve reached a point here where I’m going to be controversial like in my Palestine posts. As I floated in my last post I think that the existence of ‘informal apartheid’ through where people live and work opportunities creates the inequality which has restricted change in the last 20 years. Through moving to suburbia the majority of ANC politicians, their supporters and those ‘black diamonds’ with direct links to leaders have lost their direct links with their own communities. I admire the South African constitution and regular elections. However my view is that having the party list system for deciding how many MP’s parties have in Parliament removes the link for these representatives from any defined geographical area and reduces their accountability to any defined electoral area.

My opinion is that the system here is broken because of the absence of fundamental change over a 20 year time period and can’t be repaired. I think the agreements made for majority rule need to be reviewed by all South Africans over the next 5 years to shift power and economic power in particular to the majority community. A Commission of enquiry on corruption needs to be set up, with the capacity to recommend charges  anyone against whom there is evidence.    A specific law needs drafting to prevent corruption with clear definitions what it is in the South African context and an independent legal system formed to prosecute for this offence.

I think I’ve reached the end of this particular post. The Heritage Route work has progressed quickly and in partnership with the June 1976 Foundation we’re working to start first tours on 27 September. The group I’m working have registered the Company name, June 16 Soweto Heritage Trails.  There are still some urgent tasks to complete before I leave and I’ve decided I want to be here for 16 June so I’ve delayed my return to London to 19 June. I hope to write more about my time here with Mamatsi, providing an update about Soweto before I leave.





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