[Marxism] In South Africa, A.N.C. Is Counting on the Past

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue May 6 09:39:12 MDT 2014


NY Times, May 6 2014
In South Africa, A.N.C. Is Counting on the Past
By NORIMITSU ONISHI

ALEXANDRA, South Africa — In this poor black township on the outskirts 
of Johannesburg, the campaign posters exhorting voters to return the 
African National Congress to power in Wednesday’s election reached deep 
into the party’s glorious past.

“Do it for Madiba,” said one poster, referring to Nelson Mandela, South 
Africa’s first black president, by his clan name.

“Do it for Chris Hani,” another poster declared, referring to the 
firebrand A.N.C. leader assassinated in 1993.

The posters, put up by the South African Communist Party, the A.N.C.’s 
partner in government since the end of white rule in 1994, avoided 
mentioning the country’s current president, Jacob Zuma, who is beset by 
scandal. But the misdirection was not fooling Nomakwezi Buya.

“They are just abusing the names of Mandela and Chris Hani because they 
are dead people,” said Ms. Buya, 59, who is a former A.N.C. loyalist who 
says she will vote for a breakaway party this time. “They are not 
keeping their legacy alive.”

Five months after the death of Mr. Mandela, the party is counting on its 
dead heroes to keep its current, sullied leadership in power. It is 
likely to work: The A.N.C. is poised to win overwhelmingly in this 
nation’s fifth democratic election, granting a second term to Mr. Zuma, 
72, whose popularity was further eroded by a recent report detailing the 
misuse of $23 million in public funds to upgrade his private home.

But a projected decline in support is expected to chip away at what has 
effectively been a one-party state since the end of apartheid 20 years 
ago. By how much remains the key question.

In recent months, young men have looted shops, burned tires and hurled 
rocks in townships surrounding Johannesburg and Pretoria, in what are 
called “service delivery protests” aimed at the A.N.C.

Dissident veterans of the party are urging voters to spoil their ballots 
in a “Vote No” campaign. The Economic Freedom Fighters, a new party that 
is led by the former leader of the A.N.C.’s youth wing and is calling 
for the nationalization of mines and banks without compensation, is 
attracting the young and angry. Traditional A.N.C. allies like the 
National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, the nation’s biggest 
trade union, have also broken away.

Their message — that the party that freed South Africa is now led by a 
corrupt class that has failed to raise the standard of living of the 
average black South African — resonates here in this traditional A.N.C. 
stronghold.

Still, the absence of a clear alternative for the black majority, as 
well as older black voters’ enduring loyalty to the figures who 
liberated them, has given the A.N.C. an insurmountable lead in the polls.

“The people that go to vote are our grannies, our parents, because they 
came with the A.N.C. from far,” said Tshidiso Nonyane, 25, who voted for 
the party in the past but has not registered for this election. “The 
A.N.C. is going to win because of those people. If there was another 
party that would truly bring jobs, better housing and stuff like that, 
that would be better.”

A college graduate with a degree in marketing, he is now working at a 
McDonald’s.

“The youth is not voting because there’s no point in voting,” he said. 
“Even on that day, we won’t even be watching the news to check who is 
winning or what because we know the A.N.C. is going to win. So the 
A.N.C. is only winning for the wrong reasons.”

Nevertheless, this election, the most competitive in South Africa’s 
post-apartheid history, offers some hints of the forces that could 
loosen the A.N.C.’s grip on power in the years ahead. The Democratic 
Alliance, the main opposition party traditionally associated with white 
South Africans, has attracted middle-class blacks and begun widely 
campaigning in black townships like Alexandra with the message of 
“Together for jobs.”

“For the first time, the A.N.C. is not taking electoral victory for 
granted,” said Steven Friedman, a political analyst at the University of 
Johannesburg. “Even if the competition is being hyped up, the A.N.C. is 
taking it seriously, and that is politically significant.”

As an example, Mr. Friedman said, the party had directed its lawmakers 
to pass only legislation popular among voters in the run-up to the 
election — the first time it had bothered to do so.

Here in Alexandra, Ms. Buya was planning to vote for the Congress of the 
People, a party started by dissident A.N.C. members in 2008. Asked why, 
she waved her arms inside her small shack where she lives with her two 
daughters and two grandchildren under a thin roof made of corrugated metal.

“We still live here after 20 years,” she said.

The government gives her grandchildren a total of $105 a month in 
grants, enough for the family to survive. But Ms. Buya focused on the 
public housing that she and other dwellers of Alexandra’s poorer corners 
have yet to receive.

The Workers and Socialist Party, started last year by onetime A.N.C. 
allies, has been making inroads here among the young with its message of 
nationalizing the economy. One of its leaders, Mzonke Mayekiso, 44, who 
was imprisoned for smuggling arms into Alexandra for the A.N.C. in the 
early 1990s, said the decision to splinter from the A.N.C. had been 
wrenching.

“I grew up in the A.N.C., I went to jail for my activities in the 
A.N.C., and I decided to leave my history with the A.N.C. to start a new 
chapter,” he said.

Under the A.N.C., the lives of tens of millions of black South Africans 
have improved with access to better education and health care, 
electricity and water, and even free housing. But there is growing 
frustration that the improvements appear to have stalled for average 
black South Africans, and that inequality is growing in an increasingly 
corrupt society that rewards those with ties to political power.

Mr. Nonyane, the McDonald’s worker, and a jobless friend, Lesego Masike, 
26, had both won scholarships to college. They had graduated with 
degrees but could only get jobs at the local mall paying about $200 a 
month. The few classmates who had gone on to good jobs invariably had 
political connections, they said.

They were milling outside Mr. Masike’s modest government-issued house, 
where he has lived since 2003 with his mother and sister. The family did 
not have the means to “extend” their house with an extra room or two, a 
common practice here.

A couple of blocks away, a house that had been extended to two floors 
towered over its neighbors. The house belonged to a “tenderpreneur,” a 
politically connected businessman who wins government tenders, or 
contracts, for construction projects, neighbors said.

Mr. Masike voted twice for the A.N.C. but had not registered this time. 
He avoided talking politics with his family, adding, “If I tell my 
granny that the A.N.C. is corrupt, she gets very angry.”

Late in the afternoon, his mother, Martha Maseko, 49, came home from her 
job at a supermarket. “After 27 years, I’m earning less than 10,000” 
rand, or $950, a month, she said.

She was more fortunate, she said, than Alexandra’s shack-dwellers, some 
of whom still rely on toilets that empty into buckets. But she was 
frustrated and was planning to vote for a party other than the A.N.C. 
for the first time. “The A.N.C. is failing us because they’re eating our 
money,” she said in her living room.

Her mother, Ruth Maseko, 73, sat listening, adding softly, “I’ll decide 
next Wednesday.”




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