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