What now for South Africa?


Is Jacob Zuma currently the President of ANC and the Republic of South Africa now an electoral liability to his Party?

As readers of this Blog know I keep in regular touch with local government throughout Africa but especially with colleagues in Southern Africa. I do this because I was heavily involved 6 years ago in bringing together the Anglophone, Francophone and Lusophone communities which had drifted apart across Africa and healing a split which was destroying the unity of purpose for mayors throughout the continent.

South Africa is a talking point throughout the continent. In the immediate aftermath to the first full mandate election there was a massive hope that South Africa would evolve into a truly international as a well as an African powerhouse. For the first few years this was buoyed up by the very real improvements made in governance and with the way that the Truth & Reconciliation Commission undertook its healing work.

But for the last 5/6 years there has been a growing sense of distress in South Africa and the continent as a whole that this early promise has not been fulfilled. No-one in South Africa expected that the rifts would be healed easily or that the massive disparities in wealth would be dealt within in a few years. But what last week’s local elections there showed us that there is huge discontent with the rate of progress. The ANC star has waned to its lowest level since the full franchise was grated. True it still gained 54% of the vote last week but this is its lowest vote ever and there are clear signs that this drift down will only accelerate.

In describing the problem the ANC and State President Jacob Zuma coined the phrase ‘thinking blacks’. It is an unbelievable phrase and in the hands of a white person would be clearly of racist intent but from Zuma cannot be. What he was describing even before the local elections was a new awareness of politics in the educated middle classes who were not voting on the lines of the old colonial struggle of the past but of the complex issues which face South Africa in the future. In the big Metropolitan areas only 4 still have majority ANC control. Cape Town has a full majority Democratic Alliance Council with 66% of the vote. Nelson Mandela Bay, Tshwane/Pretoria and Johannesburg have strong DA presences with DA leading in Nelson Mandela Bay and Tshwane.

The DA is the biggest gainer of these elections. Previously seen as a white led Party (having come out of the Progressive Party whose one MP was Helen Suzman a committed white liberal under apartheid) its vote is now much bigger than the white and coloured population and is led by its first black African leader. Inside the Western Cape Region they are the dominant force controlling all but one council after the elections. It has a clear reputation for solid service delivery and an open and transparent system of government. The other key gainer is the EFF which has been formed as a result of a fracturing of votes within the ANC. It clearly took ANC votes in the first local elections it has fought but much of its 11% came from other smaller opposition parties whose votes it seems to have hoovered up.

So why did the ANC lose? Well as in so many elections it was not necessarily the fault of the local Mayors many of whom like Parks Tau in Jo’burg are thought to have done quite a good job in trying to keep the City’s reputation as a financial and economic centre intact whilst trying to deal with the acute problems of Soweto and other townships. It would appear that in the major conurbations the ‘thinking blacks’ have moved to an open assessment and scrutiny of the ANC as a whole. In rural areas the ANC’s appeal is still strong with DA getting small vote sin three of the provinces but times have moved on.

It is clear that there is a reaction to President Zuma. His image as an old style African Chief with 4 wives and a huge palace costing 350,000,000 Rand does not look good to an increasingly educated and modern electorate. Even at Zuma’s speech after the election there were demonstrators about an old rape case which has been suppressed since Zuma became President. But perhaps it is the slow pace of real change that is ANC’s major problem. Some of the systems that run the big areas of change within the nationalised industries have become at best sclerotic and at worse useless in bringing people the power, water, drainage, housing and jobs that are all so badly needed. Instead of a general dispersal of wealth, although there have clearly been many improvements for many people, there is still a great cronyism in the state where jobs and opportunities and positions are kept within the Party, its members and supporters.

This means that for many there has been no real improvement in their lives since the ANC took place. Worse they have lost their ‘enemy’. It was easy to cast blame on externalised whites and absolutely true that the blame should be laid for decades at those who supported apartheid. But now it’s a black government who got police to open fire on striking miners. It is black cronyism and nepotism and much harder to deal with.

That is why so many of my ANC and other Africa friends have been so upset. Inside SA there is beginning to be a feeling that the Country might, just might, become like Zimbabwe. Throughout the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa there is a concern that external investment might to choose to bypass them if ‘even South Africa with all its advantages’ cannot get it right.

Only time will tell whether SA can pick up the big momentum again. In the meantime we are offering all assistance we can to new Mayors and Councillors taking their seats. This in itself is a mammoth task Jo’burg alone has more than 250 councillors and is a unitary council serving and strategizing the needs of its entire population.

In the meantime the future of SA lies in the hands of those who should control its destiny – its people. It is a fledgling nation that has embarked on a tricky road to economic, social and democratic fulfilment. We should all wish them well and offer our support in these testing times for the Country.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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