Posted on Friday, 20 June 2014 15:28

A South African victory without a silver bullet

By Stephen Chan

The face of Mandela is a priceless branding tool for the ANC; substituting that of Zuma amounts to sleight of hand. Photo©RAJESH JANTILAL/AFPNew and reformed faces? The election to watch may be in 2019. This election may have been the end of the first phase of democratic South African politics.


In Kliptown, Soweto, there is a conical tower that channels light upon slabs of stone.

Engraved on them is the Freedom Charter, the fightback against apartheid in South Africa, which was adopted by the Congress of the People on this very spot in 1955.

The Chinese leader has a doctorate, and the Russian leader publishes DVDs of his skills in judo

Nelson Mandela was there. Leaders and representatives of many groups were there. The African National Congress was not alone.

The tower sits in a vast square, flanked on two sides by long modern buildings. One is a hotel that has no guests.

In every nook and cranny of the long structures, informal traders ply their wares. Beyond the street stalls, there is street after street of poverty.

Running water comes from standpipes in the streets, electricity is hot-wired, garbage is not collected and, as a provision for sanitation, there is one chemical toilet for roughly every 10 houses, a huge number of which are shacks.

Among these shacks are the places where Mandela and other leaders would hide from the white authorities.

The poverty that the Freedom Charter said should end is almost the same poverty that afflicts people in Kliptown today. There are differences.

Not far away in Soweto there is the magnificent Maponya Mall. It looks like a monument to consumerism dropped from Mars.

The least patronised shop was Exclusive Books, so it has now closed. The most patronised was the cheap liquor department of Pick n Pay, the ubiquitous supermarket chain.

Developers are building malls near or in townships all over South Africa. They provide jobs and fuel material aspirations but also service, in bright clean surroundings, the careful purchase of small, single items.

In Kliptown, the eking out of one bar of soap is something seen at every standpipe.

Battle of the berets

The area would have seemed ripe for Julius Malema's Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) to gather mass support, and indeed, their hallmark red berets were in evidence on the streets.

But, curiously, the young and charismatic Mmusi Maimane, candidate of the Democratic Alliance (DA) for premier of Gauteng Province, attracted a sizeable crowd for his rally and music festival in the very square where the monument to the Freedom Charter stands.

And it was a black crowd for an educated young black candidate very deliberately playing a Barrack Obama card. At his rallies he would say: "What can the ANC offer you but history?"

But history is powerful. It makes a brand that is hard to topple in the supermarket of politics.

The EFF candidate for premier of Gauteng, Dali Mpofu, is also young, handsome and university-educated.

In private, he was saying that should the DA overcome the ANC in Gauteng, the EFF would enter coalition talks with the ANC to check the advance of the DA.

If that had meant Mpofu became premier, it would still have been the dawn of a new educated generation in key positions of power.

The DA threw everything at Gauteng. Capturing Gauteng would have been the most potent symbol of the DA having broken out of its Western Cape stronghold.

It would have made Maimane the natural heir to Helen Zille and been a sign that the DA could no longer be disparaged by the ANC as a white party. It was a huge gamble.

The DA did not break through as much as it had hoped, but it still achieved huge support in key urban parts of Gauteng. Even in Kliptown, where history is both a curse and a legacy to be curated, the DA's blue berets were everywhere.

The one thing Malema did was to start a fashion in berets – and for that one must thank Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, upon whom Malema modelled himself.

The EFF campaign was rhetorical, but it was not stupid. The ANC called the DA 'white' and called the EFF mindless rebels.

But name calling was never going to replace the need for the ANC, eventually, to have a policy to achieve the goals of the Freedom Charter.

Malema and Maimane will sit on the opposition benches of parliament, and at least parliamentary politics will become interesting.

The ANC won, despite President Jacob Zuma. Everywhere, there was a disconnect between support for the ANC – out of respect for history and legacy – and support for Zuma – out of resignation and be- cause he led the ANC.

It is hard to imagine a modern South Africa led by a president with the dearth of imagination and the penchant for patronage that Zuma exemplifies.

The South Africa of the next five years will need much more than what he can bring. The succession within the ANC will be a key feature of politics.

If one thing seems certain now, it is that Cyril Ramaphosa does not have sufficient support within the ANC to win the succession. Zuma has playfully suggested one of his own former wives, but the race is wide open.

Geriatic at the high table

Zuma is older than the leaders of Nigeria, the United States, Russia and China. The Chinese leader has a doctorate, and the Russian leader publishes DVDs of his skills in judo.

The ANC might need to skip a generation to meet the dynamism of leaders from elsewhere and to meet the challenge from the Malemas and Maimanes of South Africa's future.

One ANC stratagem might be to enter a coalition with the EFF to absorb Malema back into the fold. With 62% of the vote, the ANC was shy of the two- thirds majority it needs to change the constitution.

Add the EFF's 6%, and suddenly everything is possible.

But will the new parliamentary term deliver anything for South Africa's poor? No.

Firstly, the economic growth rate simply cannot rise to the level where concrete and nationwide improvements become possible, particularly in housing, education and health.

Poor economic growth will mean unemployment will continue with the hopelessness it brings.

Secondly, corruption and maladministration, led by ANC political and municipal figures, will hamper development or deliver it only via systems of patronage.

Thirdly, despite the vibrancy of the campaign in the fifth democratic South African election and a very slick performance by the electoral authorities, none of the parties actually had a programme.

Under the rhetoric, behind the music festivals, despite the avalanche of tweets and slick TV ads, no party said how it would give the people what it promised.

Perhaps this is a fault of South African politics. Perhaps there simply is no silver bullet. Perhaps, no matter who won the elections, the poverty of Kliptown would still be the same.

There will be no Jacob Zuma contesting the next elections. Whether he serves a full term or resigns earlier so the ANC can present a new leadership in plenty of time for 2019 is unforeseeable.

There may be no Helen Zille as leader of the DA if that party puts its weight behind Maimane.

Malema will still be there but wearing the tailored suits of a parliamentarian. Serving on endless parliamentary committees may well make him a tamed force by 2019. ●

Stephen Chan, Professor of world politics, School of Oriental and African Studies, London, UK


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