2009: An Electoral Odyssey.


So — who’s going to win the South African general elections, now not more than nine months away? Stupid question. We know that the elections will be a walkover for the ANC under any circumstances whatsoever. Why, then, should there be anything at all interesting about them?

The interesting thing is that Zuma has managed to do some damage to the ANC. Will this translate to electoral weakening? The ANC is a structure and an organisation, but it is also a symbolic body for which people vote. Has Zuma’s behaviour done significant harm to that symbolic stature which Mbeki maintained, cossetted and improved on?

The corporate propagandists who supported Zuma have taken a big risk — a remarkable thing for corporate capitalists to do, since (contrary to their propaganda) they hate nothing more than risks. The risk is that Zuma might take their money and their support and then go on to be a normal ANC leader instead of a corporate hack. In that case, big problems, for all they can do is smear him, and Mbeki has shown that ANC leaders need not fear media smears. On the other hand, Zuma is greedy and corrupt, and therefore perhaps may be, himself, no more than a corporate hack. He is certainly surrounded by them. In that case, the ANC may go down, and the DA — which, all kidding aside, is the party really backed by big business in South African today — go up. But will it happen like that? Come, let us reason together.

The 2009 election is a General Election (the municipal elections will happen in late 2010 or early 2011) meaning that the national and provincial governments will be elected. Let us consider the provincial governments and see how many of them are likely to be affected significantly by the conflict between Zuma and the people who formerly supported Mbeki — one might also say, perhaps in a partisan spirit but nevertheless accurately, between the people who are violating the ANC’s constitution and those who are not violating it, or at least are violating it in insignificant ways. How much has Zuma’s gerrymandering and internal electoral fraud, along the lines of Tony Leon’s behaviour in the DA, actually damaged the ANC’s chances?

KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa’s most populous province, is quite likely to improve its performance under Zuma. The Zulus will turn out for a Zulu — this is tribalist, but not complete nonsense, for Zuma has played the tribalist card and a lot of Zulus, smart or not, are falling for it. To a lesser extent, the same is probably true of Mpumalanga, no small province population-wise.

The Eastern Cape, the North-West and Limpopo were all Thabo Mbeki provinces. No doubt some of the leaders and the membership are disgruntled at having lost out at Polokwane and having been humiliated and bullied incessantly ever since. However, these are provinces where ANC support is extremely strong — we are talking 80% or so — and also where the support is tenacious. People will not walk away from their party just because their faction has been defeated; that would be both cowardly and unpatriotic.

That means that five of South Africa’s most populous provinces are not going to be lost by the ANC. That means, effectively, that South Africa will be governed by the ANC after the 2009 election. There will be no startling surprises. There may be a slight decline in the Eastern Cape (though the ANC is rock-solid there) because of the unfair treatment of the provincial Premier, and some declines in the Limpopo (where Zuma gerrymandering has been clumsily obvious) and slightly less in the North-West. But none of this will influence the actual outcome.

That leaves four provinces. Nobody seriously thinks that the Free State is going to experience any major changes. The Free State is dominated by the Bloemfontein cabal, and this cabal trimmed its sails to the wind and went for Zuma even though it had been appointed by Mbeki. People are not going to be upset by anything that is happening there. The Free State will continue to be solid for the ANC. Six provinces for the ANC; game, set and match. Zuma, therefore, will be able to say that despite all the problems his leadership has won the election (and his acolytes are already setting up Mbeki’s supporters for the blame if anything goes wrong.)

So that leaves only three places where other parties might conceivably do anything effectual. That is, Gauteng, the Northern Cape, and the Western Cape. As Alex would say in A Clockwork Orange, “What’s it going to be then, eh?”.

These are three areas where the Democratic Alliance has a certain strength and no other party apart from the ANC has major significance. This is, in a sense, great for the plutocracy. They can pretend that their party has a chance in these provinces, and that having a chance in these provinces means that they will someday have a chance of taking control of the country. Unfortunately for the plutocracy, both of these pretenses may be mistaken.

Gauteng is a very small but populous province which went solidly for Zuma at Polokwane. In proportion to its population, its ANC membership is very small — which means it is easily controlled, especially since it is highly urbanised. Its ANC vote has climbed steadily since 1994 when the ANC won a majority, though it is still not nearly as high as in the provinces mentioned earlier. Therefore, on the one hand the Zuma disruption has barely affected Gauteng organisationally, and on the other hand, Gauteng, by its nature as a province and as an ANC organisation, is easily restructured if problems seem to be coming. Gauteng also has a solid black majority.

What all this means is that Gauteng is not a place where the DA is likely to get much traction. The Zuma situation will not bring them much advantage. Meanwhile, by the nature of the place, with the black population growing much faster than the white (africans continue to flood to the cities from the rural provinces surrounding Gauteng, while whites are emigrating) and the DA continuing to treat blacks as lepers because their current support-base is racist and their funding-sources are mostly whites — well, it’s not a good prospect. The DA would do well not to try too hard, wouldn’t it?

But in fact it has to, for internal reasons. The dominant portion of the DA was rooted in the old Prog party, from which all actual progressives and democrats were purged in the late 1980s and early 1990s in readiness for a conscienceless merger with the apartheid National Party, which eventually happened in 2000. While the National Party was a national party, the Progs were based, in essence, in two places: Joburg and Cape Town, with the Joburg section being dominant because it controlled the money and hence controlled the debate. (Most of the purged “lefties” were from the Cape.) Interestingly, exactly the same was true of the National Party, except that in its case the right-wing dominant centre was Pretoria, and the liberal weak centre was Stellenbosch — and there, too, the “oorbeligtes” were purged.

Well, what this means is that the DA has to pretend that it has a powerful position in Gauteng even though it doesn’t, because this is the only way for the Joburg faction to regain control. At the moment, it still commands the money, but Helen Zille (Cape) and Susan Botha (Free State) command patronage and votes. In the 2000 election it actually thought it would take Johannesburg, and when it failed, its handmaiden Tony Leon set in motion the calamity which lost it control of the Cape. Having learned nothing (read Leon’s autobiography; it is quite surreal to see how he continues to live in a bubble of 1975 consciousness without even realising it) it will want a lot of money ploughed into Gauteng electoral politics. That is lucky for Zuma.

The Northern Cape is an interesting place; it is the only place where the Democratic Alliance has ever collaborated with the ANC, something which surely could never happen nowadays. It is enormous and almost uninhabited. Control of the province would obviously be better than nothing, but it is not very much. It would also require a lot of work, not just money, slogging all over the place. The big centre of ANC authority is Kimberley, which went solidly for Zuma at Polokwane. However, there is clearly a lot of resentment at the continuing rule of Zuma’s boy John Block, especially from africans who feel they deserve more patronage.

The province is divided between africans and coloureds (whites are a small minority as usual); in 1994 the divide was fairly even, and came out electorally as between ANC and NP. Subsequently, however, the ANC’s coloured vote has climbed and the NP’s coloured vote dipped, partly because the province had a fairly honest leader (he even stayed in a township instead of a white suburb) and partly because of the decline of the NP nationally. As a result, the ANC has got into a strong position, and the Zuma disruption has not been so great; no leadership changes, despite the resentment of the schlentering in the recent election (rumour has it that the ANC secretary-general Mantashe declared anti-Block branches not in good standing, then quietly allowed pro-Block members from those branches to show up to vote at the provincial conference, thus ensuring Block’s safety). The DA could undoubtedly do better, but it would take an enormous amount of work to win, and there is no sign that the DA considers the province worth the prize. After all, there is no national newspaper coverage coming out of the province.

In this sense they are not being altogether stupid; a genuinely progressive party would want to take over a province to show the country that it can do better than the central government. But this is not the case; the DA does not have any new ideas to offer. It just wants power, to better serve the interests of its capitalist bosses, trample on the workers and oppress the blacks, apart from the rich ones who are actually members of the party. (Oh, it probably wants to rob the defenceless widows and orphans too; forgot that for a moment.) Sigh.

So that takes us to the Western Cape, the only place in South Africa where the ANC could conceivably lose out. The DA’s victory in Cape Town has gone to its head a little, compelling it to fail to notice its smashing defeat in the Western Cape in 2004, where previously the DP and NNP (the lacklustre remarketing of the NP) had a solid majority, and also to fail to notice that in the 2006 municipal elections the DA’s share of the vote fell and the ANC’s rose. Therefore, the DA thinks it can win the Western Cape. Is it smoking something it shouldn’t, or is there really a chance?

Before Zuma came along it was a no-brainer. The DA in the Western Cape would have been lucky to get anywhere, especially with its Cape Town Mayor apparently in bed with apartheid spooks and organised racketeering (not only truck-hijackers but also vigilantes). Luckily the Western Cape Premier appears to have handled things badly (unless the Cape High Court, which found for the Mayor, was just bought off; the Western Cape judiciary is strikingly corrupt even if Justice Hlope is left out of the equation). The ANC should have walked the 2009 election.

But kicking Premier Rasool out on trumped-up grounds has posed a problem. Rasool’s issue was always that he was a coloured Premier in a province where the majority of the ANC’s vote is african, but where they need the coloured minority of the ANC’s vote to win. The african majority doesn’t like the coloureds, who return the compliment, so the only glue holding them together is leftist party solidarity, which, together with ten rand, might get you a small cup of coffee in a cheap Cape restaurant. Nevertheless people liked Rasool and voted for him; now that he’s been replaced by Brown, who despite her name is almost colourless, there should be a smaller turnout. On the other hand, people from the Eastern Cape continue to flood West in search of jobs, and, not finding any, will probably blame the Cape Town DA government and therefore vote ANC.

While the Zuma disruption has done more damage in the Western Cape than anywhere else, and the DA has a better chance there than anywhere else, the fact is that the DA has not done anything to promote any confidence. As usual, it is campaigning entirely on the fact that it hates the ANC (and, although this is delivered in coded terms, that it hates blacks and thinks that the whole country is doomed). The politics of resentment does build solidarity, but it doesn’t build dynamism; people are often inclined to sink into apathy, or vain searches for unrealistic solutions. (This is why the obviously fraudulent “Independent Democrats” did well in the 2006 elections; now that they are more obviously a front for the DA they will do less well.)

As a result it is perfectly possible that, starved of money by the Gauteng elite and disrupted by being pulled in too many directions at once (including the fact that the Party’s leader was once an anti-apartheid activist and probably still feels a dim, submerged guilt at leading a party largely consisting of the fruits of apartheid), the DA will lose the Western Cape. It might even manage to do worse than it did in 2004. That’s scary, of course, because it would put Zuma in a wonderfully strong position.

However, since Zuma’s backers are also the backers of the DA, if you track the financial chains of command back far enough, perhaps that doesn’t really mean much of a change.


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