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Archive for April, 2009

Hi there

Just wanted to use this space to say congratulations to Paul for the arrival of his new little girl, her name is Laetitia or Jasmine [still to be confirmed, perhaps we should democratically have a vote on that??] and she was born on Saturday 25 April.

All the best to the Nugent family!!

Barbara and CAS

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Hi there,

I came home just in time to vote, and the turnout was comparable to the 1994 elections for the first time (increasing apathy in the two preceding elections), which is a sure sign of a revitalisation of interest amongst the electorate in the state of our government. It speaks to increasing calls for accountability among office bearers, and hopefully will result in a government that is more engaged with the people.

Apart from the comments made by Alex and Dan, the DA victory in the Western Cape is also significant for the opportunity to prove that they can govern effectively and inclusively – it will be decisive factor in increasing their numbers in the next elections. COPE’s showing was also spectacular, considering their resources and the fact that they were barely 100 days old at the time of elections. They are official opposition in three provinces (Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Limpopo) and within 1% of the DA in the Free State and North West).

Generally, the elections proved that democracy is taking hold in SA; the lack of serious violence, lack if intimidation (particularly in comparison to previous elections), and generally well run election process shows that while it is still in many respects a one party state, opposition is not curtailed and dissenting opinions are heard.

Best wishes

Lara de Klerk, Pretoria

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South Africa’s National and Provincial elections passed relatively peacefully in 2009 and have been recognised as free, fair and transparent. The elections largely passed without the political violence that some commentators feared – although there was a tragic shooting of a COPE member in Port Elizabeth and other allegations of intimidation elsewhere. However, these were not on the scale that some feared given the recent split between the ANC and COPE.

The performance of different parties at this election has been revealing. It appears that the end is nigh for many of the smaller parties. As one newspaper headline writer put it, ‘Puny Parties Panic’ after the implosion of the Inkhata Freedom Party, and the fall in votes for the Independent Democrats, Freedom Front Plus, Pan African Congress and the African Christian Democratic Party amongst others. It would seem that the next few years will see the consolidation of three main parties (the African National Congress, the Democratic Alliance, and the Congress of the People) and the likely assimilation of smaller parties into these.

On a Provincial level, the success of the DA in taking control of the Western Cape is a major victory for them. Their success in Guateng is also notable and while the party remains seen as a ‘white’ party it would appear that they are beginning to make in-roads into the black, middle-class urban voter. The failure of COPE in the Eastern Cape is surprising in many ways, given their association with Mbeki and the Xhosa population. However, as has been noted elsewhere, their failure to mobilise a branch network in rural and poor areas (focussing instead on the black, urban middle class) is likely to have been a major factor in this.

The role of the international voter, while minimal this year with less that 10,000 votes cast, is likely to increase in the future as voters have more time to register to vote and make plans to cast their ballots while overseas. The main beneficiary of this court ruling is likely to be the DA, who polled the vast majority of votes cast this year by South Africans overseas.

In terms of the experience on the ground in the weeks running up to election day, and the day itself, a number of things stand out. The one I will comment on here is the visual aspect of the election. In February, the first election posters began to appear in Cape Town – the DA stealing a march on the ANC with posting their lamp-post boards first along the major highways. The ANC were not far behind, and soon major roads were lined with posters for both parties.

In Johannesburg, a similar process occurred, with the DA and ANC posting on major roads and suburban areas in large numbers. Later in the campaign, posters for COPE and the Freedom Front also appeared in smaller numbers in Johannesburg. In Cape Town, these parties were supplemented by posters from the IFP, Independent Democratcs, the Pan African Movement, the Pan African Congress, the People’s Justice Congress, and many other smaller parties.

It was interesting to note how these visual displays differed between Cape Town and Johannesburg. Cape Town hosted a much wider range of political parties’ posters than Johannesburg, suggesting that certain parties (such as the ID) remained very provincial in their appeal. The posters deployed by the ANC in the different cities was also notable. In Jo’burg, many ANC posters were of Jacob Zuma entreating voters to vote ANC, whereas in Cape Town the majority of ANC posters outside of townships were text-based posters – ‘Vote ANC on 22 April’ or ‘Working Together We Can Do More’. This suggests the ANC felt ‘brand Zuma’ was a greater asset in Jo’burg than Cape Town. At the same time, the defacing of ANC posters in Jo’burg was not replicated in Cape Town. Many posters of Zuma in Jo’burg suburbs were defaced with the words ‘criminal’, a snake-tongue added to Zuma on others, and so on. The ‘working together’ posters often had ‘crime’ added at the end – ‘Working together we can do more crime’. These acts of vandalism – some would argue sub-vertising – reflect dissatisfaction and concern amongst sections of the electorate over the conduct of parties and political leaders. They also suggest a sense amongst some that their concerns and grievances are not being taken seriously by the state or by government.

Dan Hammett, Johannesburg

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afp155799191904165521_bigOkay, I think that there are three main talking points. One is the ANC’s ability to maintain its majority, despite the presence of a new opposition force and a stronger DA. Another is Cope and what the 7.42% of votes it gained means for the party and its rivals. The third is the domination of Cope and the DA amongst the opposition and the near annihilation of the smaller parties and how this might lead to a reconfiguration of opposition politics in the future.

“You touch the ANC, you touch a lion”

Jacob Zuma declared at an ANC victory party on Friday that “you touch the ANC, you touch a lion”. The party has undoubtedly reaffirmed its position as South Africa’s political colossus by attaining 65.9% of the national vote. Whilst it fell short of the 2/3 majority it would need to unilaterally change the constitution in parliament, this was, nonetheless, a demonstration of strength that gives Zuma a resounding mandate.

Despite shedding some 4% of votes it attained in 2004, the result underlines a remarkable consistency in South African politics: the ANC has once again shown its ability to score a clear outright majority at the polls, beating even he closest opposition party into a very distant second. This highlights the continuation of race as a defining characteristic of voting preferences amongst South Africans: the black majority continues to strongly identify their aspirations with the ANC whilst the DA remains the primary champion of minority groups.

Seen through this lens, the opposition parties’ fixation with making the election into a referendum on (Zuma’s) political morality appears to have been a massive own-goal. The ANC, by contrast, has run a smart and sophisticated election campaign that has been very effective at communicating what seems to be its primary message: “we have done much, we acknowledge (some of) our shortcomings, and we will strive to do much more.” Zuma, far from being a political liability, has been one of the ANC’s greatest assets in delivering this message. His humble background and the perception that he is “in touch” with the concerns of South Africa’s poor has propelled both him and the party to another electoral landslide leaving the opposition in its wake. As ANC supporters sang at a rally in Soweto on Friday: “My mother was a kitchen girl, my father was a garden boy, that’s why he’s the President!”.

The ANC has no doubt underlined its credentials as the champion of South Africa’s black majority but that manner in which it has translated this into votes at the ballot box owes a great deal to a slick and well organized campaign machinery that has managed to stave off the threat of its latest political rival Cope from eating into its primary constituency. It has been well documented that the ANC has led a carefully choreographed campaign, that has hinged around the two goals of mobilizing its voters, as well as appealing to young, first-time voters. Reflecting what the Sunday Times calls “a campaign that had hints of Obama-like sophistication”, over the past months the party utilized its branch structures and an army of over 60,000 party agents to ensure that its core constituency were both registered and, ultimately, were at the polls on Wednesday. Whilst this might not be a new tactic, I think this has been approached with a great deal more vigour than usual according to those I’ve spoken to. Their first-hand accounts of branch activity and the drive to ensure that ANC voters were at the polls (even offering physical assistance) is testament to their claim that they would not be “defeated by complacency”. This perhaps relates to the point that political analyst Susan Booysen makes that the presence Cope has effectively galvanized the ANC and forced it to raise its game. Whilst the campaigning effort owes a great deal to the huge financial resources at the party’s disposal, it also forcefully demonstrates the unrivalled capacity of the ANC to mobilize huge numbers of motivated and engaged party members across the country. This allows the ANC to penetrate into communities through direct contact to a far greater degree than its opposite numbers.

In conjunction with its impressive national campaign strategy, the ANC has also been able to offset the votes it lost to the DA and Cope though its strong showing in KwaZulu Natal. This was down in part to the IFP’s own internal weaknesses but also to an extensive and highly visible campaigning effort in the province by the ANC and also Zuma’s well-publicised popularity in the area owing to his rural Zulu origins and his perceived understanding of Zulu ‘traditions’.

“A funeral for the late spoilt Cope”?

When a couple of high-profile ANC leaders split from the party to form Cope it created a buzz of excitement and a great deal of fanfare amongst a South African press that had been previously starved of what they felt to be a genuine opposition to the ANC. Whilst Cope was widely touted as a potential challenger to the ANC, threatening the political hegemony it had enjoyed since 1994, at its first outing at the national poles it only managed to gain 7.42% of the vote, despite more optimistic predictions from analysts. It also failed to make its mark in provinces such as the Eastern Cape which it had initially felt capable of taking from a Zuma-led ANC.

The press, once so willing to give Cope the significance and momentum that its short existence and lack of membership never really justified, are now quick to offer a post mortem for the party’s shortcomings at the polls. Cope’s campaign was, they argued, too late to be launched, lacking a distinct ideological platform, beset with petty leadership squabbles and, crucially, lacking the financial and human capital of the ANC. Whilst these are all true, the relative strength of Cope’s campaign was quite inconsequential for the trade unionists I spoke to. After its launch Cope was dismissed as being an organization formed by “cry babies” – those who could not accept that internal democracy within the ANC had delivered Zuma as the leader. It therefore lacked legitimacy in the first place. E mails and leaflets circulated around union offices and workplaces in the build up to the election predicted that Cope would be annihilated at the polls and invited members to a mock funeral “for the late spoilt Cope: born 12 oct 2008, died 22nd April.” Whilst this is perhaps an extreme sample – trade unionists that are often card-carrying members of the ANC – it does raise questions as to whether the top-down formation of Cope will prevent it from gaining legitimacy amongst those that have a long-standing loyalty and identification with the ANC.

Towards a reconfigured opposition?

It would be premature to write off Cope just yet; despite its relatively small share of the national vote, what it did achieve was unprecedented in South Africa for a party that has only been around for six months. Overall, the main opposition parties have faired well, whereas the smaller ones (UDM, ID) have been almost wiped out. This has led some prominent analysts to predict that this will lead to a smaller number of parties in the long term as many will be forced to disband. This will lead to a reconfiguration of the opposition, they argue, into a 2-3 party system. Even the relatively successful parties have recognized the need for a larger, united opposition force to challenge the ANC. As Helen Zille, leader of the DA has stated: “”We’ve got to realign politics in South Africa and that’s what I’m going to spend the next five years doing.” Whilst the smaller parties facing annihilation might be more inclined to enter into dialogue with the larger parties, it remains to be seen if Cope and the DA can build a united party to challenge the ANC. At this stage any such idea seems very distant. A tactical merger of the opposition parties based on a pragmatic assessment of their relative strength next to the ruling party would risk glossing over ideological and personality differences between the two parties.

If any merger of the opposition parties were to occur, the direction and ultimate product of any reconfiguration of the opposition will depend on which party can assert itself as the primary figurehead of opposition to Zuma’s government. The DA’s relatively strong election showing would suggest that it is placed well to take up this mantle but analysts such as Aubrey Matshiqi are predicting that Cope will eventually dethrone the DA due to its potentially broader appeal to the black majority in the long term. Any such merger, however, is bound to be fraught with practical difficulties, yet the greatest challenge any reconfigured opposition would face relates to the long-standing difficulty of any opposition in breaking the ANC’s hegemony among the black majority: pragmatically reconfiguring the opposition to challenge the ANC’s dominance is one thing, penetrating this voting demographic is quite another which will require a more holistic recalibration of opposition politics. Highlighting the Zuma governments’ shortcomings and failure to meet inflated expectations will be one obvious tactic but any genuine challenge would need to transcend this narrow focus and look to build a party rooted in the communities. This will not be easy: the ANC’s grassroots structures will be difficult to match. But such a presence would be essential for the opposition to begin to challenge the ANC’s position as the almost unrivalled champion of the majority’s aspirations.

Alex Beresford, Johannesburg

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