ANC ambitions

2008-06-13 00:00

At face value, the ANC’s drive to garner more support from minority communities sounds promising. The party has become too sharply defined in ethnic terms and this encourages narrow nationalism. But its chances of attracting a broader base of voters are largely limited to working-class areas.

Poorer, traditionally Indian parts of Durban are a target, although the Minority Front recently won a by-election in Chatsworth. The ANC will have to overcome a perception that it is particularly hospitable to Muslims; and persuade voters, against considerable evidence, that affirmative action is operating to their benefit. Commentators agree that among whites the ANC has little prospect.

Why does the ANC want to increase its support? Thanks to floor crossing, its parliamentary representation tops 70%. Should it not be more concerned about addressing the chronic problems of its long-suffering core constituents, some of whom have risen in revolt in recent years?

Does the ambition to attract a greater proportion of the popular vote have anything to do with a recently-reported statement by ANC president, Jacob Zuma, that he saw his party staying in power indefinitely? This supports the dangerous view that the only legitimate political debate takes place under his party’s umbrella; and that anything else is irrelevant or unpatriotic.

What South Africa needs is entirely different: a political realignment that provides vigorous challenge and the possibility of electoral change. While the ANC works out its election strategy, there are tentative moves towards a re-engineering of opposition politics.

It is becoming increasingly clear that a crucial fault line in South African politics centres on regard — or otherwise — for the Constitution and the rule of law. A stronger, more broadly-based opposition is needed to uphold the spirit of the negotiated settlement of the nineties. South Africa is a nation with strong democratic institutions, but it has yet to become a true democracy. While the ANC works to improve its appeal and electoral performance, future political stability lies just as clearly with a reconfiguration of the opposition.

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