Dissenting supporters

2009-03-26 00:00

I know a number of African National Congress supporters - and indeed I am one of them myself - who, while retaining their general support for the ANC and its trajectory since 1994, are acutely unhappy about a number of things going on within the party at the moment. They know, as everyone knows, that the ANC is going to win the April 22 election, but they feel unable to vote for it now, and they feel that it will be salutary for it to lose some votes. They hope that, by the next election, if there hasn't been a further split within the ANC, they will be able to put their crosses where they have been putting them since 1994.

Our chief unhappiness lies in the way in which the ANC has committed itself totally to Jacob Zuma. Zuma is of course a talented, likeable and popular politician, and it seems certain that he is the victim of various injustices. But at the same time, whether he is innocent or guilty of the offences he is accused of (and his eagerness to avoid trial seems significant), and whether other prominent people are guilty of the same or worse offences, he is undoubtedly a liability as head of the party and as potential president of the country. Also worrying are his blatant populism, boosted of course by youth leader Julius Malema, and some of his wilder remarks - for example, his apparent plan to transport pregnant young women to correction camps.

What is puzzling is that the ANC, which in the past has always said in an admirable but almost puritanical way that the movement comes before the individual, has now decided that this individual, Zuma, is some special kind of saviour. There are impressive potential leaders within the ANC, but all of them have been swept aside for Zuma. What do the ANC and his fervent followers suppose that he will do? One hears people proclaiming that he will get rid of poverty, that he will produce jobs; but how can he do this? And we haven't been offered many precise, concrete policies to show a way forward. The recent events involving Schabir Shaik and the National Prosecuting Authority are also disturbing. It is as if the ANC is bewitched, temporarily one hopes, by some kind of magic.

There are the further issues that the ANC has not dealt with very effectively: corruption, crime, poverty, unemployment and service delivery. In its obsession with Zuma, the ANC seems to have said rather too little about these matters. It is almost as if they believe that once Zuma is in power somehow all will be well.

But if unhappy ANC supporters find themselves unable to support the party in its current phase, who will they vote for? There is no easy answer to that question.

The Congress of the People has a few good policies (most notably electoral reform, to make elected representatives directly accountable to their constituents), but the party grew out of personality clashes and it seems subject to internal divisions. The Democratic Alliance has a dynamic and intelligent leader in Helen Zille, but it has a rather mixed bunch of representatives (a number of them remnants of the old National Party) and, as things stand, it cannot really avoid being mainly the party of the well-heeled. Several of the smaller parties have their interesting points - I am quite impressed by the Women's Front, headed by the sister of the Msunduzi Municipality mayor - but a vote for any of them could hardly be said to contribute to the big national debate.

I have said nothing so far about the Inkatha Freedom Party. Many of its supporters seem to be honest traditionalists, but it appears not to have a range of challenging policies as alternatives to those offered by the ANC. It is indeed, I believe, a party with a past but no clear future, and there is a real danger that, if it were to win in KwaZulu-Natal, it would not only resurrect the idea of Ulundi as the provincial capital (with all the expense and time-wasting that that would involve) but that it would take us back to the era of a politics that is essentially ethnic.

The possibility of an IFP victory in KwaZulu-Natal puts a strain on ANC sympathisers who have decided to withhold their votes this time round. What should they do? Maybe vote for the ANC after all at the provincial level, and vote for another party, or spoil their ballot paper, at the national level.

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