The Day the “Clever Blacks” came for the Party

2016-08-11 12:19

In the immediate aftermath of the referendum on whether Britain should remain in or leave the European Union (EU), news platforms were awash with reports of people rushing to Google “What is the EU?” only  hours  after voting to exit the European Union!  Some commentators said that this was an indication of post-Brexit remorse as many were forced to think of the real effects of their collective action.  It would seem that we’re experiencing our own version of this phenomenon as we grapple with the meaning of the hotly contested #LGE2016 results.  The law of unintended consequences says that when you take certain deliberate actions within a complex system, you also unleash a range of other reactions which you did not or could not anticipate.

No, I am not jumping on the bandwagon of alarmists who have manufactured stories about DA- led municipalities cutting wi-fi to Black areas or repeating the telling #IfDAWins jokes about Isibaya being rebranded “Die Kraal”. However, when many voted to re-align SA politics at a national level using a local government election, many unforeseen issues and results came to the fore. Perhaps the most significant change is the demolition of the many plausibility structures which have dominated the narrative of politics in South Africa. These antiquated ways of understanding voting patterns and the real body politic of South Africa are often regurgitated by lazy analysts in the media based on a superficial interpretation of voting statistics and other relevant factors.

Despite Zuma’s best attempts to paint the DA as a “white party” due to its history and predilection to protecting white interests, people of all hues came out in support of the DA during LGE2016. They led it to an unprecedented victory in Nelson Mandela Bay, growing its support in many municipalities to unprecedented levels. So much for the “White guys and their Black stooges” narrative lifted from a 15year old speech by Nelson Mandela.

On the other side, one of the DA’s campaign messages was that small parties were a “waste of votes”. Life being what it is, the same DA is now in a frenzy to woo small parties all over the country. They will need a lot of support from these supposed “vote-wasters” in order to form coalition governments in many of the municipalities they wish to govern. No small parties, no power. It is that simple.

When early results from the middle-class suburbs in many metros came through, the picture emerging {besides  the ANC  being hammered}, was that the EFF seems to have a great deal of support in mainly middle class areas (roughly 10%). Unlike the ANC, the EFF didn’t have to wait for results from the townships for their voting stats to be improved. The EFF ended up reaching the 2million vote mark, up from 1m in 2014. There goes Tito Mboweni’s “EFF of the Squatter Camps” theory.

It’s a different world, but the more some things change- the more some stay the same.

Cast your mind back to the national elections of 2014, the ANC suffered massive losses in urban areas, especially in Gauteng. This was seen as a backlash against the e-Tolls, Marikana, Nkandla and many other ANC government follies and aberrations. However, the response from the ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe lacked contrition and betrayed a lack of respect for the message being sent by the Black Middle Class whom his party leader had branded “Clever Blacks”. This signaled another step towards the Zanufication of the ANC where urban supporters were discarded for the more reliable rural support. Mantashe told a press conference of bemused journalists that the now estranged Black middle class were “ungrateful for their middle class status” which wasn’t “manna from heaven, but a gift from the ANC”. The “clever blacks”, he said, were unlike the rural voters who “appreciated progress”. Strike one.

When the same Gwede Mantashe was interviewed at the election results centre in the nation’s capital (where ANC dropped to 41% from 56% in 2011), he nonchalantly declared “Look at that map {national round-up}, that map is green! The people have voted for the ANC in great numbers, we are still the majority party”. The fact that, nationally, the ANC had fallen 15 “percentage points” to 54% from the dizzying heights of the 69% achieved under Thabo Mbeki seemed to escape him. He added insult to injury by suggesting that Black people “did not appreciate the importance of voting” and tried to make a weak and illogical argument that what kept Black people away from polling stations in urban areas was smugness about the supposed inevitability of an ANC victory.

KZN ANC chairman Sihle Zikalala, speaking from eThekwini- a Zuma stronghold where the ANC had also dropped in support, said the ANC had managed to “increase” its support! This was even though they scored 56% versus 61% in 2011 in this metro! He said this “growth” was evidenced by winning 73 wards in 2011 to 74 wards in 2016. He failed to appreciate or admit that 73 out of 100 (2011) is lower than 74 out of 110 wards. Mr Zikalala either counts like his president or is a shameless liar. Whatever the source of his arithmetic challenges, one thing is clear: ANC support is dwindling and the party is in denial about it. Strike Two!

South Africa’s own mini-Berlin conference in the form of coalition talks between various parties is taking place in many places around the country. When the apportioning of positions and the patronage systems which come with them is done, the next part of the democratic discourse will begin. The question to the country in general and the ANC in particular will be: Quo vadis the revolution in 2019? Strike 3?     *Akani writes in his personal capacity

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