Why the DA will trump the ANC

2017-01-26 08:54

When Venezuela’s opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was given a hefty jail sentence for inciting violence, Al Jazeera commented: “Venezuela remains polarised between government supporters, who see the ruling socialist government as a bulwark against neo-liberal economics and US imperialism, and those in opposition who see Maduro's (Venezuela’s President) rule as increasingly autocratic and incompetent.” This echoes South Africa’s divide.

On paper South Africa enjoys a certain political maturity. But racial divisions lurk behind much of our political debate. Race will become less important here as the essential political conflict emerges. Our government derives legitimacy from championing the poor, disadvantaged majority. Opposing the government is the business community and professional class arguing for a capable state, not a controlling one. According to them government, in perpetuating patronage and cronyism, are choking the economy and holding back the very people in whose name they serve.

In Venezuela, barring a return to sky-high oil prices, the game is up for Maduro. The ANC too is doomed. Opposing racial nationalism was the glue that held the ANC together. Critics argue that in the guise of ‘transformation’ the ANC now perpetuates racial nationalism, replacing Afrikaner Nationalism with African (the racial category) Nationalism. A capable state is meritocratic and professional, putting the best people in the most important jobs. By insisting on ‘representivity’ before merit transformation distorts the capable state. Patronage and cronyism follow close behind. This is anathema in modern democracies, but patronage is the life-blood of tribal economic systems. A key apartheid aim was to keep Africans in tribal mode, at the very time Africans were flooding into cities and embracing modernism. Ironically it is now the ANC who feels nostalgic for those tribal days.

In tribes individuals sacrifice ego needs for the sake of harmony. ‘Unity’ is the tribe’s mantra:  position trumps performance, allegiance trumps individual excellence. In South Africa ‘tribalism’ is equated with ethnicity, but apartheid put all Africans (of whichever ethnicity) into the third-class carriage. The ANC triumphed because, inspired by 20th century forces like nationalism and communism, they united Africans (from across the ethnic groups) against white rule, and won support from key constituencies within the minority races – no mean achievement.

The ANC opposed ethnic tribalism, but today they perpetuate political tribalism. Zuma’s rise can be explained by his understanding of tribal dynamics and his ability to facilitate group cohesion. What the middle-class sees as patronage and cronyism is really the wisdom of the tribe maintaining unity and continuity.

History shows that values change as economic conditions change. For example Afrikaners, once they became more prosperous, shifted from group identity to individual identity. The same is happening with Africans. Today we see the rise of Christianity in Africa, particularly the Protestant variety that promotes prosperity and family values. The values-shift, from group cohesion to towards righteousness, has coincided with the improvement in Africa’s economic prospects. This bodes badly for the ANC, who emphasise group identity, and well for the DA, who want the state to promote individualism.

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