April 29, 2004

Inside track on the Eastern Cape

With very little (if any) blogspace being dedicated to my home province, the Eastern Cape, I thought I’d share some insights into the newly-elected premier, Nosimo Balindlela, that I got from a source who knows her quite well. Balindlela is apparently a very open, outgoing and likeable person with solid integrity (essential in this province). However, while serving as the MEC for Education firstly, and later for Arts, Culture, Science and Technology she has been fairly ineffective. General opinion in the province is that she will battle to control the volatile high-level politics that are played out in Bisho with a number of ANC heavyweights tossing their weight around. The only way she can prevent being steamrolled is if Mbeki sends her some bigshots from Pretoria (similar to the Interim Management Team sent to sort out corruption and mal-administration in the province in 2003) to stabilise the situation.

She wears groovy clothes, but has a HUGE job ahead of her. Good luck to her.

Gigaba's gaffes

There has been a lot of speculation and comment about the new cabinet so I’m not going to add my 2 cents worth about Manto or Kortbroek. I did notice, however, that Malusi Gigaba, the president of the ANC Youth League has been appointed as given a deputy minister of Home Affairs. I suppose this is his reward for his loyal 8 year term at the Youth League, but during those years, in my opinion, he has turned the Youth League into a bit of a joke. I say this because of the absolutely diabolical press statements that he has published. His meaningless rhetoric, blended with aimless finger-pointing and aggressive language, result in a quite laughable polemic against no-one in particular. If this is Mbeki’s attempt at bringing the young blood into the cabinet (although Gigaba is hardly “youth” at 33), it does not bode well. He has impressive political credentials, but let’s hope his work at Home Affairs will be better than his prowess as a public speaker/writer.

In reading his CV a while ago I was somewhat amused to see he has a Masters degree in Urban Social Policy with a dissertation on informal settlements….pretty much exactly what I am doing! Maybe there is hope for me in politics yet…

April 22, 2004

With reference to yesterday’s post, I was very interested to read an article by FW De Klerk in the Cape Times. In contrast to what I wrote about a possible break-up in the tripartite alliance, De Klerk does not believe that this split is imminent:

“The ANC leadership has firm control of the reins of power and patronage, and will in the short- and medium- term continue to be in a position to slap down serious dissent from any quarter.”

The reason he gives for this is that in return for their support, the ANC has reportedly agreed to allocate 12.5% (almost 40) of its parliamentary seats to the SACP – more than this party could ever hope to get had it run on its own. The COSATU leadership apparently gets allocated an even greater proportion of the parliamentary seats. So, now the glue that binds them together has been revealed. But to what extent can these groups’ ideological cause be compromised before they are prepared to break the alliance and forfeit their seats in parliament?

The most interesting aspect of De Klerk’s article is that he seems to have given up all hope in opposition politics. Instead, he believes that opposition to the government will be taken up by civil society: groups like the Treatment Action Campaign and (yes, he actually wrote this) the Afrikanerbond, who are able to effectively challenge the government on specific issues. I must say that this was quite an interesting perspective, and one that may actually unfold, but one has to question how this will affect the political landscape and the institutionalisation of the ANC’s power. It is more likely that the DA (or another opposition party) will try and co-opt these civil society groups and their causes to reinforce their support. In retrospect, this is what happened, with almost all the opposition parties making the provision of anti-retrovirals central to their campaign. Now if they can just be proactive about it and jump on the issues before the civil society groups become more popular than they are.

Blog update

Thanks to Bronwyn and Rethabile for pointing out the SA blog, Fodder. Some insightful comments and a site definitely worth a visit. Sorry I hadn't heard of zablogger earlier.

April 21, 2004

I'm back

Apologies for the complete lack of blogging over the last couple of weeks. Not having a permanent internet connection makes it difficult to keep up with what is going on in the world.

Election comment

I guess one of the main questions that people are asking is: why did the ANC increase its votes so significantly in spite of so much criticism of government performance? As I have said before, I don’t believe that the majority of voters vote on policies; instead they vote on a complex mix of racial, ethnic and historical associations, media portrayal of party leaders, and party advertising. When it comes to whether or not to vote for the ANC, in addition to these factors, voters look to the government’s track-record. Much of the media and the opposition have publicised the government’s failures (like the AIDS debacle and the complete waste of money that is the arms deal), which makes one think that the poor masses would be disillusioned with government performance. However, the ANC focuses on a different set of statistics. Without wanting to sound like too much of and ANC apologist, consider for a moment that between 1994 and 2004, 1.9 million housing subsidies were allocated, 9 million people were provided with water, and in 2003 alone, 2.6 million people accessed social grants. These people are very likely to vote for the hand that feedeth – that’s a hell of a lot of votes. One has to ask the question that if any other party was in power, would delivery of social services amount to this much? I guess this is why many choose to re-elect the ANC, even if it is a case of voting for the devil you know.

If however, one does actually scrutinise party policies, I still think the ANC can justify its support. Economic policy is a significant reason why many people who have traditionally voted for ‘white’ parties switched sides. In terms of policy, the strength of the ANC, I believe, is that it is the only (serious) party not promoting poverty alleviation through trickle-down economics – a strategy that has been shown to have failed in the developing world. Instead it promotes direct spending on social welfare through social grants, housing subsidies, free basic services and significant health and education budgets. One may argue that this is what the DA’s Basic Income Grant was meant to achieve, but this is not sufficient to counter the disastrous effects and exploitation that would be caused by their naïve proposals to deregulate the labour market. The UDM tried to advocate food parcels and tax benefits that aid the poor, but nobody seems to have bitten.

Although the ANC’s move to the centre through GEAR has been shown to be necessary in stabilising the economy and promoting investor confidence in SA, the ANC has realised that a return to the more social agenda of the RDP is what the people want. Promises for (and delivery of) social expenditure win elections. Some commentators allege that the ANC increased its majority because of blind and irrational support based on race politics and deception. This would be to fall into the trap of assuming that the majority of voters are not free to think for themselves. It is ludicrous to allege that the result of the election is ‘dangerous’ or ‘incorrect’; an overwhelming majority of the country has spoken in favour of what the ANC has done, first of all, and secondly, what it still has to offer. A free choice was made. Isn’t this the crux of democracy?

Now to offer my modest speculation about the future of South African politics:

The ANC now seems to have monopolised the centre-left of the political spectrum. The UDM positions itself slightly left of the ANC (if not directly on its toes), but the lack of charisma from Bantu Holomisa is a large part of the reason their message has not been heard (not to mention his apartheid homeland baggage). The ANC has even silenced the far left through the tripartite alliance. Left-wing voters hardly have a credible outlet in the Socialist Party of Azania, Azapo and even the dwindling PAC. The ANC has therefore secured its dominance in that department, for now anyway. How then, might this dominance eventually be broken?

As long as the majority of South Africans remain poor, I cannot see any threat coming from the right of the political spectrum, who, as it stands, essentially look after the interests of the middle-class and business, first and foremost, with a secondary consolation to the poor in order to win votes at election time. I believe a challenge to the ANC has to come from the left. One has already seen a number of flare-ups between the ANC and its tripartite partners, as well as internal divisions between the leadership and those that it labels “leftist radicals”. No doubt these divisions will emerge once again if the ANC ignores its election promises and continues with the neo-liberal economic policies that it adopted post-1999. The result of this could be a move to the left by the ANC (as I have argued before) or the break-up of the tripartite alliance. The latter option could then result in either COSATU going political, or its members throwing their weight behind the SACP. And one must not underestimate the power of COSATU; a membership of 1.2 million, (more than twice the that of the ANC), not to mention the families of all these members, can win you a lot of votes and seriously damage the ANC’s political hegemony.

On a slightly different not, it is somewhat amusing to see President Mbeki quoting George W Bush in this week’s ANC Today newsletter. Although the message is valid enough, I think Mbeki is far too liberal in his choice of people to quote and often doesn’t consider the implicit messages that this sends out. Or does he?

April 02, 2004

Attitude adjustment

A survey of attitudes in South Africa was recently conducted by the Washington Post, the Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University called "South Africa at Ten Years of Democracy". They interviewed 3000 respondents of all race groups on a range of social and political issues and presented the findings according to race group.

One of the most interesting findings was the difference between white and black perceptions around the future of our country. Six out of ten white South Africans believe that the country is heading “in the wrong direction”, while two-thirds of blacks say the opposite. This to me is tragic and represents one of the biggest obstructions to reconcilliation in South Africa: white negativity. I don’t believe that the disillusionment that seems so pervasive is anything to do with new-found material hardship, but is more a result of lost privilege. A friend of mine gave me a graphic example of this the other day. A guy he had met on a game farm in the Limpopo Province was complaining bitterly how “the blacks” had messed up this country and that it was almost impossible to get a job or be successful if you were a white male. My friend quickly pointed out that that he, who drove a double-cab bakkie, had a job, had his own flat in Johannesburg and could afford frequent weekend excursions to his uncle’s private game farm, was far from hard done-by. I would argue that the situation is quite the opposite; whites in South Africa still enjoy an unjustified amount of privilege. The Washington Post report notes that:

“among top managers, whites still outnumber blacks nearly 10 to one, according to government statistics released in 2002. Even among middle managers, whites still comfortably outnumber blacks”

So what are we complaining about? Of course, being on the receiving end of an affirmative action rejection is a hard pill to swallow, but it is a reality that we have to face with an un-blinkered view of where we fit into South African society.

Another interesting statistic from the study was that two out of three South Africans believe that the ANC has “too much” political power. However, four out of ten respondents believed that “sometimes” a strong leader who was not answerable to the electorate was necessary to deal with the problems facing South Africa. I won’t go into what I think about this now, but it is food for thought in the debate about the relevance of democracy in Africa.

Taxi trials

Who said South Africa wasn’t innovative when it comes to solving some of its most vexed problems? Yesterday I saw a billboard advertising the 2004 Cape Town Taxi Awards, offering prizes of up to R20 000. It is certainly a novel way of trying to curb the insane antics of Cape Town taxi drivers, but will it work? I’m not sure what the categories are, or how you enter, but I imagine they include things such as roadworthiness, regularity and road safety – a positive start. On the other hand, they could include prizes for: the most passengers squeezed into an E20; quickest time between Bonteheuwel and the city centre; or most lanes crossed in a single swerve during rush hour. One wonders.