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.
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?