[Source: Daily Maverick by Marianne Merten.]
There’s been a lot of talk of introspection, lessons learnt, going back to the drawing board and all that from the ANC since the South African electorate from the metros, dorpies to rural areas delivered a resounding snotklap to the party that proclaims itself “leader of society”. This humble-sounding chatter may well hit all the right notes of spin, but at the same time the ANC displayed the behaviour that shows why the governing elite is taken with an increasingly large pinch of salt by an increasing number of citizens, including ANC supporters.
The reaction of ANC Women’s League president Bathabile “smallanyana skeletons” Dlamini, who is also Social Development Minister, and her fellow women ministers, Lindiwe Zulu and Nomvula “We don’t want your dirty votes” Mokonyane, was telling after the #RememberKhwezi silent protest to highlight the prevalence, and normalisation, of sexual violence against women.
They ganged up to focus on the “disrespect” shown to President Jacob Zuma, according to the Sunday Times and other reports. Apologies were demanded from the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) alongside official investigations into security lapses.
She who leads the ANC women chose to politick, using the narrative the governing party has deployed so often in its quest to absolve itself from, well, just about everything that does not fit its “good story” line that it has become a cliché: it was a ploy by the Economic Freedom Fighters.
As if the four young women do not have agency or choice to pick their own battles and priorities.
Note to the trio of women ministers: regardless of Women’s Day and Women’s Month, women’s empowerment is not about numbers in government, or business. Even if you chose to dismiss non-governmental organisations’ (NGOs) research that one in three South African women experiences sexual violence in their life time because it does not fit into the “good story” line, take heed of the latest available SAPS official statistics released in September last year.
A total of 53,617 cases of sexual offences were reported in the 2014/15 financial year – or 147 each and every day between 1 April 2014 and 31 March 2015. And that’s only the cases that were officially reported by those courageous enough to do so in South Africa’s generally chauvinistic patriarchal outlook and those with the resources to make it to a police station, which in many areas are not readily accessible.
And a specific note to Zulu, who reportedly particularly got hot under the collar about the “disrespect”. Eggs have been successfully lobbed at various British prime ministers in office, including David Cameron, and those out-of-office like Tony Blair. On a 2008 visit to Iraq US president George W Bush had to dodge a shoe thrown at him. And who can forget how in December 2009 then Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi had his nose and some teeth broken when a protester’s heavy object hit its mark.
#RememberKhwezi was a peaceful (and powerful) protest against sexual violence against women – and protected under South Africa’s Bill of Rights. Section 17 states: “Everyone has the right, peacefully and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket and to present petitions.”
Get used to that, even if it is uncomfortable. And that also goes for State Security Minister David Mahlobo, who seems to play an increasing role in policing, rather than his assigned portfolio of intelligence.
Referring to the protesters as “the four girls”, the state security minister on Sunday promised further investigations into security breaches. He was less forthcoming about the pre-polling day arrest of three activists at Vuwani, Limpopo. “These people were breaching the law… These individuals were nabbed,” he said, adding that as the high court had been approached, the process would now have to unfold.
Eyewitness News last week quoted acting SAPS national commissioner Lieutenant-General Khomotso Phahlane as saying, “They were arrested because of the irresponsible conduct, trying to intimidate people, trying to say elections are not going to take place in Vuwani and we consider that to be a violation of the law.”
South Africans can now be arrested for “irresponsible conduct” rather than on the basis of breaking an actual law? This is perhaps the clearest public indication yet that the police, like their intelligence counterparts, increasingly protect the interests of the ANC-controlled state.
The four women #RememberKhwezi protesters made a choice, a very public one. Despite intimidation, death threats and intimidation, so have others such as the Vuwani activists, Durban’s Abahlali baseMjondolo, the Xolobeni anti-mining campaigners, and each and every community countywide which protested against shoddy, or undelivered, basic services, often after previous attempts to raise grievances through meetings and petitions fell on the deaf ears of those who hold public elected office.
In the privacy of the voting booths, millions of South Africans made their choice.
While full analysis of voting patterns is a work in progress, some numbers already tell a distinctive story. The ANC’s polling support nationally dropped to 53.9% from 62%.
The number of ballots cast for the ANC dropped to 16,103,206 votes against the 16,548,826 it received in the 2011 local government elections. In contrast, the DA got 1.7-million more votes – or 8,053,502 against the 2011 polling support of 6,393,886 ballots – upping its support by just short of three percentage points to 26.89%. And the EFF in its first municipal poll picked up over a million votes compared to the 2014 national and provincial elections: with 2,448,493 votes it reached 8.2% support in councils countrywide.
There’s been some funny mathematics from ANC Deputy Secretary-General Jessie Duarte, and spin to emphasise that the ANC won 176 councils against nil by the EFF and the DA’s 24 councils.
But this hides the ever so vital nuances. The ANC lost outright control of the executive capital, Pretoria (Tshwane), the country’s economic heartland, Johannesburg, and the industrial centre of the Eastern Cape, Nelson Mandela Bay.
And ANC support in rural areas outside KwaZulu-Natal also dropped in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Free State and North West. The drop in North West has been particularly brutal – to 59.38% from 74.03% in 2011 – as the repercussions of the August 2012 police killing of 34 miners continues to play out.
The Marikana police killings, like the Nkandla scandal, and a series of damning Auditor-General findings on local government finances or those Public Protector reports on improper state conduct have been part of the public discourse for years. Poor South Africans are poor, desperately so, but not lacking in agency.
Did it really need a damning local government election verdict for the ANC to start talking of lessons learnt? It’s not like there have not been opportunities to “self-correct”, a key thematic in the ANC’s mythologising of itself.
Take the Nkandla scandal. For about three years the governing ANC manipulated parliamentary and government processes to protect Zuma. Despite public concern expressed by ANC veterans and stalwarts, alongside several Gauteng ANC branches, the party’s top national structures decided to accept Zuma’s “apology” for the frustration and confusion post the Constitutional Court ruling upholding the Public Protector’s binding powers.
Throughout, the ANC narrative that labelled its critics as oppositional and gunning for regime change gained ground. Zuma dismissed as “clever blacks” those black, professional and urban middle classes who voiced concern, even if it was ANC policies that helped their upward mobility. There seemed to be a belief that the ANC’s strongholds, usually referred to as “the masses of our people” in township wards and rural areas, would continue to carry the governing party. Not so.
But it’s not just about Zuma, or the scandals associated with him, even if under his party presidency the ANC in 2009 lost its two-thirds majority in Parliament and continues to drop in the barometer of elections. And in the measure of membership numbers, for that matter.
It is about the impact of patronage politics whose tentacles frequently cross the line into governance. Not only over tenders or tolerance of shoddy governance by those deemed anointed, but also in legislative proposals like the Traditional Courts Bill and others whose effect would be to recreate bantusans where traditional leaders hold all the power.
It’s about the acquiescence acquired in return for a seat at the top table from, for example, labour federation Cosatu, whose majority public sector union membership is intent on not rocking the boat.
Broadly speaking, this municipal poll showed ANC supporters stayed away from the hustings, or gave one or all of their multiple municipal votes to different parties.
Forced into a reality check, the ANC now talks of introspection. It has done so before. And the actions of Dlamini & Co showed that the talk is just that – talk. The women ministers, including ANC Women’s League members, dissed a peaceful protest by women on the very real and grim reality of sexual violence against women. Instead they closed ranks around a powerful male politician, and invoked the instruments of state, the law enforcement agencies, against the protesters.
The lesson from that? Factional and other interests remain deeply entrenched.
58 780 000 (mid 2018 estimate)
4.5% y/y in June 2019 (CPI) & +5.8 y/y in June 2019 (PPI)
-3.2% q/q (1st quarter of 2019)
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