Saturday, December 01, 2012

South Africa: Will any of the current South African opposition parties rule South Africa one day?

Source: ISS

Will any of the current South African opposition parties rule South Africa one day?

Hamadziripi Tamukamoyo, Researcher and Gareth Newham, Head, Governance, Crime and Justice Division, ISS Pretoria Office

South African opposition parties have been in a triumphant mood this week as they have claimed two ‘victories’ over the African National Congress (ANC). First the High Court judgement confirming that an opposition party motion for a no-confidence vote in President Jacob Zuma should be debated in the National Assembly ‘within a reasonable time’. This after the ANC had initially tried to prevent such a debate from happening at all. Then the ANC was forced to withdraw legislation that would eventually lead to the roll-out of the deeply unpopular ‘e-tolling’ on national roads in Gauteng. Democratic Alliance (DA) spokesperson Mmusi Maimane lauded the two incidents as an indication of the possible ‘realignment of politics’ in South Africa. This raises the question as to whether opposition parties are correct to predict a fundamental shift in the political landscape where the dominance of the ANC can be effectively challenged.

Over the past few months South Africans have witnessed a gamut of events that in more mature constitutional democracies would most likely have resulted in a change of power, if not the resignation and prosecution of senior government officials. A few recent incidents include:
  • The Marikana tragedy on 16 August, in which 34 striking mine workers were shot dead by the police. These shootings were both preceded and followed by a series of events that exposed a considerable weakness on the part of the ANC leadership to prevent or respond appropriately to the immense tragedy, termed simply a ‘mishap’ by President Zuma.
  • ‘Nkandlagate’, the scandal involving the upgrade of President Zuma’s private residence to the tune of R248 million. Recent evidence leaked to the media reveals that President Zuma was fully apprised of these unnecessary and extravagant developments in spite of his attempts before parliament to obfuscate the matter.  
  • The Limpopo textbook scandal, in which the government repeatedly failed to ensure the delivery of books to schools in the province well into the second half of the year and despite court orders to do so. Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga stated that the failed delivery of books was neither a ‘scandal’ nor a ‘crisis’.
  • The police headquarters lease scandal, involving R1,7 billion. National Police Commissioner Bheki Cele and Public Works Minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinda were dismissed from their posts following two separate inquiries that found they had acted unlawfully. However, President Zuma has to date failed to launch criminal investigations against these disgraced politicians for alleged corruption, as recommended by a judicial board of inquiry. Mahlangu-Nkabinda remains a Member of Parliament and continues to draw a state salary.
  • Four of the five most senior officials elected by the ANC to administer the Northern Cape have been implicated in fraud and corruption scandals. This has resulted in criminal charges being laid against political heavyweight and Finance MEC John Block.  Despite being out on bail of R50 000 he was allowed to present the provincial budget this week on behalf of the ANC.
  • Data collected by the Public Service Commission shows that in the two years since President Zuma was sworn in in 2009/10, the cost of financial misconduct committed by public servants increased by 169%, rising to R932 million in the 2010/11 financial year and projected to surpass R1 billion in 2011/12.
These are but a few of the many examples of misconduct by President Zuma and those he appointed in government to ensure a ‘better life for all’. In his recent book Zuma Exposed, investigative journalist Adriaan Basson meticulously and in great detail explains how the Zuma presidency can be summed up in three short points: ‘bad decisions, bad judgement and bad leadership choices’.

Of course it does not have to be this way. South Africa could easily be on a different course that builds on the many significant improvements ushered in by the advent of a constitutional democracy. These achievements include a world-class constitution with a strong Bill of Human Rights, an independent judiciary, regular transparent elections and an extensive social grants system benefiting some 15 million South Africans. These are by no means small achievements and ironically they are in place because of the ANC. However, weaknesses in how the ANC selects leaders have ushered in what Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has described as a ‘predatory elite’ more concerned with the spoils that state power brings than the responsibilities that come with it.

It is clear that South Africans are moving beyond the post-apartheid euphoria and, as a result of its ongoing governance failures, the ANC’s credentials as a liberation movement are starting to wear thin. For instance, it emerged from the latest census that 1,32 million youths between the ages of 20 and 24 are unemployed and some 417 000 have given up looking for employment. With every passing election the ‘born-free’ youthful cohort will be making political choices based on current challenges rather than past glories.

Given that the ANC’s national conference takes place this year, it would be fair to expect that most branch members would be more than ready to introduce new leadership in an effort to save both the party and the country. Indeed, there is little to demonstrate that in the past five years progress has been made in addressing the high levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality threatening the future prosperity of the country. Of course, a dramatic change in the leadership of the ANC may still take place, given that many in the party are deeply disappointed by the failings of the current leadership. However, change looks unlikely at present as many of the ANC’s structures, as well as its alliance partners, support the status quo either for their narrow short-term benefit or in the belief that party unity is more important than reform.

While this sorry state of affairs may assist the established political opposition to grow, it remains to be seen whether this will be enough for them to unseat the ANC in the future. While support for the ruling party is waning, it is not necessarily translating into votes for existing opposition parties. The most notable consequence is a growing self-disenfranchised population who simply do not vote. The simple reason is that there is no credible opposition political party at present that clearly articulates the concerns and aspirations of the poor and lower working classes. This space is still occupied by the ANC, and it is failing to deliver. As a result, over 12 million people ‘punished’ the ANC in the past national election by withholding their vote, rather than transferring it to another political party.

The most likely way in which the ANC could be dislodged in the near future, would be if an inclusive, left-wing, labour-orientated political party was to emerge with a focus on improving the lives of the poor. This may come about in a number of ways. It may emerge through various grassroots social movements coalescing into a new political party. The big challenge for these groups will be to organise disparate and locally focused communities into a coherent national political party. Another scenario could see COSATU or one of its larger, more worker-orientated affiliates breaking away from the ANC if it starts to lose too much electoral support. The unions are already organised nationally and would prove a potent counter-balance to the ANC for those seeking an alternative. The unions will have to choose relatively soon though, because the longer they are associated with the failings of the ANC the less likely they are to present a credible alternative. The mass resignations from the NUM in the platinum and gold mining industry will put the pressure on.
Whatever happens, though, South Africans are in for interesting times.