Monday, March 24, 2014

Is President Zuma really to blame for everything?

Letter to Business Day March 24 2014
Sir -
Your leader, 'Nkandla reports just not the same' (March 20), shows admirable good sense and self-control in the face of very considerable provocation, except that it should by now be clearly wrong to claim, or to accept, that this is 'really all about JZ.'

Nkandla, nothing more than the most egregious abuse among a great number of abuses, is about one-party rule and the sense of impunity it breeds; it is about cultural deference to the prince or chief; it is about the lack of professional training and standards of SA's public servants; it is about the lingering belief in the liberation party's entitlement.

Above all, it is about the absence of a democratic alternative to the ANC in a society that is not democratized and will return the party to power again.
The last condition is the most intractable and the best hope is that Nkandla will help to speed up change.

Friday, March 14, 2014

South Africa Elections 2014: why there won't be a political realignment

We hear a great deal from the Democratic Alliance, SA’s official opposition, about the need for a 'political realignment' in South Africa and how it is the party's intention to lead one. Indeed, until the fiasco of the DA-AgangSA marriage, we were being asked to believe the coming elections were to be the occasion for it.

It is worth looking at that, not in terms of figures and past percentages of votes, which are always arguable, but purely as an idea.

In Business Day on March 10, analyst Aubrey Matshiqi proposed what a political realignment means. He said it must entail 'a dramatic change in the electoral balance and system'. In other words it must be something altogether more significant than some new party or even a number of new parties coming onto the scene.

That has the ring of truth about it. There are said to be well over one hundred parties registered for the forthcoming elections, yet no one really believes there is going to be a realignment in our politics in May 2014. The ANC is widely expected to be returned to power as usual, with perhaps over 60% of the vote again, along with many of the party's tried, though not necessarily trusted, names.

Faced with this petrified politics, a long cherished view has been that realignment would come through the ANC eventually 'splitting', though how the break up would break down in terms of class, policy, ethnicity, or psychology, is not explained. Fair enough. Firm predictions are always hostages to fortune.

But that does not make it unreasonable to insist that a split in the ANC at some time is a prerequisite for change because of the party's historic claim to the majority, its dominance of the broad centre in SA politics. That centre, like all political centres, is what social order depends on. By its nature, it is not radicalized. Radical parties of the right and left never enjoy majority, centre support, except at the muzzle of a gun.

If, when and however a realigning split in the ANC happens then, it cannot happen in isolation. To prevail, the new centre would also have to draw support from what may be called the current DA 'centre' and/or any other 'centre voters' to be found or won. If it did not, the new ‘fragments’ of the ANC, whatever their differences, would simply strike a deal and the situation would be much as it has been up to now: a party of the broad church governing through consensus - as President Zuma  complacently assures us, till Jesus comes again.

For now, though very little is certain in politics, and nothing permanent, those who like to know where they stand can relax. The chances of our political-world-changing split have receded as a shaken but not stirred ANC closes ranks before the polls and the DA realizes it cannot manage a realignment on its own or even muster the coalition it was canvassing just a few months back.

For the future, however, we have to imagine a different political scenario from any presented in this election - to look beyond the current ruling ANC and DA official opposition, the peripheral EFF, Cope and AgangSA, as being the main actors in it.

And, incidentally, Numsa forming a radical party would result in a stronger centre too, which is why the rebellious Cosatu unions are far too canny to commit to it.