South Africa’s Final Stretch to Democracy

Tuesday, April 21, 2009.

Rejoice Ngwenya, Pretoria

Nelson Mandela(TL),F.W. De Clerk (TR), Thabo Mbeki(BL), Jacob Zuma(BR) South Africa holds its fourth post-apartheid election tomorrow. How much substance is the media prepared to give to the elections? And do the presidential aspirants merit suche  rar public largesse?

South Africa holds its fourth post-apartheid election tomorrow. Being an important economy within Africa and to other regions of the world, one should have expected the same media frenzy that charaterised previous  elections to be more than ever present, not least because the next FIFA World soccer tournament will be held in South Africa.

Barack Obama’s lightning world tours, Somalia’s pirate attacks, Zimbabwe’s Government of National Unity and a host of other attention-grabbing world events have taken the vigor out of the intrigues surrounding this vital election. Besides, characters like Jacob Zuma and his controversial hangers-on and Nelson Mandela have not stopped making news, so before we know it, the world would have been completely oblivious to the fact that for once in Southern Africa, elections can be after all, be free, fair and entertaining!  

But there also seems to be citizen’s interest fatigue in politics. It has fallen to its lowest ebb, such that no one wants to care any more.  My feeling is that just like in Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, citizens are more obsessed with political brand names than individual value addition. The late Zimbabwe vice-president and nationalist Simon Muzenda is alleged to have once told supporters at a rally that even if ZANU-PF (his ruling party) fielded a baboon, the primate would still win! So does it not matter that the wheels of justice have been deflated when the National Prosecuting Authority drops charges of corruption against Jacob Zuma? The answer in Pretoria is short and curt: who wants to know?

It would appear however, that only mischief makers gastronomically aligned to the ruling ANC have managed to, albeit negatively, sustained local interest.  

One such character is Julius, the fiery leader of African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) who ironically hails a stone throw from Zimbabwe’s Limpopo River and has proved that throwing political stones at political big wigs is another day’s work. And he has an opposite number, Mbazima Shilowa, the ‘genius’ behind the emergence of ANC’s most daring political competitor, Congress of the People (COPE)

And Julius has said all there is to say; killing for Zuma, two thirds majority for ANC, faked African dancing of one politician or another. He has also accused Inkatha Freedom Party’s (IFP) octogenarian leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi of hanging too long in the game.  And so
by now, the boyish protagonist is awaiting two outcomes – at least according to a waiter at a nearby Pretoria hotel – an outright win for ANC or his own ‘expulsion’ from ACNYL executive committee.  Reports, suggest that Andile Lungisa and woman youth activist Vuyiswa Tulelo are keen to replace the motor-mouth Julius who they say has spoiled the good image of ANCYL.  As if good image counted in African politics.  But views from the Tshwane streets are that it will take more than just charisma and high moral ground to ‘depose’ Julius.

Whatever the outcome of tomorrow’s elections, Julius is assured a job, thanks to the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), a form of socialized quota to even the unbalanced labour market.  Most analysts agree however that South Africa’s glaring income disparities have become more distinct even where the black government claims it is successful. If anything, opposition contestants like Helen Zille of the Democratic Alliance(DA), COPE’s Mvume Dandala, Democratic Alliance’s Helen Zille, Inkatha Freedom Party’s(IFP) Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Independent Democrats’s Patricia de Lille and United Democratic Movement’s(UDM) Bantu Holomisa  have at one time or other insisted that BEE is the password to wealth for a few ANC cronies like Tokyo Sexwale and Cyril Ramaphosa.

Worse still, when one is confronted with statistics that more than two-thirds of the South African population is considered poor, while those who live in shanty towns from Cape Town to Musina could as well even outnumber Zimbabwe’s entire population, BEE’s ‘success’ becomes just another term in the self-delusive game of pretense that politics solves everything. Certainly not in the case of the ordinary South African,  who apart from being unemployed will have to grapple with poor public education and rising levels of violence and HIV Aids.

And so after South Africa’s electoral protagonists have so far spent nearly R400 million [USD40 million] on the campaign trail, will it be ANC’s Jacob Zuma, COPE’s Mvume Dandala, DA’s Helen Zille, IFP’s Mangosuthu Buthelezi, ID’s Patricia de Lille, UDM’s Bantu Holomisa  ruling the political roost after Wednesday? Only ballot papers will tell.

Rejoice Ngwenya is director of Coalition for Liberal Market Solutions in Harare and an affiliate of