South Africa’s democracy faces scrutiny amid ANC’s controversial choices - Biznews

Mar 17, 2024
By far the greatest measure of democracy is the ability of the people to kick out the ruling party in a free election. In South Africa, we have that ability. If opposition parties acting together get more votes than the ANC on 29 May, the ANC will be kicked out of government. It will step down. This demonstrates more than anything else that we live in a true democracy.
South Africa’s democracy faces scrutiny amid ANC’s controversial choices - Biznews

The ability of the people to kick out the ruling party in a free election is the greatest measure of democracy. In South Africa, if opposition parties get more votes than the ANC on 29 May, the ANC will be kicked out of government. However, the ANC allows this despite its admiration for dictatorships like Zimbabwe, Iran, and Russia, which have sham elections and make it impossible for the electorate to kick out the rulers. The current election campaign consists of dreary rubbish, with party manifestos offering vague promises of jobs, peace, prosperity, electricity, and running water. Elections around the world are hardly much better, and people vote mainly by religion, race, and identity. The one overwhelming advantage in a true democracy is that voters can kick the bastards out.

Andrew Kenny

By far the greatest measure of democracy is the ability of the people to kick out the ruling party in a free election. In South Africa, we have that ability. If opposition parties acting together get more votes than the ANC on 29 May, the ANC will be kicked out of government. It will step down. This demonstrates more than anything else that we live in a true democracy.

But why does the ANC allow this when it loves dictatorships such as Zimbabwe, Iran and Russia, which have sham elections and where it is impossible for the electorate to kick out the rulers? In August 2023, President Ramaphosa, grinning with delight, rushed over to Zimbabwe to congratulate President Mnangagwa on “winning” yet another blatantly fraudulent election, where there was not the slightest chance of the ruling party being kicked out. Yet Ramaphosa is about to hold a democratic election here where he might get kicked out. Why? Why doesn’t the ANC ban opposition parties as they do in Iran and Rwanda? Why doesn’t it rig elections as they do in Zimbabwe, Russia and Iran? Why does it allow a free press to comment freely on our election as would never be allowed in Zimbabwe and Iran – countries the ANC admires so much?

Our present election campaign consists almost entirely of dreary rubbish. Either the campaigning politicians are stupid in expecting people to believe the stupid nonsense they spout, or the people themselves are stupid enough to believe the stupid nonsense, or both. The party manifestos all offer variations of the same vague promises of jobs, peace, prosperity, electricity and running water, and none of them offers the simple ways of bringing these about. None of this matters very much. Elections around the world are hardly much better. Nobody reads the election manifestos. Nobody believes the politicians. People seldom vote on policies anyway. They vote mainly by religion, race and identity. It is true that a good performance by a party in government, delivering good services, will win it votes at the next election, but this effect is limited. ANC voters leave the Eastern Cape ruled by the ANC to get better services from the DA in the Western Cape, and then vote for the ANC at the next election. However, all of this is less important than whether or not the voters can get rid of a government they don’t like. The one overwhelming advantage in a true democracy is that we can kick the bastards out.

It is interesting that so many dictatorships are keen to be seen as democracies, and want the world to believe that their sham elections are actually free elections. The ANC is anxious to help them maintain this fiction. In Zimbabwe, President Mugabe and President Mnangagwa lost every election since 2000, but used fraud and terror to give the illusion they had won them. For every one of these sham elections, the ANC was always there to congratulate the tyrant. In the 2008 election, Zanu-PF and Robert Mugabe lost by a landslide. So Mugabe called in the ANC, then led by Thabo Mbeki, to help him stay in power by murdering, torturing and beating up people who had voted against him. The ANC was happy to oblige. There was fearful brutality and bloodletting in the land, and the worst victims were, as usual in Zimbabwe, poor black people. But Mugabe kept his power. The only way he could be overthrown was by a military coup, which happened in 2017. (The ANC were happy to recognise sham elections in Zimbabwe and also happy to recognise a military coup. The ANC is easy to please when it deals with tyrants.)

Iran is another grim dictatorship with sham elections. In Iran, there were 834 executions in 2023, some of them public, some of them of women. Women are oppressed by the “morality police” if they don’t cover their faces properly, and any unrest is put down in the most brutal fashion. A 16-year-old girl, Armita Geravand, was declared brain dead after being assaulted by the morality police for not wearing a headscarf. She was one of many such cases. Iran supports and finances Hamas, and probably ordered them to attack Israel on 7 October, killing over a thousand Israelis, mainly civilians. Naturally the ANC loves the Iranian regime, and there was a strong rumour that Iran had sponsored the ANC’s ICJ case against Israel. This month Iran held another of its sham elections, where the leading opposition parties were banned. I’m waiting to hear that someone from the ANC, probably Dr Naledi Pandor or President Ramaphosa, has congratulated the Iranian dictatorship on its splendid election victory.

Russia too is holding a sham election now. Why does the ANC allow free and fair elections?

It certainly isn’t because of any inherent love of liberty and democracy by the ANC. The ANC of 1912 certainly did believe in liberty and democracy. The ANC of 1978 certainly did not. It believed in getting power by force and terror. It waged war against poor black civilians in the townships and rural areas, smashing all other black parties, beating up and even murdering black people who defied it in any way at all. It used necklacing, the roasting to death of victims by lighting a petrol-filled tyre around their necks, to spread fear. (During this time, the ANC skilfully used Nelson Mandela, a real democrat safely sealed away in prison, as a saintly front man to disguise its brutal intentions.) When apartheid ended, with President de Klerk’s famous speech in February 1990, and the ANC was unbanned and Nelson Mandela released, it was clear that a black party would come to power in a fully democratic election. Since the ANC was fighting for power, not freedom, it increased its violent attacks on black rivals. It won the 1994 election by a landslide, having eliminated all potential black opponents. But now its democratic hold on power is slipping away, and it is unlikely to win enough votes in May to rule on its own – and maybe not enough to rule at all. If it used violence and terror to come to power, why doesn’t it use violence and terror to hold on to power now?

I think the answer is it can’t. A comparison with Zimbabwe is revealing. Full democracy came to Zimbabwe in 1980, to South Africa in 1994. Zimbabwe was then mainly a rural country, with an economy based on farming but with a small, rather good industrial and mining sector. South Africa was a developed industrial country, with a high urban population. In Africa, as in all parts of the world where tribal differences are conspicuous, people at first vote mainly according to their tribe. In Zimbabwe there are two main tribes, the Shona, consisting of about four-fifths of the population, and the Ndebele, about one-fifth. In 1980, the Shona voted overwhelmingly for Robert Mugabe’s ZANU party, the Ndebele for Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU. In South Africa, no one tribe predominates in number. The Zulus are the biggest tribe but only consist of about a quarter of the population.

One of Mugabe’s first acts upon coming to power was to organise Operation Gukurahundi, the carefully planned mass murder of Ndebele people in Matabeleland. Nominally it was to combat isolated acts of terror, but actually it was to teach the Ndebele a lesson for voting against him. At least 20,000 and probably over 40,000 Ndebele men, women, children and unborn babies were systematically slaughtered by Mugabe’s death squads, supervised by minister Mnangagwa. No such instrument of terror is available to the ANC to dissuade people from voting against it, nor are the tribal conditions of South Africa amenable to it. There is no dominant tribe to compare with the Shona; there is no identifiable victim tribe to compare with the Ndebele, and the ANC does not have highly trained death squads.

In all elections after 2000, Mugabe and Mnangagwa used the police and the army to break up opposition rallies, crush press freedom, force people to attend endless ZANU rallies, and beat up or kill people suspected of voting the wrong way. In a failing economy, with starving people, 90% unemployment and mass poverty, the policemen and soldiers knew that their livelihoods depended on keeping Mugabe and Mnangagwa in power. The Zimbabwe army was always given top priority in training, salaries and weapons, and so became a formidable force for intimidation and oppression. No such forces exist in South Africa. Our police are useless and our armed forces are falling apart, becoming a sick joke. Neither has the loyalty to the ANC that their counterparts in Zimbabwe have to ZANU. Because the ANC won the first few elections comfortably, it became complacent and neglected to build up forces of terror to keep itself in power if it lost an election. It is too late to do so now.

When Mugabe lost the 2007 election, he could rely on South Africa to keep himself in power. If the ANC loses in May, whom can it call upon? Iran? Russia? I doubt either would be interested. Perhaps the Wagner group of Russian mercenaries could help, but only if the ANC gave it a lot of money.

I think it is the same with press freedom. In the struggle years, most of our English-speaking press supported the ANC, opposed the apartheid government, and was overwhelmingly in favour of Mandela. It mainly shunned criticism or even mention of necklacing and other ANC terror. When the ANC came to power, the English press supported it over all opposition parties for many years. Then ANC corruption, destruction and incompetence became too much for it. The few public voices who did criticise the ANC in the early days were easily shouted down as “racists” and “right-wingers”, and as evil people wanting to bring back apartheid and white privilege and so on. Unlike in Zimbabwe, South African newspapers, until recently, presented no threat to the ANC’s election chances. So it had no need to shut them down. It’s too late to do so now, and anyway our newspapers are disintegrating of their own accord.

Probably the main reason voters change their vote is because they change themselves. Urban voters vote differently from rural voters. When country people move into the cities, they change the way they vote. The ANC’s most solid vote comes from black people in the countryside. When these people move to urban areas, they tend to stop voting for the ANC. This trend was even more pronounced in Zimbabwe. Apartheid ended in South Africa primarily because the white electorate changed. As I found out when I was campaigning for the Progressive Party (of Helen Suzman) in Cape Town in the 1960s, the poorer the white household, the more likely it was to vote for the National Party of apartheid. The white workers were overwhelmingly in favour of apartheid; the white professionals, the white bourgeoisie, were most likely to oppose it. Under apartheid, the whites became richer, better educated, more professional and therefore more liberal and more opposed to apartheid. Both regimes, apartheid and ANC, had the paradoxical effect of losing the support of the people they helped most. When white people benefited from apartheid, they were more likely to oppose it; when black people benefit under ANC rule, they are more likely to oppose it, unless, of course, they are public servants dependent on its state patronage.

South Africa is in dire straits. The economy is collapsing, the infrastructure is in ruins, the education system fails most of our children, inequality and violence are among the highest in the world, and our unemployment is far higher than that of any comparable developing company. The ANC can be blamed for nearly all of this. But we are a genuine democracy. The ruling party can be thrown out of office by the voters on 29 May 2024. Can we thank the ANC for passing this supreme test of democracy? To a limited extent, yes. There are one or two decent, genuine democrats in the ranks of the ANC. But mainly we owe our democracy to ANC complacency rather than decency. By its support for dictators and for sham elections in Zimbabwe, Iran and Russia, the ANC has shown its disregard for true democracy – but it didn’t disregard it enough to crush it here.

Andrew Kenny is a writer, an engineer and a classical liberal

This article was first published on the Daily Friend.

South Africa’s democracy faces scrutiny amid ANC’s controversial choices - Biznews

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