22 September 2008

Thabo's out

So much has happened again. Zimbabwe got its agreement which of course wasn’t important because of the economic crisis. Thabo Mbeki received super props from Zimbabweans but got sacked on the home front and now South Africa has no president. I am not Mbeki’s biggest fan but I am not his hater either. He has done good and not so good things in power, been a statesman and represented at least some part of the nation really well. But his presidency was almost over anyway so I am not really writing about him, but rather, what I think would be the best for the country in my humble opinion; the new kind of opposition.

The main opposition party in South Africa DA (Democratic Alliance) is very white and quite Cape Town. Now I know I live in Cape Town and “being Cape Town” can mean good or bad, but lets just clarify that when it comes to political transformation, this city isn’t exactly the front runner, but somewhere far back still very much denying that there ever was any problems. Possibly because white Capetonians, it seems, fancy themselves as more liberal than rest of the country. This in my books mainly means that they are washing their hands and not taking responsibility as they supposedly didn’t even vote for the apartheid people. I haven’t met one white South African yet who would say they did, yet the Nationalist Party won the elections decade after decade in the whites only elections. This leaves me no option, but as a side note, to assume that dealing with the past, as it goes for the PDI’s (this is an actual acronym for Previously Disadvantaged Individuals), does not concern the previously (and let’s face it still) super privileged people of the same nation.

Of course DA isn’t all Cape Town and surely has some voters elsewhere as well, but I would rather have Mugabe coming to rule South Africa than them because I find DA unfortunately to be very traditional opposition for life party. Its policy is to oppose the government and disagree as dramatically and visibly as possible. Also, I can never see them getting enough support to be anything but a barking dog in a relatively short chain. The truth is that such a white led party cannot at this time lead South Africa purely because the race scars are so deep, not much time has yet passed from the previous white government and that didn’t go too well, and since ethnicity is such a big consideration in the country, the whites, while economically and seemingly generally in their own opinion at least are powerful, in numbers they really aren’t. The rest of the parties in the country’s politics are pushing the agenda that they do, but are smaller.

The official reason ANC NEC (National Executive Committee) gave for Mbeki’s sacking (officially of course asking him to step down) was to unite the party. I think that in order to have a little bit clearer idea of what this may mean, one must try to understand what is ANC. Originally SANNC (South African Native National Congress) was formed 1912 and according to Francis E Meli (This Country Belongs To Us: The History Of ANC, 1989) it was merely a discussion group for academics. Decades later when it was called, as it now is, African National Congress, it went on to be transformed into more direct action by its Youth League lead by Anton Lembede (membership included Mandela, Tambo, Sisulu and Sobukwe). This change was given blessing by Chief Albert Luthuli, then the top man of the party. Fast forward into more recent times. The party negotiated the democracy for the nation and Mandela became the first democratically elected president. This extremely short history doesn’t do justice to the movement that has done so much, but what’s important is that it was a liberation movement. It was a home for all kinds of people who opposed apartheid from communist to church leaders and goers and from academics to peasants. All of its members were brought together by their common enemy. While South Africa has been going through the delicate process of transformation so has the ANC; from liberation movement to a governing party.

In South Africa the ordinary voters get to vote only for the party and after the election the winners have the mandate to do as they see fit. ANC’s Secretary General Gwede Mantasha said in a TV interview (Interface, SABC 3, 21.09.08) that it is a great system because then the party will always be responsible, but I can’t see it that way. I try, but I can’t. Because a party is not a person. It’s no one in specific. It is group of people who may change as has happened since the ANC actually was given the mandate last time by the voters. It baffles me really. I guess the party has such a great history that no one wants to leave, but a voter in South Africa is still, fourteen years after the first elections, asked to give their vote to a group that consists of communist and business tycoons and everyone in between. From Billionaire to shack dweller quite literally. Seems a bit broad to me, and when they say that the decision to ask Mbeki to step down was to unite the party, then I am not sure if that many kinds of people should even be in one party. Not at least if the electoral system is as it is here. You know, just for the poor voters sake. So now, what was it that I was thinking could happen.

Well, if the approximately 40 % of the party members that stood behind Mbeki (or possibly just against Zuma) in Polokwane meeting would do the unthinkable and break away. I feel that it would make the democratic process a little bit more functional as the parties would have their own characteristics and one maybe would be more left and other right and so on and so forth. Voter would have an idea what they are voting for. There’s been distinct quietness and mysterious air around some of these matters and if something happens soon, it wouldn’t be all that shocking surprise to me. Of course anything can happen, but I doubt this party would win the elections; I only hope they would create a respectable and intelligent opposition that represent the nation and drives the government to their best effort. Keeps them on their toes so to speak. Right now the problem of the country seems to be that the leading party can do what it wishes because the opposition is nothing much to be feared.

Well, what will happen will happen, and I must admit that all this is an outsider’s speculation. I don’t even have a vote here, and it would be arrogant from me to say how things should go and that really isn’t what I am after. I also understand that I can never understand political struggle on an experiential level. To me, fortunately, it is just a concept. I have understood that the uniting power of such experience should never be underestimated. That may mean that break away is not realistic, and that is understandable. Also, leaving the Mandela party, the one that according to the history books at least (which may have been written by them as the victorious people get to do) gave people their freedom, doesn’t sound like a sensible thing to do. It can go either way. I cannot wait to see how this actually pans out.

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