Fourth Post-Apartheid Election In South Africa

This coming Wednesday, April 22nd will mark the fourth post-apartheid national election in South Africa. Long-term readers of this site may recall that I have an interest in following South African politics, partly for reasons of personal interest, but also because I think the similarities with Bermuda are informative.

This election in particular is interesting due to the development of an ANC splinter party, the Congress of the People (Cope). Cope essentially represents the ideology of Mbekism, but from my understanding the rivalry between Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma was little more than that between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, at least in terms of socio-economic ideology. Both Blair and Brown support New Labour, and both Mbeki and Zuma support an affirmative action form of New Labour. The difference between the two is more one of style than substance; Zuma represents himself as a populist charismatic leader, while Mbeki comes across as a more aloof leader – kind of a reversal of Brown and Blair I guess.

The South African Communist Party (SACP) – which makes up part of the Tripartite Alliance that is the ANC, along with the Coalition of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) – has put its support behind the populist Zuma, and was in fact an important factor in his election as ANC leader. I had quoted excerpts from the SACP criticism of Mbekism in the lead up to Zuma’s election – this was more as an indirect critique of Bermudian politics in the run-up to the 2007 election than anything else. I still think that those criticisms have some merit, but I thought I should make it clear that I do not agree with the SACP’s support of Zuma. Ideologically speaking I am much more aligned with the independent social movements known as the Poor People’s Alliance.

The Poor People’s Alliance has some interesting documents relating both to the post-apartheid ANC (see for example this interesting letter from a New Zealand anti-apartheid activist) and I thought readers may be interested in their position regarding the upcoming elections. For the interest of space I am only quoting the excerpts, and advise readers to follow the link to read the full documents:

Pambazuka: Movement-building, the capitalist crisis and the South African elections


The capitalist class in South Africa is clearly not certain about the credentials of the Zuma elite-in-waiting. What is also not helping matters for them, despite re-assurances from Zuma, is the insistence from the ANC’s Alliance partners, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP), that things are going to have to change. And since the ANC’s Polokwane conference in 2007, the capitalists have been confronted with contradictory signals emanating from the elite-in-waiting. No ruling class can afford to have a government in place of which it is not certain that it will do everything necessary for the creation of the conditions for continued capital accumulation, especially in the midst of a systemic crisis. We can thus expect that they are going to do everything possible to ensure that the policies of the previous ANC government under Thabo Mbeki are not going to be sacrificed on the alter of the accumulation frenzy of the petty bourgeoisie marching under the banner of the Zuma elite. Enormous pressure is going to be brought to bear on the Zuma elite to maintain the course of the Mbeki ship. Any serious deviation is going to be met with outright hysteria.

On the other side, amongst significant sections of the poor and working class, there is a certain amount of euphoria that a Zuma presidency is going to usher in the long awaited better life for all. There is renewed hope that changes can come through the ANC and the institutions of bourgeois rule. This hope was ushered in with the developments at the ANC’s Polokwane Conference. Polokwane has been seen (and sold) as the culmination of years of struggle against the neoliberal project of the Mbeki administration. Sections of the poor and working class, under the auspices of organisations allied to the ANC, like COSATU and the SACP, view Polokwane as their victory, as the wrestling back of the ANC from the clutches of the ‘capitalist’ Mbeki faction.

Pambazuka: Why Steve Biko wouldn’t vote

South Africa is on the verge of going to its fourth national election since 1994.[1] The socio-political changes which have occurred in the country for past 15 years point to a dramatic failure to realise the dream of liberation as developed by Steve Biko. Here I develop an argument for why Biko, like so many, would not be voting.


Biko’s idea of liberation is fundamentally anti-racist and anti-capitalist, as opposed to being anti-racialist, non-racialist and intergrationist – these latter conceptions of change naturally lead to the de-racialisation of capitalism and thereby the legitimation of the white supremacist political, economic and social existence created over the last 350 years in South Africa. Biko’s framing of the fundamental contradiction in South Africa as one of white racism emanates from his conception of capitalism as it emerged in the country as an inherently racist project. In his words then:

‘[T]he color question in South African politics was originally introduced for economic reasons. The leaders of the white community had to create some kind of barrier between black and whites so that the whites could enjoy privileges at the expense of blacks and still feel free to give moral justification for the obvious exploitation that pricked even hardest of white consciences.’

For Biko this initial subjugation of black people for economic reason has over time created the ‘white power structure’. This is to mean white racism, while based on the historical dispossession and oppression of blacks, has come to assume a position of relative autonomy, where whiteness normalises itself as a power dynamic based on a superiority complex linked to skin colour on the one hand and the supposed inferiority of blacks on the other. The actual existing circumstances of blacks (historically and systematically created) actually reinforce the reality of this white superiority and black denigration. These propositions are not merely mental states, they are material, and determine life chances and privileges. To be white is to be human as to be black is to be subhuman. Biko sharply makes the point that ‘[t]he racism we meet doesn’t only exist on an individual basis; it is institutionalized to make it look like the South African way of life.’

It must be said that in fact the normalisation of racism is ingrained in the psyches of both whites (the beneficiaries) and blacks (the victims). It was on the recognition of this reality that Biko and his comrades argued for the ‘conscientisation’ of the blacks, because black people at the time ‘often looked like they have given up the struggle’. Key to the conscietisation process was always the totality of black awareness and pride for the purpose of struggle. For Biko, ‘Liberation is of paramount importance in the concept of Black Consciousness, for we cannot be conscious of ourselves and yet remain in bondage’.

Also, for those interested, the SACP has the ANC 2009 Manifesto Policy Framework available, which is worth reading.

I think its clear that the ANC will easily win the elections, although it will be interesting to see how Cope does, and how Cope and the Democratic Alliance work together afterwards. But I do feel that the problems in South Africa will only continue following this election, and we may see some more waves of xenophobia there, although the FIFA World Cup should help to blunt the problems in the short-term.


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