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22 August 2014 19:31 (South Africa)
South Africa

Analysis: So, has the game changed? It may very well have.

  • Stephen Grootes
  • South Africa
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In most democracies, you have to be careful when the leader of the main opposition party claims that a certain announcement is a "game-changer" for that state's politics. It is usually hyperbole. It can lead certain newspapers and television stations, and the odd radio bulletin, but it doesn't normally amount to very much. Come to think of it, when sitting presidents say the same thing, that often doesn't amount to very much more. However, the DA's recruitment/renting/retention of Mamphela Ramphele as its presidential candidate is certainly part of a much bigger dynamic within our politics around race and class. But, at the same time, the split within Cosatu and the possible formation of a workers' party is a manifestation of the same processes. Where will it all end? STEPHEN GROOTES makes an early guess.

There are moments of forthright honesty in our politics. Sometimes, it's in an ANC policy discussion document, and sometimes it's Helen Zille in the middle of a major "game-changing" announcement. When asked, quite bluntly on Tuesday, if Ramphele was now the DA's presidential candidate simply because she was black, there was no denial. "It's not just because she's black," went the line - it's because of the qualities she has, and the fact that she's black. In other words, she's a fine, good, upstanding leader, and she is black. Implicit in that reply, is the fact that being black, in this case, is a very good thing.

And of course it is. Zille is right to proclaim that this removes some of the sting of the ANC's accusations against the DA. It is going to be quite difficult for the ANC's foot soldiers to claim that the DA wants to bring back Apartheid, when it has some hurriedly produced posters of Ramphele on every lamp post in every urban area near you.

What the DA is hoping for is that the contrast of Ramphele versus Number One of Nkandla will prove too much for up-until-now loyal black middle-class voters. Zille is hoping that Ramphele in some way will push them over the edge and towards her party. Or, to put it another way, she is well aware that over a million people voted for Cope in 2009, and she's hoping every single one for of them will vote for her, through her new proxy. (As the ANC will no doubt put it.)

That may well be the case. But it's not actually the political story of 2014. The political story of this year, barring any major shocks in the elections, is surely the split within Cosatu, and the formation, by NUMSA, of a workers’ party.

On Wednesday, the nine unions who wrote to Cosatu president S'dumo Dlamini asking for a special congress to decide what should happen with suspended Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi held a joint press conference. Just the fact this even happened is an indication of how bloody annoyed they all are. It's been several months since they demanded that conference, and crossed the threshold set out in Cosatu's constitution. Dlamini of course, hasn't moved. And he isn't going to. Which means these unions may have to leave Cosatu.

It's important to remember the root of this split. It's not really about Vavi, although he's the personality involved. It's really about economic policy and what Essop Pahad would call class struggle. It's about the fact NUMSA and these other unions want a radical economic policy that sees redistribution, higher taxation and huge state intervention in the economy, and that the ANC is simply not going to deliver those things. And as there seems to be no changes in the offing to the ANC's policies for the foreseeable future, it has to be assumed that this workers' party will eventually be formed. Even if, somehow, Mantashe is able to pull off some miracle again.

So then, how does this all affect our beloved republic, in terms of its class and racial dynamics? Here's one scenario:

Firstly, it makes race less important. It would render Julius Malema's "The DA is for white people, the ANC is for you" soundbyte to the history books. There would be a very real choice, for the first time. And, crucially, people could vote for the new workers' party, without feeling that they are somehow betraying the struggle. We don't actually know how important that is, but it does seem to be a factor.

Secondly, we would have a situation in which people start to actually vote according to their class. This would be mainly because they would suddenly have that option. (Still, there would be some element of race to it, because our economy is still racialised, and economic Apartheid is still with us.)

So, if you are middle class, possibly a member of the racial minorities, believe in the free market, and worry hugely about the number of children in your kid's class, you are probably going to vote for the DA. It is still going to grow its share of the vote, as the middle class grows. It would also be based mainly in the urban areas. And it will be a very important player in our politics. It may not hold national power, but it might well be a king-maker, or part of a coalition. Which is in fact part of its policy at the moment.

Then there would be the new workers’ party. Let's call it Shosholoza, for want of a better name right now. It would attract people who are currently Cosatu members. So many, many blue-collar workers, people who live in the urban areas in the main. They would be poorer than the DA voter, and have very different beliefs around the economy. They would also be willing to spend their weekends organising, and making sure their organisation grew.

And then you would have the ANC. Possibly with more of a rural base. Depending to an extent on the liberation dividend, but also, perhaps, on its ability to make sure that people get social grants. As a party facing ideological competition from Shosholoza, and possibly the Economic Freedom Fighters, it may have to change course slightly. Exactly how that play out is difficult to say at this point. But it may go more towards the Left than it is at the moment.

If all of this were to happen, it would make life very interesting not just for our voters, who would have real choice, but also for politicians. What would happen if the ANC won say 49% of the vote, with Shosholoza and the DA winning most of the rest? It would seem unlikely those two parties could run a coalition together, but it would be fun watching the ANC trying to keep a government together. It would have to find a way to manage its policies very carefully. Certainly, it would find it very difficult to weather the kind of Number One scandal that is currently lives with.

It goes without saying that this is not necessarily how things will play out. There are simply too many variables. But certainly, this scenario would be attractive in that it gives whoever is the ruling party real competition and thus improves democracy. It might also encourage more people to vote, and take part in politics, rather than simply throwing stones during protests, but staying away on voting day.

It would also make us more normal as a country. Class would matter more than race. DM

Grootes is the senior political reporter for Eyewitness News, and the host of the Midday Report on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk. He's also the author of SA Politics Unspun.

Photo: (Left) Anti-Apartheid activist Mamphela Ramphele speaks at a news conference with opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party leader Helen Zille (R) in Cape Town, January 28, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings. (Right) Secretary-general of metal workers' union Numsa Irvin Jim is seen during a Numsa media briefing on the outcomes of its NEC meeting on Thursday, 11 July 2013 in Johannesburg. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA

  • Stephen Grootes
  • South Africa


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