Not even two weeks into 2016 it has already been a hot year in politics. After the ANC celebrated its birthday this weekend, the temperature will keep rising leading up to the elections. By GREG NICOLSON.
Rustenburg’s Civic Centre served as the ANC’s administrative base while it organised the party’s birthday celebrations. On Friday, a market of stalls sold merchandise on its lawns and President Jacob Zuma was set to cut a cake marking 104 years since the movement was born. Around the city, banners advertising Saturday’s rally were being hung on lamp posts as the luxury cars rolled into town. It was hot standing outside the Civic Centre, so hot that the white Ford Ranger seemed surreal. While well-known ANC members were inside, and a convoy of police vehicles sat across the road, a young white man hung outside the Ford’s window hollering. In his hands the old “oranje, blanje, blou” flag fluttered in the wind. It was so incendiary, I watched alone in shock as the flag waved around the bend.
In the first week of 2016, racism has dominated the news. Some white South Africans seem emboldened to spew hate speech, as though 21 years into democracy they are free to let loose, like first-year students at university free to finally drink. Meanwhile, particularly young, black South Africans, who were promised equality, but who have experience prejudice and an exclusionary economy, and who have rejected the idea of the Rainbow Nation, are ready to call them out.
As the old flag disappeared from view, it was clear the issue of racism will be a key feature of the upcoming local government elections as the hate continues to flow. It will be crucial how the ANC responds to the youth’s demands, and tries to divert attention from its own challenges and failures. For the party, and particularly President Zuma, 2015 ended in crisis. The ANC eventually rallied around its leader, but Zuma’s decision to replace Finance Minister Nhlanhle Nene with Des van Rooyen and within days replace him with former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, sunk the economy and made the President’s position as leader appear vulnerable. That came after a year of shifting politics. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) exposed the lengths the ANC will go to in order to prevent disruption and dissent, and the Fighters have strategically placed themselves as the vanguard against big business. Cosatu confirmed a split in the workers’ movement. Tertiary students proved their influence and willingness to demand change. The Democratic Alliance (DA) elected its first black leader. Within the ANC, tensions were already emerging over the race to appoint Zuma’s successor in 2017.
Outside the Royal Bafokeng Stadium on Saturday, ANC Veterans League national executive committee member, 72-year-old Nonceba Duma, sat in the shade after travelling on a bus overnight from Durban. “What is important here is ‘love one another’ to put the ANC into its correct perspective. Otherwise, as it is we don’t like the way it is now,” she said. She spoke of comrades not following the party’s constitution, of greed, a lack of unity, and said those who were enemies of the party in the past are now being promoted.
When Zuma took the podium to address around 60,000 supporters he had to pause for a minute as the ubiquitous ANC bikers were revving their engines outside. Reading the party’s national executive committee statement, he soon turned to racism. He noted the achievements in reversing centuries of marginalisation, but said, “It is clear that there is a tiny minority that still harbours a desire for separate amenities and who idolise apartheid-era leaders who made our country the skunk of the world. These people do not represent the true character of the new South Africa. They are living in the past. The ANC has put in place the legislative instruments to prevent discrimination on the basis of race, and this has gone a long way in dealing with the social ills associated with discrimination.”
The ANC reacted quickly to racism on social media last week, opening cases of crimen injuria against multiple people accused of racism on social media. Spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said a DA banner with a picture of Zuma’s face and a ticker counting job losses was racist. The party also revoked journalist Carien du Plessis’s accreditation to its birthday celebrations for a tweet on tenderpreneurs and “pantypreneurs” before she apologised and was allowed to attend.
This year the ANC could focus heavily on the issue of racism to help attract the youth vote and nullify the DA’s attempts to gain control of the Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay, and Tshwane municipalities. Despite Mmusi Maimane’s election as DA leader, the scandals regarding party Member of Parliament, Dianne Kohler Barnard, who reposted a Facebook rant supporting PW Botha, and Penny Sparrow, a member who started this year’s racism storm on social media by calling black people “monkeys”, shows the DA remains vulnerable to claims that it represents white interests. The ANC is now reviewing legislation and policies around hate speech and glorifying apartheid, but the party will be criticised by opposition parties for failing to act on the issue in the past. Policies on racism have been continually delayed and government efforts like the Social Cohesion Summit achieved little.
Writing in the Sunday Times, EFF leader, Malema, this weekend said issues of racism cannot be overcome until poverty and inequality are confronted, requiring land reform, nationalisation of key industries, and a change in spatial geography patterns. Both the ANC and DA agree on the need for economic transformation to combat racism, but the parties differ on the methods. Leading up to the local government elections, with racial inequalities likely taking centre place, the issue of land redistribution is key. On Saturday, as almost half of the Rustenburg stadium left to avoid the heat during Zuma’s address, the president said, “The challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment have their roots in the vast tracks of land that were stolen from the indigenous people of South Africa. The speed of land reform and levels of support for emerging farmers must be radically accelerated.” Land redistribution, however, has been slow and while the ANC has criticised the willing-buyer willing-seller model an alternative looks far from being implemented.
After last year’s student protests, with potential protests this year to begin when the university year opens, the funding of tertiary education also promises to be an important issue. On Saturday Zuma emphasised the government’s commitment to boost the National Student Financial Aid Scheme by R4.5 billion, and on Friday said a commission of inquiry looking into promoting access to higher education will soon be announced. The 2015 January 8 statement showed the ANC knew about challenges in accessing higher education, but it took last year’s student protests, which began in October, to see a significant response from government.
According to the SABC, the President has admitted that “these elections will be tougher than any other elections that we have in the past”. His comments suggest he’s concerned by the fall in ANC votes in key regions in 2014, and the challenges by the DA and EFF.
“You can’t lose elections and hope to interrupt and obstruct the government that has been elected by the people through taking every issue to court or disrupting Parliament,” said Zuma on Saturday, veiled comments concerning the DA and EFF. “There should be no spurious attempts to circumvent the legitimate exercise of people’s power. Emerging tendencies to engage in low-intensity ‘law-fare’ are attempts to divert the legitimate democratic outcomes. These actions fly in the face of the fundamental and basic principles of democracy.”
On cue, after Zuma was railing against those who break the rules and challenge authority, two people jumped the fence and ran across the pitch towards the president before being tackled by security and MK veterans.
Photo: A man wearing a T-shirt with the logo of the African National Congress (ANC) gestures as he is removed after he invaded the pitch during the party’s 104th anniversary celebrations in Rustenburg, South Africa January 9, 2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
The first, who got the closest to the stage, pointed his fingers like pistols at the President before being wrestled to the ground. As unity was already tested in North West this week with ANC supporters reported to be against the ruling clique protesting, Zuma will face his own opposition in the Constitutional Court in February when the EFF attempt to force him to pay back part of the money spent on the upgrades at Nkandla. The EFF and DA are also likely to mobilise members for high-profile marches ahead of the elections.
While the ANC is trying to get ahead of the opposition parties and start 2016 afresh, its biggest challenge ahead of the elections will be avoiding scandals. But less than two weeks into the year the party is already under pressure. A case of sexual assault against ANC Western Cape leader Marius Fransman was opened in Sun City over the weekend, and news reports allege the complainant was offered money to drop the charges.
After Saturday’s rally, ANC supporters walked in the heat towards their buses, some to their cars. But there was no doubt: the temperature will keep rising leading up to the elections. DM
Photo: The ANC’s top six leaders pose at the party’s 2016 birthday celebrations in Rustenburg. (Greg Nicolson)