Just when you thought race no longer mattered, Gwede Mantashe extends the olive branch of identity politics. Pity he’s all muddled up about how to win back white favour.
A few weeks ago I argued that identity still mattered a great deal in South African politics and that the DA was committing suicide by acting as if it didn’t. I was scolded like a naughty schoolboy for being backward and ignorant and a closet racist. Didn’t I realise that race doesn’t matter anymore? How could I not see that it was about economics now, the differences between the haves and the have-nots? Why couldn’t I just move on?
Well, identity still matters a great deal. Ask Gwede Mantashe. He said as much at the ANC’s NGC last week. The party needed more votes from white people, he told delegates. “We would love 50% of white South Africans to vote for the ANC to fulfil our dream of becoming a truly non-racial party,” he said.
Colour still matters in our politics. Perhaps it shouldn’t. But it does.
How is Mantashe looking to fulfil the goal of getting half of white South Africa to vote for the ANC? Well, the party was talking to interest groups like the Afrikanerbond.
Oh, and more Indian and coloured votes would be nice too. How does Mantashe get all these people to vote the ANC’s way? By getting “one of them” to run on the party ticket in the local elections. Look at Agulhas. It’s found a fisherman to be its local candidate, someone who could speak the local lingo, and voila, it wins. Mantashe admitted he could barely understand the candidate’s mumblings himself, but the locals could and that’s what counts. Coherence be damned, he’s one of them and they voted for him, and that’s that.
Amid all this reaching out to white people, don’t count on Zuma showing up on your doorstep any time soon. Especially if you live in, say, Bryanston. It’s fascinating to note that when Zuma visits “white people”, he either goes to a white informal settlement where he gets those “great South African paradox” photo opportunities of a sort-of-rich black man standing among poor whites, or he goes to Orania. These are Zuma’s white people. This is how the party reaches out to the white electorate.
If you’re white, the ANC thinks you’re either a far-right khaki-wearing type who turned up at the funeral of Eugene Terre’Blanche, or you’re Die Antwoord.
But why did white people stop voting for the ANC (according to Mantashe)? He didn’t exactly say, but there were clues aplenty in the framing and subtext to his “we need more white voters” spiel. It lies with the inability of the party to make good on its promises. Which is funny, considering that Mantashe is using what amounts to nothing more than cheap electioneering to win back the white vote.
Donning my “white person’s glasses” for a moment, I believe the real rot lies at the local and provincial levels. Aside from the blatant looting by national government officials, which is enough to turn any thinking ANC member off, when government doesn’t work at the most basic level, what inclination is there to keep that government in power with your vote? And according to reports from Durban, the ANC realises that government doesn’t work at ground level. Is it any surprise that the one province the ANC lost control of is the same one where their provincial division is a complete shambles?
Take Zuma’s visit to the Bethlehem informal settlement in March. These are people who felt utterly rejected by government for being poor and the wrong skin colour. The President pitched up, handed out a few food coupons and said, “Our presence today is a confirmation that we are a government that is committed to all South African, regardless of colour, race or creed.” Yet, according to reports, officials stopped handing out coupons a week later. A better life for all, except if you’re white and can’t be taxed.
But if we ignore the ANC’s curiously delusional plan to win back the white vote by appealing to the fringes, what should it actually be doing? Short of offering sushi and a free spa session with every vote, how is the ANC going to win back the white vote? It could start by making government work at the local level. Electioneering doesn’t cut it anymore when Eskom cuts off electricity on a whim or the roads are pockmarked with enormous potholes.
I could be completely wrong, of course. Maybe all it would take is choosing Barbara Hogan or Rob Davies as the ANC’s presidential candidate. DM
Sipho Hlongwane is a writer and columnist for Daily Maverick. His other work interests also include motoring, music and technology, for which he has some awards. In a previous life, he drove forklift trucks, hosted radio shows, waited tables, and was once bitten by a large monitor lizard on his ankle. It hurt a lot. Arsenal Football Club is his only permanent obsession. He appears in these pages as a political correspondent.