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South Africa, a dictatorship of the minority

Bo Mbindwane is a business executive with experience in mining and other sectors. He has past experience in public administration and is an indepedent mining analyst. On twitter: @mbindwane

While democracy should mean the will of the majority with the absolute protection of minority rights, South Africa is seeing a democracy of the will of the minority with some gratuitous rights for the majority. During many sittings, opposition parties have undermined the functioning of Parliament, even on simple matters. It is as though there is an unworkable governing alliance by parties who just can't agree on anything, whereas the ANC in fact has an overwhelming majority. This contempt of Parliament by the opposition is contempt for the will of the people, the voters.

Since 1994, from Nelson Mandela’s presidency to Jacob Zuma’s, the official opposition in Parliament has gradually gained more power and authority, often assisted by the mainstream media, the minority-liberal hawkish judicial bench and business. This hawkish bench saw a bizarre ex parte rule nisi interdict being granted to the University of Cape Town in contradiction of the Bill of Rights itself.

Fees Must Fall, Rhodes Must Fall, the South African Students’ Congress, Patriarchy Must Fall and others saw themselves joining the list which had previously seen the African National Congress (ANC), the Azanian People’s Organisation, the Black Consciousness Movement, and the Pan African Congress (PAC) banned. The temporary ban granted by the Western Cape High Court illustrates why the general public views the court as unrepresentative and untransformed, as Judge James Yekiso ruled in favour of these movements shutting down and ‘falling’. Association and assembly were made illegal as the liberal university applied to shut down protest. No one seemed to care about this very definition of a constitutional crisis created by the liberal minority through the court.

As much as South Africa’s new-dawn doomsayers have been proven wrong over and over again, they repeatedly state their dire predictions to overpower reason and lived experience. We often hear of “the end of South Africa”, “the end of democracy”, “constitutional crisis this and that”. The elections in both 1994 and 1999 saw doom and gloom so severe that many in the minority classes were purchasing ‘end of the world’ kits, water and canned foods in fear that “savagery is heading to a suburb near you”.

South African democracy doomed? This is an occupation of the elite who view a working constitutional framework as that which suppresses the voice of the majority. While democracy should mean the will of the majority with absolute protection for minority rights, South Africa has seen a democracy of the will of the minority with some gratuitous rights for the majority. Voting in the polls has slowly been eroded to mean too little as the general agenda of governance and dominance is driven particularly by the minorities. Even FW de Klerk is now a democratic systems expert who often opines on rights and minority hegemony.

Although the ‘end times’ under the majority government have not arrived, the feeling is hard to shake in the media and the culturally dominant minority. The official opposition parties in Parliament have refused to democratically concede to the will of the overwhelming majority since 1994. Electioneering in South Africa begins the day after the election results are announced and the public is subjected to perpetual bickering, conflict, crisis creation and other tactics for dominance by the minority, creating an exhausted nation.

By their nature, elections are exhausting for the mind and soul. They are often negative as competitors point out each other’s failings. Elections also divide a nation for a time as opponents tear at each other. This is often for short periods of time, enabling the large part of life to be about nationhood and community between citizens. But what South African opposition parties do is different, they infuse a permanent antagonistic atmosphere in society where there is no pause in the bickering and conflict. It is like an unending revolution. Society is exhausted, morbid, angry, conflicted and especially unhappy that even poverty stricken Zimbabwe ranks better in the Global Happiness Index.

Should the ANC ever find itself having a reduced majority that requires an opposition party to form a coalition with it, it is clear the US will not be the only country to see conflict shutting down the government as budgets remain unapproved by the legislature.

We have seen the Democratic Alliance (DA) – formerly the Democratic Party – take a non-cooperative stance in Parliament since 1994. Charismatic extremists the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have also taken the same stance that says “screw the will of the majority we will take possession of the the running of Parliament whether elected to do so or not”. Often, talking heads have applauded these events and have not viewed them as constitutionally challenging or even placing democracy itself at risk as the actual vote is trashed through various stunts by the opposition. Political debate is taken to the courts and the Office of the Public Protector. The latter has seen itself actively engaging in party political politics in Parliament or in public, often having something to say to support the opposition in Parliament.

During many sittings, opposition parties have decided to deride Parliament’s functioning even on simple matters of the programming or scheduling of events. It is as though there is an unworkable governing alliance by parties who just can’t agree on anything, whereas the ANC actually governs with an overwhelming majority. As such, matters should be running smoothly through the democratic process. This contempt of Parliament by the opposition is direct contempt for the will of the people, the voters.

The right to vote remains but its intention and spirit is undermined, contemptuously trampled upon day in and day out in the National Assembly. The ANC may have to revisit its policy on consensus political management for having failed. As I have repeatedly argued, what is left is an ANC that negotiates to govern although the people have granted it impressive political capital in election after election.

With reconciliation fatigue now having set in for Africans in particular, aggravated by disdain for the overtures of reconciliation to the minority, the majority is now at a point of saying that reconciliation as a policy has advanced peace but has delayed the second phase of the transition. This second phase is about complex emancipation and it must be implemented, be it via an apartheid reparations tax or a wealth tax. Either way it’s now due and those who owe it can afford it.

To use the words of African-American civil rights activist Sojourner Truth (c 1875), South Africa “owes to my people some of the dividends, she can afford to pay, and she must pay. I shall make them understand that there is debt to the Africans which they can never repay. At least then, they must make amends.”

What the #FeesMustFall student movement has taught us is that an ANC minister confronted by students’ demands for which his own party advocates, could not get the autonomous universities to accept that their double-digit fee increases were anti-poor and anti-South Africa’s developmental agenda. From an average fees increase of 10%, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande could only get these publicly funded autonomous universities to tell him they insist on an above-inflation increase of 6%. The minority hegemony cannot be explained better.

With the knowledge of their leverage inside the ANC, the students knew that the ANC’s own policy, starting from the Freedom Charter to the 2015 January 8 statement and most recently the ANC national general council resolutions, is all talk. Students are instructive on the woeful higher education fees. Admission fees are denounced and fee increases particularly are seen as the cornerstone of the perpetual inequality gap that has widened even more since 1994 due to the minority becoming richer and richer, leaving the poor further behind.

This speaks of a country for minorities. In all data sampling, the minority in South Africa live the kind of lives lived in Luxembourg and Switzerland, whereas the majority in power live in bare squalor. The minority white population lost nothing in 1994 and the majority seems now not to have even gained parliamentary power as the DA and others fight for dominance. This dominance is in employment, the economy, social matters, health and education and housing.

Forty percent of South African university graduates are unemployed, 0% of which are white. As the black students march together with their white counterparts, jobs await the white students and not the black students. It is not because the jobs are not there, it is not the issue of a skills mismatch either, it is because 93% of employers are white and prefer to hire whites, with the DA supporting them to reject the Employment Equity Act altogether. I wrote in my column about massive cash hoarding by South Africa’s corporate sector. This money is not utilised to improve wages, invest in education or given to shareholders as dividends and this amounts to direct minority hegemony.

Where black business is concerned, the DA also says it must not be supported unless it will create employment. This becomes a black tax to doing business. By this, the DA means equity deals are not for blacks nor are certain sectors of the economy. What this proviso also means is that white minority hegemony of the economy must remain as is and not be touched or transformed to represent the nation – a DA holy cow.

The DA also continues to be against workers’ constitutional rights to belong to unions, organise and engage in collective bargaining. Fundamentally, as minority representatives the DA have campaigned for the powers of worker unions to be curtailed and for the national minimum wage not to be introduced. I have previously argued in my column that a minimum wage is a good economic and business policy.

On human settlements, the DA, through former PAC leader and Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille, refuses to see value in allocating available public land in white areas like Camps Bay to blacks. Racial segregation and the Group Areas Act are now a De Lille proposal on behalf of the DA as she plans to put up luxury elite structures on public land areas where blacks only go to visit or as workers.

The #FeesMustFall movement is the antithesis of the DA and students must insist on a full and permanent commitment to the issues it champions before examinations can proceed. The issue of the outsourcing of labour and other services inside institutions and thus privatisation, the rehiring of all illegally retrenched university labour with full benefits; the commitment from the ANC government that fees will be regulated in the short term and that in medium term all poor students will be admitted to universities and other higher education institutions of learning for free with assistance to acquire books; and that in the long term all education will be free. Underpinning this must be the total make-over of all university regulations.

The students sing about ANC’s Solomon Mahlangu, an Umkhonto weSizwe combatant who was hanged by the minority apartheid regime. Solomon Iyo Solomoni is not just symbolic but speaks of the purposeful life the students are demanding and their refusal to let his death be in vain.

Free education, like a minimum wage, is good economic policy; to put it crudely, the public spends to build a cash cow for the future. These cash cows become taxpayers and consumers in the economy and the conveyor belt does not stop. This strengthens tax receipts, develops stronger domestic resilience in the economy and produces a middle class unburdened by debt. Free education for the poor first is an affirmative action policy which could also be seen as the needed reparations for apartheid which remain due to Africans in particular.

Here is the message I got from the various protests by ordinary members and supporters of the ANC throughout the country: they are saying “we have given you authority and you must use it, accretion of authority in the executive branch of government is not a violation of the Constitution and you must use the political capital you have and govern”.

The youth in particular sent a stronger message, saying to the ANC: “Here we are, use us if it is so hard to do things over and above the mandate you have, mobilise via us to push back special interests vested in vice-chancellors and the like in society.” The youth in their numbers have not said the ANC is a target but a clear red line has been drawn and if the ANC continues to dither on consensus building to govern, its leadership will fall. The youth overwhelmingly identifies with the ANC’s policies and traditions but this red line has been drawn. As the youth of Mandela drew a red line over the ANC of Albert Luthuli and formed Umkhonto weSizwe within the ANC with the ANC’s blessing, so will this youth and it has started with FeesMustFall movement. The second transition to freedom has officially commenced.

It will be déjà vu, the youth will demand youthful parliamentary benches which will take a cohesively balanced yet radical, sound approach. Indeed, this time it will not be a call to physical arms but a total takeover of the levers of power under the ANC banner by its youth.

While continuing with these demands, the youth must keep its eye on the price of education. Oftentimes these movements are highjacked and their victories downplayed. It is a major victory that fees will not increase and matters are on the highest table in the land. It is now extremely important that students now return to class. There must not be new demands on top of the victories. This movement survives because we as parents also support it.

The youth will, as they ignored the extremist PAC then, ignore the extremist EFF and Land First this time around, but will take over the ANC if the current mature leadership does not wake up to the challenges and stop negotiating in order to govern. The liberals and minority groups who cheer the fire on will only be engulfed by the flames they believe are busy burning down the ANC. This fire is in fact giving life to a more radical ANC and the next stop is the January 8 2016 statement as the final test. After the #FeesMustFall movement, the ANC will have to wake up from its reconciliation slumber and realise that the issue of lack access to resources for the majority poor and ultimately the dismantling of racial economic inequality is urgent. The dictatorship by the opposition minority will no longer be institutionalised. The silent majority is no longer silent. DM


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