Opinionista Siya Khumalo 3 February 2017

Black DA voters? They’re the ones the ANC left for dead

Yonela Diko’s Black People Who Vote DA: Who Are They? reads like a nuanced expansion on President Zuma’s “clever blacks” motif — less direct, but no less disrespectful.

Yonela Diko’s opinionista piece unintentionally underscores a bitter irony. It was once ANC supporters who complained that the DA offered nothing except criticisms against the ruling party. It’s now ANC supporters whose reasons for supporting their party are too morally impotent for them to aim higher than at black DA voters. I’m not saying black DA voters are a low target in themselves; I’m saying it’s consistent with the ANC’s contempt for black people to caricaturise and disparage them. This is typical of how people who condone abuse can’t help blaming its victims instead of its perpetrators.

Whether those of us who don’t vote DA like it or not, the black person who votes DA is one of the things democracy happens to look like. Diko’s piece suggests the ANC loves liberation only to the extent that it can benefit from it, not to the extent that South Africans can exercise it.

If you’d allow me a tangent.

Ten years ago, I was with the Military Health Services. There was a public servant strike led by Cosatu. My colleagues and I were “deployed” on rotation at various state hospitals across the country.

On one of these trips, I was asked to help in a psychiatric ward. I was 20 years old with zero medical skills, but I could follow the nurses’ instructions well enough. The sight of my uniform knocked fear into many of the patients because of God-only-knows what past experiences their minds were superimposing over that present.

I don’t remember that particular hospital’s name, but I’ll never forget its layout. As I was leaving that section, one of the nurses asked me to transport a two-tray trolley of about a dozen or so stillborn infants to the mortuary, which happened to be on my way. Most of them were so small I wondered how impoverished their mothers had to have been for them to start life with zero chance of completing it. I tried not to let it get to me, thinking if I could get through that one drop-off, I could put the incident behind me and forget about it.

I opened the drawer where I’d be putting their bodies, optimistically thinking it would be empty and mine was the first group. Instead, I saw countless more babies. My heart sank to my boots. I’d never felt less like a soldier and more like a 20-year-old kid.

It’s said the clearest measure of a civilisation’s condition is the way it treats its youngest and oldest citizens. I’d say it’s also the way it treats its mentally unwell, the way it responds to AIDS and how it deals with striking miners. What happened to those 94 mental health patients under Gauteng Health MEC Qedani Mahlangu’s watch is an indictment on the ANC; it brought that memory back to mind. Had the babies I transported been born white in a private hospital with months of proper prenatal care for their mothers — had they been born beyond the reach of the ANC’s studied indifference on the well-being of its people — there would have been fewer of them to put away.

The important question isn’t, “Which black people are voting for the DA?” but, “Which black people aren’t voting ANC?” Simply put, they’re those the party leaves for dead while its most connected members binge on the country’s wealth.

Diko’s case for the ANC is built on a straw-man caricature of DA voters as well as the unfairness of the double-standard where black people have to be twice as good to get half as far. The rest of it is what the ANC has done correctly. Unfortunately for that leg of his argument, our Constitution envisages the ruling party neither as ornamental decoration nor as murderer of its people. The ANC was “hired” to do a job. Diko implies we can get over the racial double-standard by lowering, if not abolishing, the governance standard.

But then we’d have to praise the cure rate of doctors who murder one patient for every 99 they cured instead of arresting them for the murder of the one. We’d also have to persuade abused spouses to stay in violent situations because their abusers occasionally buy them flowers. We would have to join Diko in worshipping the party that victimises and then blames its victims instead of taking (collective) responsibility. Had we kept that standard against Old South Africa’s rulers, the ANC would have never replaced them in the first place. Black voters who reject the ANC do so out of its self-chosen mandate as democracy’s torchbearer.

If the ANC wishes to be judged on a basis that would have exculpated the architects of apartheid, then I dare its people to apologise for its role in abolishing apartheid. Only then would they have earned the shameful right to disparage black voters who choose differently. DM

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