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ANC Western Cape: False nostalgia and the blame game

Yonela Diko is currently the Spokesperson of the African National Congress (ANC) in the Western Cape. Prior to assuming his role in the ANC, he worked in various companies in the private sector. Between 2007-2009 he worked for one of the Leading Retirement Fund Companies, NBC Holdings as an Employee Benefits Consultant. After that he joined the Corporate Strategy and Industrial Development (CSID), an Economic Research Unit housed under the School of Economics at Wits University. He did his BCom degree at the University of Cape Town majoring in Economics.

The ANC Western Cape is engaged in a fitful internal struggle and at the centre of it is poor electoral performance. For the current and relatively new provincial leadership (elected in 2015), their pronounced vision was to take the ANC back to its glorious days – the UDF days, the days when the party governed both the province and the City of Cape Town, Ebrahim Rasool, to bring out the old and die-hard supporters who once gave everything for the success of the ANC in the province but who, over time, lost their zeal for the organisation for whatever reason to once more rebuild this glorious movement. They would do better looking to the future.

The ANC in the Western Cape has literally no footprint in the coloured communities as a result of the reversal of ANC fortunes in the province, the loss of trust, the infighting, but ultimately, at least to some, the lack of coloured representation at Cape Metro structures. The August 2016 election results seemed to emphasise this thinking, with the ANC taking all the wards in the African communities but almost nothing in the coloured and white communities. It would take a much more representative ANC leadership to attract a much more representative electorate, the thinking went. The current disbandment and counterdisbandments sit firmly on these suspicions.

If we are to be cerebral in our analysis, however, basing it on cold, hard facts, instead of our emotions, we may find that we are clinging to a false nostalgia of a past that does not exist and that the blame game is merely based on a complete different set of facts. Let us unpack this false nostalgia and expose the blame game as merely desperate and egotistic.

The first fact is that the ANC has never ever won the Western Cape. Let me say that again. The ANC has never ever won the Western Cape. This is the fact that not many people are aware of, a fact I will get to later.

One of the great politicians our province has managed to produce, Max Ozinsky, whatever his faults, punched irreparable holes in the highly overrated history of the UDF in the Western Cape. Ozinsky, himself part of that UDF era, pointed out that even during the highly charged era of the Democratic Front, the ANC only managed to get 34% of the electoral vote, almost exactly the same percentage of the vote the provincial ANC got in 2014 (33%) and 2009 (31%). Both 2009 and 2014 are seen as the worst times in the ANC Western Cape.

According to Professor Cherrel Africa, who did research on the voting patterns in the Western Cape, “the 1994 provincial result in the Western Cape, which put the National Party (NP) into power under the leadership of Hernus Kriel, shocked many activists and, indeed, many analysts, who had presumed that coloured voters, scarred by the effects of apartheid, would secure an ANC government in the province”. Of course, some of the same UDF leaders are now leading the ANC 101 veterans, still over-estimating their reach.

The 1994 results were labelled a racial/ethnic census with the coloured community feeling happier with Afrikaner rather than African nationalism (Johnson, 1996, p 310). Another explanation related to an “affinity” or “closeness” between coloured and white voters who share Afrikaans as a language (Reynolds, 1994). Both race and cultural affinity were refuted by other researchers and authors, such as Giliomee & James (1996) and Eldridge & Seekings (1995).

Putting aside language and cultural affinity, Africa says that “the 1994 election results in the Western Cape make sense if one considers the underlying fears of voters revealed by opinion polls conducted in the province in December 1993. The NP took advantage of these fears and ran a campaign that played into these fears”.

A provincially representative opinion poll of respondents conducted for the Institute for Multi-party Democracy in December 1993 revealed a significant concern about violence. Overall, 53% of respondents cited violence as their primary concern. Importantly, 27% considered that the ANC was likely to initiate violence. Furthermore, 34% saw the ANC as being responsible for encouraging political violence compared to 7% who thought the NP was doing so. At the same time, almost half (49%) felt that the NP was discouraging political violence, while 23% felt the ANC was doing so. This points to the power of the apartheid propaganda machine.

So the ANC performed as badly as when we had all the UDF activists leading the election campaign as it is doing now with so-called non-colour representative leaders. This makes the UDF nostalgia a false and self-indulgent affair and the blame game on the Cape Metro leaders for poor performance not based on any facts.

The ANC did improve on its electoral gains, peaking at 45% in the 2004 elections, something that many people consider the best time in the ANC, but fails to acknowledge that even at this time, the ANC still did not have a majority vote and was dependent on desperate coalition partners (like the DA today in metros) to run the province. In 1999, the ANC increased its share of the vote by 9.1% to 42%, then an extra 3% in 2004.

What then accounts for the 9.1% increase in 1999? Research tells us that, first, voters in the province could observe the fact that the dire predictions of the National Party for South Africa under ANC rule had failed to materialise. In its 1994 campaign the NP had painted a bleak future for South Africa under an ANC-led government. Voters in the Western Cape could watch the ANC as incumbents at national level. Instead of a descent into chaos, post-1994 South Africa became a beacon of political hope around the world (Magubane 2000, p 28).

The success of the ANC ast national level, as observed by Cape voters, is seen as the greatest contributor to the ANC’s provincial gains in 2004, with the party adding another 3% to its 42% and finally taking over the provincial government in a coalition.

Then 2007 fell on us. It’s not in my capacity to package just what 2007 did to the positive trajectory the ANC in the Western Cape was experiencing for the 10 years prior, except to say it had a very damaging effect on perceptions of the elected leadership. An Afrobarometer survey conducted in late 2008 revealed that respondents in the Western Cape had very little trust in the newly elected ANC president. It showed that only 13% of respondents in the province, compared to 70% in KwaZulu-Natal and 68% in Mpumalanga, said they trusted Jacob Zuma “always” or “most of the time”.

Matters of the ANC in the Western Cape have always seemed secondary to a Western Cape voter. They are important, however. In addition to the national events in 2007, ANC structures in the Western Cape were beset by their own problems. They were “in a complete shambles and the NEC [National Executive Council] had to rescue the province after an orgy of defections, expulsions and proliferation of parallel structures” (Butler 2009, p 70).

Sound familiar?

Still, the DA in the province saw these gaps and ran a campaign aptly called “Stop Zuma”.

Sound familiar?

So this focus on each other, disbandment and expulsions is a post-2007 thing that it is being used again now under some false nostalgia of opening a space for racial representativeness and bringing back old ANC members who did wonders in the days of yore.

Most important, though, the Western Cape is a politically unique province where electoral trends stand in sharp contrast to those in the rest of South Africa. While national outcomes have largely been with the ANC returning to power with large majorities, outcomes in the Western Cape have been far less predictable. This has resulted in three different political parties (the National Party, which later became the New National Party, the ANC and the Democratic Alliance) running the province. There is no certainty about the election outcome prior to the election, as is the case at national level.

The DA knows that its latest political fortunes are far from guaranteed; they are new and they will not last, especially if the ANC fixes itself nationally and the province begins to stabilise. DM


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