Defend Truth


The Eastern Cape’s overwhelming vote in favour of the ANC is a product of history, not lack of education


Vusumzi Vusie Mba is a researcher for the Eastern Cape Department of Sports, Recreation, Arts and Culture. He writes in his personal capacity.

The elections produced one particularly interesting outcome: The ANC won the Eastern Cape convincingly, with the province providing more than 25% of the total votes the ANC got in the country, a result that has been met with scorn by some urbanised former residents of the province.

We are about to close the year 2021, a year that marked 150 years since the birth of Dr Charlotte Manye Maxeke, and the commemoration of the Bulhoek massacre on 24 May 1921 in the village of Ntabelanga in the Cape Colony, now part of the Chris Hani Region in the Eastern Cape Province.

This coming year of 2022 will mark the 370th anniversary of the unfortunate historic moment of the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck in 1652 sailing on the Dromedaris, with the De Goede Hoop and Rejiger. Next year thus marks the arrival of settler colonialism and the start of racial conflicts that led to land dispossession of the indigenous people, denial of access to economic opportunities, labour migration, the introduction of Western education, and divisions among nations and tribes.

Unlike the year 2021, where the black community celebrated colonial resistance, the year 2022 will be a year of gloomy introspection on what we have done as the democratic government to undo the tragic socioeconomic consequences of the arrival of Dutch settlers in South Africa.

Elections have come and gone and in recent years they seem to all have been mild on the issue of redress. The settler has been unkind pre and post the democratic dispensation. The people have not healed and have not forgotten. The rainbow nation has long been promised but is unforthcoming. You would have expected the theme of the election to speak directly to the legacy of the settlers, instead it brushes on the socioeconomic conditions in the country, much of which is an architecture created by the settlers. 

With its mild tone on the legacy of the settler, the election produced one particularly interesting outcome. The ANC won the Eastern Cape convincingly, with the Eastern Cape providing more than 25% of the total votes the ANC got in the country.

The Eastern Cape has been under the ANC ever since the first democratic election. But it has seen unprecedented underdevelopment and is regarded as one of the poorest provinces in the country. This is besides the fact that the Eastern Cape has produced two state presidents in the democratic era and it is glorified as the “Home of the Legends”. 

The strong patriotism of the people of the Eastern Cape and their uncompromising belief in the ANC was not welcomed kindly by many in the country, particularly by people from the Eastern Cape who are economic emigrants to other provinces. These are predominantly educated people whose ambitions the Eastern Cape could not satisfy.

As always follows in these modern times, the contradictions erupted on social media. The harshness of the displeasure of the educated elite who have migrated from the Eastern Cape at the consistency of the people of the Eastern Cape in voting for the ANC was sour and unfairly strongly toned.

The fundamental question of why the people of the Eastern Cape still vote for the ANC while the province is still underdeveloped, lacks opportunities and is corrupt, does not have a simple answer.

A question along these lines led to a rapidly degenerating discussion marked by strong emotions and silly comments about sad stories of the Eastern Cape on SABC1’s Cutting Edge programme. The discussion went so far as questioning the intellectual capacity of the people who still reside in the Eastern Cape. 

The funny part is that the discussion was led by people from the Eastern Cape who are now residing in other provinces who appeared to possess a superiority complex, creating the impression that those who are still in the Eastern Cape are intellectually challenged and the core authors of their misfortunes. Instead of them conscientising the people of the Eastern Cape about development, they wasted a good platform by questioning the intelligence of the people of the province, which made those people react rather than self-introspect on the state of affairs in the province. Their comments were funny in the sense that their superiority complex tended to undermine their parents who did not acquire serious education.

As much as these people were raising concrete arguments and critical questions on development, there was also an element of undermining the logic of the Eastern Cape people. They created the impression that those who are outside of the Eastern Cape are living in better conditions than those in the Eastern Cape. 

The recent conflict can be traced back to colonialism and the creation of the black elite. The discussions reminded us that the start of colonialism led to draconian policies that created a foundation of poverty, labour migration, inequality and unemployment. These policies caused, among other things, institutionalised Western education which systematically divided the indigenous population into two camps of black people, the educated and uneducated.

In isiXhosa they are classified as amagqhobhoka (educated) and amaqaba (uneducated).  Amaqaba are sometimes called abantu ababomvu, the “red people” (from red ochre) or “blanket people”. Amaqaba do not subscribe to Christianity and Western ways. They are usually African traditionalists and pay tribute to the ancestors.

On the other hand, amagqhobhoka are people who subscribe to Christianity and reject African spirituality and its customs. Of course, these are extremes between which there exist a spectrum of mixtures of African beliefs and Christianity or some other foreign minority religions.

The creation of the two camps can now be translated into two classes of black people. The middle class (amagqhobhoka) and the poor (amaqaba). The middle class are those who are living in urban areas where there is development, service delivery, better facilities, world-class infrastructure, access and success. Your typical examples of this would be Gauteng and the Western Cape, while on the other hand, amaqaba are those who are still marginalised, and living in poor areas where there is little progress in terms of development, poor service delivery and lack of employment opportunities. The Eastern Cape can be described as that province.

Colonialism ensured that the migration to urban areas of blacks to look for jobs to enable both amaqaba and amagqhobhoka to pay rent to continue living on their dispossessed land was normalised. People who had left rural life for the modernised world (urban areas) led to the false belief that they are better than those who are in villages in the rural areas. This was coupled with the acquired superiority complex of the whites at the centre of the societal socioeconomic climate and the inferiority complex of a black person at the periphery.

Also, apartheid laws such as the Land Act and Group Areas Act also played a role by dispossessing the indigenous people into reserves and creating labour reservoirs such as the Eastern Cape’s Transkei and Ciskei.   

Former president Thabo Mbeki once characterised democratic South Africa as two nations — a white nation that lives in prosperity, opulence, access and success, and a black nation that is living in a nation of under-development, poverty, poor service and lack of employment and economic opportunities. The characterisation goes beyond race; it also encompasses conditions that the people of South Africa are living in in the post-colonial period. Those who are living in the core of development and those who live on the periphery of development.

The intentions of the colonial authorities were clearly neither good nor pure. Instead of forging harmonious relations with the indigenous people, they sought to dominate and control them. Mutual respect among races was never encouraged, as evidenced by slavery and the imposition of Western religion and ways, while wiping away the culture that existed before the arrival of the Dutch East India Company.

The outcome of the 2021 Local Government Elections is a true reflection of this long South African history — a history of loyalty to and trust in the national liberation movement. It is an outcome that reflects where we have come from as the South African people. The generational mix in the country — and thus in the electorate — means that there are still many people who regard yesteryear as important, although this is fast changing among the younger generation.

And it reflects that racial identity is a major factor in South African politics. People still vote according to race. In addition, the result reflects the rural-urban divide — the rural areas, dominated by mainly poor black people, showed marked support for the ANC and the EFF, which are still attractive to blacks.

And in those areas, there is a lack of trust in opposition parties as a true and reliable alternative to the ANC. Lastly, some supporters of the ANC opted to not vote instead of voting against their ANC. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Johan Buys says:

    It is hard to decide where to start with an opinion piece like this.

    I am from the ECape and go back twice a year. I moved because of economic realities. Nothing to do with colonialism – that area would be what it is regardless whether it was still not occupied by the oppressors.

    Rather look for positives such as tourism and renewable energy – both of which the eastern cape is blessed for.

    It would be a thriving region if it had half its population growth for the past few decades, despite migration from there!

    I have no explanation for the ANC’s rural power there other than crude tribalism.

    Question for the author : would eastern cape be better off or worse off in 2022 without outside influence? Assume never colonized, still run by chiefs and traditional healers?

  • Heinrich Holt says:

    Fascinating article which tries to provide a very complicated rationale for a very simple outcome – EC will still be run by incompetence, whether those in charge are educated or not.

  • Coen Gous says:

    Very interesting article indeed, but you are possible right one everything. Also agree with the comment of Johan Buys. But there has bees some movement since 2006. In 2006 the ANC got 80% of the vote. It dropped to 71% in 2011, to 65.3% in 2016, and now in 2021 it was 63%. Thus a steady downward trend, the last year possibly due to the small increase for the EFF, mainly in the more larger town/city areas. But no doubt racial identity and the power of the local chiefs are immense, as we found recently by the sudden switch by a certain king due to an EFF bribe. Sadly, as Johan pointed out, the economic reality is that the province remains poor, with little if any economic growth

    • Coen Gous says:

      Vusumzi (or any other person)…just a question? Have you got any idea what the voter registration % is in the Eastern Cape compared to other provinces? Voter turnout in the last election was more or less in line with other provinces.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted