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Zuma stole Malema’s thunder, Steenhuisen sees black, Zibi steps into a cesspool

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Ismail Lagardien is a writer, columnist and political economist with extensive exposure and experience in global political economic affairs. He was educated at the London School of Economics, and holds a PhD in International Political Economy.

The biggest surprise of the election is that the EFF failed to breach the 20% mark that I envisaged; that MK did as well as they have, and that coloured politics is a thing – whether we like it or not.

The election has come and gone, and the noises-on dial remains on “high”. 

I am by no means a prognosticator or a statistician who believes that the beauty of their models is the truth, but elections, across time and place, have been accompanied by “waves of violence,” and/or “political violence”. Understanding that helps the imagination.

I should include, for our readers, a couple of examples from the US and Taiwan (those great reference points of the good and great of Western liberalism). As Reuters reported, “four years after the failed effort to overturn Trump’s 2020 electoral defeat, the violent all-male extremist group that led the storming of Congress on Jan 6, 2021, is rebuilding and regaining strength.”

In that other place, the Austronesian island (Taiwan) colonised by Chinese nationalists in 1949, there have often been violent protests against the declaration of election results and the electoral commission – an early indicator of what may come (with Jacob Zuma’s MK challenges). “Truth unclear, suspend declaration,” the Taiwanese opposition chanted. “Down with the commission.”

There is, of course, no convincing people who still believe that since the start of the Anthropocene (precise dates are disputed), the first act of terror was on 11 September 2001; the first act of violence was on 7 October 2023, and the birth of crime, violence and “racism” was on 27 April 1994.

And, lest we forget, that the greatest, most pacific and progressive organisation of humanity within a “country” occurred in 1776.

We should not ignore these beliefs, set as they are in stone. The election has thrown up some surprises, at least to me. 

The biggest surprise was that the EFF did as poorly as they did. I expected the EFF to gain at least 20% of the vote; the DA to shed votes to the FF+; the ANC to reach at least 0.01% above 50; Rise Mzansi to get at least 5%; MK to dominate KwaZulu-Natal, and the Patriotic Front to balantoes (a word we in the coloured community use to describe when your kite crashes unceremoniously).

Humility, pride, acceptance, surrender, violence and name-calling

I did not spend much time following the election day processes. I don’t have a TV – I pay a licence fee to own a monitor – but I picked up most of the more important bits and pieces. 

One of these was John Steenhuisen’s proud statement that he received more black votes than Mmusi Maimane. “I have brought more black voters to the DA than Mmusi Maimane,” Steenhuisen said.

That was strange, but also revelatory. Here was someone who always insisted that he led a party that did not see skin colour, but his earliest response was that he had triumphed over a black person because he received more black votes.

While we are on the subject, the DA’s increase was a small one. I was dead wrong in believing they would fail to make an impact in the 2024 general election. Nonetheless, their gains were, by our calculations, a single percentage point. Compare that 1% with the achievements of Zuma’s MK.

We should be clear, reflecting on my earlier commentary and analyses of the EFF on these pages, that MK could turn out to be a great danger to South African society. Besides being explicitly ethno-nationalist, MK is also anti-institution and anti-democracy, as my colleague Ferial Haffajee explained.

Zuma’s followers are, also, not exactly the most pacific of people; this is not a ready association of bellicosity with any single racial or ethnic group! We can only go by evidence from the past. We know, for instance, that during the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Mangosuthu Buthelezi led the most powerful bloc in KwaZulu-Natal, there was the most awful violence. 

We also know that there was at least a correlation between Zuma’s imprisonment and violence that spread across KZN and Gauteng, “with supporters blocking roads and looting shops”.

Returning to the biggest surprise, which is that the EFF failed to breach the 20% mark that I envisaged: here we have to insert the “but”… It is fairly clear that MK stole much of the dissatisfaction that the EFF tapped into, and fed it into their election machinery.

The EFF may be relatively small – they have gone from being the third to the fourth-largest party in the National Assembly – but the anger and rage, and the politics of revenge remain the hallmarks of the EFF (and of MK).

Julius Malema may have shown some humility and acceptance of defeat, relative as it may be, but I doubt that he is satisfied. 

We should probably not be surprised to see a love-in between MK and the EFF shaped by their mutual hatred of Cyril Ramaphosa; of non-Africans playing any kind of role in the political economic future of the country, and of that dreaded “white monopoly capital” and “the Oppenheimers,” or “the Rupert family”.

In these days immediately after the election results were confirmed, it seems the ANC has surrendered, or at least accepted its losses – which were significant. We have to wait and see who the next ANC leader will be, and then who will eventually become president of the country. 

Now is the time, as I tried to explain previously, that election reverberations will be felt most acutely.

There is a lot to compute in all of the above. I want to turn to two positive outcomes; positive for the parties involved. First, the Patriotic Alliance.

I have a natural and almost visceral reaction to race-based politics – least of all to its moorings in identity manipulation. I may be coloured, but I don’t like coloured politics. Surely, when I write about anti-Semitism or wheelchair access to buildings, I don’t write as a Jew or someone in a wheelchair.

So, I fully accept that the coloured people have been marginalised and completely understand the violence that has swept coloured communities like Eldorado Park, the Cape Flats and Westbury, though not Noordgesig (I have family in all those places). I don’t think the solution to these problems can be reached through race-based politics.

It is nonetheless significant that the PA gained a presence in the national legislature. What is probably more important is that the leadership of the PA is not exactly a paragon to be emulated…

Which brings me to the second positive outcome. 

Songezo Zibi’s Rise Mzansi has gained a seat in the national legislature. This may be relatively small, in terms of representation, but imagine a tired, drained body receiving a measured dose of fresh oxygen (too much oxygen can kill you, that’s one reason why I avoid Spencerian thought about society).

Now, I have spent most of the years between 1993 and last April in various places around the world and sat through the “last white Parliament” led by FW de Klerk. I can say, without fear of contradiction, that Zibi will bring intellect, insight, decorum, savoir-faire and presence to Parliament that has not been seen since Frene Ginwala, Max Sisulu, Trevor Manuel, Mcebisi Jonas or Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi. I’m sure I’m missing some.

I should be clear. I did not vote for Zibi, and if I were a dog, I would call him an ideological opponent. 

I have had about three electronic exchanges with Zibi over many years, the first being on Facebook, when he said he would introduce Paul Krugman as a columnist for the sake of diversity (Krugman and diversity do not go together).

The greatest challenge Zibi will face is not that he will be a lone voice (that is if he goes to Parliament instead of sending someone else) and probably ineffectual in the law-making process. It is that he will be on the receiving end of verbal abuse from the usual suspects that would break normal humans. Gayton Mackenzie will probably respond with a “voetsek!”

Zibi is too nice to do that, but he is an easy target for the EFF, MK, ANC backbenchers and… has anyone seen Azapo or the PAC? DM

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  • Peter Merrington says:

    Ha – I’m somehow nostalgically glad that you mentioned the PAC and AZAPO. I suspect that I am a nostalgic old South African. I remember the days of the chant, Viva ANC-SACP-PAC-AZAPO-COSATU! The acrid reek of teargas, the thud of flying stones, the muffled thud of rubber bullets. Delighted that those days of violence and mutual suspicion are over. We need cool heads and a form of progressive liberalism to get things back on track as a nation. No more ethnic drum-beating, no more race-based identity politics. Though those factors are also unlikely given the nature of things. Even so. All we need is generosity, justice, competence, focus, integrity and proper administration. Viva peace and progress, Viva!

  • Peter Merrington says:

    PS. I mean, those factors are likely (not ‘unlikely’).

  • Thug Nificent says:

    I agree on the issue of Zibi, I think it will take time but he will bring fresh perspective.

  • Denise Smit says:

    Perhaps you should watch a bit of TV = then you will see all the exchanges and not only those you cherry pick. the “racial” comment you make about what JS said out of context, and ignoring the brazen RM race bating incident before the election and his acidic interview on the election outcome and the content of that interview – definitely not nation building at its best

  • Martin Neethling says:

    Why should this ‘political economist’ be paid much attention to? One who doesn’t own a TV, one who admits to not following the election process too closely, and one who says the ‘biggest surprise’ was the EFF dropping from 10.8 to 9.5. (Hardly!). The same columnist thinks that Rise’s 0.42% is a win, and that this one voice in parliament will bring such ‘presence’. Basically he got every aspect of this election completely wrong, and in directions that suggests a complete lack of any political acumen. I respectfully suggest that the ANC’s decimation from 58 to 40 might just constitute the ‘biggest surprise’, that the MK party’s emergence as a force was totally under estimated, and that the DA remains completely mis-stereotyped.

  • Denise Smit says:

    As Mbalula said in his interview, he would have thought RM would actually be in charge of the government after all the funding and all the media coverage for free where DM participated whole heartedly and brazenly

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