South Africa Looks Beyond the ANC
From Der Spiegel, Germany
Jacob Zuma wants to be elected as South Africa's president in the spring. But the party he leads, the African National Congress, is increasingly seen as corrupt. Now, a new party threatens the ANC's post-apartheid monopoly on political power.
The candidate has arrived and Cape Town's Langa Stadium is filled to capacity. In front of the soccer arena sprawls the oldest shantytown in the city, behind it looms the largest garbage dump.
It's noon on a Sunday, and at least the party's organization can still be relied upon. The buses have pulled in on time, banners and T-shirts have been distributed on schedule, a number of speakers have warmed up the crowd, and loudspeakers are blaring the anthem of the glorious comrades, "Bring Me My Machine Gun" -- the campaign song of the candidate, Jacob Zuma.
In Langa Stadium the whole world seems to be still in order, Zuma's world. There are blacks and whites, good and evil, and straightforward solutions: Alarming crime rates? "The government has to get tough on criminals." The death penalty? "If a majority favors it -- why not?" Neglected children? "If young people still had the respect that my parents taught me, we would have no more street children and no crime."
Jacob Zuma, 66, has launched a whistle-stop tour of the country. He is shaking hands, knocking on doors in the townships, meeting with business people, industrialists and publishers. For the past year, he has been the president of the ruling ANC party, and this spring he intends to become the head of state -- and introduce major political changes to the country.
Instinct for Power
Zuma wants to free South Africa again, but this time the focus is on the fallout of the nine-year term of Thabo Mbeki, a man who made a great many promises, yet kept precious few of them. Zuma's formula for success in this campaign: boundless populism, rustic affability and an instinct for power. He certainly showed his political instincts when he forced his predecessor at the ANC, Mbeki, out of the highest office in the land in late September and installed Kgalema Motlanthe -- a humble and loyal party cadre -- as the president of a caretaker government until elections are held this spring.
Up until then, everything was going smoothly for Zuma, and it seemed as if nothing could stand in the way of his rise to the top. A judge dismissed the corruption charges against him on a technicality, effectively putting an end to any legal action for his alleged involvement in an arms deal. And it looked as if he had survived other scandalous appearances in court totally unscathed.
There were, for example, the charges that he had raped a woman -- and his remark in his defense that, as a proud Zulu, he couldn't refuse any woman's advances. The accuser, a friend of Zuma's daughter, was known by the defendant to be HIV positive. Zuma said that he took a shower immediately after sex to reduce the risk of contracting the disease. Today, he denies ever having made this statement.
Not even this string of escapades was enough to halt his meteoric rise in popularity.
But things have not been quite so rosy for the candidate since September, when leading members of the ANC, including Mbeki's defense minister Mosiuoa Lekota, 60, and the former premier of the densely-populated Gauteng Province, Mbhazima Shilowa, 50, splintered off from Zuma's party to form the Congress of the People (COPE) party.
COPE has become a magnet for the disillusioned, for those who have had enough of the complacency of the ANC. And since the Congress of the People cannot be accused of being a party of the whites in South Africa, it could succeed in weakening the position of the ANC.
People across Africa will be gazing south in March or April of 2009 when elections are held on the Cape. South Africa has the strongest economy on the continent and it overcame apartheid virtually without violence. What's more, the 97-year-old ANC, the oldest party in Africa, still serves as a model. If something were to go wrong in South Africa, many fear that it would throw the entire southern region of the continent into turmoil.
Zuma has come a long way since he joined the ANC at the age of 17. He has a reputation as a leftist, enjoys the support of the trade unions and the communists, wants to make concessions to industry -- and he promises a brighter future for the poor. But he thinks in "friend & foe" categories.
At the party conference in December 2007, Zuma enthusiasts shouted down Mbeki supporters. Once Zuma was crowned, hundreds of party members loyal to Mbeki lost their jobs and their names were stricken from the lists of candidates. Julius Malema, the President of the ANC Youth League, assumed the role of verbal thug, shouting at a rally: "We are prepared to kill for Zuma!" Malema sees little need to tone down his rhetoric, given that Zuma himself is likewise fond of fiery turns of phrase. Zuma likes to vilify the political opposition as "dogs," and shortly before Mbeki's resignation, he likened the administration of the South African president to a "dead snake" not worth beating.
This language and arrogance is now turning against the party of Nelson Mandela. South Africans are tired of slogans. They want solutions to the country's most urgent problems, and strategies to tackle poverty and crime. The ANC has rendered great services in its struggle against the dictatorship of the whites, but party members are also using the country to line their own pockets.
Example of Cronyism
Anyone applying for a government financed house has no choice but to go through an ANC apparatchik. Anyone who wants to benefit from the land reform has to deal with officials from the party. Some 30,000 civil servants currently face fraud charges for allegedly pocketing subsidies for government housing. Mnyamezeli Booi was recently appointed ANC chief whip in parliament despite allegations that he used taxpayers' money to pay for airplane tickets and hotel accommodation for his friends in the "Travelgate" scandal. And the ANC leadership uses the state-owned broadcaster SABC as if it were the party's own PR department.
Former ANC heavyweights like Tokyo Sexwale and Cyril Ramaphosa left politics for the business world and now rank among the country's top moguls. But critics see these extremely wealthy men as yet another worrisome example of cronyism in the ANC. They have both benefited from the government's black economic empowerment policy and used their exclusive connections to the party to seal lucrative deals with big South African companies, while the vast majority of blacks remain in dire poverty. Today's parasites are often the heroes of yesteryear, says Nadine Gordimer, the South African Nobel Prize laureate for literature.
Hardly anywhere else in the world is the gap between rich and poor larger than in South Africa. More than 18,000 homicides a year give it one of the highest murder rates in the world. South African Safety and Security Minister Nathi Mthethwa even referred to his country as a "killing field." The unofficial unemployment rate is over 30 percent and the average life expectancy is 49 years, significantly lower than the average for the entire African continent. The country also has a severe HIV/AIDS epidemic.
In 2007, surveys showed that 44 percent of South Africans still believed in a better economic future within the next two years, but by 2008 this number had dwindled to just 26 percent. In major areas such as healthcare, crime, education and land reform the government has failed to convey the impression that it has the situation under control.
Draining the Budget?
It's a similar situation with the World Cup soccer championships to be held in the country in 2010. The football event was first celebrated as a way to generate growth -- but that initial enthusiasm has been replaced by a deep sense of disillusionment. There is no alternative host for the event and no "plan B", as FIFA President Sepp Blatter recently assured the press, adding that the stadiums will definitely be completed on time. However, prices are skyrocketing out of control as construction companies dictate the rules of the game -- and the costs are weighing heavily on the budget and dampening the mood surrounding the event.
Robert Holmes, 34, has been supervising the construction of the stadium in Cape Town for the German architectural firm gmp. The new arena will provide space for 68,000 spectators. But what will happen when the four-week extravaganza is over and the operating costs are draining the budget?
'We Need People with Moral Credibility'
"Does South Africa even need such stadiums?" asks Holmes -- and he is not the only one questioning the need for this additional infrastructure. In Cape Town and Johannesburg large concerts and events could be held at these venues. But what about in Port Elizabeth and in Durban? A dreamlike summer success story like the one Germany experienced is not to be expected: The matches will be played in the South African winter, and the national team -- or Bafana Bafana (The Boys) -- has little chance of surviving the qualifying round.
But Jacob Zuma, the candidate, acts as if all of this is hardly a concern. He dances in Langa Stadium, and his supporters cheer him on. "We are the oldest party in the country. We have top people, and we have heroes. And there were quite a number among our ranks who died for freedom." The past is all that the ANC still has to offer.
Methodist bishop Paul Verryn has his church in downtown Johannesburg, where very few whites dare to venture. For the past 11 years he has been here, in a nondescript high-rise building that serves as a drop-in center for refugees, the unemployed and the sick. They spend the night in the main hall of the church, and camp out in the hallways. It reeks of sweat, and sometimes also of urine.
"Politicians talk about poverty," says Verryn, "but they have no idea of the desperation that comes in here every day." He has just been talking on the phone on behalf of a Zimbabwean refugee who is caught in a bureaucratic nightmare. Ordinary people show "a blind allegiance to the ANC," says Verryn, "but there is a great need for new political values."
He says that Zuma is the last person who could represent these new values. The bishop has forbidden him from appearing in his church: "There is a latent racism, and Zuma endorses this. I can really understand why some people are leaving the country."
'I'm Just so Sick of It'
Hout Bay is one of the better neighborhoods in Cape Town. Investment banker Lara Ellis, 36, lives here together with her husband, a former career soldier, who worked for the ANC in the townships. Two children, a garden, a pool, a dog -- it looks like a carefree life.
Ellis is one of the more enlightened whites in South Africa who once placed great hopes in the ANC. (to be an 'enlightened' white in SA, one has to believe in the ANC?!!! - Ed.)
She and many others were inspired by Nelson Mandela, and then bitterly disappointed. Now she has packed her bags and is ready to leave the country. "The ANC said it wanted to unite the country," says Ellis. "And what happened? Exactly the opposite." She says that she expects nothing from Zuma. She can't imagine how he ever became ANC president.
Her main complaint is the lack of security. This was the reason why she and her husband moved from Johannesburg to Cape Town. Even in Hout Bay she says that they regularly hear gunfire. And ever since she discovered an intruder standing in front of the glass veranda of her living room, Ellis says she just wants to leave: "I'm just so sick of it."
The award-winning white caricaturist Jonathan Shapiro says that he has had enough of the ANC. During the apartheid regime, he supported the struggle for liberation. But in early September he published a caricature which portrayed the heads of the trade unions, communists and the ANC youth league holding down the goddess of justice, as if to rape her, and Zuma standing with his pants open in front of her. That's when Shapiro found out that the top-ranking party officials have very little tolerance for criticism.
The drawing was an allusion to the massive pressure that Zuma's supporters exerted on the justice system when it looked as if his case would go to trial last summer. For days Shapiro's caricature made headlines across the country. "May he rot in hell!" said party members at public events. "It came quickly and brutally," says Shapiro, "I've never experienced anything like it." Zuma is now suing him for roughly ($700,000).
A Potential Crisis for the ANC
Ibuyisuue Swartbooi could be helped with much less money than that. She is a teacher at a primary school in the Cape Town neighborhood of Khayelitsha. There are 1,000 pupils, large classes, and small rooms -- and her school is one of the better ones in Khayelitsha. The buildings are made of brick and there are blackboards, benches and chairs in the classrooms. And yet they still lack the most rudimentary things.
Many children get off the bus hungry every morning and first have to be given a breakfast. "When we do written exercises, many of them have no pencils," says Swartbooi, "and there are only 16 textbooks for 40 pupils." Not surprisingly, the results aren't great. Not even 30 percent of the pupils manage to graduate from primary school. "I received a much better education in the days of apartheid," says Swartbooi.
Those who are disillusioned with the ANC are gathering around former Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota and ex-province premier Shilowa. They are the ones who launched COPE, and they have a great deal of supporters among the intellectuals, city dwellers and the middle class. They maintain that they have acquired roughly 430,000 members since October. This number cannot be confirmed, but it has thrown the ANC into a crisis the likes of which it has never experienced before.
"The comrades in the ANC were only intent on securing personal advantages," says Nyameko Pityana, who was for many years a member of the South African Human Rights Commission and vice-chancellor of the University of Pretoria. He has gone from being a supporter of the ANC to one of its critics -- he estimates the voter potential of COPE at over 20 percent. This is the figure that could push the ANC under the 50-percent margin -- and would represent the greatest possible political disaster for the grand old party of Africa. "We need people at the top who have moral credibility," says Pityana.
Do the members of COPE fit the bill? Mbhazima Shilowa, a huge man with a broad face, has squeezed himself into an eggshell white suit and is wearing a pink shirt. Such a fine outfit certainly doesn't make him a man of the people. But what Shilowa does have in his favor is that neither he nor Lekota face allegations of bribery or corruption. That is a rare quality among top members of the ANC.
Otherwise, their political platform seems rather vague: "We are a party with an egalitarian approach," social-democratic policies that focus on promoting growth and fighting poverty, says Shilowa. The Congress of the People wants to appeal to the middle class, and also to whites. He only makes concrete statements when the topic turns to the ANC. Shilowa says that "they have lost their principles." And he says that the way Mbeki was treated "was a putsch. He was given the boot."
Their political platform may be unclear, but their media tactics are brilliant. Every two to three days, COPE presents a new prominent ANC defector, followed by a wave of new headlines. The ANC invariably reacts according to the same pattern: It orders its members to attend COPE rallies and disrupt the events.
Even one of Lekota's aides was beaten up recently by unknown assailants and sent home with a message: "Tell your boss, he's next."
Thursday, January 01, 2009
South Africa Looks Beyond the ANC