Tuesday, July 5, 2016

ANC and Racial Relations: a Story of Political Hijacking for an Increasing Incompetent Party

On the touristy Vilakazi street of Soweto, right across the street from Nelson Mandela's old house, was a distinctively colored car.  With large black, yellow, and green stripes visibly painted to the back and the side, the car's origin is only too obvious to anyone who knows anything about South African politics: it is a car belonging to the African National Congress (ANC), the formerly undergrad political organization started in opposition to apartheid government's unequal treatment of blacks and their political disenfranchisement and have led the national government ever since multiracial elections were introduced in 1994.

Yes, Nelson Mandela, during his lifetime, was a leader of the ANC, ruling as the country's first black president under the ANC banner.  The fact that the ANC car is parked across the street from his house drives this point home.  And so does the gigantic ANC posters splashed across other houses on Vilakazi.  With a hard-to-ignore orangish yellow color, these all feature the current president and ANC leader Jacob Zuma reminding people to re-elect him to the presidency to continue the battle for racial equality.  Compared to these gigantic visual displays, the blue posters of the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) looks puny.

And it is more than just on the posters that the DA (and other myriad opposition parties) cannot match the ANC.  ANC, to state simply, has a glorious history on its side.  It represents freedom of the blacks from the violent horrors that was apartheid rule, illustrated with all the wrenchingly gruesome details in the country's well-funded national museums.  The ANC government certainly spares no expense to make sure that people remember who freed the blacks from oppression, making it all the more difficult to vote for the DA that continue to be plagued by suspicion among some black voters of pandering to a "white" political platform.

What is clear, however, is that the ANC is not the same ANC that, under Mandela, worked tirelessly to reconcile citizens of all colors from decades of open hostility.  Today, the party leaders are plagued with corruption scandals, open criticism of homosexuality (despite its legality under the country's progressive constitution), and increasingly radicalized tendency to support politically motivated economic redistribution from whites to blacks (in rhetoric not so different from what Robert Mugabe and Idi Amin had done in Zimbabwe and Uganda, respectively).

For politically astute voters, all this makes the ANC less electable.  And ANC's falling share of votes throughout the past few elections have been reflective of this.  Despite winning every election, the ANC is looking less and less desirable compared to the DA, which has (relatively) superbly ran the Cape Town and the Western Cape province surrounding it.  Despite the continued presence of economic inequality, the Cape region has retained its traditional sense of relative liberalism compared to the rest of the country, allowing large minority populations of Cape Malay, Indians, and whites to maintain their lifestyles.

This is all the more reason for ANC to mudsling the opposition.  Under ANC's helm, the past few years have seen economic downturn, with this year's growth rate forecasted to stay below 1%.  High unemployment has led to xenophobic attacks on migrant workers from other parts of Africa, which the ANC could have done more to rein in.  Lack of coherent policy platform to extricate the country from the economic fiasco means ANC needs to find some way to redirect the attention of increasingly disappointed voters.  Questioning the opposition's credibility on racial relations,a perennially sensitive issue, really works.

It is unfortunate, then, that ANC's mudslinging campaign will only work so far.  Its bigger issue in the upcoming election may internal coherence.  Disgruntled former ANC cadres kicked out of the party are forming new ones such as the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).  While these parties are not more coherent on policy platforms than the ANC, their leadership, after years of being bigwigs in the ANC, show little qualms about disclosing all the dirty stories of ANC's internal workings.  As the stories come out, the ANC is bound to splinter further with more internal conflicts.

For now, what holds the country together is not the current ANC's adherence to Mandela's original messages, but the country's superb political and economic institutions that keep a bureaucracy working to get things done like no other sub-Saharan African country can.  But as the ANC continue on its corruption and internal struggle while the opposition languish, it is only a matter of time before these institutions are also affected, making for one, the beautiful physical infrastructure of the country unmaintainable.  Mandela is probably rolling in his grave as he founds out what his political party has become.

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