Sunday, November 1, 2009

The State of the ANC in the Western Cape

Robbie Waterwitch and Coline Williams Memorial - Athlone, near Cape Town

The fact that the End Conscription Campaign is celebrating its founding 25 years ago in Spier Wine Estate, here in the Western Cape this weekend got me thinking back on the place of the Western Cape in the politics of this country. I remember, back in the 1980s, how we in Kwazulu-Natal used to admire our comrades in the Western Cape. We were, after all, stuck in situation which could not have been more different. Kwazulu-Natal (or Natal as it was then) was politically owned by Inkatha, the creation, oddly enough, of the ANC itself and the stepchild of the Apartheid state.
Inkatha was a Zulu nationalist organisation, run by Mangosuthu Buthelezi – a despot who was once within the fold of the African National Congress (ANC), but had broken away from it when he didn’t get what he wanted. His movement, which was supposed to have been a cover for the ANC, turned against the movement and became a vicious, right-wing, nationalist band of thugs, which played on black people’s deepest fears pandered to white power. It had no hesitation taking arms handed out to it from its white master, while at the same time condemning the armed struggle against the apartheid regime, by the ANC and other liberation forces. In Natal, we would look longingly down to the Western Cape, where Inkatha didn’t exist at all and where the struggle was , apparently, very simple. The majority, against the apartheid state.

I remember when the deaths of Robbie Waterwitch and Coline Williams happened. Two 20 year old comrades from Athlone, in Cape Town, mishandled explosives, and the bomb they were making went up in their faces and killed them. Their deaths were a tragedy. Not only because of the fact that they were so terribly young, but also because of the violence which our country was living with, mostly from the state, but sporadically, and mostly fairly ineffectively, from the liberation forces as well.

The point I am getting to, though, is that their death was a symbol of the level of commitment which was present in the “Coloured” community of the Western Cape. A level of commitment, not only to the African National Congress, but also to the goals and ideals of freedom. We all stood in awe of it. We watched it in wonder.

I was warned, when I was contemplating moving down to Cape Town from Johannesburg, that politics in the Western Cape was “a little odd”. I had no idea of what I was going to find. Most particularly, in the ANC. I had expected racist whites, because Cairp Tahn was actually step one before Perth. So all the dreadful moaners and groaners, all the naysayers, all the glass half empty types, all the solid, unreformed white racists, headed down to the Western Cape. That I knew. But nothing could have prepared me for the level of discord and factionalism I was going to find in the ANC itself. Nothing. Because it was - and is - completely indescribable. (This is not to say that there are not probably the same levels of discord in the Democratic Alliance, because I understand that it is pretty much the same – but it was the ANC that I was most shocked by).

Firstly, I noticed the dreadful, arrogant way they handled governance. The people who had the positions in government, treated them as though they were their own personal possessions. They ran rough-shod over rules, over people and over policies. They made imperial commands. They ruled by fear and by intimidation.
They made one critical mistake, however. They made “Coloured” people feel alienated from them. And so, with the stroke of a ballot pen, they voted for the opposition, and the ANC was unsurprisingly trounced at the recent election. I think their chances of getting back into power in the short to medium term are rather remote. More than that, the factionalism and dreadful nature of the politics in the region, meant that the party also managed to lose, in addition, a fair amount of black votes along the way to the other parties, including the newly formed Congress of the People (COPE), (which is really just an ANC faction).

They managed to alienate all in sundry. They fractured and fought internally. What this has meant at branch level is that there is widespread and general disinterest. This, coupled with the fact that there is a rather extreme lack of confidence in the people actually in decision-making positions. It all amounts to an unmitigated disaster.

I spent part of Friday with the present Premier – Helen Zille. She is Premier, because her party wrested power from the ANC. We visited the Philippi Stadium, in one of the poorest parts of Cape Town. The reason for the 54 Million Rand upgrade of the run-down stadium that was there, is that this is one of the very few social legacy projects which will actually flow from the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The roads were going to be done anyway – as projects they were just pulled forward. But Philippi Stadium was never going to have anything done to it. It was the one of the previous Ministers of Cultural Affairs and Sport, the ANCs Whitey Jacobs, who decided to put resources into the Philippi Stadium. And it was Helen Zille, the Democratic Alliance Premier, who was now taking the glory.

I bear her no grudge for this. She is the Premier and she represents all of us, whether we support her party or not. That is exactly the way democracy works. But I did find it somewhat ironic, that the party who actually did not really want the 2010FIFA World Cup in the first place, would be now gaining such palpable kudos because of it. That is the way the worm turns. It is just the way things are.

I remembered the chaos which once presided in her party, the Democratic Alliance. There was fraud, there was crookery, there were idiots and scoundrels who were its leaders in this province. They now have someone of somewhat more substance, whatever one might think of the policies. And just that, just the fact that she holds some kind of perceived moral compass on her hands; just the fact that she is not afraid to speak her mind – and just the fact that she is against the ANC, has been enough to propel her to power. Her party holds power no-where else, just here, in the Western Cape. And the reason for this is, of course, the complete mess which the ANC allowed to develop here, while all their snouts were firmly in the trough.

Because it is not that people in the Western Cape do not support the ANC. It is simply that they will not support this particular form of the ANC. It is not as though there has never been support for the ANC amongst the Coloured community of the Western Cape – there have been spectacular examples of how they have done so in the past. But they will not do so now. And they will not do so, because they do not see it as being in any way in their interests to support the ANC. To quote President Zuma on a recent visit here, the ANC has failed the people of the Western Cape.

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