A devil’s feast of contradictions


A devil’s feast of contradictions

The Afrikaner declaration imploding, the MKP infighting, coalition plots and flights of fancy … political analysts are struggling to read the crystal ball for the May 29 elections, sighs PIET CROUCAMP.


FROM time to time I am invited to speak about South African politics at churches, chambers of commerce or groups with agricultural interests. Especially now, in the run-up to the election, there is an urgent need for better understanding amid the uncertainty of electoral politics. But the contradictions don't only plague South Africa's more than 40 million eligible voters; analysts, too, struggle to make sense of the fluidity between fact and fiction.

A couple of weeks ago, the Afrikaner declaration to the ANC government was big news. Afriforum has since smothered this initiative for all practical purposes. A week ago, the uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MKP) was South Africa's “black swan" event. Now its bloody internal  battles are reminiscent of Bob Dylan's It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) and the legendary singer's immortal words, “He not busy being born is busy dying". And does the DA really want to set fire to South Africa's flag to prove a point?

The standard questions at organised discussion events are: What is the most likely outcome after May 29? Will the ANC, the EFF and the MKP form a coalition against the rest of South Africa? What is the likelihood of violence if the unthinkable happens and the ANC is uprooted from the National Assembly and the Union Buildings?

The problem with these questions is that as soon as a political analyst starts looking into the crystal ball, the audience should start shifting in their seats uncomfortably and sceptically. As I told a farmer last week, we can speculate intelligently about these days and these things but the real answer is that no one knows for sure. Even the makeup of the likely coalition partners will only crystallise in the two weeks after the election result is declared. Political analysts without affiliation at least have one more option than right-wing “civil rights organisations"; when the facts change, our story — or our understanding of the apparent contradictions — can change too.

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Probably the strangest contradiction is the DA considering a coalition with the corrupt ANC. I think the policy differences make such an agreement almost impossible — and I also suspect that such a political agreement would do incalculable damage to the DA's support among the white lower-middle class. But it is still astonishing to see the extent to which Helen Zille and John Steenhuisen are willing to be pragmatic to save South Africa from an ANC-EFF coalition. There is good reason to believe the DA will not survive such a coalition politically, but the same applies to the EFF.

The pragmatism of Steenhuisen and Zille and the likelihood of a coalition with the ANC largely moved the Multi-Party Charter as an agreement between opposition parties out of the public discussion. Most analysts now agree that the charter is merely theoretical and has probably become an insignificant factor in the election outcome. Apart from the DA, it largely involves parties with trivial support, and the blue party's marketing on Radio Sonder Grense discourages South Africans from showing even this meagre support for small parties.

The EFF is also mired in contradiction. Polls in the last few months indicate that its unruly blowtorch is running out of gas. If the ideological distinction between the EFF and the ANC blurs due to a coalition agreement, another even more revolutionary voice, such as the MKP, will be able to persuade the black middle class — the primary support base of the EFF — to join the fight against white “monopoly capital" and its Trojan horse, the ANC. The rise of the MKP confirms that argument. In KwaZulu-Natal, the MKP halted and even reversed the EFF's political growth while actually targeting the ANC.

So the only real (fatalistic) question audiences can ask analysts is: which parties will the ANC involve in an attempt to get 50%-plus in the National Assembly? Few things fill a white, middle-class audience with such visible despondency as hearing about this reality. This is so contrary to the optimism and expectations that opinion polls have created of an ANC whose support has fallen below 40%.

By the way, the (contradictory) idea raised by Qaanitah Hunter and Adriaan Basson in their book Who Will Rule South Africa? — that an ANC/DA coalition could result in the DA controlling the legislature and committees and the ANC the executive — is unworkable and almost impossible. There is no way the ANC can balance its internal contradictions and divergent polarities by ceding so much political power to a predominantly white and brown party. Actually, the idea is just nonsense.

There are other contradictions in South Africans' political logic. Last Sunday on the RSG programme Kommentaar (Commentary), I asked the FW de Klerk Foundation's Christo van der Rheede: how is it possible that the Patriotic Alliance's support base among coloured South Africans is growing so much? This is even after party leader Gayton McKenzie expressed himself clearly in favour of Israel in the conflict with Hamas. At first I thought this declaration had to be more or less a death knell for any growth in his brown support base.

If I understand the data correctly, only 8% of coloured people are Muslim. But aren't coloured Christians concerned about the fate of the Palestinians? Do coloured political interests have an irreconcilable divide when it comes to faith? According to Van der Rheede, the answer lies in class differences but probably also in the orthodox theory that the Jews are the chosen people of God. I wonder if white Christians still consider this theory to be decisive for their understanding of the conflict and whether it will be a factor in their voting behaviour.

Another contradiction in the recent political dramas was manifested in the signatories to the Afrikaner declaration, before the ink could dry on the tract, tearing up the document over a political dispute that had been in the public domain for more than a year. Afriforum declared itself willing to help the ANC address service delivery problems, knowing full well what the bone of contention, the so-called Bela bill on school education, entailed. Incidentally, the even more destructive National Health Insurance Act is also on the president's desk.

The Afrikaner declaration, which was probably initially accepted as a sign of good faith by Thabo Mbeki, Fikile Mbalula (blast my bloody soul) and Paul Mashatile, is now being used as a political crowbar with torque by Afriforum to overturn ANC policy at a critical moment before an election. Whatever could have been workable in the Afrikaner declaration has been burnt by Afriforum on the altar of self-interest; there can be no doubt about that. Years of negotiations with Luthuli House by Theuns Eloff and his colleagues have been undone. Mbalula's opinion does not count, but like Dingaan was at the time, Mbeki and Paul Mashatile are convinced that no agreement with “the Boers" is worth the paper it is written on.

Last week, Cyril Ramaphosa immortalised his dulled political consciousness in another contradiction when he used the word “treason". The DA received a lot of criticism this week for its allegorical marketing in which the South African flag is consumed by flames. The only people who rubbed their hands gleefully while watching the ad were Kallie Kriel and Ernst Roets. For the sake of context: many black South Africans who are unsure whether Afrikaners are really “here to stay" remind themselves of Afriforum's fight to protect the honour of the old South African flag.

As political commentators sometimes say, in these uncertain election times the need to explain oneself in the bearpit of public opinion is terminal for a political party like the DA, and that is what is happening now. That said, I don't want to weaponise that “neo-right" expression “virtue signalling", but this is a bloody good example of it. The ANC destroys almost everything the flag stands for but Thuli Madonsela and the entire Daily Maverick editorial staff gnash their stubborn political correctness teeth painfully at an allegory that laments the destruction of the flag and sings the praises of its restoration. Still: why is the DA so stupid as to position itself right in the crossfire of political correctness?

Another perplexing set of contradictions is the comings and goings of the MKP. Many of my interlocutors' are troubled by the hope that the MKP causes great damage to the ANC, but not enough for Jacob Zuma to make it to the national legislature. There are many reasons why the MKP is imploding but the most important must be the lack of a leadership conference that demarcates positions of authority and protects party leadership from the opportunism of ambitious rivals. As for any other organisation, an organogram that outlines authority roles is essential for political parties.

With less than three weeks left before voting day, there is no clarity on whether the MKP will participate in the election at all and if so to what extent only the carcass of the original idea will remain. The fraternal feud between Jabulani Khumalo and Zuma ruins, as it were, the “black swan" opportunity that the MKP offered to a million-plus voters in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Gauteng. And let's be honest, the comrades are stealing the party's money.

The ever-changing facts of our politics force analysts like me to oscillate gracefully in our understanding of it, sometimes within a span of days. But so too organisations conducting opinion polls in the run-up to the election — they have to constantly review their data. I understand that it is difficult to unravel the contradictions, but if another 60-year-old oom gets to his feet on a farmer's day to tell me “they will always vote for the ANC", I will bedinges myself. South Africans are clearly unsure who they should vote for on May 29 and “they" are not just making their crosses because it is the right thing to do.

By the way, I follow the media closely and don't have the data, but I am pretty sure there is a decrease, if not a drastic decrease, in service delivery violence. Has the collective consciousness of South Africans come to the realisation that we can finally achieve something great at the ballot box and we no longer need to use violence? Or have poverty and crime finally made us give up? The answer, like everything else in our politics, probably lies in unravelling a contradiction.

♦ VWB ♦

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