Tuesday, April 21, 2009

South Africa's election - rewards for corruption

The ANC is predicted to win another landslide in the South African elections. Although you could be excused for wondering why it could deserve it. ANC President Jacob Zuma has already proven that the ANC is willing to corrupt the judicial system when one of its own are threatened.

That in itself should deny it power. The separation of party and state, and the independence of the judiciary are clearly threatened in South Africa.

The party of Nelson Mandela who conducted himself admirably when power was handed over after the first non-racial election, dropped far under Thabo Mbeki. Mbeki on one hand evaded science and contributed to the deaths of thousands as he embraced quackery on HIV, and on the other hand has his hands bloodied by his embrace of Robert Mugabe. Jacob Zuma shows signs of being worse still. Blocking a visa for the Dalai Lama, because China wanted it, shows how the anti-imperialist credentials of the ANC look rather rusty.

The ANC has the arrogance of the single governing party it long wanted to be – after all, it never ever really wanted liberal democracy. In South Africa, it still doesn’t need to give a damn, as so many black South Africans are grateful for liberation from racist rule. That sadly is enough to maintain the ANC’s arrogance.

The ANC has used the government owned media to push its own platform disproportionately. It has also been profoundly corrupt, with government contracts going to friends of Ministers, and politicians enriching themselves from the state.

More generally, South Africa is a mess in several dimensions. The economy is suffering from the global recession, crime has not receded with a murder rate the second highest in the world, and the highest reported assault and rape rate. South Africans have largely had to take things into their own hands to protect themselves. Riots a couple of years ago don't mean the majority have turned on the ANC. Bishop Desmond Tutu has been critical of the government, saying bureaucrats act with little regard for citizens, much like under apartheid. Electricity is severely rationed, because the government refused to privatise or allow the state monopoly to be challenged.

This has seen a new breakaway party emerge called COPE (Congress of the People)– which blames the ANC for opposing the rule of law and for corruption. The Democratic Alliance has long been the party of Opposition, even when apartheid existed, the Democratic Party was the liberal opposition, with recently deceased leader Helen Suzman. It has a long proud tradition of opposing apartheid and is now lead by Helen Zille. Suzman expressed concern before her death that democracy was more vibrant under apartheid than it is today, a sad legacy.

The best result would be for the ANC to be defeated, for a coalition of the Democratic Alliance and COPE to purge South Africa of the corruption and kleptocracy of the ANC years. However, the South African government media portrays the Democratic Alliance as a party of “white interests”, and the vast majority of poor barely literate black South Africans believe the cargo cult the ANC pulls out to have them vote for it – that only the ANC is looking after them, despite precious little evidence of the sort.

The most likely outcome is the ANC wins less than the 66% needed to change the constitution. The ANC will gloat and cheer, and continue to look after itself over holding itself accountable.

We can only hope that it wont threaten South Africa’s open liberal democracy as the party that believes it exists to rule increasingly sees its majorities eroded away. The sooner South Africa tells the ANC "thanks for the revolution, now we want good governance" the better.

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