Loyalty and Alienation in the Johannesburg Election Results

What’s interesting in Jo’burg election results is that the DA grabbed support from the ANC and all the also-rans, picking up minority wards in the likes of Lenasia, Mayfair and Mogale City.  The DA now holds 35% of the municipal seats in Johannesburg, versus 27% following the 2009 elections. 

Service delivery is not a simple decisive factor, it is complex one.  Service delivery certainly is a problem:  a half a million people are waiting for houses, sanitation is a muddy slimy disaster for hundreds of thousands, matrics find it difficult to migrate successfully into an upwardly mobile workforce, bus projects have yet to serve the northern Johannesburg workforce — and these are issues that are far bigger and weightier than potholes, flat tyres and broken rims that plague motorists who can afford to have cars in the first place.

In the long view however, the ANC has delivered.  South Africans in general and Gauties in particular, are much better off than they used to be.  In Gauteng, the have-nots have been marching steadily into the ranks of the middle class since 1994, as defined by the LSM groups of South African marketing-speak.

This is an ANC success story, but for the all the ones who have been served, there are those that are still in dire need of decent living conditions. 

It’s 15 years on, and the ANC still pulls the heartstrings of loyalty and a kind of fervent nostalgia for that blessed unity which walked through fire and overcame a tyrannical and inhumane government.  Whipping up struggle passions with revolution and hate rhetoric is a successful short-term strategy;  it deeply resonates with those with personal losses, and those still impoverished and waiting for service delivery to come to home;  it provides a common enemy, against which to unify. It fires up a community spirit that overwhelms and replaces voter apathy, and offers an aspirational image of flashy success – a fancy Sandown house, multiple luxury cars and an uber-bling Breiting Wrist Watch.   So as strategies go, struggle songs and the continued deployment of Julius Malema and his me-too comrades, Nceba Faku and Jimmy Manyi,  play a key role in retaining ANC power, no matter how much they embarrass and make Jacob Zuma and the party leadership cringe. 

“Down with white political parties, down! Down with those who vote for white political parties!”

“Go and burn The Herald! We will face a bullet with a bullet!”

Helen Zille is a “dancing monkey” from “monkey town,”

“They (whites) are criminals, they should be treated like that.”

“the problem with Cape town is too many Coloureds”

“dubul’ ibhunu” (shoot the Boer)

“Don’t come here with your white tendencies”

“Umshini Wami”  (bring me my machine gun)

“the racist Helen Zille’s garden boys.”

But a challenge to sustain it may be looming on the middle horizon.  It is clear that the hate speech of the ANC rabble-rousers have alienated South African minority groups, as reflected in the 2011 Johannesburg poll results in minority wards.  This in itself is not a threat to the ANC: the minority groups will remain minorities as long as the lines are drawn along racial identity.  However, that the DA finds an audience at all in Alexandria, and went on take ward 32 and secure from 5% to 10% of the vote in other Alexandria wards,  is remarkable.  The tongue-in-cheek buzz in Olievenhoustbosch is that those with RDP houses, mostly relocations from Alexandria and other distressed settlements, were the ones talking up the DA.  In the lead up to the Gauteng elections, the DA focused on an inclusive, issue-oriented message, with very little ANC bashing, other than the toilet shit, in sharp contrast to the ANC’s most popular orators.

Is it possible that the more service delivery from the ANC, the more they need to “consolidate the back vote,” in the words of Gauteng ANC chairman Paul Mashatile?  And how will the black vote be consolidated?  More service delivery or a growing cadre of strutting Malema mini-me’s to keep the fires burning?  I am optimistic that hate will eventually lose its appeal, if only because the opposite is too horrible to contemplate.  Perhaps it will be hard to find the time and energy to hate your minority neighbour when you are working very hard to pay a bond on a suburban townhouse and save a nest egg to get the first of your family into a tertiary institution.  Youth born post 1994 will begin to come of age in advance of the next elections and painful and personal apartheid memories will not be in their mix of motivation at the polls, but racial identity will. 

Can a ruling party in our non-racial democracy really be a blacks only party?  There was a day when a vote for the ANC was a vote for a non-racial democracy.  But for now, it looks as if the ANC is covering its bases with divergent strategies that will lead to a deeper rift  in the next 2 or 3 elections, and the DA is already preparing to pick up the pieces.

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