May 25, 2011The ANC used racism in its entire campaign, yet it blames racism for a decline in its support.
ANC groups performers and non-performers by race.
Brendan Boyle: It was a good election but for one thing: the campaign for municipal power headed us away from the constructive debate about what we can do together as South Africans, and back towards the apartheid era question of whether we should do anything together at all.
It was mainly the ANC, which fought hard to create the conditions for our constitutional democracy, that campaigned recklessly in terms of black and white.
Left unchecked, this crude new language of political contestation could ignite communities frustrated by their exclusion from the visible bounty of democracy, dishearten the undeserving among its targets and needlessly polarise a society that needs to be united.
We have had Julius Malema, standing at President Jacob Zuma's side, branding the entire white population criminal and absurdly alleging some secret agenda on the part of whites and the Democratic Alliance to reinstate apartheid.
Nceba Faku, mayor of the Nelson Mandela Bay metro, urged supporters to burn down the building of black editor Heather Robertson's local newspaper, The Herald, because, he said, it had propagated the cause of the Democratic Alliance.
"Down with white political parties, down! Down with those who vote for white political parties," he said.
Malema's rhetoric cheapened what should have been a debate about the issues of municipal governance, such as the ratio of cross-subsidisation from rich to poor, the use of accessible land in wealthy areas to house the poor and the priorities of road building and public transport facilities.
Talking about Helen Zille, the leader of the opposition, as "the madam", with clear connotations of racial domination, and her party's spokeswoman, Lindiwe Mazibuko, as her "tea girl" was a dangerous resort to the racial stereotyping that underpinned white rule in a society still maimed by the crimes of apartheid.
No doubt feeling himself protected by the curious notion that black people are incapable of racism, the word "racist" rolled off his tongue as easily as "vote ANC". Zuma and the other party leaders usually sharing the stage sought neither to contradict nor to stop him. Clearly, they agreed we should go back to a political contest based on the evil intentions of one race group towards another.
For those who never subscribed to the underlying theory of apartheid and those who have genuinely been converted to nonracialism, the charge of racism probably is the most hurtful insult to endure. It is a charge that surely should be a last resort to explain fault lines in personal relationships, in the workplace and on the national stage.
Yet for the ANC, which came so ill-prepared to the local government election campaign, it was virtually the first weapon it took from the vast arsenal at its disposal to counter an opposition campaign that had been at least a year in the making.
Then, when the results were in, with their small but significant losses for the ANC and a 50% increase in the DA's share of the vote, racism was one of the explanations the ANC used to console itself.
Jackson Mthembu, the ANC's national spokesman, called in an interview with the Sunday Times for a probe into white attitudes and why coloured supporters had deserted the party.
"People who were our traditional supporters may not have suddenly become racist," he conceded, but the comment implied that racism was the first explanation that came to his mind to explain the party's losses.
Of course, there are still many whites who are racist and do hold such views and some of them will have voted against the ANC. But on the whole they are a dying breed of people too old or isolated to have discovered the bankruptcy of their prejudice in the successfully deracialised school, work and leisure communities that are this country's hope.
"You still have sections of the South African population that think being black means you can't govern," Mthembu told the Sunday Times.
"That sentiment is being galvanised through some people saying that where white people are governing, they are governing better."
A more likely explanation for the shrinking ANC support is disappointment at the party's performance so far, at its failure to halt the rampant self-enrichment of the new elite and at the consequences for the efficient management of local authorities, healthcare and education of the jobs-for-pals culture known as cadre deployment - all of which can be addressed.
It is the ANC that chooses to group performers and non-performers by race. Out here, in the real world, we know good and bad service are not defined by race, but by good and bad attitude and no one ethnic group has a monopoly on either.