Editorial: Cast your vote for change

Next week’s election signals the fall of the last bastion of racist rule. The world is watching with fascination as this nation plays out the grand finale of 20th century institutional racism, providing the extraordinary spectacle of a repressive, minority government voluntarily relinquishing power.

The world is not just gawking: it is waiting to see if racial reconciliation – which has proven so difficult in so many countries – is possible, and whether our country can defy its history and become a symbol of hopeful and peaceful change.

As South Africans, our concerns are more mundane. Will the new government be able to bring peace and security? Will it be able to deliver on its promises of social reconstruction without over spending and over-borrowing? Will it be able to deal with the political pressures it will face without stamping all over human rights? Can it counter the corruption that has become so endemic in our government?

To get to the essence of these questions: will the election bring real and substantial change? Will it start a process of development to overcome apartheid’s terrible heritage of inequality and impoverishment?

There are those who will go to the polls to vote against change, who will cast their ballot to try and minimise the impact of democracy who fear what they might lose in the new South Africa, rather than what they can gain.

But this is a time to be excited about the enormous amount we stand to achieve as a country: a non-racial society that can take, its rightful place in the world community and stand proud in Africa; a government that can begin the difficult process of rebuilding the social fabric of housing, education and health; a state committed to equal treatment of its citizens and with a new set of judicial structures, backed by the constitution, to look after the rights of its citizens; a new authority with the legitimacy and credibility its predecessors lacked in dealing with the tough issues of crime and violence.

The priority must be reconstruction. Apartheid has left us a society with deep racial and class divisions, grossly unequal and therefore unstable. The building of a new society must be rooted in attempts to rid ourselves of the inherent instability of racially based deprivation and division.

Market forces will define the parameters of reconstruction, but they alone will not overcome the terrible imbalances we inherit from the past. Economic growth is a prerequisite, but may only exacerbate conflict if a new government does not level out the distribution of that growth.

What we seek is a government which understands the market forces of the post-ColdWar world and the imperative for economic growth, but is able to turn these to the task of development, job creation and the provision of basic services.

How are these most effectively delivered: through the free market policies of the National, Democratic and Inkatha Freedom parties, the social democracy of the African National Congress, or the socialism of the Pan Africanist Congress?

In the late 20th century, we cannot put the interests of business or workers first, and let the rest sort themselves out, as the one-eyed free marketeers or radical socialists would have us do. We have to seek a balance of interests, a social compact that recognises their shared interest in economic growth, job creation and a more equitable distribution of wealth – and the state’s role in balancing these interests and channeling resources where they are most productive.

The IFP, NP and DP, despite the changes they have gone through, still represent sectional interests. One strong advantage of the ANC is that it is a broad church: its election lists cross racial, class, gender and ethnic boundaries – and that is an essential element in any government that is going to deal with the difficult problems we face.

The NP is too burdened by its past, too untrustworthy in its born-again non-racialism. The shakiness of its liberal commitments was shown by its willingness to resort to racism to lure the coloured vote in the Western Cape. Minority groups which put their faith in the NP to protect them are forgetting how opportunistic the NP is, and how quickly it will shed these commitments when it suits the party. The NP is also in decay: scrape away the top two or three leaders and you will find the likes of Hernus Kriel – men whose political instincts are fundamentally undemocratic.

The IFP has chosen to play a strong ethnic ticket. The lesson of Bosnia, Biafra and Burundi shows how destructive and counter-productive this is. We are voting to get rid of racism, to cross boundaries, not to reinforce them.

The PAC is also too willing to play a racial ticket, too tolerant of slogans like ”One settler, one bullet”. Its socio-economic policies have not taken cognisance of the post-Cold War reality. While it has shrewdly put land on top of its political agenda, its proposed solutions are designed to exacerbate illfeeling, rather than seek rehabilitative solutions.

The DP, plagued by poor leadership, has been disappointing in its attempts – doubtful voters, particularly from minority groups. It has run a campaign that has been arrogant in its moral superiority – an easy position when you have not had to bear the burden of government or of ”struggle” and negative, attacking its opponents rather than projecting an alternative and distinctive vision. Sadly, the DP has failed to rise above narrow sectional interests.

The strongest argument in favour of the DP is the need for a strong and trustworthy opposition to balance the likely power of the ANC. Certainly, if one wants to vote on this basis, the DP is the natural choice: resolute in its defence of individual liberties and an outspoken voice against corruption.

However, this is a time when one should vote for government, not for opposition. This is a time to vote for change, to be part of the movement to build a new non-racial national identity.

That movement is represented by the ANC, with 80 years of non-racial, cross-class struggle for democracy and human rights. At this moment, the climax of that battle, it is appropriate to give the ANC a strong mandate to undertake its Reconstruction and Development Programme, without having to buy off sectional interests.

But there are aspects of the ANC that trouble us, particularly in the week when some of its staff have been accused of having detained and abused IFP supporters in the basement of its PWV headquarters, more so when it is becoming apparent that Section 29 detention without trial is being retained. We are also concerned that the ANC has shown too great a willingness to give the security forces unfettered powers and indemnity in the Natal State of Emergency. This is not a good omen for dealing with political rivals.

We are deeply troubled by some of the people on the ANC lists, in particular corrupt homeland leaders. Putting the likes of Lebowa chief minister Nelson Ramodike on your election list is hardly the way to start an anti-corruption campaign. And the ANC has shown an unwillingness to act against individuals responsible for human rights abuses or incompetence. Individuals who have been the targets of strong internal ANC criticism – such as MK commander Joe Modise, implicated in the abuses in camps in exile, Lindiwe Mabuza, the Washington representative, and Wally Serote, the highly controversial cultural commissar – have not been disciplined.

We are also troubled that there are some senior ANC people who have a flexible commitment to human rights, and who seem only too willing to accept the argument that such rights may be suspended under the kinds of special circumstances and tough pressures that the new government is likely to face. Because of this, we will, as a newspaper, be especially vigilant in watching the new government. While we hope the ANC will act more honourably than its predecessors, we will watch it even more closely than we watched the last because we now have higher expectations.

Besides, it is a basic journalistic principle to never entirely trust any government, more so one which has so much hope invested in it.

However the ANC is the only party that has thrown its weight behind reconstruction and development, and has an extensive plan to achieve it. That plan is not without its flaws, but it is the best one before us as we go to the polls.

It is also the only party that has taken clear and, consistently progressive attitudes on most of the important social issues: abortion, the death penalty, affirmative action, gender equality … 

South Africa needs a party with the leadership and credibility to unite the nation behind a vision of reconstruction. Only the ANC provides that – The Editors


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