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The show is on the road

The race is on. The gloves are off. The challenge for control of the South African National Assembly has definitely kicked in, if reports in the press are to be believed.

Everybody (or a few enlightened somebodies — which is not much, considering we are a Third World and largely illiterate country) knows that there is going to be a serious national election in 2004.

The Independent Electoral Commission is already putting up posters encouraging us to register, otherwise we will have no say in what the new government is going to be like. Be ready to vote, we are told.

Interesting. Fascinating. Particularly since, under the rules of the game, the president has not yet fired the gun.

There is no race, as far as the law is concerned, until the president announces a date for the election. He has not yet done so. But he could do so at any time.

In the meantime, according to inside sources, any parties wishing to be in contention should register anyway and presumably pay a hefty fee for the privilege. Parties also have to run around looking for sponsors (not to mention potential voters) and get their act together to canvas support in all nine provinces, if they possibly can. This is what the established parties are already doing, as if there is no tomorrow.

The established parties, in all their various forms and shifting alliances, based on expedient reconsideration of their previous adversarial relationships, are already running for the finishing tape. Smaller parties, some of them untested, are desperately thinking up ways of tripping them up before they get there.

Politicians, who should be busy making the country work better, are abandoning their families and getting out on the hustings, sending out the message that they love everybody in the country, regardless of class, colour or creed.

The BMW brigade (men and women alike) are squeezing their bulky haunches into khaki shorts and showing their faces in previously ignored regions of northern Zululand, the upper Kalahari and elsewhere. Babies who don’t give a damn are busy getting squeezed in front of the cameras.

The race, ridiculous as it might seem, is definitely on.

All this in spite of the fact that we do not have a real parliamentary democracy anyway — everything is decided from the centre.

There is still no real constituency basis to South African politics. If you make it on to the party list (even if you are a witch doctor) you get a place on the party benches. All you have to do, if you are selected by your party, is to repeat what the president has said in various dull and uninspiring speeches over the previous 10 years, and then sit it out in the relative comfort of the leather benches of Parliament for the next five years. You may even doze off if you so wish.

I do not wish to sneeze at the advances achieved over the past 10 years — although I sometimes have difficulty counting them.

Yes, we have a million new houses. But all that means is that we have now increased by a million-fold the faceless horror of the township culture we so hated and despised. Ask the late Robbie Resha.

A million new township houses for the same old black people is not the answer to the township problem — a problem that leadership, whoever that might be, is not obliged to face on a daily basis. Heck, they don’t live there.

And the construction of a million new township houses (dubbed vez’inyau by their unfortunate inhabitants because they are so small your feet stick out the back when you are sitting at the front) has not stopped the inexorable spread of the many more millions of squatter shacks that dot the vast expanses of this Proudly South African landscape like an undeclared plague.

A million RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme) houses begin to look like a joke when you see the numbers of people who are redeploying every ounce of their inventiveness in order to find a living space, however fragile, in the new South Africa. And being forgotten in the main plan, like the darkies of old, for their pains.

For every new RDP house, 20 new squatter shacks are born. Shacks multiply and turn into mini cities, governed beyond the law of the land by a variety of gang Mafias who are responsible to nobody but themselves.

Was that part of the plan? Is providing rudimentary electricity and access to Telkom and Vodacom telephone services for these shanty towns part of the solution? Are they going to be stuck there, out of harm’s way, for ever?

And, in spite of this evidence of human resourcefulness, unemployment rates are rising. Income levels are falling.

The rand is riding high, but only because deregulated (read: white) business is booming. So-called black business, including the narrow, new, black mining elite, is continuously scrounging around for scraps, and happy about it.

Poverty among the rest of the population is rising. So are incidences of murder, rape and child abuse.

Someone told me about a friend who was gang-raped in a taxi on the outskirts of Pretoria. I am so sickened I cannot even write about it.

Is there any sense in this? Is there any logic in our post-racial politics? Is there any sense in pretending that black people care about each other more than white people do? What is (or was) ubuntu? Is it, or will it be, part of the African National Congress’s 2004 manifesto?

So in the end one has to ask again: What is the coming election about, if not simply a rubber stamp to keep the ruling party in power?

When the president finally cracks the whip and declares it open season, what will all the issues be about?

And when we finally step up and vote, what exactly will we be voting for this time round?

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