Why the ANC still rules the roost

Loyal: Many people support the ANC because they believe it is the only political party that can rescue them from poverty. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Loyal: Many people support the ANC because they believe it is the only political party that can rescue them from poverty. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

With the recent controversy that hit the finance ministry, the deplorable reaction to the #FeesMustFall movement by government, load-shedding, water shortages, alarming matric results and what appears to be general ongoing dissatisfaction among South Africans of all races, it is difficult not to wonder why the ANC still has such a strong support base.

The question “Why do people still vote for the ANC when they are so unhappy?” crops up often enough to send anyone, myself included, into a trance in an attempt to find answers.

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in Marikana and greater Rustenburg because that’s the part of the country I call home. Although there has been a decline in the ANC’s support in the area, the party can still count on the support of many of the people who live there.

Considering the Marikana massacre of August 2012, one would assume that support for the governing party there would have dwindled – but that’s not the case and many people there still look to the ANC to rescue them from dire poverty.

My grandmother lives in Bethanie near Brits in the North West, a village that suffers from dirty tap water and other service delivery problems.
When I asked her why she still supports the ANC, she said: “You could have easily become a domestic worker like me, but you went to school and you have a better life because of them.”

This reasoning is shared by many other South Africans. The ANC is the most acknowledged liberation movement in South Africa – and many South Africans, such as my grandmother and the people of Marikana, still see it as their saviour.

Attributing the end of apartheid to the ANC is the dominant narrative in post-apartheid discourse for many working- and middle-class black people, says activist and writer Simamkele Dlakavu – a narrative that ignores and erases the contribution of other liberation movements to the fall of apartheid.

This strategy, she says, played out when Nompendulo Mkatshwa, president of the students’ representative council at the University of the Witwatersrand, graced the cover of Destiny magazine in an ANC head wrap. #FeesMustFall is a challenge to the political and economic status quo administered by the ANC. Mkatshwa’s constructed image as the face of #FeesMustFall soothes and depoliticises a movement that is a direct challenge to ANC power and policy choices.

Representation matters because that is how power is exercised through different means of communication, and also how it is solidified and naturalised through repetition.

But even in the midst of what seems to be blind loyalty from ANC members, dissent does exist.

“We remain … disciplined members of the ANC but we will also raise our concerns, Bosa Ledwaba, an ANC member in Rustenburg, told me. “We love the ANC and we want it to be representative of us. Calling out the bad things in the party does not mean we are factionalists.”

Writer Simon Williamson says: “Half the problem with criticising [President Jacob] Zuma is the people that get in bed with your argument.” This statement extends to criticism of the ANC as well. There is a forceful anti-black and racist rhetoric that seems to rear its head every time people open their mouths about Zuma, the ANC and, in many cases, black people in general.

  In response to the #ZumaMustFall campaign that began after the president fired Nhlanhla Nene as the finance minister, columnist and scholar Kelly-Jo Bluen wrote in Business Day: “White enthusiasm for #ZumaMustFall aligns with white South Africans’ love for uniting around causes that serve our narrow interests, while absolving ourselves of responsibility for SA’s sociopolitical and economic malaise.”

Our country is at a racial boiling point; it is impossible to imagine politics beyond race – and that is why the nonracial approach of the Democratic Alliance does not please many. With one racist incident after another, it would be silly to think that race is not a factor in how people vote – from Helen Zille’s ignorant tweets about black women’s hair and cultural appropriation to DA leader Mmusi Maimane always finding new ways to embarrass himself and the party by blaming everything under the sun on the ANC and Zuma.

The DA is completely out of touch with black voters, who are more likely to opt for the ANC or the Economic Freedom Fighters, which has gathered lots of support with its militant and radical approach.

Though race plays a pivotal role in voting patterns, gender politics will soon enter the mix. Will South Africans vote for a party whose women’s league has consistently maintained patriarchy by marching and defending their leader’s foibles instead of supporting the hundreds of women who are violated in this country every day? If the answer is no, then what is the alternative?

Pontsho Pilane

Pontsho Pilane

Pontsho Pilane was a health journalist at Bhekisisa, the Mail & Guardian's health journalism centre between 2016 and 2018. She debuted as a journalist at The Daily Vox, where she wrote primarily about gender, race and how they intersect. She was previously a general news reporter at the M&G. Pilane holds two degrees in media studies from Wits University. Read more from Pontsho Pilane

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