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21 Apr 2016 10:48
Pansy Tlakula of the IEC announces election results. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)
It is unlikely that the decision last year by the ruling ANC to appoint Danny Jordaan as mayor of the Nelson
Mandela Bay metro, in the Eastern Cape, will reap rewards in this year’s local
government elections, specifically if securing a greater share of the important
coloured vote was one of its key objectives. But there is a larger and more
important question: why is it that the coloured vote has been so elusive for
the ANC throughout the country, including in the Western Cape, where it is
still the biggest ethnic group in elections, since 1994?
This question is especially important given two facts.
the powerful United Democratic Front (UDF) was launched in the biggest coloured
township in Cape Town, Mitchells Plain, in 1983.
Ever since the mining revolution of the 1850s and the
industrialisation of South Africa coloured people have been overwhelmingly
working class and poor, largely deprived of a rural base as a means of
subsistence, even if meagre, which African workers had and which they could
retreat to when they lost jobs and income in the cities. Bear in mind too that
coloured people are the only black people in this country who experienced the
horrors of classical slavery in the Western Cape: bought and sold as slaves on
So how could the ANC have failed to secure a simple majority
of the coloured vote, not only in Cape Town but in most other parts of the
country since 1994? This is one of the most interesting and intriguing
political questions but one which political scientists and the media have not
paid adequate attention to. The black working class consisted overwhelmingly of
African and coloured workers. The Indian working class has always been
However, today with local government elections a few months
away the relevance of this cardinal electoral question is striking, especially
since local coalition politics is bound to become prominent in the years ahead,
following the significant decline in support for the ANC across the country
over the past decade. The coloured vote will be an important factor in such
politics and will revolve mainly around whether that vote goes to the ANC or
The decision to prematurely disband the UDF in 1992, two
years before the 1994 election, was the biggest political and strategic mistake
the ANC made regarding the coloured vote, seemingly under pressure to do so by
the exile-based ANC leadership, which had seen the UDF as a potential opponent
or competitor and for many as too militant with its socialistic undertones. The
vacuum that resulted from the disbanding of the UDF was assiduously exploited by
the Nationalist Party, especially since the ANC was still struggling to
re-establish itself in the country after it was banned for decades. The result
was that the ANC was roundly defeated in the Western Cape in the first-ever
non-racial elections in our history in 1994, from which it has never recovered.
That the ANC lost in the birthplace of the UDF - which was overtly pro-ANC -
was a massive and tragic irony.
Besides, not many realised that this defeat was historic for
the wrong reason: never before did an oppressed and exploited peoples vote for
their oppressors and exploiters in their first-ever democratic election, meant
to celebrate their liberation from them. Never. It is unheard of in the global
history of colonialism and imperialism. This was the most damning paradox in
post-apartheid South Africa, the consequences of which still persist to this
day. The ANC mistakenly took it for granted that the massive groundswell of
support the UDF had, especially in the Western Cape, would automatically translate
into ongoing electoral support for the ANC but it was not to be.
Among many other social ills, there is a pervasive sense of
disgruntlement within the coloured community of having not benefited adequately
from affirmative action, employment equity and black economic empowerment
policies, especially in the Western Cape, where they are still a majority.
Today, in a supposedly post-apartheid non-racial
constitutional democracy the worst effects of the divide and rule policies of
the apartheid period - which was considerably overcome by the UDF - has
returned to bedevil relations between coloured and African communities across
the country. Just like the biggest beneficiary of this divide in 1994 was the
then Nationalist Part, today it is the Democratic Alliance, which has succeeded
in capturing most of the coloured vote around the country.
For this the ANC must take primary responsibility,
especially since coloured people have always been an organic and inseparable
part of the oppressed and exploited peoples of this country. The non-racial
fraternity in struggle between African and coloured people of the UDF days is
sadly dead. Whereas the coloured and African working-class communities, by
virtue of largely similar socioeconomic conditions, should have been natural
allies, they seem more apart today than before.
As a reflection of such deep alienation coloured
working-class communities, from Manenberg and Elsies River in the Western Cape
to Eldorado Park and Westbury in Johannesburg, are riddled with gangsterism,
crime, drugs and alcohol abuse. The twin scourges of drugs and alcohol have had
a devastating impact on these communities over the years. It is very
significant that it is in these communities that the DA has made massive
inroads over the past decade, as a direct result of their alienation from the
So palpably deep is this alienation, especially among
coloured youth, that rather than reverse previous electoral trends the
elections in a few months is likely to see even further loss of support to the
DA. This is unfortunately due to the fact that the ANC has still not imbibed
lessons from our history.
Ebrahim Harvey is a political writer, analyst and
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