South Africa: Crucial Test for Democracy
-Democracy On Trial as former comrades turn foes brace up for tough elections
By Ajong Mbapndah L
Since the demise of apartheid the democratic dispensation that ensued black majority rule with the African National Congress –ANC reaping huge dividends at all elections has been the familiar trend. The first multi-racial elections in 1994 saw the emergence of Nelson Mandela as President. With his refusal to serve a second term, his erstwhile Vice President Thabo Mbeki took over in 1999. In 2004, overwhelming victory for the ANC guaranteed him a second term which was not completely as sharp differences with some party comrades forced him to resign with a year left for him in office. His resignation led to the emergence of current President Kgalema Motlanthe who everyone knows is warming the stage for Jacob Zuma the ANC President to take over after the elections.
Power is certainly expected to remain with the black majority but this time around it may be a much tougher fight for the ANC. The departure of former President Mbeki led to significant cracks in the party with aggrieved comrades leaving the party in droves to form a new party known as Congress of the People –COPE. Despite its youthfulness, COPE is expected by many to pose the kind of challenge and opposition that have escaped the ANC in previous elections.
The leadership of the party is made up of very high profile former militants of the ANC. Icons of the historic anti apartheid struggle who found the ouster of President Thabo Mbeki an affront too much to stomach have rallied around COPE to pose the most serious challenge to the relatively hitch free ride that the ANC has enjoyed at successive elections for some fourteen years now. The charge from COPE is led by Mosiuoa Lekota a former Defence Minister and Mbhazima Shilowa former Premier of the Gauteng Province.
Reasons cited for the feud within former comrades range from personality clashes, economic policies with tribal affinity proving to be a critical element as well. Considering that most of that who form the core of COPE lost elections into leadership positions of the ANC last year alongside Thabo Mbeki, ANC Chairman known for sometime now as President in the waiting Jacob Zuma labels his erstwhile comrades as sore losers and political opportunists. Reacting to the opposition from former colleagues with whom he shared the leadership of the ANC through more challenging times, Jacob Zuma said he was not surprised. "It is just disappointing that people who have been in the leadership, who have been leading people within the ANC, are not able to show leadership when they come across difficulties," he said.
At the first COPE Convention in November 08, although 4000 delegates were estimated to turn up, 6000 showed up made up largely of disgruntled members of the ANC and members of smaller opposition parties eager to stem off the influence of the ANC. Components of the electoral platform of COPE outlined at the conference included a campaign to defend the constitution and constitutional values, advocacy for strong moral values, equality and freedom and the quest for the renewal of democracy through electoral reform.
Blade Nzimande Secretary General of the South African Communist Party-SACP labels COPE with a hidden agenda to sideline the working class in South Africa.The all powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions –COSATU accuses Shilowa of treachery after he transformed himself from a close ally of the workers to an elite whisky and cigar smoking personality. An accusation which Mr. Shilowa who voluntarily stepped down from the Premiership of Gauteng Province, the economic hum of the country dismisses as frivolous. According to him the party has no aims to exclude workers, peasants and the unemployed. Many in the ANC believe that COPE was formed by people who did not agree with questions raised by the largely conservative economic policies of former President Thabo Mbeki.
Ethnic affinities are also playing a critical factor raising the prospects of violence. Xhosas who enjoyed power under Mr. Mbeki are reportedly at odds with been sidelined by Mr Zuma a Zulu. Supporters of both parties according to Zwelethu Jolobe a Political Science Lecturer at the University of Cape Town have organised and used ethnic arguments or tribal arguments to garner support in the different regions of the country.
On the first of March former South African Deputy President Ms Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka and another former ANC senior member business man Saki Macozoma, were the latest to join ranks with COPE. COPE had earlier on in February chosen Dr Mvume Dandala described as an experience leader of the church and civil society as its candidate for the Presidency of South Africa. Accepting his nomination at a press conference to introduce him, Dr Dandala said he was humbled to be given the responsibility. “The time has come for change, the time has come for hope” he enthused.
Although there are other parties engaged in the elections, the ANC remains the front runner with only COPE poised to give it a tough fight. Its candidate Jacob Zuma who was fired as Vice President of South Africa by Thabo Mbeki on alleged charges of corruption that he is still battling has proved himself a phenomenon in South African politics. He counts amongst the most vetted politicians in South Africa today having risen through the ranks of the ANC to stand tall as its undisputed leader today.
Legal woes emanating from charges of corruption, and rape have proved insufficient to stop his crusade towards the Presidency of South Africa. He is hugely popular within the ANC and considered by many to be more people friendly than his former boss Thabo Mbeki. Mr. Mbeki has so far maintain a low keyed profile in the ongoing campaigns but expressed surprise last year following a letter from the ANC urging him to campaign for the party. Expressing dismay at the promotion of personality cults and rapid drifts from core principles on which the ANC has been historically rooted, Mr. Mbeki was lukewarm at the idea that the very party which showed him the door will be expecting him to join the campaign trail.
At a recent rally, the presence of the country’s most respected voice Nelson Mandela was seen as an endorsement of Mr. Zuma’s candidacy. Considering that both leaderships in the ANC and COPE fought hard against apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela, many criticized the ANC for dragging Madiba as Mr. Mandela is fondly called into the tense politics of the day.
The stakes in the elections go beyond South Africa. Many in the continent are still to see the leadership that was expected of the country following the dismantling of apartheid and the emergence of black rule. Last year South Africans vented anger on their economic woes on fellow Africans. The result, businesses of non South Africans destroyed and looted, some raped, many killed with gruesome pictures which painted a sorry image of Africa around the world. Successful elections could help entrench democracy around the continent. With South Africa poised to host the historic world cup on behalf of Africa next year, flawed or violent elections will send a very wrong message to the rest of the world. The success of the elections will therefore have far reaching effects not only on South Africa but the rest of the continent and the way the world views Africa. After elections shrouded in controversy in Kenya and Zimbabwe last year, Ghana set the bar very high with hitch free elections which earned credit for the continent.
For a country that will be hosting the world on behalf of the continent in the 2010 world cup, for a country that remains a leading candidate for a seat in the security council of the United Nations w should it ever be reformed, and for a country that the rest of the continent invested so much in to rescue from the hellish claws of apartheid, the challenge is enormous and passing the test is of crucial importance.