Saturday, April 17, 2004

The Politicians Speak
After all the analysis provided here and on other blogs, I thought it about time to see what the politicians themselves have to say about the election.

In a statement issued by the DA, Tony Leon writes:

"...the Democratic Alliance has earned the right to celebrate. We have
achieved an historic result-one that lays the foundation for a strong, positive
alternative government to the ANC in South Africa...

...We look forward to the new DA parliamentary caucus. Our delegation will look far
more like South Africa as a whole than it has at any time in our party`s
history...

...As we predicted, the voters have dealt a New National Party a fatal blow. They
have been reduced to less than 2 percent nationwide. In the Western Cape they
are hovering at around 10 percent. They sold out the voters, and the voters took
their revenge...

...Before the election, we said that the Independent Democrats would struggle to
get more than 2 percent of the national vote. Indeed, it appears they have
received even less. We wish them well in Parliament. They must now prove that
they can represent the interests of their voters...

...Our mission is to build an alternative to the ANC government. Not because we
dislike the ANC; they are our political rivals, not our enemies. Indeed I am
sure that our maturing democracy requires a sensible relationship between the
government and the opposition. We believe that the people of South Africa will
be better served in a democracy in which power changes hands from time to time,
as it does in all the successful democracies in the world. We remain committed to this
mission...

...Our support in black communities has grown since 1999, but we still have much
more work to do. Our major task in the future will be to improve our
organisation on the ground so that we are better able to reach out and serve
these communities. We need many more men and women of quality to help us address
their interests.
"

I think he's putting an overly positive gloss on things when he suggests that the DA has achieved a historic result. At less than 12.3 percent, the DA's result is significantly worse than the 15 to 20 percent which they themselves had privately been hoping for. Nevertheless, as the only opposition party to gain support, I suppose we can excuse him his hubris. In any event, as he points out, the election does confirm the fact that the DA is now a genuinely multi-racial party and that is something to be celebrated.

I'm a little bit disappointed that Leon felt the need to put the boot into the NNP again although, given the tone of the election campaign and some of the exchanges between the two parties, I'm not entirely surprised. Nevertheless, it would be as well for the DA to forget about the NNP now. They've won that battle and there are far bigger issues ahead of them than the dying party of a bunch of ragtag political opportunists. It's interesting that Leon lays into the NNP but is conciliatory towards the Independent Democrats. I wonder if the DA is planning to make an approach to Patricia de Lille at some point. The election has put paid to some of her more grandiose visions and, that being the case, she may be more amenable to an alliance with the DA now.

I'm also happy that Leon appears to have offered a truce of sorts to the ANC. His call for a 'sensible relationship' is a positive sign that the DA is committed to trying to move SA politics beyond the petty bickering and facile accusations that have characterised it over the last few years. It will be interesting to see how Mbeki reacts to this.

Finally, he acknowledges the obvious by observing that the DA needs to do more work to win black support. I suggested yesterday that the first step towards this end should be the resignation of Tony Leon himself from the party leadership. I doubt that Leon would contemplate such a step but I'm afraid that in the absence of such a dramatic gesture the DA is destined, for the immediate future, to remain simply a party of the minorities.

Turning to the ANC, whose views are expressed in Thabo Mbeki's regular Letter from the President:

"To celebrate our First Decade of Liberation, the majority of our people voted against the perpetuation of the racial and ethnic divisions of the past. Through the ballot box, they have spoken out loudly against all attempts to persuade them that they belong to separate compartments, with competing interests. As an expression of these positions that are of fundamental importance to the future of our country, the people of South Africa voted overwhelmingly to renew the mandate of our movement, the ANC, to govern our country. These masses have made the unequivocal statement that they have the greatest confidence in our movement to lead our country as it begins its Second Decade of Freedom.
They have spoken loudly and said they have understood the truths the ANC has communicated to them, and understood the falsehoods that others have told. They have said they are confident that our movement can be trusted to take good care of their future, and are equally convinced that it would be wrong to entrust it to others...

...In their struggle against our movement, our political opponents make certain that they underplay our country's achievements in all these areas. They work to ensure that the masses of our people become oblivious to the sustained effort it has taken, for us to register the advances we have made in pursuit of these objectives. They try their best to persuade the masses of our people to forget the ugly reality of the apartheid society from which we have been working to escape during the last 10 years. As part of this, they constantly argue that to refer to the continuing impact of the apartheid legacy is to "play the race card". By trying to obliterate the memory of our racist past and denying its sustained impact on the present and the future, they seek to attribute to the ANC and the democratic order all the problems we have inherited from the past. Unashamedly, they pretend that these problems that are many centuries old, could have been solved in a mere 10 years, and that failure to solve them constitutes an avoidable failure of our movement...

...As Africans, both black and white, our people know the challenges that we and other Africans face, both on our continent and the Diaspora. They are sensitive to the suffering experienced by other peoples of the South. They have therefore unequivocally rejected the treacherous arguments that we should not stretch out a helping hand to the peoples of Zimbabwe, Haiti, Palestine and others. There are some in our country who harbour a deep-seated contempt for the masses that have voted decisively to renew our mandate. These are the same people who because they are convinced that the masses of our people cannot think, tried in vain to cajole them to vote for an Opposition that would not serve their interests.
"

The first quoted paragraph speaks for itself. Mbeki is entitled to trumpet the extraordinary success of the ANC in securing 70 percent of the vote. Nevertheless, I'm a little bit perturbed by some of the language he uses. Talking about the 'truths' of the ANC versus the 'falsehoods' of others puts me in mind of one of those evangelical types that like to proselytise to bemused bystanders about the wickedness of humanity.

The attack on the opposition is pretty much in keeping with Mbeki's character. I have, from time to time in the past, wondered whether Mbeki really understands the role of an opposition in a multi-party democracy since he often gives the impression that he views all criticism as an implied criticism of the move to democratic rule itself. He has a right to defend himself and the ANC against accusations that they've made things worse but it would be nice if, on this of all occasions, he reigned in the hounds and acted with a bit of magnanimity.

And then after getting the worst of Mbeki, we get the best. His reference to, 'Africans, both black and white' recalls his famous, 'I am an African speech' of several years ago and reveals the inclusionist, accomodating Mbeki that we know exists. Pity that he then launches into another attack on the opposition and implies that those who voted for it did so unthinkingly.

Much of the rest of Mbeki's letter is a lengthy diatribe against one, Martin Williams, journalist at 'The Citizen'. I'm not going to reproduce it here, but suffice it to say that it does seem a rather peculiar thing to include in your first official acknowledgement of your party's overwhelming victory. I'd be feeling pretty uncomfortable right about now if I was Mr Williams.

Mbeki ends off by listing the challenges for the ANC over the next 5 years:

"...the creation of more jobs and the reduction of poverty, the building of a non-racial and non-sexist South Africa with sustained reduction of the racial and gender disparities that continue to disfigure our country, the reinforcement of national unity and reconciliation, the further extension of the frontiers of knowledge and culture, a heightened contribution to the victory of the African Renaissance and the emergence of a just world."

Bravo to that.

None of the other major parties appear to have bothered to put anything on their websites. Probably because most of them are in mourning.

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