The following list of canonical books has been floating around the blogosphere for the last few days but since Abiola Lapite has blogged it I presume that it has now entered the realms of respectability. The idea is to copy it and highlight the books that you have read.
Author - Title
Achebe, Chinua - Things Fall Apart
Agee, James - A Death in the Family
Austen, Jane - Pride and Prejudice
Baldwin, James - Go Tell It on the Mountain
Beckett, Samuel - Waiting for Godot
Bellow, Saul - The Adventures of Augie March
Bronte, Charlotte - Jane Eyre
Bronte, Emily - Wuthering Heights
Camus, Albert - The Stranger
Cather, Willa - Death Comes for the Archbishop
Chaucer, Geoffrey - The Canterbury Tales
Chekhov, Anton - The Cherry Orchard
Chopin, Kate - The Awakening
Conrad, Joseph - Heart of Darkness
Cooper, James Fenimore - The Last of the Mohicans
Crane, Stephen - The Red Badge of Courage
Dante - Inferno
de Cervantes, Miguel - Don Quixote
Defoe, Daniel - Robinson Crusoe
Dickens, Charles - A Tale of Two Cities
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor - Crime and Punishment
Douglass, Frederick - Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Dreiser, Theodore - An American Tragedy
Dumas, Alexandre - The Three Musketeers
Eliot, George - The Mill on the Floss
Ellison, Ralph - Invisible Man
Emerson, Ralph Waldo - Selected Essays
Faulkner, William - As I Lay Dying
Faulkner, William - The Sound and the Fury
Fielding, Henry - Tom Jones
Fitzgerald, F. Scott - The Great Gatsby
Flaubert, Gustave - Madame Bovary
Ford, Ford Madox - The Good Soldier
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von - Faust
Golding, William - Lord of the Flies
Hardy, Thomas - Tess of the d'Urbervilles
Hawthorne, Nathaniel - The Scarlet Letter
Heller, Joseph - Catch 22
Hemingway, Ernest - A Farewell to Arms
Homer - The Iliad
Homer - The Odyssey
Hugo, Victor - The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Hurston, Zora Neale - Their Eyes Were Watching God
Huxley, Aldous - Brave New World
Ibsen, Henrik - A Doll's House
James, Henry - The Portrait of a Lady
James, Henry - The Turn of the Screw
Joyce, James - A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Kafka, Franz - The Metamorphosis
Kingston, Maxine Hong - The Woman Warrior
Lee, Harper - To Kill a Mockingbird
Lewis, Sinclair - Babbitt
London, Jack - The Call of the Wild
Mann, Thomas - The Magic Mountain
Marquez, Gabriel Garcia - One Hundred Years of Solitude
Melville, Herman - Bartleby the Scrivener
Melville, Herman - Moby Dick
Miller, Arthur - The Crucible
Morrison, Toni - Beloved
O'Connor, Flannery - A Good Man is Hard to Find
O'Neill, Eugene - Long Day's Journey into Night
Orwell, George - Animal Farm
Pasternak, Boris - Doctor Zhivago
Plath, Sylvia - The Bell Jar
Poe, Edgar Allan - Selected Tales
Proust, Marcel - Swann's Way
Pynchon, Thomas - The Crying of Lot 49
Remarque, Erich Maria - All Quiet on the Western Front
Rostand, Edmond - Cyrano de Bergerac
Roth, Henry - Call It Sleep
Salinger, J.D. - The Catcher in the Rye
Shakespeare, William - Hamlet
Shakespeare, William - Macbeth
Shakespeare, William - A Midsummer Night's Dream
Shakespeare, William - Romeo and Juliet
Shaw, George Bernard - Pygmalion
Shelley, Mary - Frankenstein
Silko, Leslie Marmon - Ceremony
Solzhenitsyn, Alexander - One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Sophocles - Antigone
Sophocles - Oedipus Rex
Steinbeck, John - The Grapes of Wrath
Stevenson, Robert Louis - Treasure Island
Stowe, Harriet Beecher - Uncle Tom's Cabin
Swift, Jonathan - Gulliver's Travels
Thackeray, William - Vanity Fair
Thoreau, Henry David - Walden
Tolstoy, Leo - War and Peace
Turgenev, Ivan - Fathers and Sons
Twain, Mark - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Voltaire - Candide
Vonnegut, Kurt Jr. - Slaughterhouse-Five
Walker, Alice - The Color Purple
Wharton, Edith - The House of Mirth
Welty, Eudora - Collected Stories
Whitman, Walt - Leaves of Grass
Wilde, Oscar - The Picture of Dorian Gray
Williams, Tennessee - The Glass Menagerie
Woolf, Virginia - To the Lighthouse
Wright, Richard - Native Son
Considering that I have a degree in English, I'm rather distressed by how badly I've fared. Perhaps this is concrete evidence of our friend Kris's claim that South African degrees don't amount to very much. More likely though is that it's a reflection of the idiosyncratic nature of the list itself.
Obviously any such undertaking is going to amount to little more than a list of the compiler's own favourites but even so this one seems to have made a number of rather peculiar selection decisions. Firstly, why the obsession with the 19th and early 20th century worthies? For instance, is it really necessary to have two entries for Henry James if that comes at the ommission of, say, Tristram Shandy from an earlier period or Katherine Mansfield from a later? This is indicative I think of a pervasive, but erroneous belief, that 'good' literature must be of roughly Victorian origin and must concern itself with the minutiae of 'society' life. Call it the Jane Austen fallacy. It accounts for the fact that books like Pride and Prejudice regularly top lists of people's favourites, despite the fact that 21st century readers find little in them to excite or empathise with. And yes, I realise that the 'want of a wife' is a universal with which we can empathise but the methods and mores associated with that desire in Victorian England are unlikely to move many people today.
Then there is the overwhelming American bias of the list. Is a life really wasted if it hasn't devoted time to reading Mellville's Bartleby the Scrivener, Leslie Marmon Silko or Ralph Ellison? I doubt it, especially if the time saved was put to use reading Olive Schreiner, John Fowles or Patrick White to name just 3 glaring omissions. I suspect part of the problem lies in the compilers desire to overcome the tendecy of canonical lists to consist mostly of white men of European origin. Hence Ellison and Alice Walker (possibly the most over-rated writer of the last 50 years). The pity is that if the compiler really wanted to broaden the list he need only have looked to South America, Africa and India to find a host of authors who are not white or European, or, in many cases, male. Where is Jorge Luis Borges, Salman Rushdie, V. S. Naipul or Bessie Head?
In fact, the failure to look much beyond the United States and Britain means that the list is deprived of a number of books that really ought to be there. I'm thinking in particular of Margaret Atwood (either Surfacing or The Handmaid's Tale), Umberto Eco (Name of the Rose) and Milan Kundera (Unbearable Lightness of Being). These 3 are surely amongst the finest writers and books of the 20th century.
My final gripe concerns the tendency of these types of lists, and this is no exception, to be self-consciously literary, as if any book that is not resolutely high brow does not deserve to be remembered. This is patently absurd as any reader of Tolkien, M. John Harrison or Frank Herbert will tell you.
Does this make sense? I've noticed that most of the stuff that I've been trumpeting is post war which reveals where my own preferences lie. So perhaps I ought to dig out that copy of War and Peace after all.
Murray Wesson & Andrew Black are South African Rhodes Scholars at Oxford. When they are not studying Law and Economic & Social History they spend their time wandering catatonically through the streets of Oxford communing with the spirits of bygone political, economic and cultural thinkers. This is what they have learnt...
Thursday, April 29, 2004
The following list of canonical books has been floating around the blogosphere for the last few days but since Abiola Lapite has blogged it I presume that it has now entered the realms of respectability. The idea is to copy it and highlight the books that you have read.
Wednesday, April 28, 2004
Meanwhile back in the Laager
This is interesting indeed. The white 'homeland' of Orania has launched its own currency. The 'Ora', as it is known, comes in four denominations, Ora 10, Ora 20, Ora 50 and Ora 100, with each note depicting different aspects of Afrikaans culture and history. The Reserve Bank is said to have received the news with caution.
I must confess that I'd rather thought that the whole Orania project was either dead or in the midst of dying. This news is thus something of a jolt. Despite Orania spokesman offering assurances that the idea is simply to retain purchasing power in the area it seems clear that the real intention is to stealthily move the area down the road to quasi-independence. Might we expect an Orania passport next and perhaps an official Orania representative in Pretoria? What about an Orania self-defence force and Orania security service? So far as I understand things, because the entire 'homeland' is on privately owned property there is nothing to stop the people living there from implementing these sorts of changes. I suspect that if things do go down that road though, the people of Orania will find that, at some point, they run into problems with the constitution (Murray, is this correct?) if not the government itself. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see just how far they get.
UPDATE: It turns out that Orania has a website, which I include for your edification. Its all in Afrikaans, naturally, so be warned.
The cabinet has been announced -- Buthelezi is out and Van Schalkwyk, to my surprise, is in (as Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism). The message seems to be that loyalty will be rewarded, even ahead of competence (sadly, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang remains Minister of Health).
The composition of the cabinet is interesting for other reasons. A single representative of AZAPO has been brought in, as have 5 new women, meaning that out of 49 ministers and deputies, 22 are women. If one considers that there is also a sprinkling of white people (Alec Erwin, Derek Hanekom, Van Schalkwyk) then it seems that Mbeki is attempting to construct a cabinet that is roughly representative of South Africa's demographics. Admirable, up to a point. But it also seems to reflect the ANC's view of democracy -- all racial groups, and even opposing ideological viewpoints, should be brought into the broad church of the ANC, where a consensus on key issues will be hammered out. In this way, the party becomes a type of Parliament, and Parliament becomes, well, I guess a place for Tony Leon to let off steam. For a variety of reasons, not least this, I think that this approach to governance is unwise.
Tuesday, April 27, 2004
I find this SABC report rather disturbing:
'Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwe president, received a standing ovation as he arrived for today's inauguration of President Thabo Mbeki; a party also marking 10 years of post-apartheid democracy.
South African and foreign dignitaries rose to their feet at Pretoria's Union Buildings as the Zimbabwean leader arrived for the inauguration ceremony, accompanied by his wife Grace.
Thousands of party-goers attending a public concert on lawns below the buildings whooped and cheered as huge television screens showed Mugabe's arrival.'
I suppose it was expecting too much to have hoped that Mugabe would not have been invited to the inauguration but that he was greeted by a standing ovation from dignitaries and members of the public really takes the cake. Presumably the irony of applauding a man who has done more than any other to undermine democracy in Southern Africa at a party to celebrate the advent of democracy is lost on most people. What kind of message does it send to the rest of the world that we not only provide this man with the opportunity to strut his stuff at the official commemoration of the beginning of our democracy but we then applaud him for doing so?
Monday, April 26, 2004
Occasionally something in Britain really surprises me. For instance, in the neighbourhood where I live I've recently seen a series of NHS posters advising people to get HIV tests. All of these have photos of people on them, smiling, saying that it's the right thing to do. No problem with that, you might say, except for the fact that all the posters, without exception, feature black people. Underneath, in smaller letters, you're advised to phone the "African Aids Helpline."
Now, I can sort of understand how this happened. Its quite possible that, statistically, most people in Britain who are HIV positive are from African countries and are black. Presumably, therefore, it was decided that there was a need to target this sector of the population. Nevertheless, it seems to me that most people who see these psoters are likely to draw the conclusion that AIDS is unlikely to affect whites, and that people from Africa are likely to be diseased. The first message is unwise from a public health point of view, and the second is simply irresponsible given Britain's current panic about asylum seekers (and the fact that many refugees are, legitimately, entering Britain from countries such as Zimbabwe).
Is the NNP set to disband? News24 reports on rumours that, 'the party's possible disbanding is being investigated at the highest level.'
Apparently one of the bones of contention is that all of the NNP parliamentary seats (7 in total) have gone to party members from the Western Cape. This is very much the type of problem that one would expect from a party whose support has declined so precipitously. With so few seats to go around it was inevitable that there would be squabbling. And van Schalkwyk appears to have fanned the flames by his injudicious allocation of seats.
My guess is that the party will soldier on until the floor crossing season gets underway later this year at which point the remaining MPs will defect and the party will be wound up.
Sunday, April 25, 2004
This month's edition of Prospect is particularly good with outstanding articles on, amongst others, Bill Clinton's efforts to reduce the budget deficit in the 1990s, the future of controversial Qatari news channel al Jazeera and continuing fallout and feedback from David Goodhart's (Prospect editor) essay in February suggesting that Britain may be, 'too diverse'.
As if this were not enough the issue comes with a free CD entitled, 'Empire and the dilemma of liberal imperialism'. Not only does it contain essays from just about everyone who's had something to say on the subject over the last few years (Robert Kagan, Robert Cooper, Niall Ferguson, Michael Lind, Michael Ignatieff, Philip Bobbitt etc) but it also includes an audio recording of a recent debate on the same topic which featured Niall Ferguson, Philip Bobbit, Clare Short and Michael Portillo. Outstanding!
UPDATE: I've been rooting around a bit and managed to find an online version of Robert Kagan's essay, 'Power and Weakness'. Kagan is one of the leading academic lights in the neo-con constellation and in this, very influential, essay he purports to explain the divide between Europe and America in terms of their differing predispositions to, and capacity for, the use of power. Whilst I'm at it, I'll point you to the Project for the New American Century, about the closest thing to an official neo-con website and repository for many of Kagan's essays.
Apologies for the lack of blogging recently, both Murray and I have been busy with academic work. Nevertheless, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, so we found time to attend Exeter College's annual Ball last night. A spiffing occasion all round.
Thursday, April 22, 2004
There aren't that many advantages to using Blogger. There are only a handful of templates to choose from (and, frankly, they're all rather dull), you can't put up pictures, the service makes no provision for trackback etc etc.
However, blogger is owned by Google. As is the new, and much publicised, email service gmail. What this means is that I am now the proud owner of one of the very first gmail email accounts. Yup, as a, 'long time user of blogger', google has seen fit to provide me with my very own gmail account to play around with. The service is still in beta testing and not generally available to the public, so I expect it to be a bit buggy. Nevertheless, with a gig of storage space and what is claimed to be an unbeatable spam filter, I'm not complaining.
Aaah, to be on the cutting edge of modern technology. Maybe we should hold fire, Murray.
More SA blogging goodness: Fodder is a very well written blog which, inexplicably, has only just come to my attention. It has a number of interesting posts up about the elections and I suspect it will become part of my regular reading.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Cherry's Cherryflava is not only one of the funniest South African blogs around but also, by some measure, the prettiest. Check him out, especially for his regularly updated photoblog.
I thought the boys at Commentary might enjoy this headline article from the Onion:
'Libertarian Reluctantly Calls Fire Department
CHEYENNE, WY-After attempting to contain a living-room blaze started by a cigarette, card-carrying Libertarian Trent Jacobs reluctantly called the Cheyenne Fire Department Monday. "Although the community would do better to rely on an efficient, free-market fire-fighting service, the fact is that expensive, unnecessary public fire departments do exist," Jacobs said. "Also, my house was burning down." Jacobs did not offer to pay firefighters for their service.'
Lest anybody think that racism is a uniquely South African characteristic.
Wednesday, April 21, 2004
George "Dubya" Bush phoned Mbeki at 1h30 in the morning to congratulate him on the election results, and to tell him that South Africa provides a model for new democracies elsewhere. Indeed, there was so much faith in the ability of South Africa to run its elections freely and fairly, that both the EU and UN declined to send observers, despite being invited to do so. While this is obviously a feather in the cap of the country, we should remind ourselves that the ANC's commitment to democracy is yet to be truly tested. This will only happen when the ANC faces a genuine electoral challenge -- something that it has not yet done.
According to the M&G, the top five names on the ANC's list are Thabo Mbeki, Jacob Zuma, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Kader Asmal and Trevor Manuel. So, assuming that this won't change, it seems that Jacob Zuma won't be shunted to KZN after all. Should we then assume that one of these individuals is in line for the presidency after Mbeki? I tend to think, or maybe its just wishful thinking on my part, that Jacob Zuma is an unlikely choice, as is Kader Asmal (who also, I think, has health problems). That leaves Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Trevor Manuel. But does Manuel really have a shot at the presidency? The most likely candidate must be Dlamini-Zuma.
SABC is carrying a short article suggesting that the minor parties in KZN have agreed to form a govt with the ANC and the IFP.
ACDP spokesman Selby Khumalo is quoted as saying:
'We will support the provincial government led by the ANC as the majority party and which includes the IFP.'
Earlier today, Bantu Holomisa of the UDM issued a statement in response to an ANC request to help form a govt in KZN:
'The UDM NEC therefore agreed to assist the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal as per their request. The UDM provincial executive has thus been given the go-ahead to enter into negotiations with their provincial counterparts in the ANC with a view to forming a provincial government.
Notwithstanding the above, it is the view of the UDM NEC that the ANC and IFP should still govern together in KwaZulu-Natal.'
So, it appears that the much vaunted 'coalition for change' is dead on arrival, since it is highly unlikely that the DA will be joining in all the fun. Furthermore, since the Minority Front has already committed itself to working with the ANC, what this also means, of course, is that the DA, with a mere 7 out of 80 seats in the provincial legislature, will now be the sole opposition voice.
Tuesday, April 20, 2004
The necessity of opposition
After a prolonged absence (due to short-term employment as a student dean) I'm back! Many thanks to Andrew for doing such a sterling job in my absence (apart from this dubious and, I hasten to add, entirely groundless remark).
Unfortunately, of course, I missed most the action during the elections. Overall, these seem to have been a triumph for the ANC and a disappointment for opposition parties, most of which fell far short of their goals. Now, more than ever, therefore, its important to recall the importance of keeping the opposition alive in South Africa.
Some time ago, I discussed Amartya Sen's classic study Development as Freedom. Sen's basic thesis is that political freedom is not incompatible with economic development; rather, its a necessary condition thereof. Hence, development as freedom. Sen famously observes that democracies seldom suffer from famine, whereas dictatorships do. Malnutrition might be common in India, the world's largest democracy, but, according to Sen, famines aren't. Similarly, its no coincidence that Zimbabwe is gripped by serious food shortages whereas none of its neighbours are. The reason? In a democracy, leaders have an incentive to attend to social problems. If they don't, they are likely to be voted out of power and be subject to the problems themselves. Moreover, if speech is free, information about pending catastrophes reaches the leadership more easily, who are then able to act pro-actively.
The ANC's belated decision to roll out anti-retroviral drugs can be seen as an example of Sen's principle in action. The response to this move that I've most commonly encountered is "its just because of the election." True, and the ANC should have done it years earlier. Nevertheless, the fact that they did do it, despite Mbeki's intransigence on this matter, is important. It shows that the ANC feared the ballot box. It showed democracy in action.
Well and good. But before we get too carried away, we should remind ourselves that, if there hadn't been a vocal opposition, chiefly in the form of the DA, articulating viable policy alternatives, we'd probably still be listening to Mbeki's cryptic prevarications on HIV/AIDS. Unless there is an alternative, somewhere for votes to go, Sen's analysis breaks down. If the ruling party can simply assume its support, because it faces no electoral challenge, then it has no direct incentive to respond to social problems. That is why, now more than ever, its necessary for the opposition to dig in, survive and continue to offer alternatives. If it doesn't, the advantages of democratic rule in South Africa will be eroded.
Monday, April 19, 2004
From our referer logs comes this gem. Somebody found Southern Cross by way of a google search for, 'sex massage Knysna'.
I think this is your department, Murray.
Sunday, April 18, 2004
SABC strikes an unusually critical tone in a report on Robert Mugabe's Independence Day speech yesterday:
'His address came as the country entered a quarter century under his rule with the country devastated by economic collapse, subjected to international isolation, with half its 12 million population starving, and in the grip of violent political repression meant to crush his opponents and to ensure he stays in power.'
Saturday, April 17, 2004
Once again, an Andrew Black political forecast proves to be inaccurate. In fact, a good way of making money would probably be to bet against my predictions.
Despite my confident assertion that the DA-IFP coalition would secure enough votes to win Kwa Zulu-Natal it turns out that not only did they not win enough votes but that the ANC is in a position to rule KZN without help from the IFP, should it choose to do so. The final tally in the KZN race is as follows:
ANC (African National Congress)- 46.98%
IFP (Inkatha Freedom Party)- 36.82%
DA (Democratic Alliance) - 8.35%
MF (Minority Front) - 2.61%
ACDP (African Christian Democratic Party) - 1.78%
UDM (United Democratic Movement) - 0.75%
NNP (New National Party) - 0.52%
ID (Independent Democrats) - 0.49%
No matter how many other parties the DA-IFP bring on board, there is no way that they can get the 50 percent necessary to rule. The ANC, and its partner the NNP, on the other hand could, along with the help of the Minority Front (with whom the ANC had an alliance in the last government), get 50.11 percent and therefore form a goverment. This presumes that the divying up of the seats amongst those parties that have secured very small shares of the vote allows the NNP to get at least one seat (are there any experts out there who can help me on this?). Nevertheless, I'd be very surprised if the ANC chooses to rule without the help of the IFP (there's another prediction for you). I think everybody acknowledges that for the sake of stability in the province it is important to have the IFP on board. I'm sure that the ANC won't be shy about pointing out to the IFP who the new top dogs are though, and I'm willing to bet (another prediction) that the IFP will have to cede the provincial premiership to the ANC. If recent press reports are to be believed, Mbeki is readying Jacob Zuma for the role. Alas, the DA are likely to be left out in the cold.
Blogging appears to have arrived in South Africa. I've just discovered that MWEB now hosts a blogging service dedicated to South African bloggers. They even have a search option where you can look for South African bloggers writing about things that interest you.
Whaddya say, Murray? Forget migrating to Movable Type, maybe we should abandon Blogger for MWEB.
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
...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
...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
...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
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.
SA Sunday Times is reporting that the number of women in the new parliament is set to go up from 120 to 131 (out of a total of 400). At roughly 33 percent of the total, this means that South Africa ranks, a very creditable, eleventh worldwide. Interestingly, Rwanda is in the lead at 49 percent.
Friday, April 16, 2004
What does it all mean?
Now that the dust is settling, its time to reflect on what the election actually means.
First off, lest anybody had any doubts, the ANC is now the only real player in town. The election amounted to little more than a referendum on their rule over the last ten years. The fact that they managed to increase their share of the vote despite concerns about a two thirds majority and the mishandling of such issues as HIV/AIDS means that they can look forward to ruling the country for a generation at least. Nevertheless, I don't buy the argument that winning 70 percent is evidence of the ANC's making major inroads into the opposition. I think their increased share of the national vote is in part a reflection of South Africa's changing demographic profile. Which is to say that since blacks constitute an increasing proportion of the total electorate it should not surprise us that the ANC's share of the vote went up. The 70 percent is also, of course, a result of the ANC's successful campaign to win Zulu votes in KZN. The DA likewise, although pushing up their share of the vote by 3 percent or so have also battled to move beyond their traditional support base. The election confirms that they are now the party of South Africa's minorities rather than simply a white party and as such they could, with some justification I think, claim to be more multi-racial than the ANC. Nevertheless, this doesn't amount to much. For those of us hoping that this election might mark the beginning of the end to racially motivated voting there is not much to draw solace from here. South Africa still votes along racial lines, despite what all the spin doctoring to the contrary might have you believe.
What should we make of the fact that the ANC now has a two thirds majority? The two-thirds majority could, in theory, allow them to change the constitution in cases where the constitutional court finds against them or where the constitution itself prevents them from doing something that they want to. The constitution currently prevents the president from serving more than two terms, so they could change it if Mbeki decides to run again but, so far, they've promised that they have no intention of doing this. At the moment I'm inclined to believe them on this.
As for cases where the court finds against them, I don't think we need fear that they'll simply alter the constitution to get around the problem. In fact in the past they've always acquiesced to the court when forced to do so. When the court ordered them to start providing anti-retrovirals last year, they grumbled a bit, but there was no suggestion that they'd change the constitution to get out of the obligation.
In general, I think the worry about the two thirds majority is a bit of a political red herring. The ANC has had a de facto two thirds majority for the last 5 years (through their alliance with Amichand Rajbansi's Minority Front Party) and they've only changed the constitution once - to allow them to enact the floor swapping legislation last year, a move supported by most other parties. Even with a two thirds majority, they can't change the Bill of Rights and, to be honest, if they were so inclined then I think it would be a sign that things had gotten so bad that people probably wouldn't be too worried about constitutional niceties anyway. The only reason, I can think of, that they might want to change the constitution in the face of opposition from other parties is to allow Mbeki to run for a third term. But I really don't see that happening, not least because there are people within the ANC who have their eyes on the prize and who would not stand idly by and let it happen.
The reality is though, that the ANC is going to be in power for a long time to come. After the 1999 elections, I said it would be a generation at least before they were voted out and I stand by that. The ANC will only start losing elections when the average voter is somebody who was born after apartheid ended. The emotional connections to the party that brought freedom are just too strong to allow most voters to vote along purely rational lines. And, when all is said and done, the ANC haven't done badly over the last ten years. My feeling is they've done enough to justify winning the elections, although perhaps not enough to justify the 70 percent which they've achieved. In any event, I doubt we'll see a non ANC government until at least the mid 2020s.
But is one party dominance such a bad thing? It's worth mentioning that in the cases of many developing countries, one party dominance has not been obviously negative. Japan after 1951, Taiwan after 1947, Singapore after decolonisation, are all countries that got rich under the rule of a dominant party. On the other hand, countries like India whose government regularly changes have remained poor. So the evidence is not cut and dried by any means.
That said, multi-party democracies usually have greater respect for rights and freedoms (compare India to Singapore for instance) and for the notion of pluralism. One of the things that I worry about is that if the ANC's hegemony endures we're slowly going to find that SA turns into a corporatist state. By this I mean that the party slowly comes to dominate all aspects of SA life such that there is no space for non-ANC public life. You want to work for the civil service, be a judge, run an NGO, join a sports body, win a government business contract etc then you'll need to be a member of the ANC. A friend of mine from Botswana has just finished his DPhil in law and has returned home with the aim of eventually becoming a judge. Before he left, he told me that he'd joined the major Botswanan political party because he thought it would improve his chances of becoming a judge in ten years time. This is the kind of thing that I'm referring too when I say that SA is in danger of becoming a corporatist state. Because the party dominates everything, you'll need to be a member of the party or, at the very least, uncritical of it, if you want to be successful in public life.
It is still too early to tell if we are going this way but my hope is that our strong and independent media and natural propensity for causing trouble (think of Zachie Achmat and the Treatment Action Campaign) will prevent the ANC from ever dominating SA life in quite this way. It's interesting to reflect on the strength of civil society in the past. Think of the various civic organisations that constituted the UDF in the 80s and the various church and faith based pressure groups which were able to operate in South Africa inspite of the strictures placed upon them by the Apartheid state. The civic movement in South Africa is certainly not as strong as it used to be, but the emergence and success of groups like the TAC give me hope that that tradition is still there and that it is still capable of operating independently of the state. If we are to resist the trend to corporatism then it is this history of recognising the difference between the state and civil society that will play the crucial role. Time will tell.
What should we make of the election's significance for opposition politics. I'm afraid that I'm not particularly optimistic here. The NNP got slaughtered which makes me happy because I don't believe that the sort of political opportunism that they've displayed should be rewarded. And, depending on how one interprets their performance, there is perhaps another reason to be happy. The NNP's campaign was based on the idea that since the ANC was destined to win, it was better to vote for the NNP who might at least have influence with the ANC rather than for the DA who don't. Its an idea that has a certain appeal to it but if it was widely accepted it would have spelt the end to real opposition politics and thus to genuine multi-partyism. So perhaps we can interpret the electorate's rejection of the NNP as a sign that it wants a genuine alternative to the ANC rather than simply a host of minnows desperately trying to exert influence over the ANC whale. The fact that the electorate didn't fall for Kortbroek's oft repeated assertion that there is no place for 'confrontational politics' in South Africa gives me hope for its maturity and level-headedness.
The other encouraging thing is that the electorate decided not to split its vote amongst several parties and that the DA was able, therefore, to consolidate its position. After all the stories over the last fortnight about the ID's taking DA support I had begun to fear that the DA would actually lose support and that South Africa would end up with 3 or 4 parties each with 5 percent. Again, I think we can thank the maturity of the electorate for the failure of the ID's to make a real impression and for the DA's 3 percent gain.
I'm afraid that's it for the good news. The fact of the matter is that, despite the ANC's disastrous handling of HIV/AIDS and Zimbabwe and despite a major effort by the opposition to win black support, the opposition share of the vote still declined. I'm pretty certain that in the DA's heart of hearts there's a feeling of disappointment. They'd been talking about getting 15 to 20 percent of the vote and with even a small swing amongst black voters this would not have been unreasonable. As it stands though, it appears that they won very little support from black voters and I think the lesson for them is that they need to bring on a new generation of black leaders if they want to continue to grow. If Tony Leon is as committed to the success of South Africa's democracy as he claims to be, he might want to think about stepping down now. He's done a fantastic job taking the DA from 1.7 percent of the vote in 1994 to 9.4 percent in 1999 to 12.3 percent today. Along the way, he first consolidated the white vote and he's now pretty much consolidated the minority vote but he must know that this is as far as he can go. The DA is at the cross-roads, it needs to decide how serious it is about taking on the ANC and if it is serious, it needs to act accordingly.
The other bad news so far as the DA is concerned is that they appear unlikely to form part of the government in either the Western Cape or Kwa Zulu-Natal. The failure of the DA: IFP alliance in KZN is a very bitter pill and will, inevitably, cast doubts over the future of the 'coalition for change'.
The big non-event of the elections was, of course, the failure of the Independent Democrats to win major support. Amazingly, much of the local press (see News24 and today's Zapiro cartoon) still insist on trumpeting the ID's paltry 1.73 percent as some sort of great victory. Considering that de Lille herself was predicting that the IDs would get 10 percent and a survey last week by Markinor was suggesting 7 percent, the actual result is rather disappointing. In fact it amounts to a repudiation of all this media fluff about how the Independent Democrats were going to remake opposition politics and of the ID's own claims to be breaking the mould. I can't understand the attraction of de Lille. She's a populist demagogue whose penchant for publicity and self-promotion hides the fact that her party has no policies and no coherent ideological position. She's the Winnie Mandela of the opposition. I'm pretty certain that the IDs will suffer some sort of implosion in the next few years as its members come to resent the power and public profile of Patricia de Lille.
Right, enough for now. I actually have a degree to do, believe it or not, and I really need to spend a little time on it.
With votes all but finished being counted, these are the results:
African National Congress - 69.75%
Democratic Alliance - 12.32%
Inkatha Freedom Party - 6.9%
United Democratic Movement - 2.3%
Independant Democrats - 1.73%
New National Party - 1.67%
African Christian Democratic Party - 1.6%
Freedom Front Plus - 0.92%
Bad Brad's, 'The Organisation Party' came last with a mere 0.05%.
The ANC has an absolute majority in every province except the Western Cape and Kwa Zulu-Natal. In these two provinces it will form part of a coalition government.
Any foreign readers, or South Africans who're confused, should check here for a short summary of the parties and recent SA political history.
Thursday, April 15, 2004
I'm all blogged out, but before I leave I refer you toCommentary for Wayne's thoughts on the ANC's victory.
The Kwa Zulu-Natal Contest
With the IFP currently on 39.95 percent in KZN and the DA on 9.17 percent, the 'Coalition for Change' is still just short of what is needed to take the province (Check IEC website for regular updates on this). Nevertheless, I'm going to stick my neck out and say that I think they'll probably end up with just enough to form the provincial government. A lot of the rural vote in KZN still has to be counted and, on past form, rural areas have usually voted IFP.
That said, it is still possible that once all the votes have been tallied the DA: IFP will still be short of 50 percent. Under these circumstances, they have two options. The one is to scrounge around and find support from one of the other parties, with the Freedom Front being a possibility since their signing of an electoral agreement with the IFP two weeks ago. Even this might not be enough though and, even if it is, agreements involving more than 2 parties are prone to collapsing under the weight of their own complexity with all the trouble that that entails. Furthermore, the DA: IFP risk looking incredibly silly and mean-spirited if they are seen to be desperately casting around for anybody, except the ANC, with whom to form an alliance. I'm sure they know this, which is why I'm going to stick my neck out a second time tonight and say that if the DA: IFP don't get 50 percent they'll be forced to form a coalition with the ANC.
It's interesting to speculate on the dynamics of such a coalition. If the IFP works with the ANC, then it has no need for the DA of course, and if it dumps the DA, I'm sure the ANC would reward Buthelezi with another national ministerial post. For what it's worth, I've heard rumours in the past that many senior IFP members are in favour of working with the ANC. If the choice in KZN is between struggling to put together a workable coalition with the DA and some other party or carrying on as before in alliance with the ANC (and with the prospect of a few national posts being dangled in front of them) I wonder if the IFP will stick to its guns.
Erm, are you sure that's the comparison you want to make: Former Western Cape provincial minister of housing and number two on the NNP's national list, Cecil Herandien is quoted by the M&G as saying that, '...the NNP was in a similar position in 1943 when it had just eight MPs. '... But five years later it was the governing party,'
It's a measure of just how normal South Africa is now that the election has attracted so little coverage and comment by the various international news agencies.
Foxnews (which I'm told is America's fastest growing news channel) doesn't appear to have any coverage at all. CNN has a piece in its Africa news section about the ANCs victory. Even the BBC's coverage is consigned to its Africa section, although, to be fair to them, they've been running articles and pictorials about the elections for several weeks now.
It almost makes me miss the uncertainty of the 1994 elections when all the world's media decamped to South Africa to mark the historic event/chronicle the outbreak of civil war etc. Almost but not quite.
The UDM and the ghost of Roelf
One of the things that has surprised me is the failure of the UDM to disappear. So far as I know, nobody gave them much of a chance but, as results from rural Transkei continue to trickle in, it seems likely that will secure more than 2 percent of the national vote and may even retain their position as official opposition in the Eastern Cape. Thus far they're running fourth in the national election and, at 6.5 percent, are only 2 percent behind the DA in the Eastern Cape.
In retrospect this shouldn't be too surprising. The fact that those who benefited from the existence of the Transkei, bureaucrats, civil servants, businessmen with connections etc have remained loyal to the former leader of that benighted homeland might raise eyebrows but it makes sense in its own way. What is interesting though is that Holomisa and the UDM have managed to retain some support outside the Eastern Cape. In 3 provinces he has support above 1 percent and in Gauteng and KZN his support is only just under 1 percent. It is instructive to contrast this with the other former homeland leader turned democratic politican, Lucas Mangope. His United Christian Democratic Party has done well in the North West which encompasses much of the former Bophutatswana, scoring 5.5 percent thus far, but it has failed to get more than half a percent in any other province.
What accounts for the difference between these two parties? Holomisa certainly has a higher media profile than Mangope which might play some role but I think the chief factor is that the UDM is still perceived by some as a genuinely mould breaking party (in contrast to the NNP who would like to be). Roelf Meyer may no longer be a part of the UDM, but I suspect that his legacy lingers on in the minds of those who care to look for it. Which is to say that for those voters for whom the ANC is too powerful, the DA too shrill and the IDs too much of a dark horse, the UDM is a viable alternative. Much hope was invested in the UDM in 1999 as the party which heralded a new era in SA politics (remember that endorsement by the Financial Mail) and that hope appears to linger on. If I was Leon or Buthelezi I would be on the phone to Holomisa trying to persuade him to join the 'Coalition for Change'. It would not make much difference to the power dynamics of SA politics but it would add further substance to the coalitions campaign to remake opposition politics.
There is still some time to go before the counting finishes, but one of the big story's coming out of the election is the dramatic decline in support for the New National Party. Although they were always facing an uphill struggle to retain the 6 percent they won in 1999 I don't think that anybody predicted that they would do quite as badly as they have. With less than 2 percent of the vote (a number that is likely to fall as late rural votes are counted), I think its fair to say that the election, and indeed their entire strategy of the last three years, is an unmitigated disaster for the NNP. In only two provinces have they polled support above 1 percent and even in their Western Cape heartland they look unlikely to break into double figures.
I think the lesson to be drawn from this spectacular implosion is that the electorate will not abide the sort of arrogance and political opportunism demonstrated by the NNP over the past few years. This is a party which in 1994 won 20 percent of the vote by whipping up fear of a black government and arguing that South Africa needed a strong counter to the ANC. This was a strategy that required enacting one of the most cynical and spectacular volte faces of recent SA political history, that of trying to convince coloured voters in the Western Cape that they were suddenly white and thus ought to fear the ANC. When it became apparent, after 1999, that this was not enough to allow it to hold onto the Western Cape by itself it entered a coalition with the DA (who are genuinely committed to building a strong opposition). When that too appeared to be insufficient to hang onto power it joined with the ANC. All the while, Marthinus 'Kortbroek' van Schalkwyk's shit-eating grin smiled out at us whilst mouthing platitudes about the need to oppose the trend to one partyism and then, when it became expedient to do so, about the need to work with the ANC and to acknowledge the impossibility of 'confrontational politics' in South Africa.
I've said it before, but the NNP do not understand democracy. What they do understand is power and what their recent history shows is that they will do anything to hang onto it in whatever form it is available. Even now, they're demonstrating an inabilty to understand the differing roles of parties and electorates in a democracy. Here's what NNP spokeswoman Juli Kilian had to say about the NNP's poor showing according to the SA Sunday Times:
'Kilian blamed a short sighted electorate who were attracted to "parties that played the opposition game," for their poor performance.'
Yup, Ms Kilian, it's the 'short sighted' electorate's fault, not the NNP's.
The NNP argue that they at least have attempted to break the mould of racially based voting (an implicit criticism of the DA) but this is disengenuous of them, to say the least. Unless the NNP suffered a collective damascene conversion 3 years ago, it is hard to sustain the argument that they are trying to overcome racial polarisation. Rather the NNP's shifting alliance strategy shows that they are driven, overwhelmingly, by a desire to cling on to power in the Western Cape. The other point of course is that it is just fatuous to argue that the only form of politics that is viable in South Africa is the non-confrontational sort. And just what form does a non-confrontational democracy take anyway? Are we to take it that the electorate is too simplistic to understand the importance of opposition and the opportunities for debate which it allows for? Are we to believe that the electorate will really distinguish between parties that work with the ANC and the ANC itself? Because if they don't (and the NNPs fate seems to suggest they don't) then we're on the road to one-partyism.
The NNP's claim to be trying to de-racialise SA politics miss another point though. Non-racial politics does not mean having to form alliances with the ANC (despite the ANCs suggestion that it does). As the DA's alliance with the IFP and the small success of the Independent Democrats shows, it is possible to be non-racial and still be for a strong opposition. Furthermore, if the DA's support holds at around the 14 percent mark then it will no longer be possible to argue that it is simply the party of whites. At that level of support, it has to be drawing in support from other groups and thus could, with some credibilty, claim to be as multi-racial if not more so than the ANC itself. On this point, it will be interesting to see what the DA's suport from rural SA and the townships is like. I'm willing to bet that it has gone up since 1999, especially in township areas.
Having said all this, the NNP will limp on for a bit longer. The ANC is not going to win the Western Cape without it and so I expect Kortbroek will strike some sort of bargain whereby he parlays his support for the ANC into a cabinet position for himself and one or two cronies. No doubt he will hail this deal as evidence for the NNP's efforts to break the mould of SA politics. He'll be talking out of his rear end of course and no amount of positive spin doctoring will hide the fact that after 70 odd years of these people, SA is finally in the process of saying goodbye to the National Party.
Wayne Wides, noting that the NNP:ANC alliance is sitting on a wafer thin majority in the Western Cape, is wondering if Patricia de Lille has been approached as a potential alliance partner.
I have no doubt that she has, but I have to wonder if she could be so stupid as to entertain such a proposition. One of the lessons that seems to be coming out of this election is that the country is not prepared to condone the kind of political opportunism that led the NNP to form its own alliance with the ANC. With just less than two percent of the national vote so far, I think its safe to say that the NNP are finished as a political force. Would the ID's risk incurring the voter's wrath by engaging in the same behaviour? I'd like to say no, but I remain suspicious of de Lille and wouldn't be surprised if she did abandon principle in pursuit of power.
I've speculated before that the formation of the ID's was part of an elaborate courtship ritual aimed at the DA. On reflection, it may be that de Lille was trying to improve her saleability to the ANC. With 2 percent of the national vote and the key to the Western Cape she could probably demand a fair bit by way of compensation if she did form a pact, but at what cost to her future success? We shall see what happens.
Before I forget, the guys at Commentary have been doing an excellent job of covering things. Do go and have a look.
For the benefit of British Spin and any others who're confused about the state of South African politics, I post the following summary of the main parties:
African National Congress - As the party of Nelson Mandela and, current South African President, Thabo Mbeki, the ANC should need no introduction. They were formed in 1912 in response to the Act of Union which created the modern South African state and which failed to take heed of the interests of blacks. The organisation was virtually moribund for much of the 1930s and 1940s and it was not until the arrival of three fiery members of the ANC youth league in the late 1940s that it really came to national prominence. These three were, of course, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo. Under their influence the ANC was transformed into a genuine mass movement and became a considerable thorn in the side of the apartheid state. By the early 1960s the state had responded by banning the ANC (and a number of other opposition movements) and imprisoning most of the leadership. For the next 20 years the ANC played an ambiguous role in South African politics. Its armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (The Spear of the Nation) carried out various acts of resistance and those of its leaders who'd escaped into exile (including Thabo Mbeki) tried to curry favour with the major international powers esp, but not exclusively, the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, opposition politics was in considerable disarray for much of the period. In 1983, a new internal movement, theUDF was established. This was a grouping of various civic organisations and people's resistance movements established in response to the apartheid state's introduction of a tri-cameral parliament (separate legislative houses for whites, indians and coloureds but with the white parliament being pre-eminent). The UDF was initially non-aligned but, in short order, came to see the ANC as the major vehicle for legitimate opposition to apartheid. Indeed, the UDF ultimately became the internal wing of the ANC and many high ranking members of the ANC achieved their political blooding in the UDF. The ANC was officially unbanned in 1990 (although secret meetings between it and govt and business leaders had been going on since the mid 80s) and after 4 years of negotiations emerged as the most powerful party in South Africa in the 1994 elections.
Democratic Alliance - The DA are the inheritors of the white opposition movement and, as such, are associated with Helen Suzman and, traditionally, with liberal, democratic politics. They were virtually wiped out in the 1994 elections but, after 5 years of strong leadership by the controversial Tony Leon, emerged in 1999 as the official opposition with just less than 10 percent of the vote. They entered into a coalition with the NP in the Western Cape in 1999 and shortly thereafter consummated the coalition by forming a full blown alliance, in the process acquiring their current name (they had been the Democratic Party until then). The alliance with the NP was never easy and was riven by jealousy and bickering between Leon and NP leader Marthinus van Schalwyk. It fell apart at the end of 2001 with the NP leaving the DA and joining in a new coalition with the ANC. The DA itself subsequently formed an electoral pact with the IFP and, since it has repeatedly stated that it is trying to unite the opposition, the prospects for further alliances and pacts seem bright. They are the object of much ANC bile with Thabo Mbeki himself not averse to refering to Leon as, simply, 'the white politician'. They will be hoping to secure more support from black voters in this election thus to slough off their reputation as the party of minority voters.
New National Party - The NNP is the new name for the National Party, the party that implemented apartheid after 1948 and that ruled South Africa, without break, until 1994. Its current leader is Marthinus van Schalkwyk otherwise know, mockingly, by the local press as 'Kortbroek' (short trousers). This to distinguish him from such previous NP big hitters as F W de Klerk, P W Botha and Hendrik Verwoerd. Despite changing its name and entering into an alliance with first the DA and then the ANC, the NNP has experienced a spectacular decline. In 1994 it won 20 percent of the vote, falling to 6 percent in 1999 and probably no more than 2 to 3 percent in the current election. Despite being the traditional party of white Afrikaners the overwhelming majority of its support now seems to come from, ironically, Afrikaans speaking coloureds in the Western Cape, a group that the NP disenfranchised in the 1950s.
Inkatha Freedom Party - Despite a convoluted history, the IFP, and its charismatic leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, are now associated primarily with the Zulu ethnic group. They have ruled the province of Kwa Zulu-Natal since 1994 and, in the face of a failure to extend their support base much beyond that province, will be looking to ensure that they win the majority of the Zulu vote again. They have an uneasy relationship with the ANC (which occasionally spills over into violence) and although Buthelezi currently holds the national Cabinet position of Home Affairs it seems likely that they will not play a role in the next government. They are currently in alliance with the DA and are hoping that this will be enough to ensure that they hold onto Kwa Zulu-Natal.
Freedom Front Plus - A party for, mainly, right wing Afrikaners, the FF+'s principle aim appears to be to secure an independent 'homeland' for Afrikaners. Peculiarly, they recently signed an electoral agreement with the IFP. I have no idea what the 'plus' is all about.
Independent Democrats - The ID's were formed a year ago by fiery ex-PAC member Patricia de Lille. They've been the focus of much attention and controversy relating, in particular, to the extent or otherwise to which they are a genuinely new force in SA politics rather than simply a vehicle for de Lille herself. Their showing in the election will be followed with much interest.
African Christian Democratic Party - Staunchly Christian and therefore opposed to abortion, pornography, homosexuality etc. There has been some speculation that they may do better in this election than previously as black and white social conservatives (who probably number a majority in both cases) seek a new home.
In addition to those described, their are at least 15 or so other parties, most of which will win no more than a few thousand votes and will have no impact on provincial or national politics.
Since 1999, the ANC has been in a power sharing coalition with the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) in the province of Kwa Zulu-Natal and IFP leader Mangosothu Buthlelezi has been the minister for Home Affairs. Despite this, relations between the two parties are poor. After the 1999 elections the ANC also formed a pact with the tiny Minority Front party to give it a two thirds majority (and thus the ability to change the country's constitution). The ANC has also, since 2002, been part of a coalition government in the Western Cape province, this time with the National Party (NP)
South Africa's interim constitution (which was replaced by a final version in 1996) provided for a Government of National Unity. Thus F W de Klerk, leader of the National Party (NP) became a deputy President under the Mandela government and various members of the NP and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) were awarded cabinet positions. The National Party dropped out of the GNU in 1996 but the IFP chose to remain. The ANC's obligation to run a GNU ended in 1999 with the second free election but it nonetheless awarded a couple of cabinet positions to the IFP, most prominently the ministerial position for Home Affairs to IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
Tuesday, April 13, 2004
Laurence Caromba and Wayne Wides are offering predictions for the election outcome. Not wanting to miss out on all the fun I thought I'd join in:
The rest being divied up amongst the other 20 (!) odd parties.
ANC to take Western Cape in alliance with NNP and Kortbroek to receive provincial ministerial post for Arts, Culture, Science & Technology.
ANC to enter into alliance with IFP in KZN despite not needing to.
Many moons ago, British Spin linked to us and suggested that we might want to recommend some reading for any budding Africa-philes. Murray and I though this was a grand idea and envisaged a fornightly series of reviews of books pertaining to Africa. Well, so much for that idea. What we have instead is a review of Paul Theroux's recent book Dark Star Safari by our friend and fellow Oxonian, Kristin Anderson.
Who knows, if the response is favourable we might even persuade her to do this on a fortnightly basis. Enjoy!
Sunday, April 11, 2004
I have an enormous amount of respect for British democracy, its age, its importance, the gravity with which it is conducted. Nevertheless, I sometimes feel that something is missing and that something is fun. News24 is carrying a story about some of the quirkier aspects of the SA election. Bad Brad's, 'The Organisation Party (TOP) has apparently been running a serious of campaign posters with the tag line, 'Rapists, child molesters, murderers and violent criminals: This time we are fcuking (sic) you'. Delightful!
Meanwhile Nandos Chicken has registered a party, the Nandos Party (New African National Democratic Organisation for Solidarity) which, according to a spokesman, is going to 'ruffle some feathers.' The same spokesman added, 'People are hungry for a party that will serve the people and grill the politicians, hungry for a party that is neither left 'wing' nor right 'wing', but rather for the whole chicken.' Yup, like I say, fun.
I find this rather depressing. P W Botha (who, I have to admit, I didn't realise was still alive) has revealed that he, and a number of former NP bigwigs, will be voting for the Freedom Front Plus. I'd like to say that this amounts to the kiss of death but, sadly, it will probably improve the FF+'s prospects. There is a certain kind of South African that just cannot admit that things are better now than they ever were under the Nats. To them, the Groot Krokodil's endorsement will probably carry some weight.
According to today's SA Sunday Times the latest Markinor poll suggests that the ANC will obtain, 65.2% of the vote, the DA 11.8%, the IFP 8.3%, the ID's 7.1%, the NNP 4.2%, the PAC 1.1% and the ACDP 0.9%.
A number of things are suprising about this. Firstly, in defiance of all other recent evidence, the ANC is not going to get its much desired two thirds majority. Of course the likelihood is that it will find a couple of minor parties willing to form an alliance to put it over 66.6%, but the fact that it will not secure a mandate to change the constitution by itself should give it pause for thought. Secondly, the NNP will probably secure just enough support to allow it to limp on in some or other form. Whether it will stick with Kortbroek, a man who has presided over one of the most spectacular party implosions in recent memory, is another matter altogether. If they had any sense they'd ditch him, but I very much doubt they will. The real surprise though, is that the IDs are, still, looking to do very well. 7.1% is a much better result than I or anybody else has been predicting (see Bronwyn and Laurence). Interestingly, since the DA seems to have gone up slightly and the ANC has remained pretty much the same (from 1999 that is) it would appear that de Lille is taking support from the NNP, the UDM and the host of minor parties. So this confirms what we've all suspected, she's going to cannibalise the opposition rather than make inroads into the ANC's support base.
Having said that, there is another way of looking at these figures. One of the things they reveal is the extent of the UDM's collapse. From 3.4% in 1999 to a share of the 0.4% not accounted for by the other parties today. But, as most of you will no doubt recall, the majority of the UDM's support came from the Eastern Cape, where it polled just less than 13% in 1999. What's interesting about this is that it appears to have been won at the expense of the ANC whose support in the Eastern Cape fell from 84% in 1994 to 73% in 1999. At the time this was not entirely surprising. Bantu Holomisa was a former leader of the Transkei and member of the ANC and it appears that his supporters followed him into the UDM rather than stick with the ANC. But since 1999 the UDM has more or less collapsed and I'm fairly certain that those people who supported Holomisa last time around will now go back to voting ANC, just as they did in 1994. But if Patricia de Lille is not getting her 7% from former UDM supporters, and she's not getting it from disgruntled DA supporters, then just where is she getting it from? From the ANC, of course. The numbers make sense, I think. If the ANC's support remains roughly the same as it did in 1999 despite the fact that former UDM voters are returning to the fold, then it must be losing support elsewhere. Some of it is going to the DA (whose share of the vote looks likely to rise by 2% or so) and a good 3 or 4% is going to the ID's. So perhaps we shouldn't be too hasty in dismissing Patricia de Lille's claims to be expanding the opposition vote.
If the analysis above is correct, then the other interesting thing is that it reveals the stupidity of the NNP's strategy. Their share of the vote looks set to fall by 3% despite the fact that there appear to be former ANC supporters up for grabs. There should be no surprises here. Disillusioned ANC supporters are hardly likely to turn to one of its partners to register their dissatisfaction. Likewise, if you support the ANC then you vote ANC not one of the minnows that attends it.
Of course, all of this is sheer speculation. I have some doubts about those Markinor poll numbers and I'll eat my hat if the ID's get more then 5% and the ANC gets less than 66%. Nevertheless, and rather against the grain of my expectations, Wednesday is shaping up to be very interesting indeed.
Wednesday, April 07, 2004
Casting my Vote
For those of you that were unaware, today marks the beginning of South Africa's 3rd democratic election. Although the actual election is scheduled to take place on the 14th of April, today was set aside for the casting of 'special' votes. In most cases this means the casting of overseas votes. As committed democrats, Murray and I, along with our friend Robyn Evans, went down to South Africa House in London today to cast our votes. In what follows I want to make a few general comments about my impressions of the process and then say something about the significance of today's vote.
It's probably worth reminding readers of the furore that erupted when Mbeki first tabled the election bill last year. In its initial incarnation the bill made no provision for South African's living overseas to vote, a fact which lead to a few raised eyebrows and a lot of comments about government cynicism. Murray and I were so incensed that we were moved to start this blog by way of protest. Actually, that's not strictly true, but the prospect of being disenfranchised was certainly a motivating factor in the establishment of Southern Cross. (You can read our early thoughts on the subject here, here and here). At the time we felt that the election bill, as proposed, betrayed both a deep level of govt cynicism and an unwillingness to take seriously its responsibilities, under the Constitution, to do everything reasonable to allow people to vote. We were pleasantly surprised therefore when Mbeki proposed an amendment to the bill which made provision for the casting of overseas votes. Nevertheless, as I argued at the time, the amendment to the bill was not nearly so magnanimous as it seemed. The vote was only extended to those South African's temporarily overseas, a group that consisted mostly of holiday-makers, students and sportsmen. To my mind this was evidence of further cynicism since it failed to take account of the tens of thousands of South African's living in Britain on short term working holiday visas and the many more living in foreign countries on dual passports or as permanent residents. At the time I had this to say about the whole affair:
'Mbeki garnered lots of good publicity when he appeared to concede that expats have the right to vote but, as it stands, that concession doesn't amount to very much. Still, he got the good publicity and doesn't have to worry about several hundred thousand expat South Africans, so what does he care..'
Murray meanwhile posted this excellent article on why the right to vote should not be contingent on how patriotic one is; just in case anybody was tempted to argue the idiots case that South African's overseas should not be allowed to vote because they've displayed insufficient commitment to the new democracy.
The other problem with the amended election bill was that it made the securing of the right to vote overseas a needlessly complicated and horrendously bureaucratic affair. As it stands, before I could vote today, I had to fax an IEC form to Pretoria (whilst retaining the fax confirmation slip), fill out a request for a special vote (which had to be taken to the High commission) and bring both my Passport and ID Book with me and, as I shall relate further down, even this was not considered good enough. Now, whilst we should all be aware of the problem of electoral fraud, this process seemed designed with the express purpose in mind of deterring overseas South Africans. An impromptu survey conducted in Exeter College's, very international, graduate common room a few weeks ago suggests that most people living overseas are accustomed to simply voting by post or, at worst, to having to vote in their embassy's on presentation of a valid passport. In fact a Greek friend of ours revealed that just before her country's recent election one of the political partys flew her back to Athens to cast her vote. Obviously that is beyond South Africa's means but it does give some indication of what is possible when a country is genuinely committed to enfranchising its people.
So, enough of the pre-amble. What of the election itself? It was, it has to be said, a rather inauspicious event. Murray and I were initially told that we couldn't vote because our passports were stamped with work permits and not student visas. We tried protesting that we were indeed students, as evidenced by our Oxford student cards and that the offending stamp clearly stated that we were not allowed to work in Britain. The officials attending to us were having none of it though and I began to fear that we may have made the trip down to London for nothing. None of the joyous scenes that I had been expecting, rather, it seemed that casting my vote was going to be a bad tempered and acrimonious affair. Fortunately another official was able to intervene on our behalf and persuaded the first to phone the IEC in Pretoria and the British Home Office to determine whether the stamp in our passport was in fact a student visa and whether it was sufficient to allow us to vote. After 45 minutes wait spent idly watching the smattering of people who had turned up to vote we were informed that, 'yes' we were students and, 'yes' we were allowed to vote. I was irritated that the High Commission's staff had been so badly briefed as not to be able to identify one of the stamps used by the British Home Office to indicate student status. It was evidence, again, I thought, of the failure of the state to take seriously the process of overseas voting.
Nevertheless, I have some sympathy for the staff. They appeared to be bearing the brunt of a lot of frustration and anger from, it has to be said, white South Africans who obviously hadn't bothered to acquaint themselves with the voting procedure and had failed to fill out and fax off the necessary documentation nor even, in some cases, to bring a valid passport with them. What was particularly depressing, not least for its predictability, was how often irritated whites resorted to snide comments about the elections, the government and the ability of the staff. I too have had misgivings about many of the processes surrounding this election but there is simply no excuse for the sort of intolerance, and indeed outright racism, which I saw on display today. There were moments when I felt deeply uncomfortable on behalf of my fellow white South Africans
The good news is that once the initial hiccup had been overcome the actual voting itself was straight forward enough. That said, I was concerned to discover that, on casting my vote, the ballot paper was placed inside a sealed envelope which was in turn placed inside a further sealed envelope on which I had to write my full name, identity number and voting district number. I enquired from on of the election officials of the need for this, seemly, very irregular practice and was informed that it was necessary to ensure that only those registered to vote actually did so. I have to say that this explanation didn't do much to allay my fears. Surely the whole point of having a ballot in secret is to make it impossible to determine which party people vote for. I took this matter up with my politics tutor this afternoon and he confirmed that it was a, 'deeply undemocratic procedure.'
Taking my reporters hat off for the moment, what can we deduce from today's events. I think the first point is that the ANC, whether by accident or design, effectively disenfranchised a vast number of South Africans. I was very surprised at how few people turned up this morning but, on checking SABC, have discovered that only 624 people registered to vote in Britain. Given that there are allegedly well over 200 000 Suth African's living in Britain this is either evidence of apathy on a vast scale or the fact that people were put off by the complexities of the registration process or simply weren't allowed to vote because they were on working holidays. Since it requires roughly 50 000 votes to secure a single seat in parliament, the ANC has ensured that at least 4 seats will not be going to the opposition. (And yes I am assuming that most people living overseas will not vote ANC. If you have a problem with this, post a comment and I'll respond). Secondly, South African's have a long way to go before we approach anything like a normal society. I've already mentioned the appaling behaviour of some of the white voters but I was also struck by a throw away remark made in the course of a conversation with one of the officials. I'd asked her how she was finding living in Britian to which she responded, 'I hate it. You people seem to like it here but this place is not for us.' Not an offensive comment by any means, but revealing, in its way, of the type of assumptions that South Africans carry about each other. The people and conversations observed today hardly constitute a representative sample but they point to the problem that bedevils relations between South Africas, namely an inabilty to appreciate or even understand the outlook of the other. Finally, and in slight contradiction to my previous point, I was struck by just how normal, indeed bureaucratic, the whole procedure was. Very little hoopla attended the voting. No parades, no pressmen or TV cameras, no throngs of well wishers. Just another small country having its voting day. Which, I suppose, is just as it should be.
To end on an upbeat note. After completing the voting process, Murray and I met Robyn (who had a different visa stamp and thus hadn't gone through the palava that we had), thanked the voting officials and especially the woman who'd been so obtuse initially (she relented and smiled back at us), and went about our day. I think we felt proud to have done our civic duty, perturbed by the irregularities and bad behaviour we'd seen, but pleased to have made all the effort. Role on another ten years of democracy.
Monday, April 05, 2004
We Will Blog You
A while ago, in a fit of enthusiasm, Murray and I wrote a short article about blogging which we'd hoped to get published in one of the Oxford student newspapers. Evidently, the standards required by OxStu or Cherwell were higher than what we could muster because we were turned down and the article never saw the light of day. I'm posting it here in response to some comments made after my bit about the left-right bias of the blogosphere...
Over the past two years, a quiet revolution has been underway in the media world. In the nature of such upheavals the initial indicators have been misread by the pundits and, unless you're attuned to its outward manifestations, you might not be aware that it's happening at all. Nevertheless, it's real, and it's changing the way that people relate to the media. The revolution goes by the name of "blogging" and, if you're not yet familiar with this term, then mark these words well, because you soon will be.
As with many recent revolutions (think of Amazon, Napster and e-mail) blogging is a child of the internet and the endless possibilities that it makes available. In the case of blogging, the internet allows individuals to become their own one-man (blogging tends to be a solitary activity) media houses. For most "bloggers", the only costs involved are the opportunity costs of their time and this has meant that, over the last few years, the number of people blogging has exploded. The total number of blogs is now upward of half a million and growing exponentially. So, what exactly are blogs and why do they matter?
Answering this question in a way that doesn't elicit blank stares is, admittedly, difficult. The word "blog" is an abbreviation of the phrase "web-log", which ought to tell you something about the nature of blogging. It is, put bluntly, a form of diary writing or punditry, usually available in the public domain. Hardly the stuff or revolutions, you might say. Yet there is much more to it than just that. In the words of the Far Eastern Economic Review, "web-logs ... are the creation of individuals, usually musings on national, local or personal events, links to interesting articles, a few lines of comment or discussion collected and presented by one person. Web-logs are a milestone in the short history of the Internet."
Still not convinced? Then consider the blogger who has perhaps done more to bring the phenomenon to the public's attention than any other. In September 2002, a 29-year old Iraqi, calling himself Salam Pax, started blogging from Baghdad. In short order his daily postings on life in Iraq leading up to, and during, Gulf War II were drawing in thousands of daily visitors. Salam offered an account of the war that was personal and yet managed to cut through much of the propaganda - a CNN correspondent crossed with Anne Frank, if you will. Now consider that the best known bloggers, such as Andrew Sullivan and Glen Reynolds in the United States, regularly attract 60 000 hits a day. That puts their readership ahead of many newspapers, not to mention various news magazines for whom a readership of that size is nothing but a hazy dream. It's worth pointing out too that the mainstream media has now begun to take blogging seriously as witnessed by the recent launch of the Guardian's Political Weblog Awards.
What accounts for this phenomenon? Part of it is that, provided you have internet access, blogs are free and require relatively little technical expertise to set up and maintain. Secondly, the best bloggers are either journalists by trade, are intending to become journalists, or possess sufficient talent as writers to be journalists if they so desired. Thus, if you wish that your favourite columnist wrote more often, or didn't write for a range of different newspapers, then blogging is something of a god-send. Every day brings reams of interesting and insightful commentary and analysis without the hassle of having to buy several newspapers. And, because bloggers don't have to toe the editorial line, or fear the wrath of owners or advertisers, they can really say whatever they want (although the day that a blogger gets sued for libel can't be too far off).
Indeed, much of the appeal of blogging is that, because of its unconstrained nature, it operates, in the words of British blogger Harry Hatchet, as a haven for "opinions that are marginalised in established media. While blogs may be edging into mainstream discourse, they thrive on being outside of it." If you want to know what the Labour back bench really thinks, well, several of them are blogging. If you're tired of the propaganda about Iraq, there are a number of blogs by soldiers, Iraqis and newsmen doing an excellent job of covering that benighted country. If you're in search of fellow libertarians or recovering Marxists, well then the "blogosphere" is the place for you.
Of course, blogging wouldn't be a true child of the internet if part of its appeal wasn't speed. Blogging allows for almost instantaneous reaction to breaking news and minute by minute, sometimes second by second, analysis of events. Recently, a number of blogs offered real-time analysis of George Bush's state of the nation address. As he spoke, they wrote. By the time he'd finished, the blogosphere was alive with discussion as people debated and offered links to blogs that had made interesting points. By the time the "dead tree media" (newspapers to most) had been compiled, printed and distributed the following day, Bush's address was old news and the papers weren't able to offer or say anything that hadn't been done by a blogger already.
Finally, if politics isn't your thing, and you just like reading about other peoples' lives, there are tens of thousands of small, introspective blogs chronicling the trials and tribulations of people all over the world. Most are rubbish but a few are excellent, filled with eccentricity, rage, humour and pathos.
Having said all of this, its still too early to assess the real impact of blogging. At its best, it's empowering, refreshing and innovative. At its worst, it's solipsistic, consumed with in-jokes and petty rivalries and prone to thinking of itself as more important than it is. But let's be optimistic and assume that the good blogs will succeed in creating a market for a new kind of media, a media that is endlessly reinventing itself and that is quick to respond to the needs of the general public.
In the words of Andrew Sullivan: "It's somewhere in between writing a column and talk radio. It's genuinely new. And it harnesses the web's real genius - its ability to empower anyone to do what only a few in the past could genuinely pull off. In that sense, blogging is the first journalistic model that actually harnesses rather than merely exploits the true democratic nature of the web. It's a new medium finally finding a unique voice. Stay tuned as that voice gets louder and louder."