I hate to be a killjoy but...

Jeremy Gordin asks what comes after cracking of the ANC electoral monolith

By virtue (or vice) of my age – though one does try from time to time to slip age’s surly bonds [i] – I am an old-fashioned fellow.

This is to say: as a journalist (in times past), I eschewed joining or supporting any political party, fondly believing that it’d be unfair to readers for me to have my own dog in any particular fight.

My credo was simple and short: report properly and fairly and fxxk everyone else’s “agenda,” even the Editor’s if you can get away with it. As Benjamin Disraeli (allegedly) said to the English parliament: “I am myself a gentleman of the Press, and I bear no other scutcheon.” [Spoiler alert: The next sentence is one of my attempts at a joke.] Of course, my credo was one of the reasons why I was so well-liked by the managements of so many different newspaper companies.

But, as I began by saying, I am now old and venerable and living in a newer sort of era. Thus, last week, as you might recall, I announced my intention of voting for the Democratic Alliance in Monday’s local elections, and this I did. Inter alia, I had been enormously irritated by so many folks being mealy-mouthed about supporting the DA, as though it were tantamount to admitting being an alcoholic, as well as so many so-called members of the medi-ah being unfairly critical of the DA.

My intention did waver for about two seconds, I’m not ashamed to admit. While in the voting booth (actually a large cardboard box), perusing the bizarrely long list of parties on the ballot paper, I noted that there exists a “Bolsheviks Party of South Africa”. If only I’d known. But, alas, the party’s literature (I assume it has some) never reached me. That postal service.

Talking of all of which, I was quite taken – for at least 22 minutes – by Richard Poplak’s Daily Maverick piece of October 30, two days before the election, titled “2021: South Africa’s second-last elections” (2021: South Africa’s second-last elections (dailymaverick.co.za). Notwithstanding some Hunter S Thompson-like over-reaching [ii] – e.g., “Like a corpse tethered by battery chargers to a failing coal plant” – I thought it well worth reading.

The learned Poplak argued that SA is pretty much shtupped up the macgoolagong (“South Africa is an idiocracy [sic] in both theory and praxis” and “you can’t legislate axxholes into oblivion”).

Consequently, “[s]hould we fail to make our voices heard, then the inconvenience and expense of elections will, like so many things, become nothing more than a fashion show for authoritarian gangsters. South Africans are running out of time to save democracy. Consider the second last elections a warm-up for the real fight [the 2024 national elections]”.

Luckily (or not), however, I shared the article not only with the two-person underground revolutionary cell that I chair (The Fishcake Gordin-Kropotkin Parkview Decembrists, the FGKPD) but also with some of its adjunct members – and one of them spoiled all the fun by being annoyingly rational.

“Worth reading certainly,” he wrote. “But is it constructive? What does [Poplak] suggest should be done? Should we not vote for anybody? In what way are we to leave it to ‘civil society’ to resolve? [Poplak suggests that the fear of “mass civil action” might help set politicians straight.] Last time members of ‘civil society’ took things into their own hands they burnt down and looted most of KZN. 

“The thing about democratic elections is one seldom finds a party that reflects one’s own views precisely, which he seems to overlook. The best one can do is select the best from a bad lot. [Given] his descriptions, the DA clearly fits that bill. But then again, that is anathema to the woke author and the woke DM. Any suggestion of white interests is disqualification in itself”.

So then, friends, three days after our local elections, and aware that some odds and ends still must be totalled and audited and all that good stuff, what do we learn? Was it nothing more than a fashion show for authoritarian gangsters?

Notwithstanding scoring the highest total percentage of votes country-wide, which is pretty depressing, the ANC has been delivered a small snotklap, because it certainly hasn’t done as well as it has before – and now it’s trying hard to pretend to be taking this on board.

The ANC will therefore, its head honchos say, indulge in a great deal of “introspection” – this being, as my learned colleague Andrew Donaldson has pointed out, one of the election’s two or three main buzzwords.

My thinking is that if one hasn’t noticed by now what a truly frightening shxt-show ANC-controlled cities and municipalities are (sometimes literally), all the introspection in the world isn’t going to help much. What one needs is more extrospection.

I also suspect that one of the effects of ANC introspection might well be that we won’t see Cyril Ramaphosa at the helm of the ANC in the 2024 general election. The ANC are quite keen on the occasional “recall”. Besides, you know the golden text, yes?

“Then Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and sending it away into the wilderness ...” (Leviticus 16:21–22).

It’s also been noted by many that out of our population of 60 million, 42,6 million people were eligible to vote, yet only 26 million registered as voters. And out of this 26 million, only 12,2 million people voted – which is just under 20% of the total population and 46% of registered voters.

Some tell us that this is “clear signal” to the ANC of frustration over poor service delivery and politicians, while others say faith has been lost in so-called democracy. Others, like my colleague Donaldson, point out that “traditionally” turnouts in municipal polls are low.

I suppose all these “reasons” for a low turnout make sense. But, then again, I ask myself: what did anyone expect? Given the palpable uselessness of the plurality of municipal officials, the wholesale theft in which municipal (and national) government has specialised, the financial thrashing suffered by most people due to Covid-19 lockdowns, why were people going to give up on a rest and recreational day to stand in some queue? Haven’t we been punished enough?

On the upside (depending on your point-of-view), some former ANC so-called “strongholds” have been lost and all the country’s main metros – except Cape Town, which remained in DA hands, Buffalo City, and Mangaung – are “hung,” i.e., the ANC doesn’t have a controlling majority [iii].

Which brings us to the second buzzword of the local elections (as also noted by Donaldson): coalitions. I was much amused to hear the UDM’s General Bantu Holomisa [iv], who just keeps soldiering on, remark last night that coalitions are, after all, quite common, e.g., in Germany; and to hear the ANC’s Paul Mashatile, who at least talks softly, say that coalition talks will require calmness and maturity from all involved.

Surely those two fine gentlemen have been around long enough to know that comparing Seffrican politicians to German ones might just be a bridge too far, that calmness and temperance are not virtues much extolled or practised among our political classes, and that the Seffrican experience of coalitions hasn’t been too hunky-dory.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that ActionSA, the party of erstwhile Johannesburg mayor, Herman Mashaba, was the top debutante of the election. Mashaba, whose keenness on xenophobia lost him my vote, has more serious problems than me. He has said (well, sort of) that working with the ANC is out of the question. Let’s see how the durability of that statement wears in the real world.

Bottom line? Jeez, I hate to be a killjoy – and Leonard Cohen said cracks are how the light gets in. But although I wish all the DA folk the best of luck and all the “kingmakers” the same, and though there do appear to be some small cracks in the monolith, I’d say we’re headed for business as usual, with much chaos and confusion added in for good measure.

It was quite good fun while it lasted, though.


[i] You recall, I trust, the poem “High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee, an Anglo-American aviator: “Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth/

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;/ Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth/ Of sun-split clouds, – and done a hundred things/” etc.

Magee served in the Royal Canadian Air Force, but, alas, died in a mid-air collision over Lincolnshire in 1941. As my mother sagely remarked, when decades ago she taught me to drive and I did something stupid like ignoring a stop sign: “It’s not you you have to be careful about, sonny boy, it’s the other guy” – a piece of advice I have always treasured, especially in the Seffrican context.

[ii] This is a compliment, btw.

[iii] By the way, a good elections analyst in my view is one Wayne Sussman; you could do worse than look at his “Thursday Morning: ANC cut down to size in the industrial heartland” in the DM.

[iv] Of whom I’m an admirer for personal reasons. Attending an impromptu and informal press conference of sorts in an unfinished structure attached to some restaurant, I once suffered a bout of vasovagal syncope (or perhaps simply drunkenness) and fainted. While the other drunken hacks looked on uselessly as I headed for the ground, only the good general stopped my sensitive kop from cracking open on a concrete floor.