This East London By-election Had Me Beat

I really had to think very hard about my vote today (Wednesday) in the Ward 18 by-election in East London. Four parties were contesting the poll – the ANC, DA, COPE and EFF.

It took me back to the first thoughts I had in or around 2008 about turning my back on the ANC at the ballot box. Then it was about the ANC perverting what ought to have been immutable principles about democratic process, non-racialism, and honourable service. I found I could no longer support the bullyboy tactics, the racism and the deployment of useless – and corrupt – cadres.

Today it was about my concern for local issues in my ward and this city.

I wondered if it is ever possible to think national but act local, because the spectre of what political parties are doing at national level loomed HUGE in my thinking.

That was brought into sharp relief by Floyd (again!) Shivambu’s racist outburst in Parliament’s finance committee this week. Shivambu has attempted to walk back his comments, suggesting that there was nothing racist in stating National Treasury deputy DG Ismail Momoniat undermined “Africans” by appearing in front of the committee rather than sending an … uhm … African.

I have long stopped regarding the unconscionable racism of EFF leaders as aberrant. I believe that, much as they are constantly strategizing around policy issues, their racist psyches are front and centre all the time.

Shivambu has previously physically attacked Media24 journalist Adrian de Kock on the Parliamentary precinct. An even earlier racist rant came in 2012 when he called journalist Carien du Plessis a white bitch.

The outbursts are reflective of the formative political DNA of the EFF. But perversely racist, fascist, misogynist, ethno-centric traits taint almost all our political parties today.

Julius Malema once explained away his abuse of British journalist Jonah Fischer as a “bloody agent” this way: “It’s Africa, you must behave in an African way. You are in Rome, you do what the Romans do.”

Well, I’m a (black) South African at home in South Africa, and I’ll continue to take a dim view of the kind of South Africa the EFF is trying to push us towards. I will walk away from the EFF each time we are called to vote, even as I may agree with their insights on some critical policy issues.

One feels that the less said about the Congress of the People the better. The party has been one of the biggest disappointments of the democratic era. Formed from a band of Thabo Mbeki loyalists – but tellingly excluding Mbeki himself – after he was ousted from the Presidency of the country, COPE was riven almost from the start by internecine disputes. This was portentous.

Under Mosioua Lekota, the party has never really been taken seriously in the big leagues and it is likely to lose black support over Lekota’s principled stand against land expropriation without compensation. Lekota has denied his opposition to a new law allowing pasella expropriation was aimed at scoring cheap (white) votes but it is possible that Cope might have won a few votes today from the propertied class in Vincent on the back of Lekota’s position.

What of the ANC? One really must feel for the party given its ham-handed race-based analysis of community voting patterns. Remember, provincial chairperson Oscar Mabuyane once said that we all vote fundamentally for the individuals whose race most lines up with our demographic preferences. So, according to Oscar, the mostly white residents of Ward 18 would have voted for the party they perceive as having their race interests at heart. That’s not the ANC, then.

(Of course, I’ve happily called out his racist reductionism as crap. I’ve never voted on racial grounds. And today was no exception.)

But, the ANC will be dismayed that old (white) money in the ‘burbs of Stirling, Vincent, Vincent Heights, Nahoon, Bonny Doon and Bunkers Hill still trounces its efforts to change the economy and, therefore, who inhabits these historically privileged areas of a tightly wrapped up ANC metro.

I have not voted for the ANC in two national elections and I’m not sure that the “thuma mina” moment (it’s not yet a new movement) overshadows all the reasons the party has given me for not voting ANC.

But even if I had gone to the poll in Ward 18 intent on making a rational decision in favour of the ANC, I would have been stymied by the ANC volunteers outside the polling station who were unable to even tell me the name of their candidate, let alone anything about the work he proposed to do in the ward.

That leaves the DA.

Almost all I have heard from the DA over about eight years of living in this ward has come via the telephone in the last couple of weeks. I had a notice in the post box when a council vacancy was declared in the ward. Next came a series of messages and calls from the national call centre in Cape Town, some with a recorded message, others with a live person on the other side. The last one, in the hours before I went down to the polling station, was from Athol Trollip.

Out of respect for the person, I listened to the entire recorded message. Athol sounded like he was going through the motions. And that’s my real local concern about the DA in this by-election. The party appeared to be going through the motions.

Party officials at the polling station decried the apathy among voters they had experienced on the campaign trail in the ward. But, there’s no doubt it will win the ward with a runaway majority. Oscar Mabuyane might be right – racial demographics allied to conservative mindsets and resurgent concerns about “ANC-gevaar” will play the biggest role.

The only slogan I have seen or heard from the DA is “Keep your ward DA”.

But why, I ask? Why should I keep “my” ward DA?

In my view, the DA seems to have done a really kak job of leading this ward. The previous ward councillor upped and left without any explanation to the people who might have voted for him – and certainly without a thumbs’ down to those who didn’t. This from the party that regularly goes to court in the interests of transparent accountability.

The state of the ward’s streets, parks, refuse collection, crime and policing, traffic movements and many other local government indicators is no different to any other ward in Buffalo City.

And how is the mindset of the various people who live, work or play in Ward 18 different to those who live, work or play in any other part of the metro, notably in historically white wards.

How can we make this ward a better place for all? How can we contribute to the metro in meaningful ways through our efforts here? What does the IDP (integrated development plan) offer Ward 18 residents or workers?

Is it possible to improve the quality of living here? Or to change the experience of people who travel here for work, or to go to school here? Does our councillor even notice that we have problems with traffic and pedestrian congestion? How do we promote good neighbourliness that affirms the humanity and rights of all? Do we do enough to promote good, ethical business practices in our ward?

The DA has offered me no answers to these questions.

And then, thinking nationally, I am still open to be persuaded that Patricia de Lille is a crook, but the party has made a humungous mess of how it has moved to oust her. The silence from DA members – some of whose activities are reflected on my social media timelines – on the De Lille issue is deafening. Do they no longer allow independent thinking or views within a party that perhaps ought to be the home for old-school progressives and individualists?

I’m also increasingly concerned that the party appears to be clinging to the “New National Party” conservatism of the former era, because of fears that white supporters will ditch it if it mimics too closely the policies of the majority black ANC or, god forbid, the EFF or COPE.

It’s been a freakin’ tough day of decision-making.

And then there’s 2019.

This East London By-election Had Me Beat

4 thoughts on “This East London By-election Had Me Beat

  • 7th June 2018 at 7:29 am

    Dear Ray

    This is a brilliant article, and I share your views 98 % (2% goes in favour of Patricia de Lille).

    Having said that, I am quite liking the new kid on the block. The Patriotic Alliance.

    My Dream for SA is to have a balance of power, with no political Party on a majority so for eg DA 20 %, ANC 30% EFF 20%, the Patriotic Alliance 20% and the balance of 10% spread amongst the remaining parties. In my opinion a Country with an outright majority ruling Party is a Problem, it tends to lead towards dictatorship and bad economic policies. If you look at my proposal, all races are then fairly represented.

    • 7th June 2018 at 8:39 am

      Hi Carmel, thanks for this. I haven’t seriously looked at the PA in terms of policies but I was very moved by their stance on racist politicking in Nelson Mandela Bay. Your point is well made though, that a much more nuanced balance of power will help our country a long way. I would add that taking away some of the power of party bosses to dictate a caucus line whether in a council meeting or a legislature sitting, and even introducing direct representation into provincial and national legislatures as we have in local government, would also help a great deal.

  • 7th June 2018 at 9:05 am

    Yes the Ward looks no different to the rest of BCMM. That is perhaps because it is maintained by the self same BCMM. The fact is that ward 18 is also maintained by the ANC dominated municipality and the associated poor service delivery that goes with that. Ward 18 does not have it’s own unique maintenance crews that report to the DA.

    • 7th June 2018 at 10:21 am

      That’s exactly the kind of thinking and responses one gets from party hacks when trying to imagine a different way of doing or seeing – it’s not our fault, we didn’t create the mess first and so on ad nauseam. It helps our society not one iota.

Leave a Reply