The "Non - White" Vote
In a paper produced for a SASO leadership training course in December 1971, Steve Biko presents a definition of black consciousness and what it means to be black. In his presentation, he emphasizes that "being black is not a matter of pigmentation - being black is a reflection of a mental attitude." (Biko, 1971) He furthermore makes a distinction between 'blacks' and 'non - whites' arguing that if one aspires to being 'white' espousing 'white' values, principles, mannerisms and attitudes then that person is a 'non - white'. This could not be further from the truth in present day society. In fact, had he been alive today, Biko would have certainly emphasized his striking point that 'non - whites' do exist and will continue to exist for quite along time to come.
Like the 'non - whites' of yesteryear, the 'non - whites' of today feel no association to the ANC and its alliance partners. Recent claims that voting patterns amongst 'black' households are changing with the younger 'black' generation choosing alternatives to the ANC led Alliance, if there even exists such, is not exactly true, or may be contested if we follow Biko's conceptions of 'black' and 'non - white'. Yes, 'Black' households are becoming more critical of the ANC led Alliance but to suggest that this is translating into the ballot is dubious. What could be mistaken for shifting patterns in the 'Black' vote may actually be misconstrued for 'non - whites' or a post 1994 breed of 'non - whites' now having the opportunity to exercise their democratic right to vote. A democratic right that was fought for and achieved by the very ANC led Alliance they detest. So the voting patterns may not be necessarily be new or unique or shifting, it may just be a new breed of 'non - whites' voting against the ANC led Alliance as their predecessors did prior to 1994, well without the ballot back then.
So you see, not much has changed. However, trying to understand why being black is a reflection of a mental attitude in the current conjuncture may lead us to class - based motivations rather then racial underpinnings. By this we mean that perhaps as the General Secretary of the SACP, Cde. Blade Nzimande pointed out in Parliament that 'one can never understand where the word 'darkie' comes from unless you grew up in the township'. Or perhaps aspiring to be 'white' is associated with real wealth or control of the wealth and resources of the country since the majority of our economy is controlled by white monopoly capital. Perhaps aspiring to 'whiteness' means aspiring to be the 'real rulers' knowing that those who control the wealth are the real controllers of the State - white monopoly capital.
The claim that many 'Blacks', 'Indians' and 'Coloureds' are finding an alternative home in parties like the DA must be refuted. The truth is that the DA has become a home for 'whites' and 'non - whites' not for 'Blacks', 'Indians' and 'Coloureds' or progressive white democrats for that matter who continue to find a home in the alliance. Let's take the 'Coloured' population in the Western Cape where the DA claims to have delivered. The majority of the 'Coloured' population in the Western Cape which remains predominantly poor and working class, have not benefitted at all. Communities continue to be ravaged by alcohol and substance abuse, deepening poverty and rising inequalities. In fact, some academics argue that Cape Town is one of the most unequal cities in the world. So who have benefitted from all that growth and prosperity that we've been hearing so much about? The white madam and a few 'non - whites' of course.
Falling prey to the propaganda of blaming the ANC for every problem in society will blind us from the inevitable truth. Let's take unemployment for example, almost every academic agrees that unemployment in South Africa was a problem since the 1970's before the ANC came into power. The problems that we face are not new or unique to the ANC led government. What we should be doing is playing more of an active part in shaping the growth and prosperity of our communities. This of course starts by going out to the ballot boxes and voting, exercising that hard earned democratic right to vote.
During an interview in 1968, Dr. Yusuf Dadoo, former Chairperson of the South Communist Party, is confronted by a question on whether Indian people in South Africa as a minority group would be no better off under African rule then they are under white rule. Dr. Dadoo responds, "It is the argument of agent provocateurs in our midst who deliberately try to provoke hostility between African and Indian, African and Coloured, to convince each other that their grievances are not the fault of the oppressors, but of another oppressed group. It must be understood that the fundamental of the liberation struggle is first and foremost the liberation of the African people, and that it is unthinkable that there could be liberation without African majority rule."
A South African "non - white" would never understand this. He or she could never understand this. Why? Because it means that the white madam is not necessarily always right, It means the white madam is not necessarily all - knowing, It means the white madam is not always first in line, It means that it is not only possible, but very much probable that a black democracy can succeed and deliver a better life for all!
I'm sure Dr. Dadoo would have been quite critical about the present day ANC led government but like myself, I'm sure he would have voted it back into power with the understanding that much more needs to be done and the issues of the poor must be elevated to the top of the priority list. Why such faith in the ANC led alliance you ask? Yes there may be challenges in the ruling party, but we have more opportunities now then our mothers and fathers had prior to 1994. Whether we take those opportunities or not is a matter for another discussion. Bottom line, I'd rather vote for the political party that brought me freedom and sacrificed so much during the tough times then the one that wants to benefit only when times are good. Why? Because I'm black!
YCLSA National Chairperson
"I may be living in poverty, but I am Free"
This week again we visited some communities in Mpumalanga and Gauteng as part of the elections campaign. Tomorrow we are visiting the Free State in Bloemfontein, then up to the Northern Cape in the town of Warrengton just before we attend the ANC Siyanqoba Rally on Sunday in Johannesburg.
In all the work, and with all the people we have met, a lot of our people have reaffirmed their love for the ANC, SACP, COSATU and the entire Mass Democratic Movement. They have unequivocally and unconditionally sent a message that come 18 May 2011 their cross and their hearts will be with their organisations.
A central and recurring message in the townships and informal settlements I have visited has been of hope that through the commitment of the ANC-led alliance government to the people, their lives will change for the better. This shows that the National Liberation Movement is the fountain to all our people, black and white; and our pursuit to build a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic society will prevail if the people remain its foundation.
Of all the places I visited this week, two informal settlements have left an indelible mark in my heart. These areas are Themb'Elihle (outside Lenasia) and Zandspruit (which is surrounded by Honeydew, Jackal Creek Golf Estate, Cosmo City, North Riding and its close to Northgate Mall). For these areas, a "better life for all" is only within reach when they admire the lives of their neighbouring suburbs.
The people of Themb'Elihle settled there 22 years ago, and have had the honour of Nelson Mandela visiting them as part of the build up to the 1994 Elections. One woman, who has been there since the informal settlement started, spoke passionately about her love for the ANC and the credit she gives to this movement she belongs to for having liberated her. She has her own reservations, but expressed contempt for "that other party." The people here have been implored to move to another location as the land has dolomite but have refused because they see it as their home.
In Zandspruit, people settled before 1994 after that there was an eviction by the apartheid government. It started as a small settlement, but grew into more than 14 500 families. This settlement is built on private land, and the City of Johannesburg together with the provincial government has been buying the land from the owners at sometimes exorbitant funds.
Both these communities have for one reason or another been removed from the map of service delivery just like some of the areas we have been visiting. However, there is renewed hope that a better community will be built presenting newer opportunities.
Both these areas are still using VIP toilets, communal taps, do not have access to electricity, their roads are littered and obviously unhealthy especially for children. Access to the areas is difficult with a car, and thus refuse and sewerage removal trucks find it difficult to fully service the land. The community centres of both these places are makeshifts. In fact, the one in Themb'Elihle can no longer be used.
Both areas experienced protests with the nominations process of candidates, but have lived beyond this now and are concentrations on an overwhelming ANC victory.
What was even more striking for me was that both areas will have very passionate and dedicated ANC women contesting as candidates for local government. The highly energetic and passionate candidate at Zandspruit, Maureen Scheeman is vying for re-election whilst the young and vibrant Jandice Zondo is going to be a new councillor for Ward 80. Both of them have fought against all odds both internally within the ANC and are pulling all stops against the men presented by the opposition.
They are both known in their constituencies not only because they stay in the wards that they are vying for election, but also because they are foremost community activists who know the challenges of their people through and through.
In all instances when I entered a house or conversed with people on the streets, they will energetically intervene and present what their solutions and proposals are. They have both committed to convene community meetings after the elections to compare the notes they took in the election trail with the Manifesto of the ANC, and together with the community, determine a programme of governance in their wards. I have no doubt that they will both be a formidable force in the City of Johannesburg Council.
In the course of campaigning, in one out of five houses you are guaranteed that people will burst into the "what has the ANC done for us" song. This is more because our people have become settled with the security of a national democratic society. Many of them, when challenged, will always concede that there is "some development." We all know that it is never enough.
When we were in Diepsloot last week, we engaged with people who now have access to water, electricity and proper sanitation and are (admittedly for a long time) on a queue to get houses. The same applied to both Themb'Elihle and Zandspruit. After being forgotten by the DA Counsellor (2001-2006), who was even scared to enter the settlement, the Zandspruit community elected an ANC Counsellor and since then there has been water, sanitation and electricity in some areas.
The reality is that one form of service delivery, like housing, begets another form of delivery, say water and electricity. The greatest challenge for the Department of Human Settlement is to provide all basic needs for our people at a go. This will mean moving people from one area to another where they will not only settle in houses, but where there are proper streets, schools, shopping, recreational facilities--a complete settlement area. This is part of the commitment made in the ANC Election Manifesto.
But with all of these challenges, the people of both townships committed themselves to vote for the ANC. This should be the most frustrating part of election life for the opposition parties. People who have lived for 22 years in poverty still remain committed to vote the same ANC which is supposedly to 'blame' for their miseries.
This is because our people do not associate the 'service delivery' and 'change' merely with the material benefits they get under democracy. One of the fundamental points made by Isaac Phiri, an old man who was born in Malawi but has stayed in Johannesburg (and now Diepsloot) since he was 10 years (he says he is of Mandela's age) was that he "may be living in poverty, but at least, I am free." The same point is repeated by a young man of Zandspruit, who said to me that he has "seen the brutality my parents lived under, and that for me is worse than being impatient with a democratic dispensation. For that, he will never vote for any political party other than the ANC."
These, and many other voices we hear during the elections, constitute agents for the transformation of our society. They are an integral part of the social transformation required beyond the election. This election, and many that will come, illustrates that the greatest challenge for the ANC and the historical mandate imposed on it by its founders does not lie within the opposition, but lies within the ANC itself. If we fail to mobilise our people beyond elections into becoming agents for building a better country and nation, then we would have betrayed those who formed this glorious movement. If we fail to popularise an agenda of nation building, complete political liberation and freedom from economic bondage, that is when our people will start giving up on this democracy.
That's the Bottomline...cos the YCL said so!