This week, we commemorate the first anniversary of the Marikana tragedy, when 44 people – 34 mineworkers and ten others – lost their lives during a strike, the after-shocks of which are still reverberating through our country.
We extend our deepest condolences to all those, particularly the affected families, who lost loved ones during the violence that marked the darkest week our democracy has yet seen.
Marikana is emblematic of the divide in our country between the insiders and the outsiders; between the powerful connected few and the powerless many. And it is one of many catalytic events that are shaking up our political landscape as we know it.
Not long after Marikana, and not far away in the North West Province’s largest town, Tlokwe (Potchefstroom), a group of ANC councillors (‘outsiders’ in the party’s factional hierarchy) rebelled against their mayor Maphethle Maphethle.
The rebel councillors did this not once, but twice: in November 2012, and again in July 2013. The ANC’s disaffected councillors then helped to install the DA’s Annette Combrink as the first DA Mayor in North West.
It was yet another catalytic moment in a province that has become an interesting political bell weather. After all, it was in a small North West village called Tswaing that the DA won its first ward comprising 100% black voters in the 2011 municipal elections.
While the implications of ‘Marikana’ continue to be analysed as a catalytic event in our history, last week’s by-elections disappeared from public attention within a single news cycle. But both events (and many in between) make it possible to discern the powerful undercurrents that are propelling South African politics in a new direction.
If we join the dots, a clearer picture emerges: the once formidable African National Congress is coming apart. Over the next ten years (probably sooner) South Africa will have a new, realigned political dispensation.
Some will say it foolhardy to predict the ANC’s demise after its convincing victory in 15 out of 20 by-elections last week. But in politics it is important to spot the trends long before they become obvious.
Last week’s by-elections confirmed a trend that has been apparent for some time: COPE, which kindled the hopes of millions just five years ago, has all but disappeared. The once mighty Inkatha Freedom Party continued its decline.
Meanwhile, the DA continued its growth trajectory, increasing its support in remote rural wards seven-fold and winning a municipality, Oudtshoorn, from the ANC.
Equally significant was the result in two wards in Marikana’s platinum belt that hardly made the news. Both were nearly won by nominal ‘independents’ aligned with Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters.
As disillusioned ANC voters stay away from the polls in growing numbers the political contest of the future is brought into sharper relief. It is a contest between constitutionalism and populism; between policies that create jobs for all and policies that enrich the connected few.
It is the open, opportunity society for all versus the closed, crony society for the connected few.
The dividing line between these alternatives runs through the middle of the ANC. Some in the party’s ideological broad church identify more closely with the rhetoric of the EFF. Others identify with the DA’s core values of constitutionalism and a free economy.
President Zuma and his network of allies can no longer define what their party believes in because their goal is simply to hold on to power. Ironically, that is why the party is disintegrating so rapidly.
There is no real risk that the ANC will lose the 2014 general election, but it will emerge with less support than it has now. And it might find itself in opposition in our country’s economic heartland, Gauteng.
That brings me to another catalytic moment that occurred late last week: the nomination of Mmusi Maimane as the DA’s Premier Candidate for Gauteng. Mmusi has the intellect, energy and belief to go the distance in what we expect to be a bruising contest with the ANC.
The realignment of South African politics will not be clean, swift or easy. It will be turbulent, often violent and unpredictable. The ANC’s response will be fierce. It will create uncertainty and unease. But, if enough of our democratic institutions stand firm, it is probable, even likely, that we will emerge from the process as a consolidated democracy, and break the racial mould of our political past.
I have little doubt that within a decade, probably less, the DA’s philosophy of the “open, opportunity society for all” will be the core of a new non-racial majority that will govern South Africa, defending the constitution, growing the economy and offering real opportunities to all South Africans to use their freedom productively to improve their lives.
Whatever happens, 2014 will be a turning point in South African politics. No election after that will be a foregone conclusion. And that should be welcome news. After all, democracy needs change at the ballot box if it is to survive and flourish.