Thoughts on South African Politics

This weekend was a busy weekend for us here in South Africa, because we witnessed the inauguration of our fourth democratic president, Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma. Some radio stations called him the fourth democratically elected president, which in my opinion was slightly inaccurate since the third president (Kgalema Petrus Motlanthe) did not come into power as a result of a national election.

I was part of the election process on the 22nd of last month.  I voted for the first time in my life.  In my country of origin there was no point taking part in a referendum – it is a one party state with presidents chosen for life (and then passing the presidency on to their progeny).  So I had a certain pride in making my mark here in my adopted country.

The process went on as expected with our ruling party the ANC (African National Congress) taking over 66% . Further results show that opposition parties are a fragmented lot in this country; the biggest is the DA (Democratic Alliance) receiving 16.75% of the votes followed by the new party COPE (Congress of the People) which took 7.5%. The latter party was formed by disgruntled members of the ANC who did not approve of the current leadership and went into opposition attracting a few Mbeki loyalists.

In this fourth democratic election there were only a few surprises. The ANC has lost some votes to the opposition (they came just short of a two-third majority), and the DA won absolute majority in the Western Cape Province. We now have a new Premier in the Eastern Cape : Helen Zille , leader of the DA, who was previously the mayor of Cape Town – I only found out recently that Ms Zille was an anti-Apartheid activist during the seventies, and  famously uncovered the circumstance of Steve Biko‘s death when she worked as a journalist for the Rand Daily Mail. The victory of the DA in the Western Cape is important because it is the first time any party manages to wrestle an absolute majority from the ANC in any of the nine provinces.

The elections had their serious moments and their really strange ones. Here in the Western Cape I saw election posters for the Cape Party, whose major objective was to declare the Cape independent (A republic of the Western and Northern Cape) – They got 2552 votes in the provincial elections, according to these results,  accounting for 0.13% of the provincial votes.

For me these elections and the subsequent events threw my adopted country in a positive light.  Despite all the negative hype about corruption and rape charges and the controversy around the person of Jacob Zuma, he has made all the right noises so far throughout his inauguration and cabinet selection. He is reaching out to South Africans of all races, and vowing to build the economy and combat poverty and disease.

Yesterday I listened in to the President’s announcement of  his cabinet selection. I noted that he formed a new ministry for Women, Children and People with Disabilities. To lump women and children together with the disabled may seem strange in other parts of the world, it may be b even unusual to single all these out as a separate category from the general population.  However, this is a testimony of how much work is still needed before real equality is achieved in society.  Our new president has charmed the majority of the population in this nation, and he is working on winning even his most bitter detractors, but how much he will achieve remains to be seen.

I can already see one bright spot though. News readers around the world will no longer have to wrestle with the name of our new president.  Although former president Kgalema Motlanthe is not completely out of the picture, he is now our deputy president.