Elections & the Future of South Africa
Newly elected president Cyril Ramaphosa, and head of the African National Congress (ANC), was called a murderer and a “Dreamer of Wakanda” during the debate following his State of Nation address (SONA), June 20th 2019.
Generally, most of the representatives from the opposition: Democratic Alliance (DA), Economic Freedom Fighters (EEF), and Freedom Front Plus (FF+), were disappointed with the speech of the president. They claim the speech lacked any specific calls to action on how he and his Cabinet are planning to restore the economy and overcome poverty and inequality. It was a “wish list,” Pieter Groenewald, leader of the FF+, said about the State of Nation Address.
Interestingly local people are ready to support the ruling party, “[the] ANC is good and I did vote for them, because I believe in our country and eventually it will be restored” – said Uber driver, a black South African lady in her thirties. Her opinion represents the majority of people who are living in the country and hoping for change.
The ANC has been ruling the country since 1994, experiencing ups and downs in its popularity. Since 1994 this party has been increasing in popularity, because people saw hope in it, but it started losing its power when Jacob Zuma came to the office in 2009. Popularity dropped due to peoples’ mistrust. Corruption, allegations of rape, and a man not qualified for the job characterized Zuma’s presidency.
In South Africa, inequality, poverty and the unemployment rate are among the highest in the world. The country faces a “triple challenge,” said the Chief of Staff of the Ministry of Social Development Linton Mchunu. On 25th June, the South African parliament held debates on the SONA. The President’s speech consisted of promising statements, but also left a lot of room for concerns. The Democratic Alliance (DA) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) had a chance to attack Ramaphosa during debates. The DA is the main opposition party with a very economically liberal position. Their aim is to unite all South Africans, to fight corruption and to create fair access to jobs. While the EFF criticizes the ANC for being corrupted and the DA for being too capitalist-oriented. They promise to provide South Africans with free healthcare and education, to expropriate stolen land and to double the minimum wage.
Several representatives of both parties blamed the President for living in his dreams of a smart city with bullet trains, while members of his own party were sure that following his dreams is important for the country’s future. The opposition blamed the newly elected President for ignoring the main issues facing the country and the fact that the “face of poverty is black” meaning black South Africans are still the most disadvantaged members of the society, along with large families and female-headed households, according to a World Bank report. This report is to trace progress country made in fighting poverty and inequality.
The President also spent time discussing his land reform agenda, but opposition leaders failed to see any real proposals on how it could be achieved. “Even though today was more about the detail he was trying to achieve, it lacked choices, and it lacked reform. And what SA needs if it’s going to prosper in the future, is tough decisions,” said DA leader, Mmusi Maimane. However, despite the fact it has been twenty-five years since South Africa stepped onto a democratic path, speakers of many parties noted that affirmative action and black economic empowerment had not fully worked for the development of the state. These two policies were supposed to include the previously victimized population into the economy of the country, but led to an issue of inequality. This also led to a tiff between parliamentarians.
Economic Freedom Fighters MP Naledi Chirwa even called the President a murderer for denying an instance of a murdered farmer. This caused further tension during the debate. ANC leaders were trying to interrupt her calling for point of order and asking to have her speech withdrawn. ANC representatives also tried to draw everyone’s attention to a person that was filming debate from the gallery (which is prohibited). These attempts seemed very false.
In the SONA, the President spoke about restoration of the National Development Plan (NDP) as a tool to fight poverty and inequality, yet the NDP was unsuccessful and the poverty rate rose from 36 to 40 percent between 2012 and 2015. What is interesting is that poverty became more gender and race related. (More black women are below the poverty line than black men, because women are more likely to slip into poverty in South Africa). Restoration is of great importance for the country, but president Ramaphosa did not mention any specific steps on how to make the NDP an effective mechanism that can actually achieve its goals. DA leader Mmusi Maimane shared his disappointment: “The truth is, the president said very little about the government’s actual plans. It was devoid of policy certainty that could steer our economy towards a path of growth and prosperity.”
Mr. President filled his speech with ambitious promises and long-term dreams, which is fine when you are a democratically elected president; this is what people want to hear from you because they are still waiting for a change. Most parts of his speech were very easy to get behind. “We need to ensure that stolen public money is returned and used to deliver services and much needed basic infrastructure to the poorest communities. We should imagine a country where bullet trains pass through Johannesburg as they travel from here to Musina, and they stop in Buffalo City on their way from Ethekwini back here, [Cape Town].” But this is an issue in the South African economy and society. This is a time when reforms have to be done quickly and efficiently, because previous changes have been taking place for too long. “Many who are in shanty towns have been dreaming about housing.” Said African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) leader Reverend Kenneth Meshoe. The disappointment of the opposition makes sense, because mentioning household provisions Mr. Ramaphosa pointed out “great progress” the country has made, but in reality housing has declined since 2009. 625,358 units were built between 2009-2014, while only 428,056 households were provided since 2014. (Source: Department of human settlements, https://africacheck.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Housing-delivery-1994-to-2018.pdf)
There are many NGOs, and volunteers making attempts to do something from increased food provisions and employment to spacial justice. But in a country with such a deep economic crisis, low budget, severe social issues, and poor urban mobility, it is not enough. It is definitely the people’s choice whether they want to blindly believe in a South African revival, promising words of politicians and “happily ever after” or they can finally realize that it is time to try make changes from the bottom-up.