As the skies begin to draw it’s night curtain signaling the end of the day after the 5th Municipal Elections. It is perhaps time to ask some questions on the performance of the leading party in the Western Cape. We do this fully cognisant of the final elections results still to be announced.
This series of evolving notes emanates from the practical reality of the ANC Western Cape elections performance. Yet, I am conscious these contemplations enter the sphere and space of a much broader sense of identity politics a maturing interest of my seminal pursuit.
At another level these reflections of thought provocation in this season proves more relevant in our on-going discourse and emerging narrative. When one therefore engages these thoughts it is to be conscious of that bigger reality of a set of conversations we are perhaps forced to have in this season. This season we are compelled to give content to the value of a non-racial identity.
I start by asking is it not time that the ANC learn some important lessons from asking tough and discomforting questions. We vacillate between a micro reality of a party and the macro context of a nation and globe increasing compelled contend with these thematic expressions not in luxury but out of necessity.
To narrow it to the ANC is to equally understand it as the entrusted political leader of a democratic dispensation. Therefore the questions are not to be understood in narrowness of a political party, but constitute a set of questions for much wider our discourse.
Thoughts and questions I will attempt to postulate as primarily anchored on the cardinal aspects of race, identity, class and religion.
I have attempted to restrict each of the accompanying notes to engage the respective theme in unfolding chapters. Yet, to be entertained in singular or collective read and interpreted as an anthology constituting a mini volume of opinion pieces. They assume for purpose of chronology and logic a chapter expression.
Chapter 1 concerns itself with the aspect of race and its role in elections. Chapter 2 deals with the Identity and its extrapolated role in elections. Chapter 3 attempts a look at class, an active disposition in the elections. Chapter 4 concerns itself with the troublesome aspect of religion and its attending role in elections. Chapter 5 deals with the issue of political leadership on non-racial identity notion.
Part 1 – Race
Contrary to the commonly advanced claim that the formal construct of race for a means to describe a humanity exists from time immemorial, Nina Jablonsky helps us to appreciate that “the first person to formally define races was the noted philosopher Immanuel Kant, who in 1785 classified people into four fixed races, which were arrayed in a hierarchy according to color and talent”
Equally race thinking as permeating every aspect of our societal life often protests a forever presence in the SA context. However it was Paul Maylam who reminded us that race thinking became a dominant mode of seeing and describing social relations at the Cape during the period of second British occupation.
It thus appears the challenge of race is not going away and apartheid racial classification appears immortalized. This in stark contrast to the principled commitment to a non-racial society as articulated in Section 1 (B) of the Constitution.
South Africa despite having made bold a celebrated egalitarian constitution that points to non-racialism and the non racial identity in future of pursuit, have held on since 1994 to the very race descriptions (black, white, Coloured and Indian) in claim of redress.
Neville Alexander, reminds us “an overview of the many different ways in which perceptions of racial difference and of the concept of race have influenced the shape and substance of South African society over three and a half centuries is an ambitious undertaking by any measure”.
I irrevocably concur with Alexander therefore my attempt is consciously limited to a small slice of time immanent in the last 24 years. I will not engage the details of election results or analysis in technocratic sense. I am not particularly concerned with specificities concerning margins of loss or win. I deliberately draw broad strokes underpinned by core themes attesting a lived experience and influence on the subject of elections in post apartheid setting.
South Africa thus as a social laboratory remains one stratified, entrenched, defined and exuding race as a fundamental premise.
Notwithstanding the fact that race in its scientific sense is long declared defunct. Race as remnant in traction of a social construct and phenomenon in 2016 is emboldened. We are a race informed society we are a race-laden nation. A denial of this is a denial of our history and present threatening our future.
Our democratic franchise and constitution is race aware, race conscious and race sensitive. In defense of the constitution its cognizance of race is perhaps informed by an egalitarian aim of redress.
When one contends we are a race-based society, it is not to overemphasize the construct, but to assertively acknowledge the prevalence and pervasive presence of its sojourn over an elongated period of time at least the last 350 years. It is to really admit that the Democratic State in all its articulation of what we have come to term its client embraces and endorses this race notion.
Race is used as a means to interpret our past, understand our present and to chart our future. Race is uncritically used and accepted as conclusive.
I wish to advance there exists a dialectical tension when the ideal of a non- racial society is advanced in the same breath with using race in aim and object of redress. When race is used as final measurement for transformation, advancement, benefit and performance.
We have all by now heard that qualification for black redress immanent in ‘black in particularly African’ used to explain the fact that all blacks suffered under colonialism and apartheid but African suffered the most.
Whilst this may be an undeniable historic fact and reality, we have yet to see how this interacts and engages our collective moving forward to address past and new imbalances, in pursuit of a non-racial reality.
All South African political parties comfortably embrace the notion of multi-racialism whilst they articulate an ideal of non-racialism. The African National Congress celebrates the notion of multi-races yet it articulates and imbibes a non-racial notion.
The official Opposition’s 2029 vision confirms this reality when it says “we see a future in which all races live together in harmony…”
Seldom is the efficacy, probability for the oxymoronic reality of striving for a non-racial society on the diaphragm of multi-racial critically engaged by the cross-bred of political leadership. There appears a disconnect, when we can afford ourselves to continue romantically espousing a non-racial dream, when we entrenching a race based society.
Fundamental to the notion of the embrace of a race construct is an uncontested recognition of otherness. Again the otherness equally affords an involuntarily subliminal opportunity to let that otherness take precedence either way.
What is indisputable is that elections in South Africa are undeniably race informed, defined, driven if not race-constricted.
Despite the much publicized romantic love expressed by white SA citizens and voters for a Mandela, the facts attest the voting patterns from the dawn of democracy of this constituency remains in favour of white led parties. Whites simply never trusted Mandela with their vote, neither did it ever trust Mandela’s African National Congress.
Equally the voting patterns of Coloureds remain consistent as not trusting the black African majority. Former Coloured townships share to a majority the voting patterns of the Western Cape. Where Coloureds opts not to vote for the official opposition DA a historic and predominantly white led party, they prefer to be led by a notion of religion immanent in Christian to inform their political identity. This works to the benefit of the African Christian Democratic Party.
Indians equally do not vote in majority outside its own. We all know how Rajbansi’s Minority Front became an important dealmaker in the KZN voting context. This voting pattern says more of a strategy in recognition of its limited numbers.
African blacks are by far the most progressive in voting distribution. While the ANC continues to enjoy a majority of the vote slice of the African voter, we have seen the DA making inroads in attracting more and more black middle class urban voters.
These voting patterns confirm that South Africans vote not in absent-mindedness of their specific racial classification, identity marker and group.
This information proves valuable to a discerning party who accepts, interprets and shows a willingness to head-on engage this undeniable reality aiding the plotting of a strategy and coherent message to attract beyond the racial boundary line.
Typically to cite as example the leading party in democracy to allows this race notion to stand in pre-eminence without ever attempting to acknowledge it with its attending deficiencies anomalies and its probable nefarious influence. Its leaders are elected its informed by demographic realities that play out to various degrees across the length and breadth of this country.
Meaning in all provinces but the Western Cape the ANC is likely to mirror the natural demographics of the province, yet in the Western Cape it has proven flexible to go against the natural demographics. It somehow finds a means to walk away from the race recognition reality when it comes to the Western Cape. The ANC opts to instead claim a common black identity as a justified means to have leadership and candidates from that wide black notion, the same it does not let live in other provinces.
What can the ANC learn from the notion of race for selecting leaders in the Western Cape? What are we as South African learning from this aspect of race informing our political identities exemplified in elections?
We must ask are there any lessons to be learned from the role of race in a demographic space and how should this role be engaged?
Has the ANC failed to discern the sophistication of the Western Cape voter base as race informed? Can the ANC free itself from to make this non-racial ethic count and if so how?
Is this not the fulcrum of the palpable ever simmering tension of incongruence for embracing a multi-racial reality from which you attempt to make possible redress, when you espouse in double-speak non-racialism, the same you prognosticate to condemn others who practice their racial preferences?
Perhaps the greater question is how does the ANC as political leader allow the non-racial identity to be filled with content?
The logical result of the apartheid struggle saw the African National Congress assuming a democratic office at the dawn of democracy committed to the espoused values of non-racialism and non-sexism.
Since these ideals are principally what drives the ANC as leading party how are these to be actualized in a practical sense?
How sustainable is this embrace of race in description and defining a common humanity? How helpful is a race-based notion for the dream of social cohesion, or does it undo it from the start?
It is then perhaps befitting to conclude my lament in citing again arguably the greatest scholar from the Cape, Neville Alexander, when he poignantly remonstrates ‘the apparent unawareness of the implications of continuing the racial typecasting that was perpetrated by apartheid’s grey men, supposedly in order to eliminate ‘racism’, is counterintuitive, given the profusion of ‘non-racial’ rhetoric.’
- Alexander, N. 2013: “Thoughts on the New South Africa’, Jacana Publishing
- Brockman, John :2015. ‘This Idea Must Die: Scientific Theories That Are Blocking Progress’ (Edge Question Series)Paperback– February 17, 2015 (Pages 80- 83)
- Maylam, P: 2001“ south Africa’s Racial Order” Some Historical Reflections, (paper presented as the Conference on the Burden of Race? “ Whiteness and Blackness in Modern South Africa, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 2001)
- Posel, D: 2001: “Race as Common Sense: racial Classification in Twentieth Century South Africa’, African Studies Review, 44 1(2001) 87-113, 109