Corruption and Race Lead in South Africa’s Campaign Season

April 14, 2011  |  

May 18, 2011 brings about local government elections in South Africa.  A chance for communities to chose their mayors and ward councilors, the people they will blame when things go wrong.  A time when political parties wake up from their slumber and dust off their “Political Promises and Rhetoric” handbooks in a bid to convince unsuspecting masses to forget the failures of yesteryear and vote for them…again.

As happens every year discussions are held regarding who will vote for whom.  With every discussion race rears its ugly head.  Of the front-runners we have on the one hand the African National Congress (ANC), a black party with impressive struggle credentials. Their courage freed the black people of South Africa from an oppressive apartheid regime.  As the ruling party they have, despite many controversies, kept South Africa functioning with a stable economy.

On the other hand there’s the Democratic Alliance (DA), a predominantly white party led by a formidable lady named Helen Zille.  The DA won the right to run Cape Town, and while they haven’t proven much in the way of racial integration and diversity, they have shown themselves to be more than an opposition party, capable of effectively managing a municipality.

These two parties are bringing out the big guns in a bid to garner support. What they fail to realize, however, is that when it comes down to politics, facts and figures mean nothing to the majority of South Africans.  History has shown that the majority of white people will vote for the DA and black people will vote for the ANC. And in 2011 sadly this hasn’t changed. From questioning people on the streets its clear that most white people won’t vote for the ANC because in their opinion “black people are corrupt” and totally inept when it comes to administration.

The many successes of the ANC will be overlooked as they lament the demise of the country and threaten to relocate to Australia.  Black people will never vote for the DA because in the words of a black colleague, “white people are racist”.  These are sentiments echoed across the land as people opt to continue voting for the ANC without a second thought to the glaring fact that the DA has a somewhat better resume when it comes to service delivery.  Past hurts are used as ammunition in a quest to justify why blacks could never trust a white party with their hard-fought right to vote.

Can either party be blamed for their stance?  It would seem not. Though born out of bias and prejudice, white people have reason to believe black people are too corrupt to effectively run a country.  This notion is sadly confirmed by constant cases of corruption that implicate senior ANC government officials. Included in these are the much-publicized fraudulent relationship between President Zuma and Schabir Shaik and ex-chief police commissioner Jackie Selebi being found guilty of corruption. In more recent reports, a Cabinet minister, Sicelo Shiceka is being accused of using state funds to, among other liberties, visit his girlfriend in a Switzerland jail where she was serving time on a drug charge.  The compromising situations that the ANC constantly finds itself in only feed the discrimination that white people already harbor.

Flip the coin and black South Africans are well within their right to be wary of white rule.  Scarred by the horror and injustices of the past, black people feel that giving white people the power to potentially oppress them again would be an abomination in itself.  They do say once bitten twice shy.  One just has to glance at the papers to realize that though right wing leader Eugene Terre’blanche is dead, racism sure as hell isn’t. A report was published in a newspaper this morning describing how white factory owners allegedly forced 4 black workers to perform oral sex on them and drink urine from the toilet at gunpoint. Award winning Afrikaans author Annelie Botes, felt the wrath of the nation when she stated in an interview “I do not like black people. I don’t understand them… I know they are people like me, I know they have the same rights as me. But I do not understand them. And then… I don’t like them. I avoid them, because I am afraid of them”.

These are shocking but real scenarios that are unfortunately further fuelled by past racial bias and beliefs.  For while some black people are corrupt, not all of them have their hand in the cookie jar.  And while some white people still feel superior to black folk, there are some who have truly embraced change.  But race and all that it has inflicted on black and white alike, blurs the lines of logic and leads to bad decisions.

Where does that leave the country? In a precarious position.  For as long as there is no viable party that manages to separate itself from the stigma of racism and corruption and shows itself to be transparent and racially integrated, the future of South Africa will always be decided on the basis of color and not performance – leaving it wide open to abuse and failure. As long as people still vote along racial lines, for whatever reason, real and true democracy will never stand a chance.

The challenge for these two parties, in the interest of the future of South Africa, is not to be caught up in getting votes. Their mandate should be to collectively clean up the image of their respective communities and racial groups and to prioritize ridding the nation of the prejudices of the past.  It may have been over a decade since black and white reconciled, but in many ways the country has not progressed.  As a South African @Kabomo wrote on Twitter “Maybe one day race wont matter in this country, but that day is not here yet”.

That day will not come unless the powers that be (ruling and opposition parties) face the ugly truth, that the “Rainbow Nation” notion is only skin deep.  Difficult practical and emotional work needs to be done to not only heal the nation, but to rebuild trust among all South Africans.

Brendah Nyakudya is a  Zimbabwean-born media personality, social commentator and marketer living in South Africa.  Writing and social issues are her main interests with a purpose to better the continent.  She is currently working as a Brand Manager for a TV Music channel in Johannesburg.

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