Magazine article The Spectator

The Rainbow Election

Magazine article The Spectator

The Rainbow Election

Article excerpt

Voting in South Africa used to be on racial lines. That's changing at last

Cape Town

South Africa has just seen her most encouraging election results ever. The general election of April 1994, which brought full democracy, was important in itself but its results were a foregone conclusion -- the black majority voted for the ANC, as expected. The local elections this month were different and immensely hopeful.

There has been a large vote against the ruling party, the ANC, bringing an end to the great curse of post-colonial Africa under which the people keep voting for the 'liberation' party however corrupt and incompetent it is. The ANC still won 54 per cent of the votes, but this is the first time its share has fallen below 60 per cent. President Jacob Zuma has taken a battering, but to his credit -- another welcome departure from bad African ways -- he has taken it gracefully and without complaint. Nobody has challenged the freedom and fairness of these elections.

Better still, South African voting has ceased to be entirely dictated by race. In any country with strong racial or religious differences, Northern Ireland for instance, people tend to vote accordingly. The official racial composition of South Africa today is as follows. Black African: 81 per cent. Coloured: 9 per cent. White: 8 per cent. Asian: 2 per cent. Until now, a map of voting results has looked like a racial census, with all white and brown people voting one way and all black people another. This has changed. In three of South Africa's most important cities, Johannesburg, Tshwane (which includes Pretoria) and Nelson Mandela Bay (which includes Port Elizabeth), whites and blacks together voted in large numbers against the ANC.

South Africa has three tiers of government: central, provincial and local. Local government includes municipalities and cities, and it has been a special victim of ANC misrule. The ANC has continued apartheid's obsession with racial policies, including compulsory race classification. It has instituted 'affirmative action', where jobs are given on race rather than merit, and 'demographic representivity', where, if 80 per cent of the population is black, 80 per cent of doctors should be black. Of course nobody believes in affirmative action for the services they receive, only for the services other people receive. Black politicians would not dream of sending their children to schools with teachers hired this way; they send them to schools with white teachers. In the municipalities, the ANC replaced white engineers and managers with affirmative-action black ones, often without qualifications and experience, always politically connected and usually relatives or chums. The result has been crumbling local infrastructure and failing water and sewerage systems, sometimes resulting in disease and death. Local black people suffered dreadfully under the ANC's racial preferences. They have begun to hit back in the voting booths.

The leading opposition party now is the Democratic Alliance. Its origins go back to the time of the gallant Helen Suzman, the sole liberal MP in the apartheid parliaments. In the 1994 general election, it won 1.7 per cent of the vote and was about to be disregarded. But Tony Leon, a tough and forthright liberal, built up its popularity, to a large extent by exposing the failures of the ANC and the feebleness of the other opposition parties. Its fortunes grew under Helen Zille, another strong liberal who became mayor of Cape Town and is now premier of the Western Cape -- which she rules efficiently and honestly, as voters elsewhere have noticed. …

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