Elections are almost upon us again and just in case anyone thinks I’ve changed my mind since 2014, I haven’t. I still think black people who vote ANC are partially responsible for the state South Africa is in. Sorry.
Some people will point out that it wasn’t just black people who voted ANC. But I’m not personally concerned with the voting choices of people from other races. I don’t know their group interests and motivations as much as I do black people’s. I can honestly say I don’t know why any of our people faithfully vote ANC even today.
Often when I say something like this, it is read as my excusing white beneficiaries of apartheid from their complicity in inequality. While I do believe (black) people are not responsible for the bad circumstances they’re born into – that those who benefitted from those bad circumstances are responsible until they make reparations – I do believe each of us is responsible for who we empower once we turn 18.
Voting is free. You might not get to decide which school you’ll go to, the circumstances you will grow up in and how those impact subsequent life choices, but none of these pressures exist in the voting booth when it is you and the ballot sheet. There, you can do something, however small, to change your circumstances.
A good mind might be deprived of an education; a talent may be denied expression; a good person might be kept away from opportunities. But the voting booth is the one place where there is no barrier between the sharp mind and a tactical political decision. By voting ANC, black people have trusted a party shielding thieves to improve their lives. Only so much good can come of that choice.
Someone else will say he votes ANC because they liberated us. Well, if it’s struggle heroes we’re looking for, they’re a dime-a-dozen: most of the other parties have people who played a role yet chose to work under other political parties. Those individuals have refuted the argument that the ANC was the struggle and the struggle was the ANC by fighting for the same principles under other political parties. At any rate, having reasons to vote ANC does not change that you bear some responsibility for what they believe they can get away with once they have your vote.
As the race that suffered the most under apartheid to subsequently get majority voting power, what this country looks like reflects directly on us more than it does on anyone else. No nation ever rose above its government without first rising against it. If onlookers desire to know how honest, intelligent and orderly South Africans as a group are, they need look no further than our government. This is especially true of black South Africans. We have an image to protect.
Often, when systemic racism, white privilege and whiteness are under discussion, one gets the sense that whoever is controlling the discourse does not want its participants to integrate the critique of white privilege with criticism of the ruling party. I have consistently argued that white privilege would not exist without the corruption of high-ranking members of the ruling party. The two tied together at the 1994 compromise: simplistically put, white capital bought the ANC and the ANC sold itself. The words, “Mandela sold black people out” are often softened for a politer, “Mandela did what was needed for peace” but a fire’s a fire, and judging by the unchecked greed of many officials in the government, it can be argued that the ANC didn’t compromise on economic transformation because it sought to preserve peace but because the personal gains were irresistible. Effects are quantifiable; initial intentions are not. I do not have a direct opinion on whatever is brewing between AfriForum and the ANC but consider this: it would not be the first time that the ANC has gotten “peace” at the expense of legitimate black concerns. History does repeat itself, no?
By any political standard – radical Pan-Africanism, Black Consciousness, (Neo)liberalism – the ANC has gone out of its way to disappoint black people and sell them out on top of it for good measure. The only ideology many of its members have consistently upheld post ‘94 is bourgeois self-enrichment. They are having their cake and eating it; getting it both ways and playing the two sides off against each other. And our people still vote for them? The mind boggles.
Someone will say they vote for the old ANC and its initial goals. Again, argument from intention does not work. We don’t judge things by stated purposes but by foreseeable results. Words are cheap, and even if the ANC means theirs the road to hell is often paved with good intentions. By the time Marikana happened, we should have known what kind of ruling party we had on our hands. By the time the Nkandla ConCourt case happened, we should have known we had sold the Constitution to keep the ANC. Therefore, black people who voted ANC do bear a special responsibility for the state the country is in.
Others will vote for ANC in honour of late loved ones both in their immediate families and in the political sphere. Is this (*points at Nkandla and everything else*) all those loved ones’ memory was worth? Is this all we’re worth? Then why fight for reparations from apartheid? They’re only going to be gorged on by members of the ruling party anyway. They’ve been trained up to feel assured in people’s votes and loyalty.
Another person will say the alternatives to ANC are not that attractive. I do not advocate not voting at all, but it would still leave the ANC with less power than if you voted for them in particular.
In the ANC’s defence, an acquaintance said even a broken watch is right twice a day you don’t give up on a relationship when things go wrong; you fix what you already have.
My response: personally, I don’t keep broken watches and I don’t have forever to fix things that need nonstop fixing. I’m getting old and I’m responsible for retiring well and leaving those that come after me a decent legacy. I submit this is true for a lot of black people whether they pay attention to it or not. The ANC is not protecting our future anymore, and we know it.
It’s not the people’s job to fix government; it’s government’s job to fix itself and people’s job to pay taxes to a functioning government. As for what the government has gotten right: we hold people in the private sector to a higher standard but even they are not guaranteed jobs or a thank you.
Dear black people: voting tactfully (whatever that means for you) will not be a betrayal of the struggle, a surrender to white supremacy, or any of the things you fear it may be.
Voting ANC, on the other hand, comes with no such promise.
Siya Khumalo blogs about religion, politics and sex; he has also written a book (#TheUnveiledFacesProject coming soon).
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Contact on SKhumalo1987@gmail.com