South Africa’s complicated democratic legacy: Andrew Kenny

The common refrain of whites in South Africa and Rhodesia is one of foreseeing economic collapse and despotism upon African majority rule. Despite some post-independence challenges, South African democracy stands strong, though its foreign policy is criticised. The ANC’s support for dictators abroad should be highlighted, in contrast with fair democratic practices at home. There is reason to be optimistic about South Africa’s electoral system, if it is supported by informed voting.

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By Andrew Kenny*

“One man, one vote – once!” This was the standard prediction of whites in South Africa and in Rhodesia, as they watched one African country after another becoming independent of its European colonial power, staging its first ever fully democratic general election and promptly falling into economic collapse and despotism.

I did some canvassing for the Progressive Party (Helen Suzman) in Cape Town in the 1960s and I heard this refrain over and over again from whites defending apartheid and decrying black majority rule. “Look what’s happened in the north. When they (blacks) take over, they ruin the economy, wreck the railways and electricity supply, and end democracy.”

When “they” eventually took power in South Africa in 1994, they did indeed follow some of the bad examples of black-ruled countries to the north − but they did not end democracy. Thirty years later, South African democracy is as strong as ever, as good as democracy in England, of which I have had some experience. But South Africa’s foreign policy in the last 30 years has been utterly iniquitous. We are probably the world’s most immoral democracy.

It is a strange paradox. While the ANC government administers an honorable democracy at home, it encourages tyranny, oppression and even genocide abroad, especially in the rest of Africa. Its worst victims are ordinary black African people, whose blood stains the hands of ANC leaders.  The ANC applauds the dictators in Africa and mocks their victims.

While its own elections are free and fair, it applauds rigged and unfree elections in other African countries. It helps their dictators to cheat and intimidate their voters. Our northern neighbour, Zimbabwe, has been ruled by murderous tyrants since 2000. Its first election, in 1980, supervised by Britain, was fair. The people voted by tribe, as was their right, and since Mugabe belonged to the bigger tribe, the Shona, he won. Mugabe waged Operation Gukurahundi from 1983, to slaughter large numbers of Ndebele who had voted against him. The following elections were marked by intimidation but probably more-or-less reflected the wishes of the people. (A friend there in the 1980s said there were quite a few bodies with their heads missing after one of the elections.)

End of democracy

Mugabe lost a referendum in 2000, and that was the end of democracy in Zimbabwe. All subsequent elections were rigged and riven with massive intimidation. The ANC applauded all of them and always gave hearty congratulations to Mugabe. Later in 2000, Mugabe seized the private farms in an early version of Expropriation Without Compensation, which the ANC has now adopted as official policy. He kicked 780,000 black farmworkers and their families into destitution and began the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy. The ANC gave him a standing ovation.

In 2008, Mugabe and ZANU-PF lost by a landslide. The ANC led by President Mbeki rushed over to help Mugabe, who stayed in power by killing, torturing and breaking the bones of those who had voted against him. In 2017, Mugabe was overthrown in a coup by Emmerson Mnangagwa, who had been his henchman in the Gukurahundi massacres. The ANC accepted the coup passively. The ANC watched millions of ordinary black people fleeing from terror and deprivation in Zimbabwe, and did nothing to help them.

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In last year’s rigged election, President Ramaphosa, almost alone among SADC leaders, went over to Zimbabwe to congratulate Mnangagwa.

But in this South African election, almost everything has been done in a proper democratic way. All parties are allowed to campaign freely and say what they want. In other African countries, such as Rwanda, parties are banned unless they support the government. The South African press is free to report and comment on anything it pleases. In Zimbabwe, opposition newspapers were bombed and journalists imprisoned. The only censorship in South African newspapers is self-censorship.

Make a big noise

The mainstream media are ‘woke’ and, although they do a good job in investigating corruption, they keep quiet when blacks suffer badly at the hands of blacks. However, they make a big noise when blacks suffer mildly at the hands of whites. When a young black man had his eyes and testicles gouged out by other black men, our press was silent; when a silly white woman compared blacks on the beach with monkeys, they all screamed in outrage. But that’s not the ANC’s fault.

The SABC is no more biased than the BBC – rather less, I’d say. It has given fair time to all parties to explain their aims and manifestos. In Zimbabwe, no opposition parties could ever be heard by the state broadcaster. The SABC has banned the “burning flag” political advertisement of the DA, which is a blot against it, but as far as I know, this is the only blot on its election coverage. In Zimbabwe, ordinary black people are forced at gunpoint into attending ZANU-PF political rallies. Nothing like that happens here – although I did hear people on the radio being told they would lose their public service jobs unless they canvassed for the ANC.

Even worse than the tyranny and black suffering in Zimbabwe is the genocide against black people in the Sudan, and here again the ANC has ignored the black victims and supported their genocidal killers. In 2015, after he had slaughtered around 300,000 black African people in the Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, then its president, visited South Africa, where he was warmly received by the ANC government.

The International Criminal Court asked South Africa to arrest him for his terrible crimes against humanity. Naturally the ANC did not do so.

Smiling with delight

Sudan is now racked with a terrible civil war that has wrecked its capital, sent millions of poor people into exile and possible starvation. The worst of the factions is led by the fascist Hemedti Dagalo, who wants to continue the programme of genocide against African people. In January President Ramaphosa received him in his official residence in Pretoria, smiling with delight.

Yet this was the same Ramaphosa whose government took Israel to the International Court of Justice for “genocide” for retaliating (even if too forcibly in my opinion) against the terrorist attack by Hamas on 7 October 2023! The evil hypocrisy of this man, the most despicable of the ANC leaders, knows no bounds. His odious, sanctimonious, snobbish, deceitful foreign minister, Dr Naledi Pandor, who played a big part in wrecking the education of working-class blacks here, is little better. Neither has any “moral rectitude” whatsoever (to use Ramaphosa’s recent phrase).

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The only ANC leader I can think of who tried to play an honorable role in South African foreign affairs was Nelson Mandela. He spoke against the faults of Robert Mugabe – although he was quickly shut up by Mbeki. In Burundi, Mandela spoke out against the racial hatred between the Tutsis and the Hutu, while most African leaders, including ours, ignored tribal conflict in Africa, and shut their eyes when the likes of Idi Amin were slaughtering tens of thousands of black people of opposing tribes.

I spent ten years of my adult life, 1972 to 1982, in England where I voted in elections and did some canvassing (for the Labour Party, before Margaret Thatcher showed me the error of my thinking). I can’t really say I see much difference in election democracy here and there. Both countries are true democracies, even if both have ghastly political leaders.

Fairer

I’d say that the actual voting system in South Africa is more democratic and fairer than the British one. This is because we have proportional representation and they have “first-past-the post”, where you vote for a woman or man in your constituency and whoever gets the highest number of votes wins. If the highest number was 30%, whoever got that would be the MP.

It is grossly unfair; it is possible for a party to win the election with fewer votes than another party. Small parties can almost never get in. The South African system is completely fair and small parties can get into Parliament, which I welcome. The little guys can make a big difference. In 1994, the Democratic Party (which later became the Democratic Alliance) only got 1.7% of the votes but 7 seats. In the British system, it would have gotten no seats. With those 7 seats, the DP changed the face of South African politics for the better. The disadvantage of our system is that nobody has a representative in Parliament and the party bosses are too powerful.

In our election, the ANC Secretary-General, Fikile Mbalula, was seen canvassing in a 3-million-rand Mercedes in a poverty-stricken black township with no jobs and no running water. He was criticised as a “hypocrite”. On the contrary, I thought he was being honest, saying in effect, “Yes, look how rich I am and how poor you are. You can see how superior I am, so you’d better vote for me.” In England, I fancy that a rich Labour politician (such as Tony Benn) would have parked his Jaguar a few blocks away, put on a cloth cap and toured the constituency on a bicycle.

Over 19 ANC councillors have been murdered in KZN since last September. The main reason many people join the ANC is in the hope of winning a highly-paid job in national or local government. This is probably the only legal way an incompetent and unqualified person can get a lot of money and status. But it is dangerous – in KZN, very dangerous. I don’t think that the lack of democracy within a party, even if it uses murder as a means of internal preferment, undermines national democracy when all parties are allowed to campaign freely against each other. In England the method of choosing a leader of the Tory Party used to be highly undemocratic. Nobody suggested that this undermined British democracy.

Opinion polls

In this election we have got the best and most frequent opinion polls of voters’ intentions – especially from the Social Research Foundation (SRF). I like opinion polls. In England they were always very accurate as far as total votes were concerned but had trouble predicting the number of seats – because of Britain’s unfair voting system.

In South Africa the percentage of votes and the percentage of seats is the same thing, which is why we should take our polls seriously. A month or so ago, some polls predicted the ANC would get less than 40%. This number has crept up lately, probably as the result of the ANC’s increased campaigning. I thought Ramaphosa’s fraudulent NHI bill would win votes, but I see the ANC’s votes have dropped since, which increases my regard for the intelligence of our voters.

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In 1974, the British PM Edward Heath called for a general election. At the time I thought he was the worst PM that Britain could ever have. How wrong I was! (Heath had stupid policies but was honorable; Boris Johnson had stupid policies and no honour.) His opponent, the leader of the Labour Party, was Harold Wilson, very clever, very tricky, very slippery.

To my surprise, Wilson promised that if elected, his Labour government would hold a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the European Community – usually referred to as the Common Market. Enoch Powell, the firebrand Tory MP who had won popularity by thundering against black immigration and who hated Britain’s membership of the EC, immediately told his many followers to vote Labour. They did, and Labour won the election. To my amazement, Wilson kept his promise and there was a referendum in 1975. A politician keeping his promise! Over a controversial matter of the highest concern!

True democracy

Could this happen in South Africa? I think not, although I still say we live in a true democracy. The ANC has been promising us “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!” for the last 30 years, and we now have record unemployment, by far the highest of any comparable economy in the world. Ramaphosa is a proven liar, and nobody believes his promises about more jobs now – or about anything else. But we’re all free to vote against him.

The latest Economist has a cover picture of a statue of Julius Caesar holding a USA flag. When I was paying for it in the local Write Shoppe, I showed it to the cashier and asked, “Whom would you rather have as president: Julius Caesar or Cyril Ramaphosa?” She replied, “I’ve never heard of Julius Caesar but I’d prefer him to Ramaphosa”. I tried again: “Julius Caesar or Julius Malema?” She said, “Julius Caesar – whoever he is.”

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Andrew Kenny* is a writer, an engineer and a classical liberal.

This article was first published by Daily Friend and is republished with permission.