Frans Cronjé: KZN after the riots – new players take power as State’s retreat a permanent fixture in small towns

Former chief executive of the Institute for Race Relations, a deep thinker and a man who’s very popular in the BizNews community,  Dr Frans Cronjé joined Alec Hogg to discuss the state of KwaZulu-Natal after the rioting in South Africa earlier this year. He spoke to Alec about how these communities are struggling to rebuild owing to the lack of infrastructure. And as we near the upcoming elections, Cronjé shares his thoughts on the polls and how he thinks South Africa won’t have a party that holds the majority by 2024. – Lisa Bester

Dr Frans Cronjé on why he went to rural KwaZulu-Natal:

For days last week; we talked to communities all round the country, which is an unusual thing because during the lockdown, you couldn’t do that, of course, which was very frustrating. We’ve always enjoyed that we could talk in sort of dingy town halls as well as at the top of the towers in Sandton and I probably preferred the one over the other. We were invited to just go and have a look at what happened in Natal. Helen Suzman, who was our matriarch – is our matriarch –  used to say to the young analyst, go and see, get out from behind your desk, go and walk around in the real world. So we just went to see ; it was rural Natal. We spoke to a number of groups and communities about the events. We went to tour the battlefields of Natal. The contemporary ones are not historical to Natal, like Lord Chelmsford, where the smoke is still rising kind of off the rubble. Just absolutely fascinating, lots of insight from it.

Many people said how it brought communities together. You know, the state evacuated from parts of Natal. I mean, the definition of a modern state is a monopoly on the use of violence in a society; we gave that to the state when we emerged from the anarchy. And when that no longer applies, the state no longer exists. In large parts of Natal, the state ceased to exist. It was terrible and destructive and awful. But, where you found a town that was still standing relatively intact, that community would tell you we were able to stand together; black, white, farmers, taxis, traditional leaders and local businessmen, whatever it was. For a moment, all that kind of stuff that divides South Africans now – particularly when the politicians get involved and screw everything up –  these communities came together. I think the most striking thing that is totally missed in the mainstream is these communities said for the first time, we really came together to save our town or region. And that’s a very positive thing, obviously.

On where he went in KZN:

We did the whole story, we flew to Durban. We then went up the north coast and all the way down to the bottom, and we ended up near the Free State as well.

On the state of the rural communities in KZN:

We drove so we could see these towns and communities. Some destroyed, some were wrecked. It looked like the blitz in London, with burnt bricks in the main drag, which is all that was left. And the sense there was that you had a community that struggled to stand together, unsure about what to do, wondering whether someone would come and help, and they suffered terribly as a consequence. Where communities couldn’t stand together, there was destruction. I mean, there was real, real damage.

The third thing that came out of it is that the state doesn’t seem to have returned to Natal after the riots. I’m sure in parts there is a government, but in practice, some communities are now struggling with how to make this absence of the state, how to deal with the permanency of the absence of the state. The idea that no one is coming from Pretoria to fix the water or the potholes, no one’s going to send the better station commander if the police station is deeply corrupt, which some appear to be. We were told of policemen who took off their uniforms to loot the shop next to the police station before the other looters could arrive.

 On a way forward after the riots:

If you’re in that community, what do you do ? Because a vacuum has been created and nature adores a vacuum. That’s true of politics. That’s true of anything. And that vacuum is now going to be filled by the most powerful actors in those communities. If you don’t play a role in that as a Chamber of Commerce, if you’re just going to wait for Pretoria to return one day- which it probably won’t -. you need to start thinking very creatively. And there are downsides to that too, of course, but there are potential upsides that as a community in the absence of the political divisions that kept you apart, you can come together and build what we’ve longed for.

We first wrote it up in a book in 2014, I think, we spoke about an enclave type future for South Africa where the state would retreat, but just weakened, and you would have to start appropriating the functions of the state. I think Natal, as a consequence of these riots, has gone way down that road really fast. And now communities are struggling. You know what, if you are the Chamber of Commerce, what do you do? There’s no government to talk to, the politicians are absent. You’ve got to go to the door to the other power brokers and start to say, you know, chaps, this is where we’re at. How can we work together?

On towns overcoming the riots:

I think for people who weren’t there, I mean, I wasn’t there to see it on the ground. I mean, you got out. You live a middle-class suburban life, as a banker or something, and before you know it, you are manning a barricade. It’s amazing and just overnight. But at an extreme level, those decisions now have to be made in Natal are foretelling; what many people across the country are going to have to contend with in years ahead. Because it’s very quick now in Natal but on a macro level, the South African state is retreating. The budget deficit is such that the state can no longer execute its functions properly, even if it was efficiently governed and non-corrupt.

We have in practice run out of electricity that comes from Eskom. If you have to speak to the people who run Eskom now, they might tell you that Eskom could be fixed. Yet even if it’s fixed, that cannot be the solution to South Africa’s long-term energy demands. We’ve run out of money. The budget deficit into the present, still, has only been equipped thrice since the formation of the Union of South Africa and that was in the ‘80s. So big deficits bring about changes of government. We’ve run out of money and we’ve run out of electricity. I think the government has run out of intellect, to get itself out of the hole.

On the polls:

Sarah Palin -when the McCain campaign came crashing down after her catastrophic interview about what she read was lost by the journalist – you know you’re falling in the polls. Palin said, “Polls are for strippers and skiing.” Polls are very good if you understand what they are. Firstly, public opinion moves in a wave – like motion from day to day. People don’t always hold the same view. Let’s say the weather is very bad and the petrol price has just gone up and the health minister has just been fired because he’s been stealing the money.

Then confidence in the government and ANC will be lower than on a day where that’s not the case. So when you poll, you’re testing at a moment in time. The second thing you need to do in understanding the polls is, are these projections of an election result, so turn – out scenarios and things are applied to them or are these just the raw data? What I’m giving you now is the raw data captured somewhere in that bandwidth. The size of your group also gives you a margin of error. So how much might you be off. The stuff I’m going to give you now, the margin of error is 4%, 4% high to 4% low. It’s probably near the same.

On the DA:

We’ve got the DA on just 20, 21, 22% in a client note. My advice was, I think you’ve got the DA in the low 20s in this election. There is a view that perhaps in the DA that it’s 24, 25%. I think you’re a bit lower than that or 27% last time round at local level. That is also the precedent that when under Mmusi Maimane’s leadership there was an enquiry and Mmusi lost his job. There is the real prospect of what happens about John Steenhuisen after this. Will there be an enquiry?

On the ANC:

The ANC has got 50.3% and it’s amazing. I mean, I’ve been doing this a long time. You know, we used to have the ANC in the 60s. Now it’s right on that level. We had them about a year ago at 49 point something, now at 50.3, and Ipsos who are great, they also poll, that’s what they do. They have Marie Harris, who does that for them.

On the EFF:

The EFF has been moving in a bandwidth of about 11 to 14%. Our sense is that you’re probably looking at around 12. So now you’ve got 12 in the EFF, you’ve got 50 in the ANC, that’s down from 53 the time before. We’ve got a 62, 63, we’ve got the DA 22. So now we’ve got 85.

On smaller parties:

Now there’s 15. That 15 worried me, because these are the smaller parties, and over recent elections, they’ve had 10%. Suddenly, we see them at 15, and I’ve always felt as I looked at everyone’s polls and our own that I could balance the books.I could see exactly where everyone’s going.The inference in our numbers now is that the smaller players are going to grow significantly relative to what they’ve been before. So that is Herman Mashaba with his ASA. That’s the Freedom Front that we know is growing. But these are the sort of Patricia de Lille’s.

On what the rankings mean for the different parties:

What it’s telling us is that the ANC in 2024 has a big problem and could lose its majority. And that’s not because the DA is hammering it. The government is hammering itself more than it’s being hammered by the DA. The cliché on South Africa was, you know, if the ANC loses, it must be because someone else got really big and strong and crushed the ANC. What’s happening is that many of the political players are disappointing their supporters. The ANC supporters would be disappointed at this, DA supporters, I think are feeling a bit disappointed about how things have gone.

EFF supporters might be a bit disappointed that this party, in a country where half of the people don’t have a job and three – quarters of young people struggle to sort of break well above that 10% mark. So the smaller parties come up, they become kingmakers. Therefore, in future coalitions, and this,is absolutely where we’re headed now, on a local level, we’ve said if you look at Natal that you’re forming these kinds of coalitions at a national level. The odds now are that South Africa won’t have a party by 2024 that has a majority. You’re going to have to build coalitions to governments at the top. It’s going to become very unstable at the bottom. The trends in its favour are so powerful and overwhelming that we can be relatively confident this is something that will become a feature of our lives through the next decade.

 On Herman Mashaba as the next mayor of Johannesburg:

I don’t know, our samples aren’t really big enough to give us precision on a metro. But I don’t think Herman’s dreaming. I think you’re going to see him get a couple of points in Johannesburg, and I don’t think the DA will get the majority in Johannesburg. Cape Town should be DA, Port Elizabeth is swinging, and I’m told, in the direction of the DA. But you never know why people tell you these things that you’ll tell Alec Hogg, that you heard from a well-placed source victory is imminent. I think it’s plausible that victory is imminent.

The train that will play out regardless of who’s completely in charge or not, is that amongst urban voters, better – educated voters, more middle – class voters, emerging middle – class voters, younger voters; what you’re describing as a city, the ANC has got a serious problem. Overall across the metros, I think if you did all the metros, you’ll see the ANC below 50%. It’s lost that and I don’t think it can win it back again. Its strength is in older, poorer, less well-educated, more rural communities. And there’s a parallel of sorts there to what befell ZANU-PF and was the pattern in Zimbabwe ; that ZANU’s defeat was first written in the urban middle-class, more established voting blocks.

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