Be­fore you laugh at the US...

CityPress - - Voices - Ra­pule Ta­bane voices@city­

Co­me­dian Trevor Noah said if you woke up from a coma on Wed­nes­day morn­ing, you were well ad­vised to go back to that coma. He was cap­tur­ing the enor­mity of the US elec­tion re­sult, which was an up­set in so many ways. Firstly, it was a to­tal sur­prise. Se­condly, it up­set peo­ple through­out the world, in­clud­ing Amer­i­cans them­selves. Many of them went out to protest af­ter prop­erty mogul Don­ald Trump was an­nounced the win­ner.

For once, many South Africans stopped feel­ing sorry for them­selves and could right­fully won­der how the US elec­torate could elect a sex­ist, racist, big­oted, sex­ual preda­tor to lead them.

It bog­gles the mind, hon­estly. And the com­par­i­son that we elected Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma doesn’t quite work. Zuma is a ben­e­fi­ciary of a sys­tem that pre­scribes vot­ing for a po­lit­i­cal party. In South Africa, if the po­lit­i­cal party is a ma­jor lib­er­a­tion party, who­ever is the can­di­date al­ready en­joys a huge ad­van­tage, even be­fore the elec­tion starts.

But the lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions in Au­gust have shown us that the days of pre­dictable vot­ing pat­terns ow­ing to his­tor­i­cal loy­al­ties may be com­ing to an end. The ANC was the first party to feel that pinch, but the trend could well ex­tend be­yond the gov­ern­ing party. The DA, which has vir­tu­ally locked away the votes of mi­nori­ties – white peo­ple, In­di­ans and coloured peo­ple – should not be com­pla­cent and over­con­fi­dent.

We can’t even start laugh­ing at Amer­i­cans when Trump says he wants to de­port 11 mil­lion un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants and build a wall to keep them out. Re­mem­ber that we, too, do not only dis­like for­eign­ers, we ac­tu­ally kill them.

In 2008, more than 60 peo­ple died (in­clud­ing South Africans) when there was an erup­tion of xeno­pho­bic vi­o­lence. It was be­cause, in a strug­gling econ­omy with high un­em­ploy­ment rates, it is quite easy to blame “oth­ers” for your prob­lems.

So, when some­one says it is the Zim­bab­weans and Nige­ri­ans who are tak­ing not only “our” jobs, but also “our” women, it finds res­o­nance. Trump tri­umphed on the back of such dis­il­lu­sion. We are also quite ripe, as a so­ci­ety, to be taken ad­van­tage of by pop­ulists.

The other unique phe­nom­e­non about this par­tic­u­lar US elec­tion was that Trump was pro­pelled by an elec­torate that was tired of politi­cians.

Many Amer­i­cans have said for years they had been lied to by politi­cians. Vot­ers would get them a seat in Wash­ing­ton, DC, and then the politi­cians would promptly for­got about them. They made no dis­tinc­tion be­tween the Democrats and the Repub­li­cans. Ul­ti­mately, to them, all politi­cians were the same: un­trust­wor­thy.

This ex­plained why Trump beat sea­soned Repub­li­cans like Ted Cruz, Marco Ru­bio and Chris Christie on his way to be­com­ing the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee.

Amer­i­cans said they be­lieved Trump had proven his cre­den­tials in the pri­vate sec­tor and could there­fore be trusted to be ef­fec­tive. This is not nec­es­sar­ily true, as Trump re­ceived an in­her­i­tance of $100 mil­lion from his fa­ther and his com­pa­nies have filed for bank­ruptcy 11 times. Yet, Amer­i­cans were still con­vinced that he was way bet­ter than their crop of politi­cians.

There is a les­son for us here as well. This year, one of the ma­jor rea­sons for the ANC’s poor per­for­mance in the lo­cal elec­tions was that many of its vot­ers stayed away in large num­bers. These were loyal, but un­happy vot­ers who could not yet muster the courage to give their votes to other par­ties.

These are vot­ers who pos­si­bly could be swept away by an in­di­vid­ual emerg­ing from the blind side claim­ing that he or she would do things dif­fer­ently.

And, as for race is­sues, isn’t it sur­pris­ing to find that there is an­other coun­try bat­tling with it as much as we do? Trump, who was en­dorsed by white su­prem­a­cist or­gan­i­sa­tions like the Ku Klux Klan be­fore the elec­tions, was sup­ported by white peo­ple who feel in­creas­ingly marginalised in the US. Only 8% of African-Amer­i­cans voted for him.

Racial vot­ing pat­terns are still a huge is­sue lo­cally, with less than 2% of white peo­ple vot­ing for the ANC, for ex­am­ple, while sup­port­ing a his­tor­i­cally “white” party such as the DA.

So, no, be­fore we start crack­ing up and laugh­ing at the Amer­i­cans, we need to re­move the plank from our eye first.

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