ANC, heed black mid­dle class

That the party’s sup­port is propped up by the ru­ral vote may be a har­bin­ger for its at­ro­phy, writes Mashupye Her­bert Maseru­mule

The Star Early Edition - - POLITICS - Mashupye Her­bert Maseru­mule is Pro­fes­sor of Pub­lic Af­fairs, Tsh­wane Uni­ver­sity of Tech­nol­ogy

THE AU­GUST 3 mu­nic­i­pal polls con­signed the gov­ern­ing ANC to the op­po­si­tion benches in some mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, in­clud­ing in the ma­jor ur­ban ar­eas.

This makes 2016 a defin­ing year in the his­tory of the coun­try’s elec­toral pol­i­tics.

Be­yond be­ing po­lit­i­cal rit­u­als with pre­scribed rites over­seen by the Elec­toral Com­mis­sion of South Africa (IEC), elec­tions de­cide pol­i­tics. There is more to them than just cast­ing votes.

Af­ter two decades of po­lit­i­cal dom­i­nance, the ANC’s elec­toral per­for­mance came down to its low­est since it be­came the gov­ern­ing party.

But is the party un­rav­el­ling? This is the ques­tion it takes into the new year.

To many, an an­swer is writ large. But, is it, re­ally?

I ask this ques­tion be­cause, de­spite its weak­ened po­si­tion, the ANC man­aged to gar­ner more than 50 per­cent sup­port, with the main op­po­si­tion DA trail­ing at 26.9 per­cent while the EFF could get only 8.19 per­cent.

Sta­tis­ti­cally, a 27 per­cent mar­gin of vari­a­tion be­tween the ANC and DA is too wide to dis­en­tan­gle the dom­i­nant party equi­lib­rium.

The ANC is still ahead of all other po­lit­i­cal par­ties. Be­cause of this, some ar­gue that a dom­i­nant party sys­tem re­mains in­tact, im­ply­ing that the party’s po­lit­i­cal hege­mony isn’t un­rav­el­ling.

That the ANC is sta­tis­ti­cally ahead elec­torally is true, es­pe­cially on the ba­sis of its ag­gre­gate elec­toral per­for­mance. But elec­toral dom­i­nance doesn’t equal po­lit­i­cal hege­mony. This is be­cause where there are a small num­ber of large par­ties and a pa­tron-based large num­ber of small par­ties, elec­toral sta­tis­tics of­ten mask the truth.

As the Ital­ian neo-Marx­ist the­o­rist An­to­nio Gram­sci ex­plains: “Hege­mony be­longs to those who en­joy the great­est ide­o­log­i­cal res­o­nance in so­ci­ety.”

Hege­mony is there­fore a func­tion of the abil­ity to gal­vanise a fol­low­ing based on po­lit­i­cal acu­men to map so­cial re­al­ity and cre­ate “col­lec­tive con­science”.

Does the ANC’s 53.91 per­cent ag­gre­gate voter sup­port in the mu­nic­i­pal polls im­ply this? The per­cent­age ob­fus­cates a woe­fully dis­mal show­ing in the metropoli­tan ar­eas. The ar­eas are home to about 40 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion as well as a ma­jor­ity of young black mid­dle-class pro­fes­sion­als.

But most peo­ple in this con­stituency have dual domi­cile, strad­dling ur­ban and ru­ral ar­eas. Their fol­low­ing of a po­lit­i­cal party isn’t nec­es­sar­ily based on his­tor­i­cal affini­ties, but the logic of ideas that are in sync with their epoch.

The ur­ban stra­tum of vot­ers in­flu­ences the coun­try­side vot­ers, who de­pend on the former for their sub­sis­tence. In this re­la­tion­ship there is the power to in­flu­ence.

The black ur­ban­ites with ru­ral con­nec­tions – largely ed­u­cated and per­haps with streaks of so­phis­ti­ca­tion – wit­tingly or un­wit­tingly im­part their po­lit­i­cal choices in their in­ter­ac­tions with the coun­try­side. These in­flu­ence voter be­hav­iour. The coun­try­side vote is there­fore not en­tirely a re­li­able pil­lar for po­lit­i­cal longevity.

The ANC’s sup­port in the ur­ban ar­eas is de­clin­ing. That its per­for­mance is propped up largely by the ru­ral vote may be a har­bin­ger for its at­ro­phy. In the il­lu­sion of the ANC’s in­vin­ci­bil­ity based on the ru­ral sup­port, its pres­i­dent ap­pears to want it to be a ru­ral party, mock­ing the black mid­dle class as “clever blacks”.

This has per­ni­cious im­pli­ca­tions. It’s at odds with the his­tor­i­cal foun­da­tion of the ANC as an ur­ban-based party. Com­pound­ing mat­ters is that the ANC’s ru­ral sup­port is de­clin­ing. Over time, its sanc­tu­ary in the ru­ral vote is go­ing to van­ish.

Doesn’t this make the black mid­dle class a strate­gic bet to re­claim po­lit­i­cal hege­mony and longevity?

Elec­tions are im­por­tant in many ways. As the Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Mur­ray Edel­man ex­plains: (They) give peo­ple a chance to ex­press dis­con­tents and en­thu­si­asm, to en­joy a sense of in­volve­ment (in the demo­cratic process), (to) draw at­ten­tion to com­mon so­cial ties and to the im­por­tance and ap­par­ent rea­son­able­ness of ac­cept­ing pub­lic poli­cies that are adopted.”

All of these are nec­es­sary to con­sol­i­date democ­racy. The ur­ban vot­ers are par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant to this end. Largely, they aren’t vot­ing fod­der. Their par­tic­i­pa­tion in the elec­tions isn’t rit­u­al­is­tic. It’s a means to op­ti­mise ac­count­abil­ity, to change the be­hav­iour of those charged with the re­spon­si­bil­ity of man­ag­ing pub­lic af­fairs.

A po­lit­i­cal party with strate­gic fore­sight con­sol­i­dates ur­ban sup­port to in­cu­bate its ide­o­log­i­cal pos­ture for elec­toral viril­ity. Ide­o­log­i­cal res­o­nance is mea­sured by the ex­tent to which the en­light­ened sub­scribe to a party’s sys­tem of ideas.

This is im­por­tant to en­sure that, in Marx and En­gels’ words: “The rul­ing ma­te­rial force in so­ci­ety is at the same its in­tel­lec­tual force.”

Po­lit­i­cal hege­mony is cre­ated and main­tained this way. With the ab­sten­tion of the black mid­dle class, es­pe­cially in the ur­ban ar­eas, does the ANC still com­mand po­lit­i­cal hege­mony? Or has it be­come a rul­ing class with­out hege­mony?

In met­ros such as Joburg, Tsh­wane and Nel­son Man­dela Bay, coali­tion ar­range­ments had to be struc­tured be­cause there were no out­right win­ners. This spawned mi­nor­ity gov­ern­ments. There’s at least a sil­ver lin­ing in this.

The ANC’s loss doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean the op­po­si­tion par­ties per­formed bet­ter. Much as they ap­pear to have made in­roads into the ANC’s sup­port base, in the main, voter ab­sten­tion ac­counted for its di­min­ish­ing elec­toral prospects.

The vot­ers didn’t nec­es­sar­ily aban­don it. They just with­held their vote. Their gripe is about cor­rup­tion, fac­tion­al­ism and slate pol­i­tics.

If former pub­lic pro­tec­tor Thuli Madon­sela’s State of Cap­ture re­port is any­thing to go by, state re­sources are be­ing si­phoned through state con­tracts, where the pre­oc­cu­pa­tion is to profit from the state.

Ve­nal­ity cre­ates the op­por­tu­nity for state re­sources to be used to quench the in­sa­tiable lust for van­ity, es­pe­cially of the po­lit­i­cal elites, while those largely in the lower strata are kept per­pet­u­ally hop­ing for a bet­ter life.

State re­sources are mis­ap­pro­pri­ated for the per­sonal ag­gran­dis­e­ment of the po­lit­i­cal elites. Con­se­quently, their per­son­al­i­ties over­shadow the party. Mem­bers be­come “mem­bers of mem­bers” rather than of the party. Loy­al­ties are due to the per­son­al­i­ties.

These de­vel­op­ments have es­tranged the black mid­dle class. Hence their ab­sten­tion in the re­cent mu­nic­i­pal polls. But the fact that they mostly de­cided not to vote rather than switch al­le­giances is an in­di­ca­tion of their un­der­stand­ing of the dis­tinc­tion be­tween the per­sonal be­hav­iour of in­di­vid­u­als in lead­er­ship po­si­tions of the party and the noble prin­ci­ples at the his­tor­i­cal foun­da­tion of the ANC.

This is an op­por­tu­nity for or­gan­i­sa­tional self-cor­rec­tion. But it isn’t go­ing to be easy. The rot goes deep. Lead­er­ship of epic eth­i­cal pro­por­tions, ab­so­lutely un­blem­ished, is needed to sal­vage the ANC.

The jury is still out on whether the ANC vet­er­ans’ sigh of wis­dom in call­ing for Zuma to re­sign, and the re­cent ges­tic­u­la­tion by vet­er­ans of its armed wing, will sal­vage this des­per­ate epoch of its his­tory. – The Con­ver­sa­tion

Hege­mony be­longs to those who en­joy the great­est ide­o­log­i­cal res­o­nance in so­ci­ety

PIC­TURE: KAREN SAN­DER­SON

UN­CER­TAINTY: The ANC is still ahead elec­torally, but elec­toral dom­i­nance doesn’t equate to po­lit­i­cal hege­mony, the writer says, adding that the dis­il­lu­sioned black mid­dle class, who ab­stained from vot­ing, could weaken its ru­ral base.

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