A South African Spring?

“Revolution is in the air” and it might be heading South Africa’s way.

By Gerrit van Rooyen

PHOTO: Coco Curranski

PHOTO: Coco Curranski

In the past few years we witnessed several governments being toppled following mass public protests. It started in Tunisia and soon spread to Libya, Egypt, Bahrain and Syria – it was the dawning of the so-called Arab Spring.

Recently Egypt had its second Spring (or coup d’état depending on your viewpoint) when its first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, was unseated by the military after mass demonstrations in Tahrir Square, barely a year after Morsi assumed office.

There have been mutterings in the public sphere about South Africa being poised to have its own Spring. South Africa certainly has all the right ingredients for a revolution: the most unequal society in the world, a government failing to provide “basic services”, a largely undereducated and unemployed youth and a stagnating economy.

The final step in the revolution recipe is a minor stir that makes the mixture go boom. In Turkey mass demonstrations were ignited by a small protest against plans for a new mall and similarly in Brazil it was a proposed hike in bus fares that provided the necessary spark.

The wave of protests around the globe has been attributed to the pressures resulting from a weaker global economy and the increased accessibility of social media, which aids public awareness and the organisation of mass protests.

A South African Spring would have a different flavour. South Africa is a much divided society economically, culturally and politically. It may, therefore, not be a united stand against the ruling party as in other countries. Mxit, South Africa’s largest social media platform, with nearly 10 million users will be the most likely media tool of the South African Spring, not Facebook.

In South Africa the poor are fed up with empty promises of better housing and infrastructure and in a number of isolated cases they have voiced their frustrations by burning tires, burning down municipal buildings and farms and throwing stones at moving cars. Their loyalty to the former freedom party is either waning or has vanished.

The service delivery protests are as of yet sporadic and spontaneous, but it is not difficult to imagine that some organisation, like the newly formed Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), could sweep up the angry poor across the nation in to mass demonstrations.

At the current rate of degression this seems like an inevitability, which would have disastrous implications for South Africa. Recent labour unrests have contributed to foreign investors withdrawing their investments in South Africa, causing the Rand to crash and contributing to inflationary pressures.

The pessimists speak of a “second Zimbabwe” and that is now a distinct possibility if Julius Malema has his way. The other possibility, deemed prosperous by most, is to beat the ANC at the polls. The pessimists say the ANC will never be beaten. White South Africans often speak of the “uneducated masses” that will blindly follow the ANC no matter how corrupt or inept the party may be. But in light of recent developments and survey results white South Africans should revaluate this pessimistic view.

The general sentiment towards the ANC is in as bad a shape as it ever was. Scandals such as the Limpopo textbook crisis, Nkandla, the Gupta-wedding and especially the Marikana-massacre have disillusioned many ANC supporters.

The latest approval rating for president Zuma stands at 42%. The black youth, mostly unemployed and products of the new South Africa are less zealous about supporting the ANC. According to a survey by Pondering Panda as much as 30% of the black youth support the former ANC poster boy-cum-economic freedom fighter Julius Malema. They believe his promises of land reform and nationalising mines, banks and monopoly industries will help the poor (and them).

If the survey results are realised in votes the ANC’s outright majority might be in jeopardy and may open up the possibility of an opposition coalition government. However, the major ideological differences between opposition parties present a formidable stumbling block to such a coalition.

The main opposition the DA has expressed its willingness to form a coalition with parties such Cope, the IFP, UDM and ACDP but so far talks have stalled around policy issues. The EFF has also already denounced any possibility of working with the DA and Agang.

A challenge but also an opportunity for the opposition is the relatively low voter turnout in South Africa. There is a large untapped pool of voters, since just more than half of all eligible voters make their crosses. A recent survey shows that up to 26% of the youth are not planning to vote in the coming election. Many cited that they simply feel there is no party worth voting for.

Despite the progress the DA has made with garnering votes from all races, a significant portion of black youths still distrust the DA and fear that they will bring back Apartheid. The DA and Cope may also lose some black voters to the newly formed Agang. Analysts predict Mamphela Ramphele’s party will receive around 5% of the vote in the 2014. The question is whether they will turn out to be another Cope or UDM that amounts to nothing or could grow to be the leading opposition.

Empires rise and fall – a pattern that permeates throughout history – and the ANC is a lot like an empire. The Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Mongols, the Ottomans are but a few empires that once possessed powerful armies, vast stretches of land and marvellous riches, but they perished all the same.

Power and greed leads to corruption and infighting, which causes the empire to abruptly collapse. Jacob Zuma has stated that the ANC will rule until Jesus returns. Such a grandiose prediction seems eerily reminiscent of Hitler’s promise of a thousand year ‘’Reich”.

History is against the ANC. They will be beaten. The question is when and how. Will the opposition parties get their act together and beat the ANC at the voting booths or will the poor under the possible leadership of the EFF seize control through a violent revolution?


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