By Siya Mnyanda
I was five years old when SA held its first democratic elections in 1994. I don’t recall much about election day other than the excitement my parents and their friends had about finally being able to cast their votes. Voting was a dream they shared with many other South Africans and its realisation marked a new era where dreams such as improved living conditions for the previously disenfranchised majority would also hopefully be realised. For the remainder of the 1990s I had no doubt that I too would grow up to be a proud ANC supporter. That position has since changed drastically.
The year 1996 would prove to be a significant year in my life: it was the year I started grade one at a “Model C” school and also the year we replaced our township address with a suburban one. These are events I would have otherwise taken lightly had my parents not told me how privileged I was to enjoy opportunities they could have, at best, only dreamt of. I was also made aware that the reason why I could enjoy liberties closed off to generations of my family was because of the “self-sacrificial” actions of the ANC to ensure freedom and equality. There are a few South Africans where merely changing legislation resulted in immediate material changes for them. For the remainder, however, more than just freedom of choice was needed for actual changes to occur.
On its website the ANC is described as “South Africa’s National Liberation Movement”. Very few would dispute this. With corruption, nepotism and cronyism running rife in the ANC-led government, many would also not dispute that the main recipients of “liberation” are those related to or connected to ANC elites. What many people can dispute, however, is that the ANC has continued to liberate ordinary South Africans from the deprived socio-economic conditions they faced prior to democratic rule.
The government is quick to defend itself against allegations of being ineffective in addressing poverty. According to The South African Institute of Race Relations the number of South Africans living on less than $2 or about R16 a day has more than halved from 1994. The ANC would further make use of statistics to show how over three-quarters of households live in formal housing: over 80% of these houses are electrified and have access to running water. These victories are important and the ruling party should be congratulated on appropriately directing state funds to achieve such ends. But judging from the frequency of service-delivery protests, the recent events in Marikana, the rise of populist leader Julius Malema and several attacks on foreign nationals, it would seem that such victories have not convinced South Africans the government is fully committed to improving the standard of living of the working class.
It’s all good and well to have a house with water, electricity and R16 a day to spend on the rest of your needs but is that enough? The answer is no. If those in government think their minor victories on poverty are enough then maybe they should reduce their salaries to match the living conditions of South Africans who live in RDP houses and earn R16 a day.
I’m sure they would not favour such reductions even if they included hand-outs such as state welfare grants. So for them to think the working class is senseless enough to be satisfied with such minor victories is in an insult to their intelligence.
Working-class South Africans are not so naïve as to believe the government has done all in its power to address poverty. Not only does the looting happen through corruption but also a bureaucracy filled with people who loot the valuable time that they should be spending doing their jobs. Absent teachers, nurses and clerks are prime examples of such government employees. South Africa is one of the biggest spenders on education in the world yet our education system remains a shambles. You need only look at the textbook disaster in Limpopo and into the abyss which is the Eastern Cape department of education. For as long as the input (money) does not match the output (a well-educated population) then we cannot say enough has been done.
Unfortunately, politics are largely about perceptions and not always about what you’ve achieved. It’s a pity the official opposition party has taken contradictory stances on issues regarding the working class. Calling workers who are exercising their democratic right when asking for better wages “a greedy elite” can’t have won the DA too many working-class votes. Although relatively successful in the Western Cape, especially when looking at the turnaround in the City of Cape Town, the opposition has failed to replicate its success in working-class areas. The toilet incident is such an instance. Many South Africans who, like me, do not identify with the opposition party will find themselves in a tricky position when at the polls in 2014. The opposition has done little to convince me to vote for it and the ANC has done a lot to leave me feeling ashamed and irresponsible if I vote for it in the coming election.
Siya Mnyanda is a philosophy and politics major from the University of Cape Town. He graduated in 2011 and has taken a break gaining experience in the private sector and sharpening his writing skills. He is starting his postgraduate degree in law in February and hopes to have a seat in the Constitutional Court one day.