Irish Republican News · April 28, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
African National Congress

By John Minto

The African National Congress has coasted to an easy victory in the South African elections. More significant than its two-thirds of the vote, however, was the greatly reduced voter turnout.

From more than 90 per cent in the first post-apartheid election in 1994, voter turnout dropped to about 70 per cent in 1999 and is predicted to be just over 50 per cent this time. This reflects soaring mistrust in the ANC among black voters in South Africa’s poorest communities. The ANC victory, for those who voted, merely reflects the lack of a credible national alternative. Voter mistrust has a simple explanation. Most black South Africans have suffered a reduction in their standard of living after 10 years of ANC rule, and there are ominous signs that South Africa will implode in the coming years if ANC economic policy continues to favour the wealthy at the expense of the poor. Following its election to power, the ANC developed an economic strategy known as Gear (Growth, Employment and Redistribution). This promised 6 per cent annual growth by the year 2000, and 400,000 new jobs every year. It has not delivered. The official jobless rate grew from 16 per cent in 1995 to 30 per cent last year. However, when discouraged job seekers are added in, the actual unemployment rate now stands at 42 per cent nationwide and more than 80 per cent in some rural areas. The process was accelerated from 1996 when the ANC adopted a World Bank plan for South Africa’s economy, which, among other things, involved commercialising and privatising government services. About 20,000 people lost their jobs when South Africa’s Telekom was sold, and another 30,000 became redundant in a privatised electricity sector. Many millions of blacks have now lost access to essential services, such as running water, electricity and telephones, because they cannot afford to pay the charges set by the private corporations. Predictably, poverty has deepened, with the economic gaps between blacks and whites widening.

According to the Chronic Poverty Research Centre at the University of the Western Cape, the average income of black households dropped by 19 per cent from 1995 to 2000, while over the same period the average white household income grew 15 per cent. Absolute poverty levels increased from 20 per cent in 1995 to 28 per cent in 2000. It is not the hopes of South Africa’s impoverished black majority, which have been fulfilled by democracy, but those of South Africa’s corporations, global investors and the white minority. While the incomes of the black majority have been reduced, the corporate sector has been on the gravy train. Corporate tax rates were cut from 48 per cent in 1994 to 30 per cent by 1999. Many activists dubbed the ANC policy “reverse Gear” as its effects bit, and wealth was transferred from the poorest sections of South African society to the richest.

Organisations are now beginning to emerge in the black communities across South Africa to challenge the ANC. Typically they are organising around community service issues, such as housing, water and electricity, and are met with the same brutal violence as the white minority once dished out to black activists. In February, in scenes reminiscent of the darkest days of apartheid South Africa, two black school students, 17-year-old Dennis Mathibithi and 15-year-old Nhlanhla Masuku, were shot and killed by police as they joined a protest to prevent poor families being evicted from their homes in the township of Kathlehong. In the run-up to the election, ANC activists disrupted meetings organised by community groups such as the Anti-Privatisation Forum and the Gauteng Landless Peoples Movement. There are ominous signs that South Africa will implode in the coming years because there is no indication that ANC policies will do more than change the colour of the skin of those who conduct the repression. In essence, South Africa has shifted from racial apartheid to economic apartheid.

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