As we commemorate South Africa’s first post-apartheid elections, few can honestly say the optimism of April 27, 1994, has survived. Among the millions who waited patiently in long, winding queues, in order to vote for the first time, there were dreams of prosperity and harmony. A better life for all. Indeed, there have been improvements, but not on the scale imagined and not for all.
The broad, all-encompassing embrace of Nelson Mandela’s vision has been whittled down to the exclusive, narrow self-interest of Jacob Zuma. Among the promises in the ANC’s 1994 manifesto, two stand out. First, “an economy which grows through providing jobs, housing and education”.
In fact, SA’s growth is below 1%. The International Monetary Fund says we’ll be lucky to reach 0.7% this year. Instead of providing jobs, we shed them. At least 8.2 million who could be working are unemployed. Housing figures can be manipulated to overstate progress.
However, last year minister Lindiwe Sisulu complained that delivery had declined “drastically”. Failures of our education system need no elaboration. So, not one of the aims in the above pledge has been achieved. A second 1994 promise was, “a peaceful and secure environment in which people can live without fear”. In reality, crime stalks our land. The Institute of Race Relations says there are more than 1.87 million registered security officers – 490 000 of whom are active.
This includes people employed in security, active guarding, cash-in-transit and armed response businesses. In comparison, the SA Police Service has 153 000 officers. In other words, there are more than three times as many active private security officers as there are police. Far from living “without fear”, those who can afford to do so live behind high walls, protected by dogs and elaborate security systems.
Beyond these and other 1994 manifesto failures, there is something more poignant. Archbishop Desmond Tutu called us “the rainbow people of God”. The idea was beautiful, alluring. However, the label was premature because others had different ideas, to hell with rainbowism. Many in the political elite remain obsessed with racial classification. Preoccupation with race has been rekindled in recent months.
In the past week, three ministers – Fikile Mbalula (sports), Mildred Oliphant (labour) and Mosebenzi Zwane (mineral resources) – have issued warnings about the lack of transformation.
At one level this looks like the governing party scraping the bottom of the barrel as it searches desperately for election material. Wracked by divisions over Zuma’s violation of the constitution, amid mounting concern over corruption, state capture and lack of service delivery, the ANC waves the attention-diverting race card. Regrettably, it still works.
No one can deny the pernicious influence of racism. The need for redress remains unfulfilled. What then is this freedom we celebrate today? One of the most precious freedoms we have is freedom of political choice, the right to an equal vote.
Let’s use that carefully when choosing local government leaders.