THE results of the local government election suggest that little has changed. The ANC lost a percentage point or two compared with it’s 2009 national election result and it held onto all the major metros it already controlled.
The DA gained, but more at the expense of other opposition parties, taking only marginal votes from the ANC.
But there are many more strands to this election than this superficial reading.
The ANC retained its influence by taking some dramatic steps to improve its image among voters. President Jacob Zuma went on record last weekend saying that he now “understood” why there had been such wide protests over service delivery.
This was a major acknowledgement following as it did on years of denial that was a serious delivery problem.
Zuma also hinted strongly that Sicelo Shiceka, the ineffectual minister charged with local government would go and the ANC dumped mayors who had failed, such as Johannesburg’s Amos Masondo, in favour of new faces.
All of these concessions resulted from the reality that the opposition DA has managed to re-imagine itself as a party which first and foremost cares about the delivery of services.
It was no longer a hollow claim made for propaganda purposes. The DA was able to point to a track record of success in Cape Town. It’s message lost some of its power as it dallied over the enclosure of toilets in Makaza, granting the ANC a desperately needed lifeline.
There can be no question that there will be an urgency in both ANC and DA-led councils to demonstrate probity and measurable delivery. The hot breathe of the opposition on your neck is, ultimately, the surest inspiration to properly represent the people.
The eradication of the smaller parties, including the IFP, Cope and the ACDP, by the DA, places South Africa on the path to a two-party electoral system. This will further focus electoral politics and bring more pressure on parties to meet their fulfil promises or face censure from voters.
The danger which now lurks is that parties might retreat into racial categories, with the DA representing minorities and the ANC representing the black majority. This would be tragic proof of the longevity of the apartheid paradigm.
It would ossify politics, limiting the opposition’s growth and it could push the ruling party increasingly into racial politics to bring out its base.
The rise of populist politicians who are not afraid to play the race card has already begun.
But the politics of delivery might yet prove more powerful than that of racial allegiance. Next time around, will failure be tolerated?
*This is a draft leader for the Sunday Times
THE killing of Osama bin Laden by US Navy Seals this week closed an awful chapter in global terrorism that began with the assault on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York a decade ago.
Bin Laden declared war and the bullets used in Pakistan were fired by soldiers he had declared mortal enemies.
But the shooting of one man, regardless of how powerful a cult-figure he might have been among extremists, will not bring about a lasting solution to the problem of terrorism.
The real solution has been unfolding before our eyes on the streets of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria and Yemen where a new generation is demanding a free open society in which free expression and democracy are guaranteed.
There is no certainty that this movement will succeed. Repressive regimes such as Syria and Libya are using their military might to crush the protestors, who are literally laying down their lives for their beliefs.
What is at stake is no less than a fundamental political realignment in a region where autocrats of monarchical, republican and religious stripes have kept democracy at bay for centuries.
While it would be wrong to conflate these dictators, inhuman though they are, with the evil that is al- Qaeda, they are responsible for creating an environment in which such extremists are able to thrive and recruit the ill-informed.
South Africans need look no further than their own country for a shining example of how an open, democratic society vanquishes political violence and extremism.
Militant extremism by the right-wing has faded with every passing year of democracy. Other movements, such as those involving underground cells in Cape Town, which attempted to begin campaigns of bombing terror have fizzled.
It is not possible to sustain destructive, underground guerilla operations in a society where the vast majority benefit daily from living in a democracy.
Our society is intolerant of terrorism and despises those who commit it in the name of ideology, religion or fanaticism.
It is not possible for fish with evil intentions to swim in a sea of openness without being noticed, to invert the old guerilla maxim.
What is vital is that the sea of openness not be infused with the murky legislation that is being proposed by government to “protect” the public from certain information.
In an open society secret intelligence reports of dubious intent are quickly exposed and are subject to legal sanction.
We must remain an open society. Our model of democracy ought to be our proudest achievement. More than that, it ought to be our greatest export.
*this is a draft for a leader article in the Sunday Times