Picture: Kids Britannica
For middle class South Africans it is a perplexing contradiction that the ANC continues to stay in power despite all the evidence of corruption displayed at the highest level of leadership and the party’s collusion with big corporations that are directly involved in the killing of poor workers. Against the backdrop of Nkandla and Marikana, the seemingly automatic laws of democratic practice enshrined in our Constitution through mechanisms that allow for mandate, accountability and recall are defied when current measures of electoral support for the ANC are gauged.
By all accounts the ANC will get a clear majority of more than 60% nationally largely from voters who live below the poverty line in the forthcoming general election. Half of South Africa’s population live below the upper poverty line, which is set at just over R600/person/month by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) in a recently released study
Meanwhile the party goes on at Luthuli house and at Nkandla with its swimming pool, underground bunker, cattle kraal and chicken coops to celebrate, feast and protect President Jacob Zuma whilst millions of South Africans subjected to inferior healthcare, education and unemployment endure miserable lives and die before their time. There is even a plan to build an entirely new town in the president’s home village. The ANC Government is able to do all this in full view of and amongst the desperately poor.
The desperately poor comprise ten million of the most destitute South Africans who live below the lower poverty line set at R330/person/month, as reported by the HSRC. Their living conditions are highlighted by research conducted by the Community Agency for Social Enquiry (CASE). These are homes where field workers report witnessing broken dwellings with leaking roofs, poor ventilation and unsafe toilets; where overcrowding is common; where food cupboards are bare; where both children and adults show obvious hunger; and where household members are inadequately clothed.
So the young woman with the baby who is begging at the traffic light is not an isolated case of homeless poverty, but actually represents 10 million more people hidden away on the peripheries of our cities and in rural provinces like Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern cape. This makes standing at the traffic light and begging for coins a better option for one in five persons in our population.
The only lifeline that poor households have are social security grants and the services rendered to them by the Department of Social Development in collaboration with other departments such as Health and Education. Notwithstanding how poorly they are managed and resourced, it is as a result of the rollout of these services that poor households keep going. The recipients of these services are not, by any means, living a decent and productive life. Theirs is not a life that approaches any level of dignity or joy as seen in the advertisements, which tell the good story that the ANC peddles.
The irony is that the inadequate services delivered by the government in desperately poor communities is done by the community members themselves. Service delivery by the Department of Social Development and the Department of Health is carried out by thousands of struggling local community based organisations (CBOs), community health workers and caregivers who are hardly recognised and barely supported by government. These poorly resourced organisations and community workers rely on support from the poor communities in which they live and work. Government support for their work is at best patchy and nowhere near universal. Even so, these hard working CBOs and individuals only reach perhaps 10% of those in need.
But rational behaviour under these perilous and precarious conditions means that people hold onto what they have and the best way of doing that is keeping the ANC in power. In this way, the ANC uses the economic needs and the anxieties of the poor to influence their voting patterns.
CASE’s research shows that the ANC uses strategies that go beyond the charm offensive when engaging with the poor electorate that makes up its support base during campaigning periods. These strategies include providing poor households with inferior services thinly disguised as a caring government, directly intimidating members of opposing political parties and maintaining the support of poor workers by controlling worker politics through its alliance with COSATU.
It does this, in the short term, by actively engaging in disinformation, such as threatening the poor with halting social security grants and linking government social security delivery to the provision of services by a political party. Government services are delivered to the poor in a manner that strengthens the ANC’s political party support.
“Older people—pensioners—are told if you vote for anyone other than the ANC you will lose your pension. Young mothers, 18–19 years old, they come from poor backgrounds and get the R250 child grant. They are being told if you vote for anyone other than us you will lose this grant.” (Respondent in CASE research study.)
“I remember in one particular area two days before the by-elections they came and they delivered about four hundred to five hundred toilets. A week after the elections they came back and said it was a mistake. They were delivered in the wrong place and those toilets were meant for another place and they took those toilets away. That was after they won that election. In the areas where they taken those toilets away from, there were no toilets.” (Respondent in CASE research study.)
The ANC also displays its power and strength in an intimidating manner using huge numbers of its supporters to induce a sense of fear and anxiety amongst the poor electorate. This is apart from engaging in direct acts of intimidation like controlling campaigning venues and organising marches to disrupt opposition political parties. These big brother bullying tactics directly target opposing political party supporters.
"Say for example you would go on a Saturday afternoon and we would conduct door-to-door visits and all of a sudden you would just see a big group of ANC supporters chasing you away and say ‘you do not belong in this community, go away’ and literally threatening our activists and toyi-toying and they would be threatened with their lives that they gonna kill you, and they would be doing signs like this, [indicates throat cutting motion]. So it is literally threats you know that we will kill you if you don’t go out of this community." (Representative of opposition political party talking to researcher in CASE research study.)
The only people amongst the poorer sections of our society who are prepared to challenge the ANC’s domination are workers who are formally employed, have access to information as well as a level of organisational support carrying them.
In the now well known COSATU Shop Stewards' Survey
released last year, shop stewards were explicit about searching for an alternative to the ANC when 65% of them indicated that they would support a workers’ party of COSATU if it contested this general election. This result is not only true for dissident union NUMSA’s shop stewards where 72% said they would vote for a workers’ party, a significant number (68%) of NUM shop stewards - supposedly the Zuma camp in COSATU - also said that they would vote for a workers’ party.
Meanwhile the ruling party has undue influence over COSATU and preaches its unity at all costs. This unity upholds an ANC election victory, but it is damaging the ability of poor South Africans to make independent decisions. The poor’s ability to organise and their progressive influence, which is currently being dismantled by the ruling party, are at risk of being lost forever.