For the sake of democracy, opposition to the ANC must come from the left
Quentin Wray
Published April 18th 2004 in Business Report
Ambrose Bierce, the author, satirist and one-time night guard at the US Mint, described politics as "a strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles", and merely the conduct of public affairs for private advantage.

Bierce's distaste for politicians was legendary - while still in the undiscovered artist phase of his career, he got one of his early breaks doing cartoons mocking candidates in the US's 1867 presidential election.

But his cynicism was well-founded and was borne out by the conduct of the minnows in this week's pageant.

That the ANC would win comprehensively was never in doubt and it was always going to be the battle for the remaining 30 percent of votes that were up for grabs that was of interest.

For me there were three main questions: How badly would the New National Party (NNP) do? How would the Democratic Alliance (DA) do? And how would Patricia de Lille's brand new Independent Democrats fare in its first time out of the gates?

The other players, including Bad Brad Woods's The Organisation Party, Cassie Aucamp's National Action and the Socialist Party of Azania, were never going to do more than prove that freedom of expression is alive and well and ready to be abused by anybody with half a mind.

The NNP's demise - long predicted and, for me, hoped for - was a thing of rare beauty.

The naked venality of Marthinus "Kortbroek" van Schalkwyk's attempts to save his political life was capped by comments he made showing he would continue with his policies even though they might not be popular with the electorate.

Maybe I am a little naive but I've always thought the point of politics was coming up with ideas people liked enough to put their precious "X" next to.

Then you had a bash at making them a reality and, if they didn't turn out as planned, or you failed to deliver on your promises, the voters turfed you out at the first opportunity and gave someone else the chance. Nice work if you can get it.

One thing that struck me during the build up to the elections was that the smaller parties seemed to be vying for the "official opposition to the official opposition" title.

But looking at the parties' showings, and despite DA rhetoric that it is setting up a viable alternative to the ANC, any effective opposition to the ruling party's political hegemony will have to come from the left. It will probably have to come from a split within the ANC-South African Communist Party-Cosatu alliance.This would allow those voices effectively silenced through participation in alliance politics to be heard and would allow people alienated by the ANC's centrist economic policies to push for a solution they feel better suits their needs.

Although I would like to see this happen for the sake of our democracy, it could put the relatively liberal, hands-off approach adopted by the ANC to date under threat as the party tried to stem any loss of votes.

Recent history has shown the party does not like being thwarted and that it will do what it can to entrench its power base.
Investors would have to ask themselves what chance there was of the ANC, under attack from the left and needing to protect its hold over the government, abandoning policies like inflation targeting and privatisation - both of which have been accused of costing jobs.

Tariff reduction and free trade agreements with low-cost producers such as India and China (both of which are on the cards) may also come under fire because they will conceivably have a negative impact on vulnerable South African workers.

But outweighing these fears is the fact that I am terrified of living in an effective one-party state, no matter how benign that party may seem at present.

An effective and vibrant opposition, even one whose policies I disagree with, that enjoys significant public support is the only long-term protection against abuse of power.

It would, however, please me if the new party was formed via a bulk floor crossing. The legislation allowing this to happen was pushed through by the ANC to bolster its power base even though this ran completely contrary to the spirit of proportional representation. The ANC falling victim to its own tricks would have a symmetry that appeals to me.

But back to the present. In the short term the election results were good news for the economy.

Over the past 10 years the ANC has proved it will adhere to sensible economic policies even in the face of strident opposition. These policies have borne results: a lot remains undone but more people have houses, education, telecommunications, water and electricity.

Its fiscally sustainable shift in emphasis towards spending more on the poor is welcome - both on economic and humanitarian grounds.

The argument that it deserves to be given time to finish the job it started does make sense and for that reason, I hope the opposition remains that for a while longer.