Can the ANC win the Western Cape?

The ANC is desperate to take over the province from what it dubs the “racist” coalition, but will it succeed?

THE REASON WHY it is so important that the African National Congress should win the Western Cape, says the ANC’s Chief Whip in the province, Leonard Ramatlakane, “is that while it’s still ruled by our enemies it has the feeling that it’s not really part of South Africa. If the Western Cape goes ANC, it becomes part of South Africa.”

There is no getting away from the feeling that the Western Cape is, from every point of view, the jewel in the crown. It is home of “the Mother city”, home of Parliament, the tourist mecca, with its stunning landscapes and for centuries, until air travel became a mass phenomenon, the entry point into South Africa. And, thanks in good part to the reverse “great trek” of whites back there since 1994, it is also economically the fastest-growing province in the new South Africa. It is widely believed that President Mbeki would like to move Parliament to Pretoria, but that he knows that to do so would ruin the ANC’s chances of winning the province and that, accordingly, this cannot happen until ANC victory there is secure.

Ramatlakane is an amiable man, well-liked even by his opponents, and by general consent he was one of the ablest provincial ministers when he served as MEC for transport in the New National Party-ANC coalition which ruled the Western Cape until January 1998. Yet he also typifies the reasons why so many white and Coloured voters shrink from the prospect of an ANC-run Western Cape. It is not just that he — like so many of the ANC elite in the province — is an SACP militant, but that he exudes a sense of the bitter racial polarisation that is still at the heart of Cape politics. He refers to the NNP and Democratic Party as “the enemy” and the “racist coalition” — racist “because it is anti-ANC”. When it gets to power in the Western Cape, he says, the ANC will carry out a thorough-going transformation of the provincial civil service whose top ranks are, he insists, still far too white.

“Actually Coloureds are over-represented in every level of the civil service except the top,” said one civil servant to whom I spoke. “What Ramatlakane means is that they’d like to turn us into the Eastern Cape. The fact is that the Western Cape is the only province whose administration really works, despite the fact that we’ve cut the number of civil servants from 99,000 in 1994 to 69,000 now. The Eastern Cape has in the same period probably added a few more, and yet that province is in a state of collapse. Its schools don’t work and neither do its hospitals. That’s why people flee from there to come here: 40 per cent of the babies delivered in our hospitals today are born to Eastern Cape mothers and our schools are bulging with Eastern Cape kids. “What we’d really like would be a Western Cape ID document so that we could give priority to our own people but, of course, such a thing is unthinkable. Meanwhile other provinces and even central government keep sending teams down here to find out how we do things.”

Western Cape politics is polarised around the question of whether the ANC can win power or whether the NNP and DP can keep it out. In 1994 the ANC joined the majority NNP in a government of provincial unity under Premier Hernus Kriel. In 1997 the Western Cape became the first province to adopt a separate provincial Constitution. The ANC did not appear to attribute much significance to the new constitution, which was to prove a grave mistake. In January 1998 Kriel used his new powers under that Constitution to bring a DP member, Hennie Bester, into his cabinet, while offering the ANC a reduced role within it. Ramatlakane still refers to that offer as “a kick in the teeth”. Heedless of the fact that Kriel had an overall majority and could manage without them, the ANC walked out in protest.

Kriel and his successor, Gerald Morkel — the first Coloured premier of the province — continued to point out that the ANC had never been “thrown out” of the provincial government by the “white parties” (as the ANC bitterly put it) but it hardly seemed to matter. The ANC elite felt unfairly excluded from power, and made much of the fact that they represented the “socially excluded”, the poorest of the poor, the vast squatter populations of the Cape flats. In effect the ANC resumed the “struggle” mode that had prevailed through the 1980s when the movement led a series of populist campaigns against the white establishment.

In fact the grievances of the African elite are light years away from the concerns of the squatters of Khayelitsha but what is not in doubt is the instinctive radicalism of this group. Xhosa-speakers from the Eastern Cape arrive with their strong ANC and Pan Africanist Congress traditions intact and the experience of living amid the mud, litter, gangsterism and unemployment of the Cape flats is hardly calculated to dull their resentments. Survey after survey has shown that this is the most radical group in the whole of South Africa. After the white American exchange student, Amy Biehl, was murdered by PAC youths in August 1993, data from the Launching Democracy survey that I carried out with Laurence Schlemmer showed that 20 per cent of Western Cape Xhosa-speakers said they “understood and sympathised” with the murder — double the figure for Africans elsewhere. This is where Winnie Mandela comes to be sure of a large, appreciative audience. The ANC’s re-adoption of the old struggle postures went down easily enough here.

But Africans make up only 24 per cent of the Western Cape’s population, whites another 20 per cent — and Coloureds the remaining 56 per cent. The ANC launched an enormous and well-funded attempt to win power in 1999, making prodigious efforts to capture more of the Coloured vote, while the NNP and DP, conscious of the mounting resistance this campaign engendered within their own electorates, vowed to keep the ANC out.

The feeling that the stakes were both elemental and distinctly higher in the Western Cape explains why the June election in the province was quite different from elsewhere. The ANC’s vote leapt to 42.6 per cent from 33.6 per cent last time, a far bigger improvement than in any other province. The NNP vote fell from 53.2 per cent to 38.4 per cent on the provincial ballot, a fall of less than one third, while in the rest of South Africa the party lost two-thirds of its vote. Elsewhere the DP multiplied its vote by a factor of 5.5, but in the Western Cape it rose only from 6.6 per cent to 11.9 per cent (and from 4.2 per cent to 14.2 per cent on the national ballot).

The sharply polarised campaign affected the Coloured community badly. Whereas white turnout soared — 82.8 per cent of Western Cape whites voted compared to only 71.5 per cent nationally — only 63.5 per cent of Cape Coloureds voted. This can be compared to the 88.5 per cent turnout of Coloured voters in the Eastern Cape (all statistical data are drawn from the Helen Suzman Foundation’s 1999 post-election survey).

The ANC’s campaign succeeded in mobilising virtually the totality of the African vote. Squatter areas are usually ruled by shacklords and the ANC controls most of these, with the result that Bantu Holomisa’s United Democratic Movement encountered violent resistance to its attempts to implant itself here. In our survey no less than 96 per cent of African respondents said they had voted ANC, but the ANC also raised its share of the Coloured vote from 25 per cent to 40 per cent. The NNP vote fell from 73 per cent to 45 per cent among whites and from 69 per cent to 32 per cent among Coloureds, though 15 per cent of both groups refused to say who they had voted for. If one works backwards from the final result one realises that most of the latter must have cast an NNP vote. The DP doubled its white vote from 13 per cent to 27 per cent and its Coloured vote from 5 per cent to 10 per cent.

Ever since 1994 the ANC has depicted the Coloured preference for the NNP as the result of “racist manipulation”, while the whole drift of politics (especially the TRC revelations of apartheid atrocities) has been to undermine the NNP’s legitimacy. This, together with the polarisation of the Western Cape contest, explains much about the vote. It explains why so many Coloured voters sought refuge in abstention, why many of those who refused to divulge their vote were NNP voters who were reluctant to admit it, and why 9 per cent of whites opted out of the clash by voting for the African Christian Democratic Party.

There was no doubting the efficacy of the ANC campaign or the key role that the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) played in it. As Ramatlakane puts it, the ANC adopted a “broad working class strategy” in which various sections of the Coloured vote were very carefully targeted, using a sophisticated system which ANC observers of the 1997 election in the UK brought back from the British Labour Party. This enabled the party to build up a computerised database listing the key characteristics of every individual voter and then carefully breaking down the target market into sub-sets which were then made the object of separate campaign initiatives.

Given the centrality of the SACP-Cosatu nexus to the provincial ANC it was not surprising that workers were the target of choice. During the election all Cosatu shop stewards were seconded to work full-time for the ANC and an anti-NNP and anti-DP campaign was launched on the grounds of their opposition to the ANC’s new labour legislation. It seems to have worked: among those Coloureds employed in the formal sector (that is, Cosatu’s prime audience) turnout shot up to over 77 per cent, 12 per cent higher than for Coloureds as a whole. Just how intense the ANC campaign was came through strongly in our survey results. Whereas 70 per cent of Coloured voters said it was easy to vote differently from the way politicians wanted them to, only 46 per cent said it was easy to vote differently from their street committee, 27 per cent that it was easy to vote differently from their trade union leaders and 24 per cent from their civic. The pressures such grassroots organisations exerted on working class Coloureds were clearly very great indeed.

The national election campaign itself had less impact in the Western Cape than anywhere else. Only 1 per cent of Western Cape Africans said they made up their mind how to vote in the last two months before the election (compared to 12 per cent in the rest of South Africa). For Coloureds the comparable figures were 5 per cent and 17 per cent respectively and for whites 19 per cent and 43 per cent. Moreover, no less than 70 per cent of Western Cape whites said they’d made up their mind how to vote over a year before the election, compared to only 41 per cent of whites in the rest of South Africa. Such figures attest to the entrenched nature of Western Cape politics and explain why the DP fared so much less well there. Elsewhere the party’s Fight Back campaign enjoyed enormous success, producing many late switches to the DP, but in the Western Cape “Fight Back” had less chance to work because so many voters were simply unavailable for persuasion.

But the ANC also owed its success to the demoralisation and consequent abstention of many of its opponents. The Cape Coloured community has suffered on every front since 1994, not just as result of these competitive political pressures but from soaring crime and gangsterism, mounting unemployment and a general sense, even among ANC supporters, that they have been left out in the distribution of the fruits of victory. The feeling that affirmative action is for Africans only is widespread.

Thus the ANC keeps up a constant barrage of criticism that the top ranks of the provincial public service are still in white hands and ceaselessly demands black appointments. It has accused the provincial administration of refusing to implement affirmative action policies and failure to ensure “blacks and women” benefit from provincial state tenders. ANC MPL Tasneem Essop has been particularly vociferous on this issue. On October 19 an acrimonious row broke out when Morkel removed from her the chair of the public accounts committee because her allegedly racist slurs on provincial government officials had made her relationship with them “unbearable”. The ANC responded by claiming that the Western Cape is being governed not by its political leaders but by a cabal of senior white male civil servants. Essop insisted that there was no discord between her and heads of department. However, according to the Cape Argus, she accused Niel Barnard, head of the province’s administration and the last director of the National Intelligence Agency under the apartheid regime, of “staring at her, nodding threateningly” when Morkel first criticised her in the legislature.

The administration replies to the general criticism on appointments that it does try to recruit blacks but that it is difficult to get to them to apply, often because blacks assume they won’t get appointed there anyway. On the ANC side the whole argument goes on as if Africans have a prescriptive right to top public sector jobs — even in a province where Coloureds form the large majority. This can easily end up with Coloureds having resentments over affirmative action which, however, they feel are no longer legitimate to express. Strikingly, 38 per cent of Cape Coloureds told us that the ANC was really just “a party for black people” and only 21 per cent felt that it was for all races. Even among Coloured ANC voters 16 per cent said the ANC was really a black people’s party; that they voted for it all the same suggests a remarkable degree of alienation.

Moreover, as the NNP’s Peter Marais points out, the competition between the ANC and NNP has soured relations within the Coloured community and created bitter divisions in many Coloured schools, churches and other institutions. Coloured teachers who are members of the ANC-aligned South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu), for example, are likely to see their more conservative colleagues who refuse to join Sadtu and who vote NNP as traitors to the anti-apartheid cause, bootlickers of the whites and worse. The latter, who are comfortable about sharing a language and a church with whites, are likely to regard such Sadtu colleagues as ideological crazies bent on betraying Coloured interests so that Africans end up with their houses and jobs.

Coloured teachers were, it must never be forgotten, the country’s first non-white intelligentsia and it is among them that the first bitter controversies over “collaborating with the system” were fought out. It was they too who first made all-out use of the boycott weapon — boycotting the system, then those of their colleagues who did not join the boycott and so on. The conflicting sensitivities which haunt this world were made no easier to bear by the loss of 6,000 teaching jobs under the former ANC minister of education, Sibusiso Bengu, although it was generally admitted that the old National Party government had gone in for overstaffing as a deliberate patronage gambit.

Our post-election survey data suggested a somewhat defeated and morose mood among many Cape Coloureds, at odds with that of Coloureds in the rest of South Africa. Thus when we asked whether “life for you and your family has got better or worse over the past five years?” only 25 per cent of Coloureds in the Western Cape said it had got better while 50 per cent said it had got worse. In the rest of South Africa, 41 per cent of Coloureds said it had got better against only 15 per cent saying it had got worse. When we asked the same voters what they thought the prospects were for the next five years, only 41 per cent of Cape Coloured voters thought their lives would get better compared to 76 per cent of Coloureds in the rest of South Africa. In the rest of South Africa Coloureds opted heavily for the DP in this election, behaviour which was also at variance with their counterparts in the Cape.

This moroseness was visible at many other points among Cape Coloureds. For example, we asked respondents whether they were worried that South Africa might see a decline in its political and economic situation of the sort experienced in many other African countries. In the rest of South Africa 75 per cent of Coloured voters said there was no chance of this and only 5 per cent said that the country was certain to follow such a path of decline. Yet only 39 per cent of Cape Coloured voters said there was no chance and 10 per cent said that such a decline was certain.

Remembering that in 1994 many South Africans had voted in a spirit of happiness and celebration, we also asked respondents what the atmosphere had been like in their area on election day in 1999. In the rest of South Africa 62 per cent of Coloureds said there had been the same happy atmosphere as in 1994, 25 per cent there had been less happiness and celebration but only 2 per cent said there had been no happiness or celebration at all. Cape Coloureds felt quite differently: only 6 per cent reported the same spirit as in 1994, 61 per cent said there had been a less happy atmosphere than in 1994 and 26 per cent said there had been little or no such spirit in their area this time.

Similarly, when we inquired about the spirit of racial reconciliation which had been such a feature of the transition in 1994 by asking: “How strong would you say that spirit of reconciliation was by the time of this year’s election in your area?” we again found that Cape Coloureds were notably more depressed about the tenor of the times than other groups. While 54 per cent of Coloureds in the rest of South Africa said that the spirit of racial reconciliation was even stronger than before and another 25 per cent said it was just as strong as before, the comparable figures among Cape Coloureds were respectively just 4 per cent and 21 per cent.

The strained state of race relations in the Western Cape was also evident in the very clear differential that existed between both African and white respondents there and in the rest of South Africa on this question. 44 per cent of whites in the rest of South Africa believed that the spirit of reconciliation was just as strong or even stronger than before but less than half that number believed this in the Western Cape, with none at all believing that it was stronger than in 1994.

Whites in the Western Cape were, on other counts, more confident and optimistic than elsewhere. 75 per cent of Western Cape whites were committed to staying in South Africa compared to 66 per cent of whites elsewhere. And whereas 22 per cent of whites nationally said that they would emigrate if they could, the proportion saying this in the Western Cape was only 11 per cent. No doubt this reflects not only the fact that the Cape is still in non-ANC hands but also the fact that many Western Cape whites have moved there from elsewhere in South Africa and plan to retire there.

At the moment such folk have some grounds for satisfaction. The ANC were indeed kept out of power even though they gained a plurality of votes (42 per cent), when the NNP (38.3 per cent) and the DP (11.9 per cent) forged a ruling coalition. Morkel offered the ANC leader, Ebrahim Rasool, one cabinet post which he indignantly turned down. An extraordinary few days followed, during which both Mandela and the Archbishop of Cape Town attempted to intervene and immense pressure was put on the coalition to admit the ANC plurality to power. Morkel finally improved his offer to three cabinet posts, but this too was declined. The local ANC has been left to reflect that had it not walked out of the government of provincial unity in January 1998 but had stuck with it all the way to the election, it would have been well-nigh impossible for the NNP to disown its coalition partner in 1999. In this case, as the larger of the two parties, the ANC would almost certainly have taken over both the premiership and the majority of executive positions.

After an initially rocky period, when the ANC bussed in 10,000 protestors to toyi-toyi outside the provincial legislature and Cosatu threatened rolling mass action to bring down the provincial government, things have settled down. Many believe that the ANC backed away from mass action thanks to a sharp word from President Mbeki, who had no wish to see his grand gestures on the international stage overshadowed by a bitter provincial confrontation caused by the ANC’s refusal to accept an election result. Ramatlakane is now keen to distance the ANC from the initial mass action campaign against the provincial government. “That was Cosatu, not us”, he says, and stresses how responsible the ANC is. One of his chief accusations against the new provincial government is, indeed, that “they’re stealing all our policies” — suggesting a degree of consensus on the substance of government.

This is music to the ears of the DP in particular. “We always said we’d concentrate on improving service delivery and on the lot of the poorest of the poor,” says James Selfe, MP. “We have led the way in policy development but if the ANC is complaining about us stealing their policies, that simply means that our strategy is working”. What is certain is that the DP has now emerged as a major new player in the game. Until 1999 the ANC assumed that it merely had to vanquish the NNP to win power in the Cape. Since June it has had to face the fact that it will need to defeat the DP as well. For the possibility now exists that the DP, buoyed by its role as the official Opposition, will overtake the NNP in the Western Cape — as it has almost everywhere else in South Africa — and provide the ANC with an opponent which, it knows it must never underestimate again. The four DP MECs in the Western Cape have captured much of the limelight since the coalition government’s formation and to all intents and purposes they appear to be driving the government along. Helen Zille, MEC for education, receives enormous positive publicity, while Hennie Bester, the DP leader, is widely known as “the invisible premier”. Already many in the Western Cape are beginning to feel they have a DP government.

“I realised as soon as we entered the government that I had to have a relationship of complete trust with Gerald Morkel, the premier”, says Bester, “everything depends on that. I share absolutely everything with Gerald and I don’t hold back about anything. If we are going to work together for five years, then there can be no fruitful co-operation unless we both trust one another to tell each other the truth and so I try to do that on every occasion. I have an excellent working relationship with Gerald.” Bester and the other DP MECs stress how different it is being in government from simply having to adopt postures of opposition. “You have to make decisions all the time and choose between alternatives neither of which may be exactly what you wanted”, says Bester. “Happily, our relationship with our national colleagues is excellent”. It comes as something of a shock to realise that when Bester says this, he is not referring to the DP caucus in Parliament but to central government ministers. However, Bester and his colleagues are under no illusions that they owe their seats to Tony Leon’s leadership.

It is difficult to believe that the DP did not get the better of their bargain with the NNP in June: they took two of the biggest spending ministries, health and education, with the result that their four MECs control well over 60 per cent of the provincial budget. Morkel seems to have required only two things: keeping out the ANC and retaining his premiership. He may have been happy at the time to concede health and education to the DP, since the ANC and Cosatu were threatening mass action which boiled down to action by the public sector unions, Sadtu and Nehawu. If that was the calculation it has backfired.

One suspects that the ANC has taken full note of the new style of delivery led by the DP. Rasool has asked what sort of party it is that hands over the real driving role in the government to a minority party, realising that this is what the ANC will have to compete with. But the atmosphere of relative détente in the provincial assembly has another explanation. The ANC wishes to woo that faction of the NNP led by Peter Marais. He would like the NNP to ditch the increasingly threatening DP and return to a coalition with the ANC. Marais argues that Morkel’s coalition formula amounts to the NPP simply sitting back and watching the DP steal its electorate. A renewed NNP-ANC deal, he suggests, is also the only way to heal the wounds of party division within a Coloured community which has quite enough problems already.
Marais has used this argument as a vehicle for his own leadership ambitions within the NNP — clearly with the support of the ANC who were hoping that Marais would challenge Morkel for the NNP leadership at the party’s September congress. In the event, to the disappointment of the ANC, Marais failed to do so, clearly believing that he lacked sufficient support and knowing that Morkel was likely to punish him for an open challenge by sacking him from his position in the provincial cabinet.

The ANC is clearly unwilling to accept this setback as definitive. Ramatlakane would not even rule out the possibility of the ANC allowing a smaller party to have the premiership if that was the price of the ANC entering the government. But the ANC in the Western Cape has peculiar problems. It has already had four leaders in four years: Allan Boesak, Dullah Omar, Chris Nissan and Ebrahim Rasool and might even have had five. For many believe that the party wanted to endorse Teresa Solomon, the popular former mayor of Cape Town, as its provincial candidate for premier and that Rasool was picked again only when Solomon moved to America and became unavailable.

The ANC’s problem, of course, is that the bulk of its vote comes from the African community but that it cannot win the province without substantial Coloured support. Every Coloured leader has been told in effect that he must deliver the Coloured vote — a tall order. Rasool, who has come closest to doing that, still finds his position under pressure. The province’s director general, Niel Barnard, is suing him for libel, and the ANC has distanced itself from the case. Given that Rasool now admits that the allegations of corruption over casino licences made against Barnard were ill-judged, he is likely to find himself having to pay substantial damages and costs on a scale that might well bankrupt him. If that happens the ANC will either have to soldier on under a fatally damaged leader or ditch Rasool and choose yet another new provincial leader.

The split between Morkel and Marais within the NNP has put the DP in the position of having to protect and support Morkel if they want the coalition to continue. As luck would have it the DP faced the NNP in a council by-election in Monte Vista in Cape Town’s northern suburbs just before the NNP Congress in September. The NNP, fearing the worst, pleaded with the DP not to stand — a remarkable admission of weakness, for Monte Vista is about 70 per cent Afrikaans-speaking and predominantly a white working-class area, with Coloureds making up about 15 per cent of the electorate. In 1994 the DP had taken just 4 per cent of the vote there and in June 1999, 25 per cent. In September it shot up to 45 per cent. It was probably just as well for the DP that it did not win, for the loss of such an NNP redoubt might well have tipped the balance for Marais against Morkel at the NNP congress.

Inevitably, this situation causes some within the DP to wonder whether they should not make a more formal and longer term deal with the NNP. “Oddly, some of my white friends in the DP find it harder to countenance such a deal than I do,” says Glen Adams, the DP’s Coloured MEC for environmental and cultural affairs. “But if I can find it in my heart to forgive the NNP, why can’t they?” The NNP’s trump card is its hardcore of working-class Coloured support. There is spasmodic talk of launching a Coloured party but the truth is that that is very largely what the NNP has become. In just a few years the NNP has become deeply rooted in the Coloured community and Adams, not surprisingly, would like to feel closer to those roots.

“If you go to a DP congress you can feel a lot of things will have to change if Coloureds are to feel fully at home there. It’s not just too white but too intellectual,” he says. Moreover both the NNP and ANC are instinctive players of patronage politics — which is what the Coloured community understands and expects — while DP MECs are quite indignant about being asked to find jobs for pals within the public service. But for the moment the wind is in the DP’s sails and it is clearly gaining ground. The imponderable is how long this can go on without exerting intolerable strains on the present governing coalition.

There are other imponderables too. In November 2000 the local elections for the Cape megacity will see a renewed triangular battle between the parties. None of the parties is likely to win a majority on its own, but the prize is so big — the city’s budget will far exceed that of the province — that the full gamut of coalition possibilities will have to be examined all over again. There are already tensions between the ANC controlled city council and the province. If a megacity coalition were formed on a different party basis from that which exists at regional level, such tensions could only increase.

An even larger imponderable is the continuing inflow of migrants from the Eastern Cape, who will almost all be ANC voters. In the end the ANC’s hopes of victory depend on this migratory flow which has already made Cape Town’s population nearly one-third African. Nobody knows for sure the size of the Eastern Cape influx, though everyone rejects the official figure of 19,000 net immigrants a year as laughable. Even if the migration is as large as some think, it has to be remembered that perhaps as many as 800,000 potential voters either failed to obtain bar-coded IDs or failed to register or simply failed to vote in 1999. The mobilisation of this missing third of the electorate could overturn all calculations based on any straight-line projection of Eastern Cape migration.

What does seem certain is that the NNP’s future is now purely that of a regional party. The example of the IFP suggests that a regional party cannot mount a full challenge at the national level and that once regionalisation has set in it is extremely difficult for a party to break into other provinces. The drama being played out in Cape Town is not just about whether the ANC will one day govern the Western Cape. It also about whether the DP can attract sufficient black and brown support to effect a transformation process all its own, and whether the NNP can survive at all.