the presumptive mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay, South Africa’s sixth-largest metropolitan area, addressed a cheering crowd of supporters on Aug. 6.
“When the winds of change start blowing in this country, as they did on Wednesday, they are unstoppable,” Trollip declared, switching easily between English and Xhosa, a Bantu language spoken mainly by black South Africans in the Eastern Cape region.
Trollip’s likely victory — his election won’t be certain until the parties have formed a coalition — was seen as an embarrassing defeat for the party of his city’s namesake. In last week’s local government elections, a record number of voters ditched Nelson Mandela’s party, the African National Congress (ANC), which has been in power since the first post-apartheid elections in 1994, and cast their ballots for the opposition.
In addition to black-majority Nelson Mandela Bay, the ANC also lost control of Pretoria, the nation’s capital. Nationwide, it saw its share of the vote slide to 54 percent, down from 62 percent in the 2011 local elections.
But there is an irony in the bad fortune of Mandela’s party — it could hasten the realization, however slowly and imperfectly, of Mandela’s vision of a multicultural “rainbow nation.” Not only did an important majority-black city elect a white mayor in Trollip, but his party, the liberal Democratic Alliance (DA), has gradually begun to shed its image as a party for whites. Last year, the DA elected Mmusi Maimane, a 36-year-old part-time preacher who grew up in the Johannesburg township of Soweto, as its first black leader.
Susan Booysen, a politics professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, described the election as the dawn of “a new era” in South African politics. “It came with a big electoral bang,” she said.
Since the end of apartheid, politics in South Africa have been conducted largely along racial lines. The black majority has voted overwhelmingly for the ANC in every election while whites and other minorities have mainly voted for smaller parties like the DA.
During this year’s often nasty campaign, the ANC relied heavily on rhetoric intended to foment racial division. President Jacob Zuma, whose time in office has been marred by one scandal after another, warned that the DA would bring back apartheid while accusing Maimane of being a puppet of the white minority. In late July, at a campaign rally in Nelson Mandela Bay, he accused the DA of being “snakes” and the “spawn” of the racist National Party that ruled during apartheid.
(In fact, the DA was born in 1959 of a complex set of mergers with parties that were both progressive and not.)
The ANC also accused Trollip of being a racist, and claimed that his family had abused black workers at their Eastern Cape farm. Trollip has strongly refuted the allegations, calling them a “pack of lies.”
But if the ANC overreached with some of its attacks, it was attempting to exploit a reputation for racial insensitivity on the part of the DA that is very real. Although most DA supporters aren’t racists, the party has long attracted a crusty,
bigoted fringe whose social media presence has become a liability. In one particularly damaging incident earlier this year, a DA member named Penny Sparrow was expelled from the party after complaining on Facebook about the mess black “monkeys” had left on beaches in the coastal city of Durban.
This checkered past no doubt helps to explain why the DA has historically struggled to appeal to black voters: While South Africa is 80 percent black, the DA received only 6 percent of the black vote in the 2014 general election. But since then, the party has tried hard to diversify — not just by electing a black leader but by focusing outreach efforts on formerly ANC-dominant areas.
Controversially, the DA has made the case that it, not the ANC, is the true political descendant of Mandela
“There is only one party in South Africa today that truly represents the values and vision that Madiba lived out,” Maimane said on the eve of the election, using Mandela’s Xhosa clan name, which is a term of respect in South Africa. “That party is the Democratic Alliance.”
This message may have helped the party broaden its appeal ahead of the vote, but the decisive factor in this election seems to have been the ANC’s own record of failure. Not only has the party of Mandela disappointed many voters with its spotty provision of basic services like electricity and water, especially in rural areas and poor townships, it has presided over a deteriorating economy marked by worsening unemployment and frequent corruption scandals.
South Africa’s economy is expected to grow just 0.1 percent this year, while unemployment sits at a staggering 36 percent when those who have simply given up looking for work are taken into account.
Frans Cronje, the CEO of the Johannesburg-based Institute of Race Relations, said the election hardly marked “a revolutionary swing to the liberal opposition.” On the contrary, he said, it was a referendum on jobs and the economy — areas where the ANC has clearly failed.
“Every poll we have seen or done for years reveals that the issue South Africans want the government to address most is jobs,” said Cronje. “This has not been done, and the government’s policies remain hostile to growth, investment, and job creation.”
Still, the DA’s unexpected victories in Pretoria and Nelson Mandela Bay — as well as its impressive gains in Johannesburg, where depending on the outcome of coalition negotiations, it could end up leading the government — underscored the newfound willingness of South African voters to look beyond race when electing their political leaders.
“The race-baiting and populist rhetoric of the ANC failed badly in this election,” said Cronje.
Younger voters in particular seemed immune to the ANC’s racially-tinged criticism of the DA, something that has resonated with the voters in the past.
“They are prepared to overlook that, and just see the emerging DA,” Booysen of the University of the Witwatersrand said of younger voters.
“For long, we were slowly inching towards being a proper, lively, multi-party system that holds power to account,” the South African author and political commentator Justice Malala wrote in a column this week. “We are now hurtling that way. It’s exhilarating.”
In the wake of fresh deaths at the hands of police officers in the world’s greatest nation, we, the people of the black race, are once again the object of renewed worldwide attention.
Questions of injustice in the United States have been duly raised and protested. And, once again, the black cultural elites in America have seized various platforms to air their grievances and are mostly — and rightly — talking about racism,
discrimination, racial profiling, and hate, among other issues. But one issue that has hardly been talked about is the core reason why black people have remained synonymous with the denigrating experience of racism. It is, I dare say, because of the worldwide indignity of the black race.
Racism is not limited to the Unites States. There is no nonblack nation, even among the most liberal ones, where the black man is dignified. History dealt us an unforgiving blow in the incursion of foreigners into black lands.
The Arabs enslaved tribes and nations and then colonized and evangelized them. Then came the Europeans, who, persuaded the Africans were of an inferior race, divided up the continent over lunch in Berlin in 1884.
They carted off a large population of its people — sometimes leaving entire villages almost empty — and brought those who remained on the continent under their rule. So complete was the transformation that no black nation retained its ancestral nationhood, national language, or national identity.
And today we often hear of how China or India or some other nation is “taking over” Africa economically. There is almost no nation whose majority is of a different race that has not spat on the face of the black person, at one time or the other.
Be assured, the indignity will continue. Black elites and activists across the world have adopted a culture of verbal tyranny in which they shut down any effort to reason or criticize us or black-majority nations by labeling such attempts as “racism” or “hate speech.”
Thus, one can be certain that any suggestions that our race may indeed need to do something to remedy our situation will not be aired — not by the terrified people of other races. And anyone within our race who makes such a suggestion will be deemed weak and pandering or a sellout, as US President Barack Obama has been repeatedly called. Thus, no one will talk about the painful fact that most African and Caribbean nations have either failed or are about to collapse.
Early African-American intellectuals and cultural elites saw that the future of their race could not be advanced by endless protests or marches of “equality” or “justice.” It could only be done through the restoration of the trampled dignity of the black man.
Great men like Marcus Garvey, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Malcolm X all knew that a people is only respected when it has a nation worthy of respect. A man who lives in a shack cannot expect to be treated with respect at a palace. They knew that for us to reclaim power we must first reclaim dignity and that this comes through the construction of a solid black state with a demonstrable level of development and prosperity — and which can stand as a powerful advocate for the global black.
Today, no such state exists.
Nigeria, the most populous black nation on Earth, is on the brink of collapse. The machineries that make a nation exist, let alone succeed, have all eroded. One might argue that the nation’s creation by self-seeking white imperialists engendered its failure from the beginning, as I did in my recent novel. But this is only a part of the cause.
A culture of incompetence, endemic corruption, dignified ineptitude, and, chief among all, destructive selfishness and greed has played a major role in its unravelling. The same, sadly, can be said for most other African nations. States like Zimbabwe, Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea are farcical democracies ruled by men who exclusively cater to their interests and those of their clipped circles.
Thus, it is no surprise that in the absence of any healthy black nation — in the midst of chaos, senseless wars, corrupted religiosity, violence, and economic collapse — African and Caribbean people leave home en masse. They beg on the streets of Greece, prostitute in the red-light zones of the Netherlands, and make up 40 percent of the migrants flocking to Europe.
As they turn up in these countries, helpless, unwanted, starved, or maimed, they are treated like dogs. Last month in Italy, a newly married Nigerian man was murdered simply for being unwanted. Everywhere from Ukraine to India, nearly every day, black indignity, black helplessness, stares us in the face. And all we do, we who hold the platform can do, is scream “racism!” and court the sympathy of others.
The Yoruba say, “Eniyan bi aparo ni omo araye n’fe,” meaning the world loves a person who is like a partridge. The partridge is a poor bird that, enfeebled by its creation, has little ability to hunt, gather, protect, or feed itself.
The Yoruba believe that the world loves these birds because they provide the space for people to show both sincere and insincere sympathy while holding firm to their position as the superior and maintaining the place of the partridge as the weak. Which is to say that if the partridge relies on the sympathy of others, it will not elevate its position.
If we, black people everywhere, cannot gather the resources within our powers to exert real changes and restore our dignity, we will continue to be seen as weak. Our protestations and grievances will be met with sympathy, which does nothing to inspire respect.
Black elites should allow for self-criticism and soul-searching and for the restoration of the Pan-Africanist movement with an eye toward building sustainable black nations. We must come to realize that to a great extent the fate of the black man in America is inextricably linked to that of his brother in Africa.
Although largely unacknowledged in American political discourse, Jim Crow ended in part because of the African Independent movements. Jaja Nwachukwu, a 1960s-era Nigerian foreign minister and avowed Pan-Africanist who was close friends with American Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson, once recalled how American officials were embarrassed when African ministers attended official events in New York’s UN headquarters and were treated with honour as representatives of sovereign countries. They were ashamed, for instance, when American blacks could not use the same bathroom as the Africans, just as black.
The American blacks were further empowered when African nations started becoming independent, black-governed nation-states, beginning with Ghana in 1957 and followed shortly afterward by other African nations.
As long as we continue to ignore Africa’s continuous wallowing in senseless poverty and destructive failures, as long as the Congolese or the Haitian remains the poster child for poverty and lack, we will remain undignified. As long as we continue to ignore our own self-assessment and soul-searching, we will remain the undignified race.
Sadig Rasheed, one of the leading African politicians of the 1980s, once told Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski: “I worry about whether African societies will be able to assume a self-critical stance, and much depends on this.” I add: Our dignity — and even survival — will depend on this.