Campaigning has already begun in South Africa - so who are the hopefuls for 2014?

Next year's election is likely to be the most difficult the governing ANC has fought since it was first elected in 1994.

Campaigning for the election – expected to be called for May next year – is already well under way. It will be the most difficult the ANC has fought since winning power in 1994. The cards would seem stacked against the party.

President Jacob Zuma, who still has allegations of corruption hanging over him dating back to the country’s notorious arms deal, is facing embarrassing revelations concerning his luxury villa in Kwa-Zulu Natal. The threat comes from Thuli Madonsela, the Public Protector – one of several positions established under the constitution to guard the country’s new democracy.

Despite relentless government pressure, Ms Madonsela is insisting on publishing her investigation into the R206 (£13 million) million security upgrade for the complex at Nkandla. So worried is the government about just what the report may contain that they threatened to use apartheid-era legislation to prosecute anyone who published photographs of the complex. Newspaper editors responded by defiantly rejecting the advice.

While Nkandla, and President Zuma’s lack of popular appeal are a concern, the ANC has more pressing worries. Top of its list is the planned introduction of tolls on major roads on 3 December. The idea is universally loathed.  Everyone from small businesses to the Cosatu trade union movement has resisted their introduction. “This is a serious betrayal of workers and their trust,” complained Dumisani Dakile, Cosatu secretary in the Johannesburg area. “We feel that the government is not taking us seriously.”

But the union movement, until recently among the ANC’s most staunch supporters, is badly divided. The Cosatu general secretary, Zwelenzima Vavi, was suspended from his position in August, for an affair with a young woman in the movement’s headquarters, as well as allegations of financial impropriety. The claims are being investigated, but there is a strong suspicion that Vavi’s powerful attacks on corruption inside government may have triggered his downfall. Vavi, who is popular with the union rank and file, believes the attack was politically motivate. “There are people who think that Cosatu must just be a tool that can only be used to catch votes, even if that is not advancing the interest of the workers,” Vavi warns.

The tripartite alliance which links the Cosatu unions with the ANC and the South African Communist Party looks increasingly fragile. Leaders of the metalworkers union, Numsa, are reported to be threatening to leave the alliance and dissuade their members from voting for the ruling party next year. The union’s general secretary, Irvin Jim, has argued in a leaked paper that the time has come to seek an alternative to the ANC.

With his allies threatening to desert him, Jacob Zuma is facing a rising challenge from both left and right. Julius Malema, who led the party’s youth league was expelled from the ANC in April last year. He has re-emerged as ‘Commander-in-Chief’ of a new party, the Economic Freedom Fighters. No-one knows just how many votes Malema will take from his old party, but an internal ANC survey is reported to have warned that he is increasingly popular with young people.

Whether popularity turns into votes is, of course, quite another issue since young South Africans may not register: even if they do they may not turn out to vote. The same cannot be said for the growing black middle class, whose votes are being wooed by all concerned. Agang – the party newly founded by the former World Bank Managing Director, Mamphela Ramphele – is said to be winning some middle class support.

The ANC is dismissive of her chances, but is facing another challenge from the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance. The DA was born out of the liberal, anti-apartheid Progressive Party. Led by Helen Zille, it is attempting to shed its image as a party of white and Coloured (or mixed race) voters. The DA already controls the Western Cape, but is setting its sights on Gauteng – the area around Johannesburg.

The party’s challenge is led by Mmusi Maimane, a personable young politician already being referred to in the press as the ‘Obama of Soweto’. Maimane has borrowed some Obama tactics.  His campaign uses the slogan, “We can win.” DA posters have a stylised drawing of Maimane’s face emblazoned with the word “Believe,” reminiscent of Obama's iconic “Hope” poster in 2008.

Opinion polls suggest that the ANC’s vote could decline by as much as ten per cent. The party will win 56.2 per cent of the votes, down from 65.9% in 2009, Nomura South Africa predicted in August. They suggest the DA share of the poll will rise from 16.7 per cent to 27 per cent percent and predicts a 6 per cent share for Agang and 4 per cent for Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters.

These are – of course – just predictions and much will happen before polling day. President Zuma is an extremely sharp politician and the ANC has deep roots within the black community. The state-broadcaster, the SABC, with its pro-ANC bias, has a unique ability to use radio to reach rural areas that other parties cannot match.

And there is one imponderable, which could change the course of entire election: the fate of Nelson Mandela.  Should he die during the campaign the reaction would be colossal and instantaneous.  All party politics would end to be replaced by a state funeral. There would be universal grief and wall-to-wall coverage across the media. In the anguish at his loss there is little question as to the impact this shattering event would have on popular sentiment. The South African public would turn to the party whose card Mandela carried to his death - the ANC. 

Julius Malema, who was expelled from the ANC in 2012, is proving popular with young voters. Photograph: Getty Images.

Martin Plaut is a fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. With Paul Holden, he is the author of Who Rules South Africa?

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"The land of Gandhi can never be racist": is India in denial about its attitude to skin colour?

“If we were indeed racist, why would we live with the South Indians?" was how one politician addressed the debate. 

When we were kids, my younger brother and I would spend much of our time thinking up new and innovative ways to get under each other’s skin, as siblings often do. One of the most reliable weapons in my brother’s arsenal was a taunt about skin colour - he was quite fair even by Punjabi standards, a fact that he was inordinately proud of. I on the other hand, had a permanent tan. This is now politely referred to as a "dusky" complexion, but back then was just "kaala" (black).

Being older, I generally had the upper hand in this cold war of insults and condescension, but my brother employed this particular tactic to great success for a couple of years. Because it rankled, it really did. No amount of explanation about melanin and sun exposure, or the fact that we were both "brown" in the eyes of the world made a difference. He was fair, I was not, and that was that. We didn’t have the context or the vocabulary to articulate why that minor difference in skin tone was important, but we knew instinctively that it was. It took us years to realise how problematic these little exchanges were. By then, we had  recognised how racism and prejudice about skin colour had wormed its way into our psyches at a young age, even growing up in a fairly liberal household. We laugh about it now, and my brother is more than a little embarrassed about that short phase during his pre-adolescent years. But as recent events have reminded us, for many people in India, racism and colourism is no laughing matter.

Two weeks ago, a video posted on Facebook by the African Students Association of India (AASI) went viral. It showed a mob of 40-odd Indians armed with snooker cues, dustbins and chairs brutally assaulting two Nigerian students inside a mall in Greater Noida, a city in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, just 40km from the national capital, and home to hundreds of students from Africa who study in the city’s many private colleges and universities. This was part of a wave of violence unleashed by residents of the city that saw at least four Nigerian students admitted to the hospital with serious injuries, and countless others being treated for minor injuries. The details of what transpired over that week are as familiar as they are sordid - a missing Indian student, who was later found, and died in the hospital of a suspected drug overdose. Rumours of Africans being "cannibals", a new addition to the long, long list of racist stereotypes about black Africans that are bandied about to justify such violence. Demands that all African residents of the area be kicked out. And eventually, inevitably, mob violence.

The response by the government and the police followed the general SOP for when such attacks happen - and they do, with alarming frequency. There were promises of swift action (which rarely materialises), brazen denials that the violence was motivated by racism or xenophobia (“Criminal not racial” is how External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj described one attack in 2016) and victim-blaming (“Africans are involved in drug-dealing, Africans don’t assimilate”).

Then there is the Gandhi factor. “India is the land of Gandhi and Buddha…we can never have a racist mindset,” declared a pompous Swaraj, conveniently ignoring the fact that Gandhi himself was a proponent of anti-blackness in his early years, separating the South African Indian community’s struggle for freedom from that of the Zulus and writing that “about the mixing of the Kaffirs (blacks) with the Indians, I must confess I feel most strongly.” The truth is that, despite three centuries of experiencing racial discrimination at the hands of British colonisers, India’s unrequited love affair with whiteness has remained undimmed. We - specifically the North Indians who dominate so much of our national political and cultural discourse - take pride in our "Aryan" heritage, thereby aligning ourselves with global white hegemony. We have internalised the pseudo-scientific European racial theories that were in vogue in the 19th and early 20th century, but have lingered on in our school textbooks long after they were debunked. Indeed, when black Africans in India talk about being treated like a caged animal in a zoo, it’s hard not to make connections with 19th century Europe’s infamous "human zoos".

But while much of India's anti-blackness can be traced back to a colonial hangover, it is also fuelled by our own indigenous strain of "colourism", one that predates European theories of racial superiority. Last week, former Bharatiya Janata Party MP Tarun Vijay went on an Al Jazeera programme to talk about the recent spate of attacks. “If we were indeed racist, why would all the entire south – you know Kerala, Tamil, Andhra, Karnataka – why do we live with them?,” he said. “We have blacks…black people around us.” In his attempt to defend India from charges of anti-blackness, Vijay inadvertently laid bare the full extent of India’s problem with skin colour-based bigotry - our othering of not just black Africans but also of the darker-skinned citizens from our own country. It’s not hard to guess who the "we" in that statement is - the fairer, upper caste North Indian Hindus that form the BJP’s core constituency, and who have for ages thought of themselves as the template for the "true Indian". Everyone else, whether it’s Dalits and lower caste citizens from across the country, or the Dravidian residents of the southern parts of the country (both associated, though not entirely accurately, with darker skin colour), are merely tolerated. These two strains of bigotry - race and caste - combine to create a society where darkness is, at best, treated as a personal failing, something that you must strive to overcome. At its worst, it leads to dehumanisation and, eventually, violence.

Much of the blame for the persistence of such toxic attitudes towards skin colour rest with India’s pop culture and mass media industries. Bollywood, as always, has been a pioneer. For decades, people of darker skin colour have been pushed to the margins, relegated to the role of caricature or villain. Take for example the still iconic song from the 1965 film Gumnaam, in which comedian Mehmood tries to win the attention of Anglo-Indian actress Helen. “Hum kaale hue to kya hua dilwale hain (so what if I’m black, I still love you),” he sings, reinforcing the improbability of a beautiful (read fair-skinned) woman like Helen falling in love with a dark-skinned man. More recently, there was the 2008 film Fashion, in which Priyanka Chopra plays a model whose descent into drugs and depravity finally hits rock bottom when she wakes up one morning next to a black man. There’s also a long history of Indian films featuring "blackface" and racist stereotypes of black Africans, best exemplified by a horrifying scene from 2000 film Hadh Kar Di Aapne, in which… actually, just watch it yourself because I can’t figure out a way to put it into words without throwing my laptop out the window.

Indian television is no different, with dark-skinned actors - especially women - so rarely seen on programmes or advertising, that any advertisement that dares to break the norm is celebrated as groundbreakingly progressive. And then there’s the fairness cream industry, endorsed by a host of top film and television celebrities, with advertisements that inextricably link fairness not just to beauty but also to employability, self-confidence and suitability for marriage. Just take a look at this epic five part tele-commercial by Ponds, appropriately titled White Beauty. The focus on whiteness is relentless, and this colourism runs rampant even as Indian movies and television borrow and steal from black culture at will, even bringing in rap artists like Snoop Dogg and T-Pain to perform on Bollywood songs. It’s another thing that Snoop Dogg - or anyone with the same skin colour - has as much chance of playing the lead in Bollywood as I have of becoming Potus.

In recent years, as Indians outrage about racist attacks against non-resident Indians (NRIs) in the US and Europe and get involved in global conversations about racism and cultural appropriation, many of us have also started turning a spotlight on racism back home. The fairness cream industry is facing increasing criticism, even from high profile actors like Abhay Deol who would otherwise earn big money by appearing in their ads. Explicit racism in film and in advertising no longer goes unchallenged. When former Miss World and current Bollywood royalty Aishwarya Rai appeared in a print ad for a jewellery brand that alluded to 17th century European paintings of noblewomen, complete with emaciated black child servant holding up a red parasol, she was met with a barrage of criticism and outrage that forced the company to withdraw the ad. But as last month’s attacks make clear, this is not nearly enough.

First, the Indian government and our political class needs to acknowledge that racism and anti-blackness are a real problem, instead of trying to brush it under the carpet. Step one would be to bring in a long overdue law against racial discrimination. But as the persistence of caste despite the legal abolition of caste distinctions 70 year ago shows, having laws on the books is not enough. We need massive programmes to sensitise police, bureaucrats and the public at large about the toxic effects of racism and how to counter it. Racist stereotypes in media and public discourse should be shut down, not tolerated or even reproduced by political leaders as they are now. Anti-racist and anti-caste discourse should be an integral part of the school curriculum. Celebrities, activists and civil society needs to be much more vocal in their critique of racist and colourist speech and actions. There are more than enough policy prescriptions out there, if we can find the political will to put them into action. And we must find it soon. Or our kids will continue to grow up with the notion that social worth is tied to where you are on the Fitzpatrick scale, they will continue to weaponise skin colour in schools and in playgrounds. And for those of us with darker skin, whether black Africans or "black" Indians, the possibility of sudden, explosive violence will always lurk around the corner.

Bhanuj Kappal is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. 

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