Thursday, April 24, 2014

There are two subjects that I really don’t want to write about.  Of course once you’ve come to that decision, that’s all you seem to think about.  Maybe writer's selfblock?  The first topic is the South African election which takes place in just over a week.  Strangely enough, given the history of violent denial of democratic rights here in the past, the election hasn’t generated a great deal of enthusiasm.  Only around half the people who, over the last four years, became eligible to vote for the first time this year have bothered to register to do so.  Probably there is more interest in whether Hilary Clinton will run in 2016 than in what will happen here on May 7th.  So if South Africans aren’t very excited about the election, why should outsiders care?

Zuma looking cheerful, as he should
Nevertheless, there was an interesting report at the weekend.  Our national Sunday newspaper released a nation-wide poll and the results were surprising.  At least to me.  They suggest that the African National Congress (ANC) government will receive pretty much the same percentage of the votes as they received in the last election.  So what? you ask.  Well, the conventional wisdom here is that the electorate is disgusted with the government.  The president’s shenanigans with multiple wives (and mistresses) and the widespread corruption – most recently exposed in a $21 million upgrade of his private residence at state expense – is decried by all.  Desmond Tutu, who has iconic status in this country, recently said he wouldn’t vote for the ANC, and so have several ex ministers.  Little has been achieved during the Zuma presidency; people are not better off (although the fault for that probably lies more with the world economy than Zuma’s cabinet).  Then the passing of Mandela was supposed to have freed a generation from a sense of obligation to vote for Madiba’s party. 
This love affair ended in tears
Yet it seems that old habits die hard if they die at all.  It is true that Zuma himself has taken a bit of a hit.  His approval rating has dropped three points to 62%.  62%?  Wow!  Wouldn’t Barack Obama be happy with that sort of rating on a bad day?  Zuma must be doing something right.  I wish I knew what on earth it is.

The predicted tally...sort of
Given that the ANC will win comfortably, the only real interest seems to be in who will place.  The Democratic Alliance which (in the said conventional wisdom) is seen as a white dominated party looks set to improve its position to near 25% of the vote, and firebrand Julius Malema will get less than 1%.  (That surprises me, but it’s a pleasant one.)  Agang led by the brilliant Mamphela Ramphele doesn't do much better.  (Not such a pleasant surprise.) And there’s still a plethora of other new parties touting alternatives to institutionalized corruption – at least in theory.

All this suggests one of two things.  Either people like me – middle-class whites who think of themselves as mature-age – are totally out of touch with how the majority of people in the country think (very likely) or the poll is unreliable because people may lie about their voting intensions, fearing some sort of reprisal (also pretty likely).  I suppose we will have to wait and see.

The other subject I really don’t want to write about is the Oscar Pistorius circus.  Stan and I even agreed not to write about it.  So much has been written already – not only locally but in the international media – that it’s hard to imagine what more can be said.  In case you are one of the tiny minority which has managed to avoid the story, para-olympian Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend – model Reeva Steenkamp – through the locked door of his bathroom on Valentine’s day last year.  He claims to have believed that an intruder had entered the house through the bathroom window and was about to attack him and Reeva, who, he believed, was asleep in bed with him.  I haven’t followed the case in detail, but the fact that he shot Reeva is common cause.  The issue is what he believed at the time.  If he knew it was her, it was murder.  If his story is true, it was at least manslaughter.  (Even in South Africa you can’t just shoot at an unknown and unseen person in the belief that they may intend to attack you.)  Of course, if he actually planned to kill her in advance, it's premeditated murder, but that seems very unlikely.  If this was the best plan he could come up with, I advise him not to choose a new career in mystery writing.  And between manslaughter and premeditated murder there is a variety of different offenses.

Prosecutor Nel knows what he believes
The judge is reputedly doing a good job, and she will have to decide in the end.  We don’t have a jury system in South Africa, and this seems a pretty good example of why I believe that is a good thing.  I certainly wouldn’t want to try to unravel this case and make a decision on Pistorius’ life on the basis of a crash course from the judge on the relevant law.  And I think with her experience, she will have a better chance than I would of correctly deciding what was in Pistorius’ mind when he repeatedly pulled the trigger.  Maybe the ultimate example of a why-dunnit.  We’ll have to wait and see on that one also.

Hopefully I’ll be able to write about something more interesting in a fortnight.  Of course that will be the day after the election…

Michael - Thursday


  1. Hi Michael: My sister was recently in South Africa and who was sitting behind her in Economy class on the way back to New York? Desmond Tutu! It was one of the highlights of her trip. Hard not to think that O.P. was aware of what he was doing, in anger, perhaps, but still deliberate.

  2. We all seem steeped in writing about what we don't want to write about. I've done a similar thing for Saturday. I guess when in you're in a country attracting so many flies to a subject it's hard to avoid getting caught up in the fly paper. Or something like that. Thanks for the reporting, Michael. The election should make an interesting comparison to the poll.

  3. Desmond Tutu is one of only a handful of South Africa's leaders who have maintained their principles and their stature. Mandela, of course, was another. And then...