Monday, 4 January 2016

The Missing Middle

I present some thoughts on why political opposition to the ANC is failing to make much of an impact on the ANC’s support base.

You need to take care not to lump all ANC supporters together.

The rural poor have had genuine advances: running water, RDP houses, fuller schools. That the water supply is unreliable, the RDP houses fall apart and most of the schools are little better than day-care centres reduces the value of these gains a lot, but they are gains. Add in social grants and food parcels, and the ANC makes a pretence at caring about this section of the community and no one did before, so they get away with it.

The group more likely to switch are the emerging middle class who are finding that they earn more than the NSFAS cut-off yet can’t afford university fees, so their prospects for improving their next generation are frustrated, and frustrated hope is a huge driver of change. This also is a group that is more likely to read forums like this, and to feel they are not at home with the people they find here. Would they vote EFF? Maybe, maybe not. Agang should have been attractive to this group, but failed for a bunch of reasons I won’t bore you with.

If you step back and look at the big picture, new political movements arise from new alignments of class interests. Old movements decay into patronage networks. Old movements’ survival game is thwarting any realignment of class interests. The ANC has that covered with workers because unions have been absorbed into the patronage system. This works because the unions have a deep hierarchy and a small number of leaders near the top can be bought off relatively cheaply (cabinet posts, provincial government etc. – Shilowa was a good example, while that lasted). The emerging middle class is harder to buy off because it does not have a hierarchical structure. Hence the government’s fearful response to #FeesMustFall.

Race is the government’s key weapon to stop a realignment of middle class interests into a powerful political movement. They failed to split the EToll protest movement this way, but they did manage to split #ZumaMustFall to a large extent because of racist responses by supporters of this campaign.

Any opposition movement to be successful must tap into this growing demographic and firmly condemn racism not only in its ranks but also in its wider support base.

So why not the DA? The DA has the same neoliberal economic agenda as the ANC and has a general arrogance about it that makes it a difficult choice for voters who have not already bought into it. Its history also makes it unattractive.

Neoliberalism is the agenda of the rich: in every country that has bought into it, the result has been increasing inequality.

Though the DP grew out of long-time anti-apartheid predecessors, its 1999 “Fight Back” campaign under Tony Leon was designed to attract pro-apartheid voters (“fight back” against what?). Then when the DA was formed by merging with the “New” National Party, the suspicion was deepened that this was a party of closet apartheid apologists. When the NNP split off and merged with the ANC, somehow this was not seen as negative for the ANC.

Because of this baggage, the DA has trouble cutting through. For this reason, I still see a case for a new movement. If anyone is interested let me know and I can start you off with what went wrong with Agang…