UK media: ‘White South Africans look to black president’

Ideas

UK media: ‘White South Africans look to black president’

The UK-based Daily Telegraph says white farmers are voting for Ramaphosa

Adrian Blomfield


It may be the Rainbow Nation, but the political history of SA has long been written in black and white. A quarter of a century after the end of apartheid, however, there is a twist in the script.
On Wednesday, when the nation voted in the general election, some of the country’s white people were expected to mark their ballots for the African National Congress for the first time.
In contrast, a growing number of black people are set to turn their backs on the party.
One man is responsible for this apparent contravention of the unstated rules of SA politics: Cyril Ramaphosa.
For a cautious moderate, Ramaphosa elicits strong passions.
To those impatient for a more equitable distribution of wealth, he is sometimes seen as a mealy-mouthed cypher for white business, who long ago betrayed the ideals of the black liberation struggle.
For others, he is the man who could stop the rot in Africa’s most famous party and save the country from perdition after years of looting under his predecessor, Jacob Zuma.
Among the latter are a surprising number of whites, most of whom usually vote the DA.
Former Business Day editor Peter Bruce is one of the most prominent of such voices.
Although describing himself as “very much not” a typical ANC voter and admitting he will be “holding his nose” when he casts his ballot for the party, the choice for him is simple.
“We are in the fortunate position of having somebody quite sensible, a very centred, sane and rational person, as president of the ANC at the moment,” he says.
“I think it would be ridiculous to turn down the opportunity to try to strengthen his hand.”
There is little doubt that the ANC, as it has in all five previous elections, will form the next government. Yet Ramaphosa is vulnerable. Should the ANC’s share of the vote slip substantially below the 62% it won in 2014, an alliance of Zuma loyalists and far-left populists in the party could attempt to overthrow him.
The president represents much that they detest, from his investment-friendly instincts to his determination to clean up the rot that took hold of public institutions in the Zuma years.
It is precisely that prospect that endears him to many in the white-dominated business world.
“Some wealthy whites I know are voting for Ramaphosa,” says Peter Leon, former DA provincial leader and partner at the law firm Herbert Smith Freehills.
“They think he is the Gorbachev of the ANC, that he will lead the country out of the wilderness.”That sentiment is shared, to a degree, among some white farmers.Causing widespread alarm, Ramaphosa gave his backing to the proposal for land expropriation without compensation. In the verdant pastures of the KZN Midlands, white farmers are nervous that such a move could turn into a Zimbabwe-style land grab.But even here, some, like Grant Warren, who owns a dairy farm making artisanal cheese in the rolling hills of the Karkloof, outside Howick, are contemplating voting for the ANC for the first time.
They hope Ramaphosa can rein in his party’s populist instincts and ensure land reform is carried out in a measured manner – although many wonder if he is strong enough to do so.
“I trust him and I would like to vote for him, but I haven’t decided yet,” Warren says. “When you see the scoundrels on the ANC’s list of candidates you have to wonder if he will be taken out by his own people.”
Finding an equitable solution that still manages to protect property rights in SA is one of many challenges Ramaphosa will face in his first full term.
At a convention centre in Nasrec, a group of black people tours the ANC pavilion in the building where Ramaphosa was voted in as the party’s leader by a narrow margin in December 2017.
The stirring slogans of the Freedom Charter, adopted in 1955, are displayed on exhibition boards: “The people shall share in the country’s wealth,” one declares, “The land shall be shared among those who work on it,” another, “There shall be work and security,” a third.
Stan Masevhe and his friends are unimpressed. All these years later, the country’s wealth and land are still disproportionately in the hands of whites.
Most blacks still live in squalor.
Unemployment stands at 27%.
“They have failed to deliver on so many of these promises,” says Masevhe, a government health worker.
“Where I live in Limpopo, we are still fetching water from the river.”
For the first time, he will not be voting for the ANC, opting for the EFF.
“[Julius] Malema is a fresh man with fresh ideas,” Masevhe says.
“We need an equal share of the land. The EFF says it will take the land without compensation. That’s the way forward.”
Yet, until Zuma became president in 2009, SA was taking steps to becoming a fairer society.
Black membership of the middle class grew to 50%, while 90% of households were connected to the grid, giving many black South Africans electricity for the first time.
The progress came to a stuttering halt in the Zuma years. Commissions of inquiry are beginning to reveal the startling amount that was plundered, perhaps in excess of R392bn.
Economic growth came to a standstill as state-owned enterprises were raided. Eskom saw its debt rise tenfold. Power cuts have been a near-daily event in much of the country.
Far more farmland could have ended up in the hands of black people, too, but a lack of access to credit and a failure to offer training meant that 90% of black-owned farms failed and now lie abandoned.
Ramaphosa is trying to repair a rotten legacy, and has begun by appointing reputable professionals to senior positions.
But cronies from the Zuma era still hold great sway in the ANC. Many are itching to replace Ramaphosa with one of their own, a chance that could come if the party fares poorly on Wednesday.
Should they succeed, commentators say, the party is likely to embrace at least some of the more radical policies of the EFF – the only party projected to increase its share of the vote – if only to distract attention from the resumption of looting.
Given the risk, not all white farmers around Howick are embracing “Ramaphoria”.
Should the pro-market DA lose seats there will be even less chance of preventing land seizures, says Robin Barnsley, who owns a large commercial chicken farm with his brother Kevin.
“We’ve been told that Ramaphosa is our only hope but I wouldn’t change the way I vote,” he says.
“He will never succeed as long as the upper echelons of the ANC are dominated by the Zuma camp. He will go ahead with expropriation. He has to listen to his lieutenants.”
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited (2019)

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