South Africa has been painted as being a political wonder, and our transition to democracy is often described as a miracle. The country tries very hard to present an image of wellbeing and success in order to attract much needed tourism and overseas investment. There is no doubt that remarkable strides have been made, and the democratic era ushered in with relatively little violence and bloodshed. However, the reality on the ground is that the legacy of apartheid is still with us, and presents a major challenge for government and society.
One of the major problems facing the country at the moment are the deep divisions within the ruling African National Congress (ANC) that have begun to emerge over the past year. These divisions have arisen as a result of a power stuggle for leadership of the ANC and the country when President Thabo Mbeki steps down in 2007. At the helm of this battle is Mbeki himself and his popular rival, former deputy president Jacob Zuma. Zuma was fired by Mbeki earlier this year as he has been charged with corruption and is due to stand trial in 2006. The ANC gains it strenth from its left wing Alliance partners, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist party who have come out stronly in support of Jacob Zuma. Mbeki draws his support from the neo-liberal camp and from business leaders. In the meantime, there are concerns that the rift in the party is slowly eroding its capacity to govern. As Commentary. co.za writes:
I have to confess that South African politics has become almost incomprehensible to me. And while most newspapers won't admit it, I'm not convinced they know what's going on either…I've said this before: in a dominant-party state, one of the first casualties is ideology. There is no longer a “party of the left” or a “party of the right”: instead, the ruling party simply becomes “the party of government”. This happened to the LDP in Japan, the Liberal Party in Canada, and it long ago happened to the ANC. This doesn't mean that political conflict goes away – it just gets shifted to the interior of the ruling party, where people can't vote on the outcome. As a result, politics ceases to be a battle of ideas, and becomes a battle of personalities instead.
South Africa Blog expresses the opinion the the Zuma camp is hypocritical:
These Zuma Acolytes, have their talking points set over their cups of coffee in accordance with whatever the Zuma-focused needs of the day prove to be. Give him his day in court, don't give him his day in court. The rule of law is important, except when it's no big deal. Always put the poor first, but never mind. Our constitution is important, except when applied to “Our Boy”. Mbeki is the greatest president ever, but that bastard stabbed us in the back! The media can be used to spin our stories, but not their's!
Indymedia South Africa has emerged as strong voice for grassroots social struggle and civil society groups particularly in the fight for housing and service delivery for the poor. Millions of South Africans live in shacks in informal settlements, and a huge problem is that lives are lost when shacks burn down as people are forced to use candles and paraffin stoves. In the latest incident a one year old boy died in the Kennedy Road informal settlement in KwaZulu Natal province:
Last Friday 16 shacks burnt down in the Kennedy Road informal settlement in Durban. A one year old boy, Mhlengi Khumalo, was very badly burnt and died on Saturday night. This was the third conflagration this month. The fire started when a candle was knocked over. Until 2001 pre-paid electricity meters were being installed in shacks. To get electricity you needed to pay R350 and to be able to represent your case in a certain way. According to S'bu Zikode from the Kennedy Road Development Committee “It all depended on who applied. If you seemed ignorant because you can't speak English you were just told to wait outside.” The eThekwini Metro has since informed Kennedy Road residents that there is a “new policy not to install electricity in informal settlements”.
South Africa recently held its first ever Car Free Day, and the event was much written about in the local blogosphere with most people being of the opinion that it was a complete waste of time seeing that the country has a highly inadequate public transport system. Moral Fiber expresses the general feeling of most South Africans in his post on the topic:
Members of government, including the minister of transport, and other officials apparently used taxis and buses to commute to work this morning. It's so typical of government to launch into one of these PR missions without actually bothering to worry about normal people's concerns. Public transport is in crisis. Encouraging more people to use it will only make things worse. We need government to stop their public relations gymnastics and actually sit down to try and sort out the problem. When the minister builds a public transport system that actually works, then he can start trying to promote its use.