Monday, May 4, 2009



By Mondli Makhanya
May 02, 2009

Outside of the ANC, you have a population that spoke with a very loud voice last Wednesday

Outgoing KwaZulu-Natal premier Sbu Ndebele tells a story. In the ’90s, when internecine violence was raging in Gauteng and Kwazulu-Natal, he happened to be driving around Soweto in a car with ND number plates.

While driving past a crowd, he overheard someone pointing him and his passengers out as Inkatha Freedom Party supporters.

This was particularly hurtful to this former Robben Islander, who knew the pain and suffering that the IFP had caused the people of his home province.

The thought occurred to him that there were three groups of people who always have to justify themselves: the Germans, the Afrikaners and the Zulus.

“The Germans always have to distance themselves from Nazism, the Afrikaners always have to say how they did not support apartheid and the Zulus have to say upfront that they are not Inkatha,” he remembers thinking at the time.

He then set himself the task of getting rid of the conflation of Zuluness with Inkatha, something that the cantankerous chief from Ulundi had done with measurable success since the party’s formation in the ’70s.

He promised himself that he would dedicate his energy to dislodging the IFP from power and reducing it to an insignificant political force. Last week the mission was fulfilled just as he was about to leave the province for national politics. The IFP came a distant second to the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal and was reduced to a bit player on the national stage.

The decimation of Inkatha is one of the remarkable stories of this past election. Here was a political formation that had wrought havoc and struck terror into the hearts of millions reduced to midget size through democracy, the very system that it had fought against.

The reasons for the fall of the IFP were evident last weekend as I sat with villagers in the rural hinterland and talked about the world.

On Sunday I had jumped into my little jalopy and pointed it in the direction of Mgezankamba, a village deep in the belly of the kingdom by the coast.

As I sat with the villagers I realised just how this election had changed the country’s political landscape forever.

In an area once ruled with feudal fervour by IFP chiefs , the party was now a source of ridicule. Few now admit to supporting the IFP — not out of fear of being killed, but of being laughed at and considered a Neanderthal. The IFP represents a past they never want to return to and the party they voted for represents for them an exciting future.

All the villagers spoke about the things the ANC had done for them: the government trucks that had come to sign people up for social grants and pensions, the gravel roads that had recently been upgraded and the food parcels that had been dished out by visiting political leaders.

Some of the things they spoke about left a bit of a bitter taste as they smelled of the abuse of incumbency.

Nonetheless, the people were excited at being noticed by their government and really believed that this was the beginning of great things to come.

Driving back to the great big city on Freedom Day I listened to callers to radio shows talking about what the day meant for them and their expectations of the incoming government. There was a lot of expectation and faith that the new administration would bring about change in their lives. It was as if they believed they had elected a totally different party into office.

It struck me that we will one day look back at this period and realise just what a massive South African moment it was. It seems trite and cliched to say it, but a new era was ushered in last Wednesday.

Like all historically significant moments nobody scripted this one.

There is a mood in the country that something new is about to happen. The moment is not just about Jacob Zuma. It is about a change of order and direction and the relationship between the governors and the governed.

For starters the nation has never been as politicised as it is now. Over the past year or so politics has been dominant in conversation in township, suburb and village, among young and old and in all race groups.

People have spoken about fears and hopes and have expressed faith, disappointment and distrust of leaders.

The sense of disenfranchisement that prevailed during the era of the man who is no longer in charge of the republic is no longer there.

But, as an ANC insider pointed out to me the other day, this comes with its own dangers — or opportunities. The ruling party’s branches have been energised and know that they can remove those in power if they do not have confidence in them. They tasted power on the conference floor in Polokwane. And to win the election the ruling party had to ensure that its branches were active. That is not something that can be switched off like a tap.

Outside of the ANC, you have a population that spoke with a very loud voice last Wednesday. It is unlikely that this population will believe it has given this government the kind of blank cheque it gave the preceding administration. I saw it and I heard it from the mouths of the villagers of Mgezankamba. They will be watching and will not take disappointment easily.