How the ANC lost the coloured and Indian vote

by Ferial Haffajee news24
The first reason it lost the coloured and Indian vote is that the ANC sees it as a coloured and Indian vote – when it didn’t, the ANC was much more successful in these former strongholds.

I’m black, as defined by Steve Biko, but apartheid meant that I spent my childhood and early adult years in the coloured and Indian group areas of Bosmont, Eldorado Park, Fietas and Lenasia.

I may live in Parkhurst, but consider home to be Mayfair and Fordburg, areas which the African National Congress lost, rather shockingly, to the Democratic Alliance last week.

I think I know why the ANC has faced a drubbing in these areas, which, because of apartheid’s legacy remain conurbations of largely Indian and coloured communities. The pattern of loss was repeated in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal where a gleeful DA lapped up the Cupidos and the Coovadias.

The ANC’s national executive committee is going to spend a torrid day working out how this happened in areas that were once solid blocs of support for the governing party. Early reports this weekend had a range of ANC leaders asking: “Why did we lose the minorities? Did they become racist overnight?”

First problem

I think it’s more complex than that.

The first problem is this terminology of “majority” and “minority” is foreign to those of us schooled by the United Democratic Front, the form which the ANC took in the 1980s when it was banned and internal activists made a final push against apartheid.

In Bosmont, for example, ANC deputy elections head Jessie Duarte was a community leader who taught us a unity of purpose that was embroidered together by the philosophy of non-racialism. She and the others we looked up to never spoke the language of minority then: they taught us about unity, non-racialism and other ideologies that underpinned the idea of being South African. Crucially, they were enabling leaders who thought nationally but organised locally. They responded to local issues because they were based in their communities.

Later, in Mayfair, under the web of forms that the UDF took, we were organised into groups, which taught literacy, fought against group areas evictions, built community women’s organisations and knitted the youth together across races.

I recognise now that all this excellent work embedded a rich non-racial consciousness and ensured that these areas eschewed efforts to divide by the apartheid order. The UDF understood, as the ANC seems not to understand, that you have to be present in people’s everyday struggles. So people who were bullied by Group Areas goons found support and succour in the anti-evictions support groups. Domestic and other workers were seen as part of the community and were supported in various skills training initiatives. The youth were kept out of the streets in workshops with people from across Johannesburg so that the old apartheid divisions were filed down into insignificance.

Placing us in boxes

When freedom came, it was almost natural that the ANC won because it was embedded in our communities, our consciousness and was really all we knew.

Looking back to the ’80s, they taught us not to be naïve about difference, but encouraged us to think of ourselves as belonging to a future country where these apartheid divisions would become meaningless. The language of “minority rights” was reserved for the sell-outs in our communities who dabbled with the old order in the Tricameral Parliament and other disastrous efforts by the Afrikaner nationalists to co-opt black communities against each other. The ANC and later, the UDF, taught us to think differently, to escape the apartheid boxes of identity politics.

Now, to my horror, it’s using those very same boxes to try and understand why it’s lost the support of communities that it so successfully brought into the democratic map in the 1970s and 1980s. Steve Biko must be turning in his grave. And Walter Sisulu in his.

The ANC brought the ideology of minority and majority into its mainstream thinking when it assimilated the nationalists like Marthinus van Schalkwyk into its fold. It co-opted the coloured and Indian nationalists too (people we had regarded as sell-outs), all of whom brought this dangerous ideology of difference right into the non-racial heart of the party.

There is little community organisation in Mayfair any longer, so I’m not surprised that the candidate Junaid Pahad (brother of Essop and Aziz) lost to the DA candidate. While he’s a good neighbour, he hasn’t called us to a single meeting in the past five years nor has the ANC responded as it did in the 1980s to all the very real local challenges.

My guess is this pattern of social distance and alienation has beset every one of the ANC’s previous strongholds in coloured and Indian areas.

ANC failing

The ANC has failed miserably to build on its important work in the 1970s and 1980s to change the consciousness and living conditions of coloured and Indian communities. Instead, it has left these areas to the clever strategists of the Democratic Alliance who have capitalised on the ideology of minority identity with grand (or devastating) results, depending on where you stand.

I listen carefully to the DA’s clever boys and girls and balk at how Fordsburg, Mayfair, Lens, Eldo are merely minority vote-catching pools where it has exploited the sense of being forgotten, of being marginal and minor that is so common in these communities that were once so rich and bursting with so much potential.

The DA leader Helen Zille knows the history and potential of non-racialism, but in her engine rooms all we are, are racial boxes to be ticked. It breaks my heart. The potential was once so much larger. Once when the ANC were warriors.

- Ferial Haffajee is editor of City Press.

5 Responses to “How the ANC lost the coloured and Indian vote”

  1. Kholo Says:

    I think Ferial is in denial. I find it ironic that she criticises the ANC of racial categorisation, when she uses the word “us” throughout the entire article.

    Firstly, I don’t want to take away from the work that the ANC did in the 1970&1980s, but really…is it realistic or fair to compare the ANC of the 1980s which was still fighting apartheid to the ANC of 2011 that is leading government? The politics are different, they require different techniques and there are different priorities.

    I don’t have a problem in engaging on a discussion on minority/majority votes, its no coincidence that the areas where the ANC has seemingly lost ground are in non-black areas. The fact is most Coloured & Indian people don’t see themselves as black. The identify themselves as being inherently different from blacks, in fact I would even extend it to saying that they think they see themselves as being superior to blacks, having embraced the apartheid hierarchal racial structure. ANC is perceived as a black party, in this case how could this group not be classified as a minority. Today, blacks, colourds, Indians live a different reality, separate and different reality. I actually seriously question that sense of unity or sense of non-racialism that actually existed amongst the movement back in the day. Was it really so or was it merely a survival tactic?

    Non-racialism had to be preached in order to sell a new democratic order. I think the problem is that the concept of non-racialism was never defined, it was assumed that there was a general consensus over its understanding. Clearly this common sense isn’t so common, because what the ANC considers to be non-racial policy today, is considered racist by minorities.

    One last thing I think I should throw out there…these minorities that you mention are, in my opinion, voting against the ANC and not for the DA.


    • Bosmont Says:

      ANC Constitution states that Khoi & San or are blacks in general, they are not seen as African, this is the problem by the current ANC.

      ANC should get rid of the Apartheid racial classification of .

      Khoi & San are the first people in Africa, they lived in South Africa more than 2000years before anybody else.

      How does 2011 ANC politics get to these people not being African?


  2. Karooseun Says:

    The term Coloured,is wrong,and should be erased from political media outlet articles or press reports,as there is no such blood as coloured blood in the veins of those mentioned or refered about,as all blood is red,and this term is derogatory and no sensible or educated person should accept to be called so or addressed as such


  3. DHAYA Says:

    I think that if the ANC is serious about researching the diminishing percentage polls which seems to becoming a trend, then it should find some way of gauging the numbers of supporters who choose to “withdraw” their votes. There were a fair number of dissenting voices prior to the elections which came via service delivery protests; from alliance partners and via letters to the media which indicated that even among supporters there was growing disillusionment. I certainly do not think that all votes lost on the ANC were votes for the DA and other parties. They were just lost because members and supporters are disillusioned for various reasons


  4. lionel Says:

    I am a coloured man 36 years old,a member of the african national congress since father is a xhosa.the anc must uplift the coloured people and stop looking over us.i did apply hundred times at gorverment departments without any success,not even a reply why my applications was not successfull.i went to a lot of goverment departments ,must say the people in that position are pathetic.i do not want to praise coloured people,but take it from myself i can walk into any job and within a few days make a success of it ,bu i am not good enough ,not only me but a lot of our coloured people.please open your eyes ,you do need the coloured votes,do not let that white madam use our people,i plead with you.i will always stay loyal to the rulling party .Think about the MATTHEW GONIWE,FORD CALATA AND THE OTHER UDF MEMBERS WHO DIED FOR OUR FREEDOM ,AND ONE OF THEM HAPPEN TO BE MY UNCLE.LETS LOOK AFTER THE COLOURED GENERATION AND OVER POWER THE DA AND OTHERS IN THE ELECTIONS.VIVA ANC VIVA


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