Raymond Suttner: Depoliticised ANC not equipped to address African/Indian business tensions in KZN

The tensions brewing in KZN between African and Indian business people over access to tenders could spark violence and death. (See City Press article below) There are many precedents for tensions between these communities spilling over into bloodshed in the past, sometimes with fomenting by the apartheid regime.

The latest tensions relate to the growing perception and reality that the ANC is a vehicle for acquiring wealth through tenders and other mechanisms.  Very many people with limited political background have for one or other reason been beneficiaries of ANC patronage and in some cases the result has been that they have amassed considerable wealth.  In many cases it has also resulted in sub-standard housing and other inadequate performance of contractual duties. Those awarding tenders have rewarded loyalty or favours and not been overly concerned with delivery.

When the ANC confronted the African-Indian violence of 1949, it moved as quickly and as thoroughly as it could to forestall further violence and to build unity between the Indian and African communities, on the basis of shared interests in combatting apartheid.  That was the time when Chief Albert Luthuli emerged as Natal ANC leader together with Dr Monty Naicker, Natal Indian Congress leader.  Their efforts were based on organising solidarity between communities on a political basis.  They had some success.  An interviewee told me how  AfrIcans emerged from a rally in 1950 to find police harassing Indian hawkers.  Many ANC members  then formed a cordon around the hawkers and drove off the police.  This solidarity was built through political organisation of the two Congresses.

The problem of the present is that those who have had access to contracts and those who want contracts have no connection to a political programme that unites people. They are motivated by greed just as those who hand out contracts possess power that enables them to exercise patronage and in many cases to demand bribes.  Patronage and corruption are not purely bad and illegal business practices in the case of the latter. They are antagonistic to democratic processes.  You cannot build a democratic state when you bypass procedures through either patronage networks or graft.

Insofar as the ANC relates to these communities on a basis that is not political there is not room for a long-term way of addressing these issues.  My sense is that the huge membership built up in the ANC in KZN in recent times (by fair and foul means, according to reports) is unstable.  It could not have been possible to take members through a process of induction into the policies and ideas of the organisation, given the speed of their admission and propulsion into voting delegates at Mangaung.  This is a membership that has no firm connection to politics and it is symptomatic of the drift in the ANC, away from political debate and strategies, towards fixing problems or ignoring problems and rewarding individuals and marginalising others.

While this may be a powder keg, it is symptomatic of the general depoliticisation that characterises this period.  There is no real debate, but there are serious threats to the democratic gains of 1994, with widespread violence at all levels of government, not just Marikana but in various cities and settlements around cities and in rural areas.  There is at the same time little confidence in the police and increasing resort to vigilantism.  Dissatisfaction with dehumanised conditions is also leading to increasingly violent protests and deaths in response.

Whether the ANC wins or loses in elections, the question remains how the conditions that people experience outside of the electoral arena in their daily lives  will actually be addressed.  The question obviously arises whether the electoral route can be shown to be an effective way of addressing the problems referred to here and the multifold others that  can be named.  This is not to call for unconstitutional action, but to suggest that the electoral process is being devalued at the very same time as individuals are being exhorted to use it (by registering).  We need to find a way out of this mess, and a route that enables us to safeguard and enrich the gains of 1994.That is easier said than done. It seems to me that the first step is to try and build a common understanding amongst a range of people on what the problems are that we face, and insofar as these are not purely attributable to individual bad leaders, how we understand the systemic crises that I believe we now confront.


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