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Election unlikely to herald the change Angolans have been clamouring for

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On 23 August Angolans went to the polls to elect a new parliament, and for the first time in the lives of a great majority of the population, a new president. José Eduardo dos Santos, who ruled the country for 38 years, did not run this time as his party’s top candidate.

Instead, the MPLA, the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) fielded Defence Minister, João Lourenço, as its presidential candidate. So the mais velho (old man) has finally left. This in itself is a significant moment, considering how difficult it appears for some African leaders to relinquish power.

Despite this, it’s likely that the elections will bring more of the same, and only slow and gradual improvements — if at all — of the lives of most Angolans. Lourenço is very much a product of the system. He has the backing of the party and the armed forces, which is an improvement over Dos Santos’ previous intended successor, (former) vice-president, Manuel Vicente.

Vicente was pushed through against the party’s will as Dos Santos’ running mate in the 2012 elections. He had no “liberation credentials”, and is under investigation for the corruption of a magistrate in Portugal. It would also appear that, for now, any plans for dynastic succession are off the table.

Some Angolan commentators have called Lourenço “dull”, and “not previously known for his intellectual capacities. But, compared to some of his MPLA comrades, he has a reputation of relative probity. Nevertheless he is unlikely to be willing – or able – to change the current political economic dispensation.

Corruption

Lourenço campaigned under the motto “improve what is good, correct what is bad” and vowed to tackle corruption.

Legal frameworks to combat corruption already exist, such as the 2010 law on public probity and anti-money laundering measures in the banking sector. But despite repeated high-level declarations of a “zero tolerance” policy, Dos Santos, his family and his close entourage remain the prime beneficiaries of the misappropriation of public funds. This tendency has become even more marked in the past three years, with the president’s family openly multiplying their private gains from publicly funded investments. The appointment of Dos Santos’ daughter, Isabel dos Santos, at the head of state oil company Sonangol is the most glaring example of this.

Such “eating of commissions” in all productive sectors of the economy would have to be tackled to address the profound economic, political and social crisis the country has faced since the fall of world oil prices in late 2014.

But it’s doubtful Lourenço will be able to institute such a change, especially as Dos Santos has “locked in” by decree his latest appointments. These include the heads of the army and state security forces, as well as those of his children Isabel and José Filomeno ‘Zénú’ dos Santos, at the helm of Sonangol and the Sovereign Wealth Fund.

Dos Santos has granted himself and his entourage lifelong immunity from prosecution and remains president of the MPLA. This ensures that whoever succeeds him is likely to depend on him and his family economically, and is unlikely to go after the family’s ill-gotten gains.

Election outcome

Although election day was peaceful and orderly, there was reportedly widespread abstention (20%) and targeted voter disenfranchisement. Some voters turned up at polling stations only to hear they had been registered at a different place, often kilometres away. On 25 August the nominally independent National Electoral Commission announced “provisional” results with the MPLA as the winner with 61% of the vote, down from 72% in 2012 and 81% in 2008.

Parallel counting from the voting stations, by contrast, shows opposition parties winning in many urban areas. This tallies with some pre-election opinion polls and the general public mood. In a truly open contest — which it was not — the MPLA would probably have lost Luanda and some provincial capitals, even if at national level it would likely still have come out on top.

The results are thus likely to be fiercely contested, though given the politicisation of the judiciary and the electoral organs, the MPLA is likely to emerge as the winner in the end, albeit with a significantly reduced majority.

It remains to be seen whether the end of dos Santos’ rule will also mean turning the page on the Sistema dos Santos (System dos Santos), and a change in the ways in which the Angolan political economy works. For the MPLA, losing key urban districts, and probably in a free contest only just scraping past the 50% mark nationwide was something hitherto unthinkable, especially for the party’s old guard who still think the MPLA has a destiny to lead Angola for the coming 25 years. Perhaps this poor showing might prove a wake-up call and strengthen reformist tendencies within the party, and provide some incentive to start a constructive dialogue with the opposition.

But the regime has so far been remarkably resilient to crises. The political awakening of a growing number of Angolans over the past years has strengthened opposition parties in their positions, yet it will require continued pressure and activism, and more than a change of the figurehead at the top, to fundamentally reorder Angola’s social, political, and economic relations — which is what Angolans are increasingly clamouring for. – Written by Jon SchubertSenior research fellow: Civil War and State Formation, Global Studies Institute, Université de Genève

Originally published in The Conversation

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Archive Documents Reveal The US And UK’s Role In The Dying Days Of Apartheid

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It is a quarter of a century since the end of apartheid in South Africa. But it’s easy to forget how complex, difficult and violent the birth of full democracy really was. This was particularly true in KwaZulu-Natal, where battles between the African National Congress (ANC) and the mainly Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) claimed the lives of as many as 20,000 in the decade between 1984 and 1994.

In the three months before the first elections in April 1994 an estimated 1 000 people were killed. The British and Americans were becoming increasingly concerned. The conflict between Inkatha and the ANC was just one crisis: another was developing with far right white extremists, who were threatening to resort to violence.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that there was an:

eight in 10 chance that violence will surge immediately before and during the election, when emotions are at their highest.

The agency also warned of the threat of a right wing coup, although it considered this “unlikely”. (This CIA report is available in hard copy only.)

As the situation grew increasingly tense, Britain’s Prime Minister John Major and the US’s President Bill Clinton became personally involved. Their interventions are shown in documents just released by the UK National Archives.

The cover page of the CIA document. Author provided

The documents reveal just what a close-run thing the first truly democratic election was, and how much time and effort Britain and the USA spent ensuring that the voting went ahead.

Desperate times

Prime Minister Major took a phone call from Nelson Mandela on 22 February, in which the ANC leader described the situation as “very difficult.” Major briefed Mandela on a meeting between the British ambassador and the Inkatha leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi. He gave Mandela a full account of the conversation, which he warmly welcomed.

On 24 February there is the first indication of a joint Anglo-American mediation effort to resolve the crisis. This arose during planning for a visit to Washington by Major three days later.

Our starting point is that the situation has now deteriorated to the point where it seems very unlikely that left to themselves the South Africans will reach an agreement that will enable to participate in the elections. The consequences are likely to be very serious.

The British suggested that Major and Clinton might “offer their joint help to the transition process”.

The following day – having held discussions with Mandela, Buthelezi and President Frederik de Klerk – the British ambassador in Pretoria, Sir Anthony Reeve, was able to report that all three were prepared to go along with the Anglo-American initiative, although with some reservations. The ambassador concluded:

These responses do, I think, give us the green light to consult the Americans in detail on our thinking.

The proposal was discussed between Mandela and Buthelezi at a meeting on March 1 and both leaders agreed to “explore” the possibility of international mediation. Lord Carrington, who had negotiated the end of Rhodesia and its transition to Zimbabwe in 1980, was on a lecture tour of South Africa. He was approached by the ANC’s Thabo Mbeki who asked whether he might act as one of a panel of mediators.

Others suggested were US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Tanzanian head of state Julius Nyerere.

There followed intensive discussions between London and Washington, over how such mediation might work; indeed, Carrington and Kissinger travelled to South Africa. In the end a failure to agree on the terms of reference for the mediators, and South African government fears that the elections might be delayed, put paid to the plan.

It has been claimed the crisis – the most immediate was that Buthelezi was threatening to boycott the poll – was resolved by surprising last minute mediation by Kenyan Professor, John Okumu. Other Commonwealth envoys who had excellent contacts with both the ANC leadership and Buthelezi, including the late Ghanaian diplomat Moses Anafu, doubt this, arguing that forces that led Buthelezi into the election were much bigger.

Indeed, Buthelezi’s brinkmanship had ensured key constitutional concessions. Okumu’s intervention seems then a face-saving device for the IFP leader. A joint statement was agreed between Mandela, Buthelezi and de Klerk on 19 April, which allowed the election to take place just a week later (April 26-28).

Close-run thing

It had been a close-run thing and South Africa’s first truly democratic election almost came to grief. But there were two more potential obstacles.

In the tense run-up to polling day, a report on the role of the apartheid state in stoking internal tension and violence was published. The Commission of Inquiry Regarding the Prevention of Public Violence and Intimidation, led by Justice Richard Goldstone had been established in 1991: its report was published on 21 April 1994.

Judge Goldstone’s investigations revealed that sections of the South African Police had armed Inkatha, and pointed to attempts by senior police officers to subvert the work of his enquiry.

READ MORE | IN PICTURES | Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gives Nelson Mandela public lecture

The charges were explosive and for a while the judge and his family were clearly at risk from white extremists. With de Klerk’s support and the knowledge of Mandela, Goldstone, his wife and a “key witness” (a former South African police officer) asked whether they might come to Britain. John Major agreed, and they were given temporary asylum and a safe house.

The second obstacle was the South African government’s clandestine chemical and biological weapons programme, known as “Project Coast.”The British Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, contacted Washington about the possibility of issuing a formal public protest unless President de Klerk publicly admitted his government’s involvement in the use of these weapons against ANC and Namibian prisoners.

The British had apparently intervened to prevent the proliferation of these weapons to other rogue states or terrorist groups. On April 11 the US and British ambassadors delivered their protest to President de Klerk – which apparently did the trick.

There was an agreement that all the chemical and biological systems would be destroyed and one of the key South African experts, Wouter Basson, who had travelled to Libya on several occasions, was subsequently prosecuted.

Political triumph

The April 1994 election proved to be a watershed for South Africa. In technical terms, the election was a fiasco, but it was a political triumph, according to the Commonwealth’s leading election official, Carl Dundass. Inkatha’s surprising victory in Natal-KwaZulu strongly suggest Natal “horsetrading” involved overturning an actual ANC victory to manage anticipated post-election violence.

Despite all the violence, tension and drama the election ended apartheid and allowed Major to phone Mandela with his congratulations – a highly satisfactory conclusion to an intense period of international diplomacy.

-Sue Onslow; Reader, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, School of Advanced Study

-Martin Plaut; Senior Research Fellow, Horn of Africa and Southern Africa, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, School of Advanced Study

-The Conversation

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‘South Africans Love Martyrs’

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The first 100 days of any presidency are often harshly scrutinized as they set the tone for what citizens expect. South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa is under the magnifying glass as all await his next tactical move.


At the end of May, South Africa’s sixth democratically-elected president, Cyril Ramaphosa, took an oath of office at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria. In his speech, he touched on many issues that resonate with South Africans, including corruption, poverty, equality and youth unemployment.

These burning matters prelude what is to be expected from him in his first 100 days in office.

Ramaphosa’s period at the helm of power (before the elections) has been typified by repeated calls for a ‘New Dawn’. It seems the man who made it to the 2019 Time magazine list of 100 Most Influential in the world has a laundry list of issues to attend to if he is to set the tone for the rest of his presidency.

READ MORE | IN PICTURES | Looking Back At The Vibe Of The South African Elections

The challenge that has deeply affected how South Africans and investors view the country is that of corruption.

“Let us forge a compact for an efficient, capable and ethical state, a state that is free of corruption, for companies that generate social value and propel human development… We must be a society that values excellence, rewards effort and rejects mediocrity,” Ramaphosa said at his inauguration on May 25.

 In the first 100 days, analysts say he needs to demonstrate he is a proactive leader; one who takes decisive action to address the plight of those who live in a society as unequal as South Africa. The gaping chasm between the richest and poorest has widened since the end of apartheid 25 years ago. This information is not lost on citizens whose lived experiences and disenchantment were in evidence during the elections.

A specialist in social economic development and political commentator, Kim Heller, is of the view that Ramaphosa has some way to go to address the resolutions of his party, the African National Congress (ANC).

 “There are critical social maladies that need to be treated with the urgency they deserve… One of the key things people are looking for is a decisive man and decisive leadership,” she says.

Political analyst, Prince Mashele, ventures: “He is yet to act on resolutions because he is navigating complex political infighting in the ANC, which is why he can’t move boldly and faster…”

Economic transformation has been seen to also imply redistribution of the means of production, which currently has been reiterated in the call for land redistribution without compensation. This is among the duties citizens and investors will keep a close eye on as it is a contentious matter.

Leading up to the elections, Ramaphosa said to apprehensive farmers, “the land reform process is something we should never fear. It is going to be done in terms of the constitution”.

Heller says that, “the question of land is unresolved, despite very solid ANC resolutions from branches, and despite extensive consultation”.

The president will to have to choose whether he wants to be investor-friendly or whether he wants the interests of his own political party to find expression in policy.

“The investors have become the supreme branch of the ANC. So Ramaphosa certainly, is spending a lot of time on their concerns rather than ordinary people…,” Heller says.

READ MORE | Poll Position: The South African 2019 Elections

Mashele echoes: “He has been a market-friendly president. He has railed against his comrades calling for the nationalization of the [South African] Reserve Bank”.

Another matter influencing investment into the country is red tape that inhibits instead of encouraging business. South Africa dropped from 34 out of 181 countries on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ranking in 2009 to 82 out of 192 countries last year, leaving the country trailing its African peers, including Mauritius (20), Rwanda (29) and Kenya (61).

In his address to the nation, Ramaphosa continued with the mantra thuma mina (which means ‘send me’) and committed to continue to build South Africa. In his rebuilding, he will have to take a closer look at the factors that infringe on those looking to conduct business while straddling the line in ensuring that (natural) resources are not further depleted while failing to trickle down to those who need it the most.

Heller is of the view that the expectations created by the president serve as a double-edged sword: “Some quarters have built him up to be the Messiah we have all been waiting for. He may have embraced that but it’s actually going to damage him. Because there is no individual who can save this country without looking at doing serious things in terms of economic restructuring… Until we address structural issues in this country, shifting the economy to favor ordinary people, not markets, we actually aren’t very benevolent.”

Also affecting business has been the view that South Africa is amongst the most corrupt on the continent and viewed as one of the murder capitals of the world. The Zondo Commission has illustrated the stark reality of the malfeasance the president will have to address to change these perceptions and in so doing, hold high-profile individuals accountable.

READ MORE | Ticking The Right Boxes: Will The South African Elections Come Down To The Wire?

 In line with building an equal society, the president made mention of the prevalence of violence against women at his inauguration.

“Let us end the dominion that men claim over women, the denial of opportunity, the abuse and the violence, the neglect, and the disregard of each person’s equal rights. Let us build a truly non-racial society, one that belongs to all South Africans, and in which all South Africans belong. Let us build a society that protects and values those who are vulnerable and who for too long have been rendered marginal,” Ramaphosa said.

Leading up to the resolution of the president’s first 100 days in office, the public is watching with bated breath. 

“I pity him. He’s made big promises on housing and unemployment. Those are not going to magically change overnight. The problem with South Africa is that we love martyrs and here we have a president that we have martyred and who is actually going to fall on that. To replace one man with another, is not going to replace problematic policies, poor implementation and poor conceptualization of economic solutions. So I think in the next 100 days, I don’t expect to see anything unless the fundamentals are changed,” Heller says.     

No doubt, it is going to take a concerted effort from all institutions, including those that have been revealed to be compromised. The first 100 days will certainly determine the rest of the president’s term in office.

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IN PICTURES | Looking Back At The Vibe Of The South African Elections

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FORBES AFRICA’s photojournalists immortalize the tension and elation of the South African elections in May that saw the African National Congress win for the sixth time since 1994.


In what was a landmark 25 years since the first democratic elections, South Africa registered, voted and elected the African National Congress (ANC) for the sixth time to govern the nation again for the next five years. The 2019 elections saw many surprises and plenty more political action compared to the previous polls.

 In the run-up to election day, political parties (48 in all) emphasized the country’s socio-economic challenges such as unemployment, education, housing and the contentious issue of land expropriation.  

On May 8, the day the country cast its vote, voters woke early to congregate and line up at the 22,924 voting stations strewn across the country.

FORBES AFRICA’s photojournalists immortalize the tension and elation of the South African elections in May that saw the African National Congress win for the sixth time since 1994. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

I was among them, a citizen also doubling as a photojournalist on the quest to document this historic election, my camera strapped around my neck and my constant companion. 

This Wednesday morning was particularly cold but voters were in sweaters and armed with their identity books to have a say in South African politics with an ‘X’ mark on the ballot paper.

Mmusi Maimane, the leader of the opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), was among those at the Presbyterian Church in Dobsonville, Soweto; the township where he was born.

Mmusi Maimane, the leader of the opposition party, the Democratic Alliance. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

His arrival created a frenzy as international and local media wrestled with each other for the perfect shot.

After casting his vote and walking out of the church, he addressed the public.

“On such a historic day, it is important to vote in Soweto with the people of Soweto to express hope and a future for our country. Soweto, to me, represents the home of where the struggle is and now we’re entering into a new struggle for jobs for many South Africans. I remember, vividly and well, when I played in these streets and I remember too well the release of Nelson Mandela, therefore today, I urge that we come and cast our votes,” Maimane said.

He spoke about the new struggle.

“To me, there could be nothing more special, nothing more historic than being able to express our future. Vote for the future of this country and for the unemployed South Africans; it’s a new struggle and we are fighting for the protection of freedom and advancement of freedom.”   

Post the election results, Maimane was the first DA leader to not have grown more supporters, whereas the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), with the third highest number of votes, gained more in all South African provinces except the Northern Cape.

A few kilometers from Dobsonville is Mzimhlophe Hostel. A hostel among many others in Soweto that erupted with service delivery protests prior to the elections. On election day, it was more peaceful and locals were going about their daily lives.

Kwenzi Gwala standing outside what is left of his shack. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

In the same vicinity is a squatter camp (informal settlement) allegedly set on fire weeks before the elections.

Residents and brothers Mduduzi (32) and Kwenzi Gwala (22) came to Johannesburg looking for employment.

“This is my first time voting this year; I wish the economy could strengthen so we can move out of the squatter camps and live in houses. Our camp burned around the Easter holidays while we were at church. We used to sell African beer and our stock got burned along with the money and clothes that were inside. All we have is what we are wearing now,” Kwenzi says.

About 12 kilometers away was where national president and president of the ANC Cyril Ramaphosa cast his vote in his hometown of Chiawelo, at a local primary school.

National president and president of the ANC Cyril Ramaphosa cast his vote in his hometown of Chiawelo. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

The supporters of various parties, the media and voters were out in full force to witness their president in Soweto.

“The nation and the people are energized. They can see their votes are heralding a new dawn. This is a vote that reminds me of 1994 when the people were just as excited as this because they were heralding a new period, a new future for our country,” said Ramaphosa.

“Today, this is what I am picking up, our people are excited about what lies tomorrow and they want to vote for a government that is going to serve them, that is going to address their needs and aspirations. So, I am truly humbled by the turnout that I’ve seen here.

“There is a great vibe and it’s a vibe for democracy, it’s a vote also for our democratic system that we’ve been building over the last 25 years. So, 25 years later, we still have a nation that is breathing confidence and excitement casting their vote. Today, I will go home to sleep very peacefully like I did last night.

Brother of South African journalist Shiraaz Mohamed, kidnapped in Syria on January 2017, begs for government intervention. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

“This vote is about confidence, it is about the future and it is about us that are going to be elected to work a lot harder, much harder than we have in the past to realize the ideals, wishes and hopes of our people, so this, to me, is like a rocket booster for democracy and we are going to build a great country because we will be doing so standing on the shoulders of our people,” Ramaphosa said.

Like the DA, the ANC lost more supporters nationally; Gauteng province was the gold prize, for the first time since 1999, the ANC had to battle to remain above 50% to secure the province.

Motlabana Monnakgotla

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