Jonathan Berger
Jonathan Berger

The Republicanisation of the ANC

As my train passed Washington National Airport at dusk the day before 9/11, I was overcome by a sudden spell of warmth and fuzziness. I had just finished my second stint of voter registration in Fairfax county — in Northern Virginia — and was enjoying reading Jeffrey Toobin’s The Nine, an absorbing tale of the personalities that populate the US Supreme Court. But, as always, I allowed my odd fascination with airports and airplanes to get the better of me. And there, waiting on the tarmac, was Barack Obama’s jet.

That was a week ago, when Obama was trailing McCain in the polls and panicked Democrats were thinking of fleeing to Canada. Now, in the wake of the financial turmoil that has engulfed Wall Street, things are looking somewhat better for the Jews. Obama is in the lead nationally, his narrow lead in some light blue states is widening, and a few key red states — already looking somewhere between pink and purple (lesbian lavender?) — are in serious danger of crossing over. We’ve still got an agonising six weeks to go, so I’m not counting any unhatched chickens quite yet.

But it does look good, or at least much better. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for South Africa. Or at least that’s how it seems from this side of the Atlantic. Granted, media coverage of anything other than the US election — what Jon Stewart refers to as Indecision ’08 — is somewhat scant. Even that sparsely populated and somewhat quirky country to the north, which holds its own elections in less than a month, receives next to no airtime. The islands of the Caribbean feature only in weather reports. Mexico doesn’t even exist.

So what’s up down south?

Getting rid of the president without passing a motion of no confidence or dissolving Parliament? Still not prepared to hold him to account for serious violations of the Constitution and misconduct? (I assume he’s still able to perform the functions of office, albeit problematically.) I guess not. Instead, the ANC “acknowledge[s] with deep admiration all the great strides our country has made under the stewardship of President Mbeki”. In the movement’s view, he remains a “loyal cadre”. Sounds like the spin-doctors are working overtime.

Maybe it’s the distance. Or maybe my mind’s been poisoned by the whiff of change in the air. (Maybe it’s just the start of the fall.) But try as I might, the more I look, the more the ANC seems to learn from the GOP. Consider the following. McCain is desperately trying to distance himself from his president, but still refuses to abandon the Republican mantra of tax cuts. Zuma, the anti-Mbeki, assures big business that economic policy will not change. Populism aside, both men are pushing policies that mean more of the same for poor people.

And there’s more.

Zuma, like Mbeki, believes in executive control over “independent” institutions. So too do the Republicans. And now the reds are whining because the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission was too weak on the financial sector. Similarly, the ANC is now up in arms about Mbeki’s alleged interference with the National Prosecuting Authority. But no such concerns were raised when the Auditor General and the Public Protector, also guaranteed independence by the Constitution, whitewashed the executive’s role in quashing Scopa’s investigation of the arms deal.

As always, I could go on and on and on. But I won’t. I’m tired. I’m bored. The Daily Show is about to begin.