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Identity Politics: An enemy of a capable state

At the centre of ‘content politics’ lies the ideas of building a capable state that looks after the needs of the diverse identities we find in society.

When one looks at Africa, it is one failed state after another, with very little glimmers of hope in between. This is as a result of those who were once liberators have now become oppressors of their fellow countrymen. One classic example being the recently late former President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe; who went from being a hero in the early years, to being a villain. Instead of leaving a great legacy behind, Mugabe left a leprosy for the people of Zimbabwe to have to deal with.

For a number of years, it seemed like South Africa would be an exception to the rule. Sadly, the curse of identity politics and failed states has crept in to what used to be a beacon of hope in Africa.

South Africa finds itself on the path of identity politics which have overshadowed the content of good governance. Instead of dealing with the content of how we are going to improve lives of all South Africans, the debate is stagnated by the focus on race-based or previously disadvantaged identities.

Instead of leaving a great legacy behind, Mugabe left a leprosy for the people of Zimbabwe to have to deal with.

At no point am I suggesting that individuals should not be proud of their ethnicity, religious beliefs, feminity, etc. It remains the rights of individuals to describe themselves as such; as for me, I’d rather stick to being, Malcolm. The problem with classifying people by the above is that they tend to find their relevance only based on the limitations created by the perceptions society has created for that specific groups.

South African political parties have very quickly moved from focusing on content to emphasis on predominantly race-based identity and to some extent, which political party you support.

Looking at the African National Congress (ANC), South Africa’s majority political party in national government; it has become obsessed with winning elections against its opponents as supposed to serving South Africans from all walks of life.

An example of this is a comment I heard from some of its local leaders speaking boldly about how they won a ward from its opponents and how the people in that specific ward rejected a party which protects white privilege.

When most South Africans believed in the ANC back in 1994, it was not based on the fact that they were against white privilege but rather a united South Africa where all South Africans work together to build a thriving capable state. The dream of the country extended beyond just holding hands as citizens and singing Khumbaya; it included giving all South Africans space to be part of a great nation.

The dream of the country extended beyond just holding hands as citizens and singing Khumbaya; it included giving all South Africans space to be part of a great nation.

Over the years, the ANC has become known of flaunting around the term ‘our people’ as often as they can at any given opportunity. It is a term I feel it is used to exclude other people in their own country.

If one is to analyse the ANC’s content, they would soon realise that it falls short in addressing current challenges faced by today’s generation. Basically, the ANC is still trying to fight for the future of the youth of 1976 who today are not only parents but grandparents. As much as we can all dream of redressing the injustice caused by the apartheid legacy, we need to keep in mind that we have a future waiting for us. It is a future waiting for us to stand tall having defeated the chains of inequality, poverty and unemployment.

As a majority party in South Africa, the ANC has proved to follow the trajectory of any other liberation movement in Africa… the only thing the party wants to do with government is feed black privilege.

When faced with dealing with current challenges, the ANC always finds it necessary to remind South Africans what we have inherited from the apartheid government. This argument is usually used to remind black people where they don’t want to be.

Let us be frank with one another and get this issue out of our system. How people were treated and excluded during the apartheid remains one of the major injustices of the past; however, how the government to some extend attempted to advocate for a capable state is what we can learn to improve on.

Until we learn to appreciate that nursing colleges and teaching colleges played a role of not only keeping South Africans employed; it empowered the nation with quality training. Since shutting down such facilities, we find ourselves scratching our heads as to how we can address the issue of unemployment in South Africa.

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The only content we’ve been given as South Africans is that of one summit after another, making plans we never really care about following through on them. Out of all of these, nothing has been life changing or even shifting the mind-set of citizens into believing in a capable and delivering state.

How long must South Africans endure protest after protest in between elections? As a majority party in South Africa, the ANC has proved to follow the trajectory of any other liberation movement in Africa… the only thing the party wants to do with government is feed black privilege.

On the other side, we have the Democratic Alliance (DA), Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and Vryheidsfront Plus (VF+). Looking at the EFF and VF+, both packaged themselves as the two extremes of South African extremes. On the one side ‘Black Lives Matter’ and on the other, the protection of the Afrikaner reigns supreme. The focus of both these parties is solely on the demographic they play to in order to win popularity.

Of course ‘black lives matter’ and yes it is important that the culture and existence of every Afrikaner is protected; however, in building a nation, we require content. We need to answer questions such as how do we attempt to have a job in every South African home while at the same time advocating for bringing all cultures together under the banner of a South African heritage.

Of course ‘black lives matter’ and yes it is important that the culture and existence of every Afrikaner is protected; however, in building a nation, we require content.

I could go on to speak about, how do we ensure that all South African boys and girls are safe in communities or speak about how we lift citizens out of poverty through an effective social package; all of which will be discussed at a later stage.

The DA finds itself in an interesting space; an arena where it tries to appeal to all identities under a South African banner. In between the tug-o-war of race and tribal politics sits the DA which tries to be a voice to all. Unfortunately, the attempt by the party was not as successful as it had hoped; and the only reason for that can be attributed to an attempt to ‘out Mao Mao the Mao Mao’.

We need to answer questions such as how do we attempt to have a job in every South African home while at the same time advocating for bringing all cultures together under the banner of a South African heritage.

Instead of focusing its energies on communicating its content, the DA opted for an approach which its opponents are masters of, and in so doing; the party sounded more schizophrenic than its opponents. Although, we cannot take away the fact that among township areas, the DA managed minimal growth, the concern has to be the strong base support they lost during the recent 2019 elections.

Admittedly, one cannot ignore the fact that the DA’s ‘traditional’ voter is a member of the English-speaking population and to some extend the Afrikaans vote from the National Party. In essence, an unwavering DA voter is someone who identifies as being a liberal. While the DA did not lose its ‘liberal vote’, it sure lost its racially focused vote.

There is nothing wrong with taking pride in who you are as a person, even if that is based on race. However, just because someone shares the same culture as you, it does not mean they are the best to look after your needs. Our fundamentals should always be based on how South Africa grows its economy and continually boosts foreign investment as we continue to build a safe society for the country’s citizens.

The DA in my view, should have maintained the core blue print of what helped it grow in every election since 1994 from a mere two percent party to a political organisation which now boasts with 20 percent of the vote as per the 2019 election outcomes.

Having read Helen Zille’s autobiography, Not Without a Fight, I got to understand that the growth of the DA was based on being an effective party when it has the majority of seats in government, while at the same time being an effective opposition.

The DA’s growth between 1994 and 2016 was simply based on the party branding itself as an effective alternative government in everything they did. The point was not only to appeal to a segment of the voters, but on delivering good governance as well as a capable state.

It is sad that South African politics have been engulfed by the notion of identity over content. Somehow we tend to think that by being appealing to an identity, we will be relevant in creating the content that improves the lives of South Africans. If that was the case, why then is the ANC failing to improve the lives of black people holistically? Pulling people out of apartheid was never going to be enough, and blaming white monopoly capital is not going to erase the fact that you have absolutely no content in alleviating poverty.

Identity is a good thing; I just wish the one identity we all should be elevating is that of being South African. We can do so by embracing the diverse cultures, religious beliefs, gender classification, as well as preferred political views. As diverse all of these may be, they are all necessary ingredients in shaping a country we can all be proud of.

At the centre of ‘content politics’ lies the ideas of building a capable state that looks after the needs of the diverse identities we find in society. When we deal with content politics, we are also sure to secure quality coalition partnerships that are based on the work done to improve lives of South Africans.

We need to start somewhere in transforming Africa into a society that focuses on content instead of playing to the populism of identity all the time; how we do that is a story for another day.