No place for identity politics in SA

Political analyst Tessa Dooms is a Rivonia Circle Board member and co-author of Coloured: How Classification Became Culture. | SUPPLIED

Political analyst Tessa Dooms is a Rivonia Circle Board member and co-author of Coloured: How Classification Became Culture. | SUPPLIED

Published Apr 22, 2024


Durban — South Africans are looking for electoral candidates who represent them beyond the identity politics of the past.

As citizens gear up for general elections on May 29, political analyst and Rivonia Circle Board member Tessa Dooms says that there is a “crisis of representation” as voters look for candidates and parties who understand the realities they face everyday.

“You can have somebody who looks like you, who's of your gender, who’s of your ethnicity, who’s of your race but is in completely different politics to yours. Because they are just not connected to the kind of communities that you're connected to,” said Dooms.

She said at one stage the ANC’s strength was its “branch system” which provided a way for the organisation to be big, but still local. However, over time the party lost touch with communities as more “elite politics” took over, and terms like (on) “the ground” were used to signal that there was now a distinction between community politics and the politics of the palace, parliament and the ANC headquarters.

“And I think that's where some of the representations started to fall apart; there isn't a sense that people feel represented by people who they have access to, who know them, who understand their circumstances,” said Dooms.

She said during the early days of democracy it was easier to think about representation because the apartheid Group Areas Act meant that localised politics was racialised politics. However, as geographies diversified and class started to play a bigger role, the dynamics of feeling represented also changed.

“And so for me, the minority question is more a question about who is represented and who is not represented when you look at the political landscape, not which race is represented or not, not whether people are seeing a party or representatives that are of their race, but people who they actually relate to,” said Dooms.

Citing Patriotic Alliance (PA) leader Gayton McKenzie as an example, Dooms said the party knew that just because he is coloured, it wasn’t enough to get coloured voters and the PA realised that it had to embed itself in communities.

“So they approached pastors, they approached NGO leaders, they approached people who were working in social movements or working on particular issues like gang violence and made them PA leaders. And by virtue of that, by virtue of people in those communities becoming part of the PA, they were able to galvanise support.”

Professor Amanda Gouws from the University of Stellenbosch says there is no place for identity politics because it takes the country back to apartheid.

She singled out Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto weSizwe party (MKP) in particular for promoting divisions.

“They're really promoting Zulu ethnicity, Zulu nationalism that I think is very unhealthy and very dangerous. And ABC (Abantu Batho Congress) has said that they actually want KwaZulu-Natal to become an independent country. I think it's very dangerous.”

Gouws said that the lack of gender representativity was another problem and was even evident in the formation of the Multi-Party Charter which didn’t have women in its leadership.

“More women register to vote than men and women have the power to swing an election if they would actually just focus on a party that will make South Africa a better place for women. But we don't do that. So the message to women should be that they have to vote and they have to vote for a party that actually says something about women's issues,” said Gouws.

Last week the leader of the Minority Front Shameen Thakur-Rajbansi, announced that her party would not be contesting this election because it had failed to secure funding. She highlighted the struggles women faced in politics.

Gouws said the fact that there was a quota system in place to get women into politics showed how difficult it was for them to get in there. She said if women had “struggles” in parliament then the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) was to blame.

“You know, 45% of the women in parliament are from the ANC and the Women's League is a nationalist organisation that is really not concerned with women's equality. So, as long as we have to cope with the ANCWL, women are going to have a tough time in parliament because apart from the ANC women, there are not that many other women.

The DA doesn't have a quota and the DA always says if you can't make it on merit, you can't make it, which is a nonsense argument. It's implying that women in a quota do not have merit,” said Gouws.

She said when conducting a survey on culture and gender, and culture and tradition, many women believed that men were better political leaders than women.

“So women also have to struggle against the stereotypes and biases of other women.”

She said those stereotypes were reinforced by men as a means of keeping women “in their place and out of politics. Because men believe that if they compete against women and they lose out to a woman, it’s a huge problem. So, it's better to keep the women out altogether before you even have to compete with them.”

Sunday Tribune