Of DNA and party loyalty

It is about 8.30pm on a bitterly cold Highveld winter night in August 1989, and I am standing on a complete stranger’s doorstep, about to press the bell.

This is my fourth or fifth cold call for the night, and by now I am feeling quite dispirited because of the responses I’ve had thus far.

I know I’m in tough territory, and I’ve prepared myself for rejection, but responses ranging from “Not interested” to “Get off my property before I set the dogs on you” just grind one down.

This will be my last visit for the night, so I dig deep and press the button.

The door opens behind a security gate, and I introduce myself.

“Goeienaand meneer. My naam is Norman McFarlane. Ek is die Demokratiese Party kandidaat vir die Florida kies afdeling. As dit u pas, sal ek graag met u en u vrou wil gesels oor die Demokratiese Party se visie vir ons land se toekoms.”

To my surprise, the security gate is unlocked and I am ushered into a warm living room, offered a cup of coffee and I launch into my presentation of the Democratic Party (DP) election manifesto for the upcoming national election on September 6.

My host and hostess are in their mid-30s, white, middle class, and Afrikaans-speaking, typical of the demographic of Florida and surrounding subburbs. It’s tough country in which to peddle a political dispensation that threatens to deprive the electorate of the privileges they have enjoyed for decades. To crown it all, National Party finance minister, Barend du Plessis, is my opponent and the incumbent.

The conversation is wide-ranging, and I have to field a great many questions, most of which deal with what will happen when we have a black majority government one day, an inevitable outcome of the DP’s vision for a non-racial democracy.

I sense I’m making progress, when my host says he knows that things must change, that apartheid must come to an end, so I ask the important question: “Can I rely on your vote in the election?”

“As much as I realise that things must change, I’m scared of what will happen to us under a black majority government. My grandfather voted for the Nats, my father voted for the Nats, and I have always voted for the Nats.

“I know things must change, but I’m scared. The Nats made apartheid what it is, so I must trust them to do what is right and dismantle it. I can’t bring myself to vote for your party. I’m sorry.”

It is late December 2007, and I am sitting with friend and business chamber collegue, Sedick Japie. The ANC’s 52nd elective conference has come and gone and Jacob Zuma has triumphed, swept to victory by his masterfully constructed Zunami campaign.

Sedick is a senior office bearer in the Dullah Omar region of the ANC, and his loyalty to the party is unquestionable.
Dispirited by what has come to pass, I seek Sedick’s counsel. “What happens now, Sedick?” I ask.

“You must remember that 40% of the voting delegates did not support Jacob Zuma. There are a great many good people in the ANC who have the best interests of the party and the country at heart. That’s not going to change,” he says. And so we battened down the hatches and rode out the storm of Mr Zuma’s presidency.

Sedick was one of the many people who marched during the #ZumaMustFall protest in Cape Town on Friday April 7 last year, yet he remains an ANC supporter.

In a recent conversation about party loyalty, Sedick shared the following observation: “If you look at American politics, it’s much the same. If a person is born into a family of Republicans or Democrats, no matter how long you debate with that person, chances are you won’t change their allegiance. It’ll take an epiphany to do that.”

It is Saturday afternoon, October 13 and I am at a dear friend’s 70th birthday celebration, and among the guests are struggle stalwarts, Ben and Mary Turok.

I summon up the courage to engage with Ben about the current state of the ANC, and I ask him what the future holds.

Ben’s relationship with the ANC has been fractious of late. A member of the Struggle Stalwart cohort, he has been outspoken in his criticism of what happened during Jacob Zuma’s presidency, and he has endured significant backlash for speaking out.
We speak about party loyalty, and the enduring narrative of frustration: why do the majority of ANC supporters continue to support the party at the ballot box, despite the manifest evidence of deep-seated corruption in the party?

An anti-apartheid activist for virtually his entire adult life, Ben has been a card-carrying member of the ANC for decades. He was twice arrested and charged with treason, in 1956 and 1963. And he is still a member of the ANC, despite what has happended to the party in the last decade.

“I was an ANC MP for 20 years. I spent two-and-a-half years in solitary confinement. The ANC is in my DNA. I will always be a member of the ANC,” he says.

It is this blood-loyalty to the ANC that so many people find both frustrating and puzzling, which is disingenuously explained away by characterising the masses as politically ignorant, but nothing could be further from the truth.

From the centres of our most populous cities to the remotest rural area, we are a deeply politcally aware people, to which anybody who watched even a few minutes of the recent land reform public meetings around the country would attest.
The alternative narrative suggests that since the ANC is, in its entirety, corrupt and rotten to the core, its supporters must therefore condone corruption because they continue to support it at the polls.

The ANC’s greatest strength is the extent of its grassroots organisation, a matrix of branch, regional and provincial structures, that delivers to the polling booth the electoral support the ANC relies on to keep it in power.

It is made up of ordinary, honest people who have ANC in their DNA.

All they are doing is keeping the faith that the party which delivered them from apartheid, will self-correct and deliver on its promises.