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Helen of Cape Town

In addition to supporting dictators and illiberal elements around the world (from Iran to Venezuela to neighboring Zimbabwe, and calling for the recognition of Hamas), South Africa's ruling party–the African National Congress–does not much like democracy at home. While it … Read More

By / October 2, 2007

In addition to supporting dictators and illiberal elements around the world (from Iran to Venezuela to neighboring Zimbabwe, and calling for the recognition of Hamas), South Africa's ruling party–the African National Congress–does not much like democracy at home. While it curried the image of a multiracial liberation movement during the years of apartheid, since coming to power in 1994 it has increasingly shown signs of being just another black nationalist party, the likes of which have littered the African continent since de-colonization in the 1950's and 1960's. Were it not for the country’s large industrial base and reliance on international trade, not to mention a history of English parliamentary government and an independent judiciary, contemporary South Africa would not be the success story that it is so often made to be.

There is a liberal alternative in South Africa, and has been for decades, despite the attempts of the ANC to smear this opposition as apologists for apartheid. Last week in the Wall Street Journal, Matthew Kaminski profiled Helen Zille, the recently-installed leader of the Democratic Alliance—the official, and liberal, opposition to the ANC—who also doubles as the Mayor of Cape Town. Zille won the mayoralty with a plurality of votes in the spring of 2006, but since that time, the ANC has tried to remove her—through chicanery allegedly reaching all the way up to President Thabo Mbeki’s office—no less than 7 times. The ANC’s inevitable attempts to fob off accusations of racism and white supremacy on Zille will ring hollow: she made her name as a journalist for exposing the state’s murder of black consciousness leader (and subject of a classic Peter Gabriel protest song) Steve Biko and made a name for herself as a crusading journalist for the legendary anti-apartheid Rand Daily Mail. One of the more vile, historically ignorant slanders to come from Jimmy Carter's mouth these days has been the comparison of Israel to apartheid-era South Africa. This false contrast, of course, forms the title of Carter's latest, sensational book Palestine: Peace not Apartheid. It’s a bit surprising that Carter would ever want to draw attention to southern Africa, considering his administration's disastrous policies there (Zimbabwe's starving millions can thank Carter and his former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young for Robert Mugabe). But let’s forgive Jimmah’s invocation of the South Africa-Israel comparison, because it can still be useful. The simple fact is that democracy in Israel—where Islamists calling for Israel’s dissolution sit in the parliament–is far more vibrant than it is in the Rainbow Nation.

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