South Africa is at a critical stage in its history. In order to avert violent conflict, all political parties must endeavour to settle their differences, avoid using hate speech and handle its democracy with respect for the sake of peace and human security.
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By Tendaishe Tlou
2014 and 2015 are the years in which the South African National Assembly plunged into chaos, with the opposition being forced out not once but twice. Since then, the opposition has been vying for a vote of no confidence in the Speaker of Parliament and President, Jacob Zuma. The ruling party is now at its most difficult position; poised between political regression and decomposition, on the one hand, and a loss of confidence from citizens on the other. The ruling party-opposition vendetta has implications for South African communities, against a background of spiraling corruption, poor service delivery, power outages and escalating poverty. According to the theory of hegemony, shifts in power politics have an accompanying effect on the attitude and behaviour of the citizenry.
Hegemony refers to an interrelated set of ruling ideas filtering into a society (Hitchock, 1982), making the established order of power and values (ideologies) appear normal or rational (McQuail, 1994). The underlying assumption of the theory of hegemony’s view of society is that there are fundamental inequalities between social groups. Dominance is not simply a result of the imposition of the will of the dominant class and ideology alone, but results from a presentation of the group as being best able to fulfill the interests and aspirations of the other classes and, by implication, the whole society (Ibid). The group sells its ideas through various ways that can convince the other social group. Gramsci, however, emphasizes that hegemony is in a constant struggle. Hegemony as such is a constant contradiction between ideology and the social experience of the subordinate, which makes this interface into an inevitable site of ideological struggle (Fiske, 1990).
The ruling party-opposition confrontation in South Africa is therefore not confined to parliament, but has the ability to spill-over into society and, in the long run, poses an inevitable threat to the ANC’s hegemony, peace and human security. Since the formation of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Party in 2013, the political landscape has changed in South Africa. Led by Julius Malema, the opposition coalition including the Democratic Alliance (DA) have constantly criticized the ruling party’s conduct and disrupted National Assembly proceedings both at the provincial and national levels. In the past two decades, the ANC has never been challenged in this way and it is certain that its hegemony is under threat.
South Africa is a nation whose population is constantly under threat from chronic poverty, 24% youth unemployment, crippling corruption, crime and other crises. The opposition is now using the counter-hegemonic tactic whereby “consent must be constantly won and re-won since the people are frequently reminded of the disadvantages of subordination by other discourses in society” (Fiske, 1990).The opposition are using the challenges facing the ANC government as a vintage point for political expediency. Malema has became active in politics, taking an opposition stance against the ANC to redeem himself for the humiliation caused by the ruling party demoting him as ANC Youth League president.
Dubbing themselves as the ‘mouthpiece’ of the people, the opposition insists that the president and speaker of parliament resign as there is an acute contradiction between their ideology and reality on the ground. In this context, whilst the opposition parties wage war in parliament against the ruling party, the portents for violent confrontation are brewing. When two hegemonies are struggling to take and maintain power, the immediate ripple effects are that the supporters of the contending parties also personalize the struggle. For example, government infrastructure development projects in Mpumalanga are apparently being disrupted by EFF supporters because they equate the ANC with the government. Most recently, the EFF has vowed to demolish all the statues of apartheid icons in Pretoria, such as that of Paul Kruger in the Church Square, because to them they “symbolise white supremacy” in South Africa and violate the people’s rights. After this they vowed to surrender themselves to the police (Metro FM News, 2015) because they know what they are doing is illegal, but also because it increases their popularity and enables them to erode the dominant hegemony.
Cases of constant power struggles in South Africa are endless but what the proponents of these actions do not bear in mind is that their repercussions is violence. The opposition is setting an agenda which the masses will act upon. The increasing aggression of the EFF and DA – in line with their anti-ANC stance, especially among the 3.2 million unemployed youth and 21.5 % living in poverty – means that the environment is conducive for a bloody confrontation. Following the February 2015 State of the Nation Address (SONA) by the president, the violent pandemonium and ensuing apology to Malema by the speaker of parliament after she publicly compared him to “cockroaches”, EFF supporters staged a celebration in Pretoria on 21 February 2015 so as to express their victory by their ‘unwavering’ leader. They feel that their hegemony is being consolidated and gathering momentum at the expense of the ruling party.
Given the vitriolic attacks on the president, MPs are planting the seeds of mass demonstrations against the executive, especially after the president answered questions on 11th March 2015.Opposition strongholds are anticipating this day as the day their representatives exposed the ruling party, whilst the opposition’s hegemony gathers momentum in preparation for the 2018 elections. On 21st February 2015, Malema called on all South African contract workers to provide their employment details so that the EFF lobbies private companies to increase their salaries and give them permanent jobs (Pretoria News, 2015). In this way, when the ruling party seems to try to stall the process it will automatically trigger violent confrontation.In rural areas where land is increasingly becoming a source of mobilization and a bone of contention, the opposition will not hesitate to in some cases redistribute it. For example, Malema condemned the removal of homeless people from unoccupied land in Mamelodi East, Nelmephius and Sasolburg-Zamdela by the police under the directive of the government during the SONA debate. It is natural that when the counter-hegemony clashes with the pre-dominant hegemony, both the contending parties retaliate.
During the SONA debate, Malema did not conceal the EFF’s objective to take over “power by any means necessary,” coupled with the “bring back the money” mantra in relation to the expenses incurred during the erection of the Nkandla homestead; whilst several years back president Zuma reiterated to the nation that “the ANC will rule until Jesus comes”. These are statements that should be taken seriously as they illuminate that two hegemonies that are contesting to take and to stay in power. The opposition is apparently enjoying it marriage of convenience with the media who took the state to court over jamming of signals, claiming that the ruling party is increasingly becoming a threat to free access to information and freedom of expression. This collaboration presents the opposition with an opportunity to weaken the ruling party. To many, the opposition are saviours who will lead poverty-stricken South Africans to the promised land.
However, notwithstanding that people of South Africa have various parliamentarians posing as their mouthpieces, if these delicate issues are not handled with caution it might well plunge the nation into violent conflict. In the pre-1994 era, vicious misunderstandings between De Klerk’s government, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the ANC in parliament erupted into violent confrontations all over the country, resulting in unnecessary and pervasive losses of life (Jeffrey, 2009). Each party accused the other of assassinations, inconsistency, reluctance to reform and inciting violence, among other things, and the masses responded and intensified the struggle by staging mass demonstrations, strikes, violent assaults and assassinations.
Appealing to the masses to stage a revolution against either a real or perceived oppressive hegemony comes with its consequences, and the failure to negotiate a peaceful transition always ignites bloodshed, as witnessed in Zimbabwe and Mozambique. However, when tantrums spread through the country, the state is obliged to intervene so as to maintain public peace and order, and the opposition can take this opportunity to consolidate its agenda by accusing the state of stifling public freedoms and liberties. South Africa is at a critical stage in its history. In order to avert violent conflict, all political parties must endeavour to settle their differences, avoid using hate speech and handle its democracy with respect for the sake of peace and human security. Parliamentarians calling other delegates ‘coakroaches’,‘hooligans’ and a ‘broken man’ in and outside parliament in a struggling country and economy is an ingredient that could spark a vicious civil war. All political parties must desist from trying to employ violence in order to solve problems and gain power. South Africa’s history was very violent and it cannot be destined for a violent future.
Tendaishe Tlou is a freelance researcher and writer specialising in human rights, environmental security, peace and governance issues. He holds a BSc (Honours) Degree in Peace and Governance with Bindura University of Science Education and a Post-graduate Certificate in Applied Conflict Transformation. He works with various NGOs and Government Ministries in Zimbabwe and South Africa. However, these are his personal views; no authors, NGOs, Universities or any other Institution must be held accountable for the arguments in this article.
- Fiske, J (1990), Introduction to Communication Studies, 2nd ed., Routledge, London.
- Hitchock, J (1982), The Mass Media, Available at: http://www.catholiceducation.org, date accessed: 20/08/14.
- Jeffery, A (2009), People’s War, Jonathan Ball Publishers, South Africa.
- McQuail, D (1994), Mass Communication Theory. SAGE, London.
- Pretoria News (2015), ‘Malema calls on Contract Workers to Bring their Details,’ Pretoria News, 21/02/15, Pretoria.