Imraan Buccus - Palestine polarises electoral opinion

Imraan Buccus. Picture: Supplied

Imraan Buccus. Picture: Supplied

Published May 13, 2024


By Imraan Buccus

Domestic politics usually dictate electoral choices in South Africa. But with close to 40,000 Palestinians already killed in the Israeli onslaught, many Muslims and progressive South Africans are likely to use the catastrophe in the Middle East and the ANC’s uncompromising solidarity with the Palestinians to inform their voting choice. This includes progressive Jewish people who are warmly welcomed into the solidarity movement with Palestine.

Listening to President Cyril Ramaphosa address a dinner hosted by the Minara Chamber of Commerce and Al Baraka Bank in Durban last week, there was a very strong sense that the ANC’s principled stance on Palestine has won the admiration and support of many leaders and other people of influence in the Muslim community. Anecdotal experience indicates that this is a widespread sentiment.

However, as I have written before, there is no such thing as a monolithic Muslim vote and, like all other communities, the Muslim community is divided by class and other factors. But while we should not think of Muslims as a united bloc, the widespread return to support for the ANC is a clear trend.

Questions are increasingly being raised about the credibility of the polling in advance of the election, with prominent polling companies being directly linked to the white liberal establishment, and the Brenthurst Foundation being, as is increasingly widely noted, directly embedded in the Western powers.

Some have suggested that the collapse of the ANC is being exaggerated in order to demoralise its supporters. We will only know if this is true after election day, but if the race goes down to the wire, the votes from small communities could prove to be significant.

There is another aspect to how international politics may affect the domestic vote. Some voters may not be prepared to vote ANC but find themselves alienated from the liberal establishment by the neo-Cold War fervour that has taken over the commanding heights of South African liberalism.

The hardline and uncritical pro-Israel support from liberal public figures such as Frans Cronje, James Myburgh and Nicholas Woode-Smith is deeply offensive to many South Africans. The Brenthurst Foundation duo Greg Mills and Ray Hartley have lost all restraint and went so far as to compare Naledi Pandor to Pik Botha.

The liberal collapse into conspiracy theory, such as the widespread claim that the ANC is now a client of Iran, has also weakened the credibility of the liberal establishment.

Again speaking anecdotally, it seems that many ordinary South Africans who have lost hope in the ANC find this pro-West liberal hysteria quite nauseating. While they may not be willing to vote for the ANC, they are likely to shun the Democratic Alliance (DA), as well as Build One South Africa (Bosa) which speaks like a Brenthurst cut-out. This could weaken the hold of the two largest parties in our political system and boost smaller players, such as Rise Mzansi which has taken a credible position on Palestine.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has already been a beneficiary of this dynamic, with Abahlali baseMjondolo - the largest civil society organisation in the country - declaring that it refuses to vote for the ANC, and also rejects the DA because of its position on Israel. This has led the organisation to decide to make a tactical vote for the EFF, a decision that shocked many commentators.

The return to the ANC by many Muslims is a move against the general tide of South African politics in the sense that the general move is away from the ANC. But it may simultaneously turn out to be part of a general move away from a now significantly rotten white liberalism that, outrageously, either propagandises for genocide or largely stays silent in the face of horrific oppression. Woode-Smith is a particularly crude example of the former faction, with John Steenhuisen mostly being typical of the latter.

South Africa has always been quite an insular country. But as the genocide in Israel polarises opinion, it pushes the many liberal formations and personalities away from the centre of South African life. The same is true of the heavy-handed propagandising for the West that regularly appears in our media.

All the evidence shows that even if the ANC does scrape through this election, perhaps with support from many Muslim voters, its long-term decline will continue. It is now equally clear that white liberalism will not be the alternative to the ANC. That alternative will at least have to claim to speak for the majority and to ally itself with the sense that most South Africans have of being Africans, and part of the wider Global South.

**Dr Buccus is a political analyst.

** The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of IOL or Independent Media.