South Africa goes to the polls in a week’s time. The ANC will win with a huge majority. The only real question is how huge is huge. 63% is probably the magic number – the percentage of the vote which Mandela won in 1994. Thabo Mbeki increased that in 1999 and 2004 (where the ANC won 69%). Should a Jacob Zuma-led ANC poll less than 63% then there might be a bit of an internal inquest into what went wrong.
The ANC, and Zuma in particular, do not possess a stellar record. Some commentators are likely to claim that a two-thirds majority vote for a ruling party led by a man accused of several counts of corruption shows South Africa is not really a democracy. In fact, some commentators already are.
However, one good barometer of the strength of any democracy is the willingness of voters to make fun of its leaders. And judging by that guide, South Africa isn’t doing too badly.
While I was in the country earlier this month there were plenty of signs that South Africans feel able to laugh at Zuma and the ANC:
- Joburg’s Market Theatre has just opened a show new play called MacBeki. that indirectly explores Mbeki’s dramatic fall from office (There’s also a character called MacZum.)
- I saw a couple of shops selling ‘Zuma shower gel,’ a dig at Zuma’s ludicrous claim that during his 2006 rape trial that he showered after he had sex so that he wouldn’t catch HIV.
- Last week a guerrilla artist put up fake ANC posters taking the mick out of Zuma (my favourite: ‘Justice is the name of my next wife’).
And ANC officials didn’t seem to show much of a sense of humour after the fake posters sprung up. Jesse Duarte, the ANC’s spokeswoman, rather dramatically blamed “forces of darkness”.
Still, judging by the amount of satire in the country South Africa’s democracy is in a far stronger state than almost every other country in Africa and quite a few in Europe. (Yes, Italy, I’m looking at you.)
Hopefully South Africans will still feel able to laugh at Zuma once he becomes president.