International Papers

All South African Politics Are Local 

South African voters mildly rebuked the ruling African National Congress in Tuesday’s local elections by avoiding the polls and giving the opposition Democratic Alliance unanticipated levels of support. The ANC captured 60 percent of the vote by Wednesday evening, and the opposition Democratic Alliance attracted around 29 percent in the second municipal election since the end of white rule. (This contest marked the debut of a streamlined local government system that reduces the number of municipalities from 843 to 284 and creates six metropolitan “megacities.”)

The Democratic Alliance—formed in June by the merger of the New National Party (the renamed mainstay of the apartheid system), the Democratic Party (traditionally the party of white liberalism), and the Freedom Alliance—was poised to take Cape Town, while the ANC will control the five other megacities. Turnout was estimated at only 48 percent of registered voters, prompting a political scientist to tell South Africa’s Star that ANC supporters were “registering a gentle protest. Voters are not ready to switch to other parties like the DA. They’re simply saying to the ANC: ‘You are our organisation and, please, you should work for us.’ “

The Democratic Alliance established a small presence in black areas, taking 5 percent of the vote in Soweto and 7 percent in Alexandra, according to party leader Tony Leon, even after former President Nelson Mandela denounced its supporters as “black stooges of a white party which can never run this country again.” A writer in the Cape Argus declared the DA had “successfully tapped into disillusionment with the ANC national government during the campaign.” In an editorial published on the day of the election, Britain’s Guardian speculated that “[y]oung black township voters, who have no memory of the apartheid struggle … may join with mixed-race and white voters in backing the opposition.” It concluded, “Such developments would be welcome in terms of bridging the racial divide and maintaining a pluralist democracy. And they would serve as a timely reminder that all governments, whatever the past context, have a present-day duty to deliver.”

Britain’s Independent also welcomed the arrival of a viable South African opposition:

[I]t is important that the ANC—despite and because of its glorious historic contribution—should not simply become the party of power. … In the early years after the collapse of apartheid, South African elections were, above all, about moral issues—in effect, the triumph of good over evil. Now, life is much messier than that. That new grubbiness is to be welcomed. Ten years on, normality has arrived.

The South African Independent reported that one local council seat was decided by the toss of a coin, when, even after several recounts, the candidates were tied with 2,266 votes each. The piece’s headline may contain a subliminal message: “Flip of coin means no beating about the bush.”

Foreigners fume about GatorWait: Name your president-elect, the international press is telling the United States. In an editorial titled “Dignity versus desperation,” the Age of Melbourne asked, “At what point does the cheated underdog become the begrudging spoiler? It may soon be time for [Vice President Gore] to concede defeat for the good of country; the nation cannot remain frozen in political stasis indefinitely.” Britain’s Daily Telegraph was less subtle, declaring of Gore, “He increasingly resembles the house guest who has overstayed his welcome and ignores all intimations to that effect, such as railway timetables left ostentatiously on his bed.”

Department of transportation: Britain’s railways are currently in a state of disarray because of speed restrictions imposed after several recent crashes. In a form of journalistic torture, the Daily Mirror sent a reporter on a train ride from the northernmost tip of Scotland to the southernmost point of England. The paper’s conclusion: “In 1829, inventor George Stephenson launched the world’s first train, the Rocket, which travelled at 36 mph. In 2000, it took Brian Reade 22.5 hours to travel from John O’Groats to Land’s End … an improvement of 1.7 mph in 171 years.” In Japan, the trains run on time but, the Financial Times reports, sexual molestation of women passengers has become such a problem that a Tokyo-based company will introduce late-night women-only carriages through the New Year rush. Apparently, “Attempts in the 1980s to introduce women-only carriages failed because women who had to get on to normal cars complained that they became greater targets for [molesters].” In Australia, “surf rage” has become so widespread that an official Surfers Code of Ethics has been released to help educate inexperienced surfers about the polite way to ride the waves. According to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, “In a bid for international understanding and surfing peace, the rules are also being translated into Portuguese, Japanese, and Hebrew.” Let’s hope they never make it into Welsh. A piece in the Guardian described the “road hazard” caused by long Welsh words. The government has recently approved the use of illuminated electronic signs on British motorways to communicate “complex, lengthy and changing messages … with which conventional painted signs cannot cope.” In Wales, signs would have to display the text in both English and Welsh, and researchers are concerned that drivers will take too long to read the messages, leading to “potentially fatal” delays. The piece concluded, “The worst case scenario involves the first Anglesey exit of the A5 dual carriageway—to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.”