Saturday, March 28, 2009

Politics and a dash of culture

It's easy, with all of the amazing things Cape Town has to offer, to forget that this is an election year in South Africa, one of the most important in recent history. It's easy to ignore the thousands of signs posted on poles and lampposts when you are focused on school work and other things. But the fact remains that the county, after April 22nd, is likely to experience significant change.

South Africa has around 14 different political parties, with only 4 actually in contention. Since 1994 elections have been dominated by the African National Congress, the party of Mandela. However, in recent years, the ANC has been plagued by corruption, cronyism, and poor policies. It still holds the majority and it is likely to stay that way, but serious opposition is starting to emerge.

On Thursday I went to a debate hosted by UCT during which four of the major parties were represented (the ANC, the Democratic Alliance, COPE [an offshoot of the ANC], and the Independent Democrats). It was incredible to see how enthusiastic the students were; the place was absolutely packed, and people cheered, booed, and were jumping in their seats to ask questions.

The actual debate was very interesting...a lot of ganging up on the ANC, accusing it of corruption, incompetence, etc. The parties all seemed to agree (despite some minor bickering here and there) about issues like poverty, HIV/AIDS, and crime. Some of the most intriguing debate was around the xenophobic violence that has erupted against immigrants from Zimbabwe and neighboring countries. Also, there has been a lot of controversy around the ruling party's recent refusal to permit entrance into South Africa for the Dalai Lama for a peace conference. There has been a ton of criticism of the ANC, and the way the ANC justified it was absolutely ridiculous. The reality of the situation is that South Africa is a staunch ally of China, nothing more, and didn't want to upset Beijing.

The debate was really, really exciting. The ANC's presidential candidate is a man named Jacob Zuma, who, according to common perception, is incompetent, inexperienced, and corrupt. He has also been accused of rape. In a parliamentary system like South Africa's, though, the way places are set on the ballot is determined by who's been around longest, not who's most qualified. In other words, since the ANC is still the dominant party, South Africa's likely next president will be a man that most people don't trust or believe in. It really is absurd when you think about it.

Yesterday me and a couple people went to a see a play at the Baxter Theater that was part of a month long theater festival. The festival apparently won an award for cultural development, so I was eager to see part of it. The play we saw was pretty bizarre.... half of it was spoken in Xhosa, and it told the story of a white man coming to a village to set up a shop. The story was a little confusing, but the singing and dancing were amazing. It's amazing to see how important singing and dancing are to cultural expression, especially among the Xhosa people.

Luckily, I'm close to feeling better, FINALLY. Only an essay and test left before Botswana and Victoria Falls!

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