I was born in 1950, and in over 70 years my home country has never been a real democracy.
In all my life there was one – just one – change of administration.
Two years before my birth the National Party was elected and brought with it apartheid. This was inflicted on the country until 1994 when – to great joy – it was replaced by Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress.
But it didn’t bring in a functioning democracy: instead it brought in another period that was effectively one-party rule.
And with it – over 27 years – the ANC turned from a liberation movement to a rotten, corrupt party that ruled for the benefit of another elite. That elite, which clustered around President Zuma and the Guptas, were the most rapacious vampires South Africa has ever known: drinking its resources dry.
A one-party state under the Nationalists was replaced by what was effectively a one-party state under the ANC.
Now, at last, the ANC’s hold on power has been broken.
In cities, towns and villages across the country they have lost power.
Once the main opposition party – the Democratic Alliance – only held power in Cape Town. Then it took the Western Cape. Now it has won a string of cities – or ‘metros’ as South Africans call them across Gauteng and beyond.
As News 24 put it: “DA makes clean sweep in Gauteng metros as ANC licks it wounds after a thorough drubbing”
In none of these did the DA win an overall majority. It has refused to go into coalition with the Economic Freedom Fighters of Julius Malema.
The DA will have to try to rule meeting by meeting; winning votes and bringing about reforms without certainty that it can get its reforms through, and root out the corrupt “cadres” installed by the ANC.
In some areas the ANC is fighting back – using violence to disrupt meetings held to instal the newly elected mayor.
This is shameful behaviour: a sign of just of far the party has strayed from its roots as a liberation movement and been transformed into a machine to extract public funds for its politicians.
But no-one should underestimate how important this chaotic, difficult situation is: it is the painful birth of a true democracy.
It will not be easy and some councils may fail. But unless the ANC can be ousted from power and learn the painful lesson of losing political control it will never reform.
As Churchill so aptly remarked: ““Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
South Africa is on the path to becoming a true, functioning democracy for the first time in its history.