Zimbabwe last week was proof that Abraham Lincoln was mistaken. You can, indeed, fool most of the people most of the time, and that’s all that matters in politics.
After all, a political party that had been uninterruptedly in power for 38 years and that had presided over the biggest erosion of national wealth in modern history, was re-elected with a two-thirds majority. A political leader, who had presided over the largest single massacre of the indigenous people in his country’s history, beat his challenger by a comfortable 5:4 margin.
And it was achieved despite difficult circumstances. Emmerson “Crocodile” Mnangagwa had deposed his predecessor in a camouflaged coup barely six months ago and was leading a bitterly divided Zanu-PF.
And it was achieved peacefully. Well, relatively peacefully for a rickety African state.
There had been an explosion at a Mnangagwa rally - a bomb, or maybe a hand grenade. The details remain sketchy, but only a couple of people died.
Admittedly, there was then the more serious shooting dead by the military of at least six opposition protesters. But soldiers will be soldiers and fortuitously it occurred after the election.
And the elections were free and fair. Well, as free and fair as one can hope for in an authoritarian state where the ruling party controls the media, the only jobs that exist are in government service, the judiciary has been corrupted, and everything from agricultural inputs to social services depend on party membership.
This must all be sweet music to ANC ears. A hegemonic liberation movement which has proved over decades to be economically inept and morally rotten, actually can win at the polls, again and again.
The parallels between the situation faced by Zanu-PF and the ANC are obvious and many, as I’ve written elsewhere.
SA, too, is under enormous pressure, with widespread infrastructural and systemic collapse. SA, too, has recently rid itself of a widely reviled president, with a successor who passes himself off as a clean broom, despite having been part of the inner circle that caused the disaster in the first place.
But not to worry. These liberation struggle parties share not only revolutionary zeal and a belief that they are the sole authentic representatives of the people. They share, too, useful tips on how to hold on to power.
Lindiwe Zulu, who is the Small Business Development minister in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Cabinet, went to Zimbabwe to observe the election at the invitation of the ANC’s fraternal ally, Zanu-PF. This was so the two organisations could “learn from each other’s best practices”, she said in an interview with Daily Maverick.
Zulu, speaking before the election, was clearly a little rattled by predictions that Zanu-PF would lose. Whatever the result, the ANC would remain close to Zanu-PF, she assured her hosts. “We don’t discard our allies the people that have seen blood spill, who have been with us in the Struggle.”
She conceded, however, that the liberation movements had made mistakes and had to learn from them. The ANC had to “improve ourselves, so we don’t find ourselves in the same situation as (Zimbabwe)”.
What is most revealing about Zulu’s interview is that none of this ANC learning is about best practice in governance - actually, how could it be, from Zimbabwe? - but simply best practice in political survival. It’s never about the people’s best interests, only the party’s best interests.
This is clear, for example, from the ANC embracing a policy of land expropriation without compensation (EWC), despite Zimbabwe admitting that its own land seizure experiment was a tragic and expensive failure.
Ramaphosa is hellbent on EWC. Last week he announced that there was no need for further public consultation and that the South African Constitution would be amended forthwith.
One can only then conclude that the lesson that the ANC will take from this Zimbabwean election, is a cynical one. It is that although EWC won’t work over the long term, in the short term it’s a good populist vote catcher.
And when it eventually fails, most voters are, in any case, too dumb to punish you at the polls.
* Follow WSM on Twitter @TheJaundicedEye
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.