South African Broadcasting Channel 2 has been airing election debates each Sunday evening. This eighth debate in the series is focusing on the "youth" and so representatives from the youth leagues of each invited party (four total - for some reason the newest party, Congress of the People, which was formed late last year and features major ANC defectors don't have a rep) are speaking to questions posed by three moderators (including one from the Institute for Security Studies). The four parties present (African National Congress, Inthaka Freedom Party, Democratic Alliance, and Freedom Front Plus) represent an extreme spectrum of interests: the FFP party, for example, represents Afrikaner separatists who advocate a "separate but equal" South Africa reminiscent of the Apartheid era. They capitalize on the "diversity"/"multiculturalism" elements of SA's constitution to preserve Afrikaner culture (especially over the issue of the "Englishization" of historically Afrikaans-only tertiary universities). At the same time, they refuse to accept the elements of the constitution which are designed to right the deeply ingrained inequalities of the country's racist past. They take particular interest in challenging Black Economic Empowerment policies which are similar to the American concept of "affirmative action." Their argument in a nutshell: in 1994 we all became equal, so let's just have formal equality for all now. I watched a televised rally of theirs earlier yesterday and quite frankly, it scared me (and I was only reading the subtitles).
It's hard to characterize this debate entirely, but a few observations:
- It's nice to see moderators actively challenging what representatives are saying, including pointing out inconsistencies in their statements to past party practices.
- The ANC, as the most dominant party tends to have to field the majority of criticism (and often, understandably so) - taking the most heat in this debate over the past statements of the ANC youth leader Malema. He has made at least two gaffes since I've been here: primarily ad hominem attacks that are unproductive and generally baseless.
- My favorite part of the debates isn't listening to the representatives but reading the SMS comments running on the screen below. They range from critically thoughtful to outright hilarious takes on the parties and their positions. And, of course, just as I make this observation they have disappeared from the screen before I can transcribe one.
The representatives are making their final statements which is my cue to wrap it up as well.