South Africa' ruling African National Congress (ANC) has come under fire from Archbishop Desmund Tutu in a scathing attack on the party ahead of the April 22 general election. The Nobel laureate reminded the ANC leaders that they are not gods, adding that he made similar pronouncements to the former Afrikaner government before it lost power to the ANC. The Archbishop's criticism comes after Pretoria refused to grant Tibet's leader, the Dalai Lama, a visa into South Africa after allegedly coming under intense Chinese pressure. The ANC is expected to maintain its two-thirds majority in parliament despite a stiff challenge from other opposition parties. Political analyst Fikeni Somadoda tells reporter Peter Clottey that the Archbishop's criticisms might not have any impact on the upcoming election.
"I do think that this is quite consistent with him (Tutu) because this is not the first time that he has actually questioned the leadership of the ANC and what it has become. But ahead of the elections of course, I do think that that in itself may not have the impact of swaying people from one party to the other because you already have a pretty much divided society on a number of issues affecting the ANC. So those who believe the ANC is on the wrong course will simply take this as reinforcement. But those who are supporting the ANC will not actually change their minds because of the Bishop's comment," Fikeni pointed out.
He said Pretoria's refusal to give Tibet's spiritual leader a visa to attend a peace conference of Nobel laureates, which includes Tutu himself, may have been a contributing factor in Tutu's criticism of the ANC. Rejection of the Dalai Lama has received wide condemnation in South Africa.
"Undoubtedly, that will always have an impact because remember that Bishop Tutu was also going to be part of that particular panel when the peace conference was going to take place together with F. W. De Klerk, the former president of South Africa. And he was quite open in his criticism of the ANC on this matter of denying the Dalai Lama entry to South Africa, and that in itself, you can see his criticism now as a continuation of raising questions about the ANC leadership," he said.
Fikeni said a large number of South Africans are aware of Archbishop Tutu's increasing criticism of the ANC.
"Since he has been quite critical, they will take it in that context that Bishop Tutu is a fairly independent mind. He has been critical of the (former South African president) Mbeki government at times, and he has been critical of (ANC President) Jacob Zuma and the current leadership of the ANC. So to that extent, people will take it as a good thing to engage the ruling party, but others will be furious that this comes so close to elections," Fikeni pointed out.
He reiterated that the ANC is expected to maintain its two thirds majority in parliament despite a stiff challenge from the opposition and that Archbishop Tutu's criticism would most likely have little impact on the April 22 general election.
"In the end I doubt if it will sway too many people. Maybe the undecided voters or the first-time voters may take this quite seriously, and it may sway them in their election choices," he said.
Fikeni said South Africans are sharply divided along political lines ahead of the election.
"The country is quite divided actually. Some do think, particularly, the professional class and the middle class sections of it, do feel that ANC may as yet in some instances off the road of supporting and respecting the institutions that it was at the helm of putting in particularly the judiciary and other institutions. But the masses on the ground seem to still favor the ANC, as it speaks the language, the bread and butter issues of providing jobs, even land, building houses, and so forth. Something which the opposition parties have not yet mastered to woo the masses by speaking directly that grassroots language," Fikeni noted.
Meanwhile, critics of Pretoria's refusal to give the Dalai Lama a visa accused the government of caving in to pressure from China, an accusation the government sharply denies. Archbishop Tutu said it was an example of the moral degeneration in South Africa, which holds itself up as a model of democracy and human rights. Although the ruling ANC commands enormous respect for its long fight against white-minority rule, the party's critics say it has betrayed the struggle since coming to power in 1994.