Venezuela: Lessons for South Africa

Venezuela: Lessons for South Africa

Selby Nomnganga

Hugo Chavez’s chosen successor Nicolas Maduro, has scraped through with a lead of 240,000 votes against the opposition of Henrique Capriles. Maduro is to lead the Venezuelan state in continuing the program of social reforms known as the Bolivarian Missions, where the state after nationalising the oil company, used that revenue for the betterment of the poorest sectors of society. Health care, housing and education are made available through the Missions.
The opposition has cried foul, claiming about three thousand instances of fraud. So far protests have led to the deaths of nine people. Within a democratic system, voting is one way to decide an impasse. In this case the elections were as a result of the constitutional prescripts to elect a successor after the passing of Chavez. Once you count the votes and the other person has one or more votes than you, you have lost! The opposition in Venezuela have lost the election by more than one vote.

It is an opposition that is determined to reverse the gains that the Missions provide to the poor of Venezuela. They want to wrest back the proceeds from oil into private companies. It is this opposition that lost an election in 2002 and orchestrated an unsuccessful coup to remove Chavez and his socialists from government.

The friends and backers of the Capriles should tell him that George W. Bush stole the elections in the United States in 2000 and it was accepted. No one died in the streets as a result. From my experience of elections at local or national level in South Africa there is always an element of irregularity: intimidation, misrepresentation, bribery, fraud and lies.

A democratic system must provide peaceful avenues for people to settle disputes. It is for this reason that it is unacceptable that when Uhuru Kenyatta lost the election in Kenya in 2007, violence broke out and many lives were lost. In Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe of Zanu-PF stole an election he lost to Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change.

In South Africa this should be a major concern given that the governing ANC government and the leadership elite within it, use their positions to accumulate wealth for private gain. There are countless cases like the 40% vehicle discount that Tony Yengeni received and ended with him being found guilty of corruption. There are many more cases in front of the courts. The scary part is that already within the ANC, there are political assassinations attributed to the fight for power in the organisation and by extension the public purse. Abahlali Basemjondolo in Kwazulu-Natal has demonstrated how the local ANC is hell bent on silencing the civic voices that intend to keep local government accountable. The documentary Dear Mandela, which captures the struggle for housing and lays bare the period we are in.

Keeping the local government accountable and transparent on how public funds are spent, mis- and under-spent requires a national movement that can provide linkages and share experiences and offer solidarity so that activists are not isolated within their own localities.

According to Tariq Ali who knew Chavez, the elite in Venezuela is laden with racism that regarded Chavez as “… uncouth and uncivilised, a zambo of mixed African and indigenous blood….” And his supporters were portrayed as monkeys on private TV networks.

Maduro and the Socialist party in Venezuela have lost votes compared to the presidential election of 6 October 2012, where the opposition was beaten by 11%. Some attribute the loss of votes to the absence of the charming personality of Hugo Chavez and the rising crime levels, unfinished projects and the recession that the economy is going through. Some of the problems are identified as the parallel black market exchange rate which is four times more than the official rate. The falling price of oil which is 94% of exports earnings and constitutes about 50% of revenue is not helping either. Inflation is estimated to be 28.7%.

We can take comfort when Tariq Ali explains that for the Chavistas “…true democracy is a process, a way of conducting oneself in relation to others. It is not just a periodical duty to put a tick by a name.” The comfort is that the Chavistas will fight for the investment of the riches of their country to improve the living conditions of the poor and undermine inequality. There is some comfort that social movements will fight against the looting of the public purse that is done through price fixing, fronting and waste of resources by political elites in alliance with private business in South Africa of today.