Already, local and international media are awash with analyses that point in the direction of a possible erosion of the African Nation Congress’s dominance as the ruling party, and the realignment of political forces with the emergence of political actors like the Economic Freedom Fighters, Agang South Africa, the Workers and Socialist Party, and many others, including first-time voters (or the “born-frees”). Also of some concern are the cracks within the Tripartite Alliance among the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the ANC, and the SACP—a key player in the ruling coalition—and what this means for the future of South African democracy. What do these elections portend for the country in the face of domestic demands for solutions to problems of rising levels of poverty, violent crime, unemployment, inequality, corruption, and unequal access to basic services? How might these elections affect South Africa’s role within southern Africa? What implications will they have for the country’s relations with the rest of Africa, the West, and the emerging powers?
Our respondents are:
- Sithembile Mbete, Lecturer, Department of Political Sciences, University of Pretoria, South Africa
- Tim Murithi, Head of Programme, Justice and Reconciliation in Africa, Institute for Justice and Reconciliation; and Research Fellow, African Gender Institute, University of Cape Town, South Africa
- Sanusha Naidu, Research Associate, Department of Political Science, University of Pretoria, South Africa
- Anthoni van Nieuwkerk, Director, Centre for Defence and Security Management, University of Witwatersrand School of Governance; and Assistant Dean for Research in the Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa
- Godwin Onuoha, African Research Fellow, Democracy, Governance and Service Delivery (DGSD) program of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), Pretoria, South Africa
- Mzukisi Qobo, Deputy Director, Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation, University of Pretoria, South Africa
- Martin Rupiya, Executive Director, The African Public Policy & Research Institute (APPRI), Tswane/Pretoria, South Africa
- Elke Zuern, Professor of Politics, Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, New York, USA
Since they burst on the scene, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have captured the public’s imagination and visually transformed the political landscape. The red beret has become ubiquitous at political meetings, township funerals, and urban streets across South Africa. The political personality of leader Julius Malema has enabled the EFF to dominate the media and public discourse far more than would normally be expected for a party that has been around for less than a year.
Yet despite this triumph of form and imagery, the substance of the EFF’s politics remains unclear. A look at the party’s manifesto reveals many contradictions that point to the party’s impetus of being driven by populism more than anything else. The manifesto describes the EFF as a “socialist, Marxist-Leninist, Fanonian” organization that aims to address poverty, unemployment, and inequality by redistributing South Africa’s wealth—a class-based analysis of Marx that sits uncomfortably with the racial nationalism the EFF expounds. The party’s rhetoric is part radically socialist, part Black Nationalist, and part anti-colonial, with the emphasis tailored to any popular grievance or desire.
While ostensibly representing the aspirations of the working class and the poor, the party also claims to be concerned with the working conditions of black professionals like doctors, academics, lawyers, and engineers who face racial discrimination in the workplace. While this is commendable, the black middle class these professionals comprise makes up a part of the landowning class whose wealth the EFF wants to redistribute. Will they be exempt from nationalization?
Other reactive elements of the EFF’s policy are the proposed minimum wages for all sectors, which largely appear to have been randomly set (why should mineworkers’ minimum wage be R12,500 and that of construction workers only R7,000?); the reduction of the term for housing loans from twenty to ten years, with no consideration for what this would do to lending rates; and the proposed diplomatic isolation of Botswana because of its government’s hosting of the United States’ “imperialist” Africa Command Centre.
Since the categories of “liberal,” “social democratic,” and “socialist” generally have less currency with the electorate in South Africa’s post-apartheid politics than they do in other parts of the world, the EFF’s ideological ambiguity won’t necessarily cost it much in the election. But a party’s ideological position says much about the worldview on which its actions will be based, and, at this point, no one really knows what an EFF in power (or in opposition) would actually do.
As South Africa celebrates twenty years of democracy, it remains one of the most enduring success stories of a previously divided people embarking on peacebuilding and reconciliation processes. An increasingly significant number of black citizens have managed to enter the middle class, and the election mantra of the African National Congress (ANC) is that South Africa is “a better place to live.” Yet despite the world-class infrastructure and technological sophistication of the country’s urban regions, one need only engage with citizens in the low-income and rural areas to realize the national peacebuilding project is far from over. The apartheid system of social engineering and economic exploitation is proving resilient in the face of efforts to dismantle it; spatial apartheid is still a reality, and poverty, unemployment, and inequality for the majority of black citizens remain a festering wound left by apartheid’s master plan.
Despite the ANC’s failure so far to bring to fruition former president Nelson Mandela’s noble vision of a South Africa free of the vestiges of apartheid, loyalty to the party will almost guarantee it a governing majority in Parliament, albeit a reduced one. Disillusioned ANC members are leading an emergent “spoil-your-vote” campaign, encouraging their fellow party cadres to deface their ballots or vote for minority parties rather than hand the ruling party a blank check yet again. The ANC leadership is visibly worried about this movement and has vocally criticized its premise, arguing that the campaign constitutes a betrayal of the memories of the people who died so South Africans could have the vote.
In light of the widespread displeasure with the ANC and mounting criticism of endemic corruption, a number of analysts have raised the specter of electoral rigging so the party can achieve the two-thirds majority it needs to change the constitution to suit its own political agenda. Most South Africans do not believe, however, that the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has been corrupted to the point of being co-opted. Indeed, they had no reason to suspect the IEC of impropriety at all until this year, when its chairwoman, Pansy Tlakula, was found to have engaged in maladministration and financial irregularities in the renting of the IEC’s head offices in Centurion, Pretoria. Although the ANC has denied Tlakula’s position is compromised by the findings against her, the majority of opposition political parties, including the Democratic Alliance (DA), Congress of the People (COPE), Agang SA, and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), have called for her resignation, stating that the head of the IEC should be above reproach and her integrity unquestioned. In addition, a number of IEC staff have threatened to strike ahead of the elections, which could potentially throw the poll into a tailspin.
On May 7, 2014, South Africans will go to the polls to vote in the country’s fifth democratic national elections. The election is significant in two ways. First it marks the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s negotiated political transition and democratic dispensation. Second this will be the first time that the generation born after Mandela took office (or, “born frees”) will be voting, seemingly without the political baggage of the past. A key issue to underscore in South Africa’s upcoming election is that of the undecided voter. The level of apathy in the country has increased, driven by dissatisfaction with the government’s performance and the lack of a viable opposition party attractive to the electorate. While the ruling African National Congress (ANC) will undeniably remain in power, the real question is by what margin. Party voices are predicting a likely 62–64 percent of the vote going to the ANC, with some commentators even projecting higher figures.
The real challenge for political parties has been to capture the electorate’s imagination. Despite the ANC invoking its election slogan “a good story to tell” about its twenty years in power, the emergence of corruption scandals and reports of abuse of state resources have made voters cynical and unsure about whether the next five years will bring any meaningful change to their material circumstances of poverty, inequality, and unemployment.
Meanwhile, a growing section of the population represented by disaffected youth, including the “born frees”—also known as “Mandela’s generation”—has become restless and is looking toward populist parties. Economically vulnerable and feeling abandoned and marginalized from state benefits, this group of estranged voters is adding to the popularity of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), headed by the former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema.
Less popular is Mamphela Ramphele and her party Agang, which seems caught between a rock and a hard place. Following a botched attempt earlier this year to form a coalition with the official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), Agang has launched an offensive to make inroads in the electoral base. Unfortunately, the party has also undergone internal strife, with some of its top leadership resigning, and opinion polls indicate that, optimistically, it can expect to gain around one percent of the vote.
For its part, the DA has focused on strengthening its position as the official opposition by cutting into the ANC’s support from working class black voters, with limited success. At the same time, it is trying to retain control of the Western Cape, where the ANC and EFF have been drumming up support by highlighting the DA’s weaknesses. The key issue for the DA in the Western Cape is whether the party still enjoys the confidence and loyalty of the coloured voter.
Finally, cracks are rapidly developing in the Tripartite Alliance of the ANC, the Congress of South African Trade Unions—especially between the ANC and the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA), which formed its own political party—and the South African Communist Party. With a revival of a United Democratic Front-style civil society movement underway, backed by ANC cadres like Jay Naidoo, a realignment of power structures both within and outside of the ANC does seem imminent, especially in the run up to the 2019 national elections. Already there is talk that a second term for incumbent president Jacob Zuma will be more challenging than the first, as he is set to face internal challenges from factions within his party.
Anthoni van Nieuwkerk
Much is at stake in South Africa’s upcoming national elections. The country has lived through twenty years of democracy—a robust game where, despite enormous socioeconomic challenges, the country’s leaders and people have maintained a relative level of stability. Many argue, however, that Nelson Mandela’s legacy, built on the foundations of reconciliation and nonracial nationhood, is being eroded from within by factors familiar to those with experience of postcolonial rule: a liberation movement turned ruling party, overstaying its welcome by its relentless quest for absolute power and control; the tasteless consumer-driven behavior of an emerging nouveau riche; the corrosive and debilitating effects of corruption among state and private sector interests; and a seeming inability to address the core problems of poverty and growing inequality.This assessment may appear unfair to the supporters of the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), who highlight a track record of achievements following the break with apartheid. The South African government can assuredly claim a proud record in providing electricity, sanitation, water, schooling, and other related services that were unavailable under apartheid, along with establishing a social welfare safety net, without which the unemployed and the vulnerable would surely perish. And yet, doubt lingers with its failure to put South Africans to work, despite maintaining one of the continent’s biggest and most diversified economies.
In this context, what chance does the ANC have to maintain its formidable lead in South Africa’s dynamic, multiparty democracy? Perhaps its biggest weakness, apart from not making a visible dent in unemployment, is the behavior of its president and president of the country, Jacob Zuma, who is unfortunately scandal-prone. Few will forget the embarrassing court cases where he was charged with rape and countless corruption charges. This view of the man as influential—yet of dubious moral standing—is shared by a growing number of voters. Furthermore, the “struggle credentials” of an aging leadership generation have increasingly counted less as the electorate has grown younger.
These key dynamics are breathing new life into the fortunes of the two main political opposition groups: the seemingly reinvigorated Democratic Alliance (DA), which has put forward a clutch of young black leaders to attract the young, educated, and growing middle class, and a new, seemingly revolutionary, party—the Economic Freedom Front (EFF)—whose emergence has really shaken up the political landscape. Its leader, the charismatic Julius Malema—a former ANC (and Zuma) faithful that has fallen out with the party hierarchy because of his wild political and policy pronouncements and disrespect for seniority—has become an attractive option for the underclass, especially as he excels in making wild promises of jobs and land for all.
Several minor parties are also attempting to attract popular support: on the far left, a range of socialist-oriented micro-groupings (forever splitting ideological hairs and rather unattractive to the average voter), and on the right, an ethnic holdover from apartheid—one party claiming to represent white interests and, paradoxically, another party claiming to represent Zulu interests.
However, the real challenge for the opposition is to build a base of support across age and class, rural and urban, and, in the final analysis, offer a vision that can trump the standing of the ruling party, which, despite the weight of a leader judged unfit by many, has yet to see its fortunes wane. It is fairly easy to see the ruling ANC triumph, yet again, with about 60 percent of the popular vote, and the DA’s share growing modestly to about 20 percent. The remainder will be up for grabs by the likes of the EFF and other marginal parties.
As for what happens after the elections, a reading of the political dynamics suggests the ANC will once again exercise the right to appoint a government, headed by Zuma. This spells continuity, which means, for the short- to medium-term, policy predictability and investor confidence. It does not mean poverty or inequality will be addressed any faster or more effectively. Furthermore, the ANC’s inability to improve the lot of the workers or to shape policy agendas has resulted in a movement without vision: the country is witnessing the unedifying spectacle of a leadership at war with itself. If this trend continues it will impact on the fortunes of the ruling party in years to come and, in fact, if a more convincing, broad-based political party with left-wing credentials arises from this debacle, it will fundamentally reshape the political landscape.
South Africa will continue to experience mixed fortunes as a vibrant democracy underpinned by a sophisticated—yet skewed—economic base, led by an ambitious but inexperienced class of elites, unable to realize the country’s full potential. Inability to address its glaring shortcomings—principally the poverty gap—will result in a narrowing of South Africa’s continental and global footprint. Whatever the results of the elections, it is in the interest of all to see democratic consolidation in South Africa and have the government deliver on the ruling party’s once-promised “better life for all.”
Given the complexities of South Africa’s challenges, the African National Congress (ANC) cannot be elevated in isolation to a tool of analysis. The limitation of an ANC-centric analysis of electoral politics in South Africa is that it casts the country as an organization-driven enterprise, while leaving out the fact that the ANC was a product, and not a progenitor, of its particular historical epoch. The ANC underwent a transition from a liberation movement into a ruling party as the Cold War was winding down and as global capitalism—with its twin projects of “market making” and “democracy making”—was being transformed into a model for global governance. Inserted into this mixture, based on its “struggle credentials” and the provisions of the Freedom Charter, the party has since failed to deliver on its promises as it navigates the tensions and dynamics of the local and global environment.
Removing the ANC from the center of South Africa’s political narrative is not meant to exonerate it from culpability in the prevailing crisis of governance. Rather, it is meant to provide a better context for understanding the South African situation as one of “contradictions within struggles” common to every struggle. This notion is not a peculiarly South African phenomenon; it captures the critical issues of continuity and change inherent in failed transitions across the continent.
Today, though still poised for victory at the May 7 polls, the ANC goes into an election for the first time since 1994 with a serious moral deficit and a formidable challenge from the left in the form of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). But the opposition is also seriously limited; the EFF and the Democratic Alliance (DA) are largely incapable of attracting people who are not their “own,” a reflection of the historical problem in South African politics that ensures boundaries of political parties are structured along racial lines.
The choice in this election is really about how the country can best address the needs of its frustrated and economically disenfranchised citizens. The three prominent parties all advocate socioeconomic inclusion but are inspired by different visions. The ANC has done a bad job of finding the appropriate role for the state in the transformation of the post-apartheid economy. The DA on the far right advocates economic policies with very strong strains of neoliberalism while appearing to gloss over the recurring crisis of neoliberalism on the continent, and the EFF maintains strong leftist inclinations for wholesale nationalization of strategic sectors of the economy while remaining blissfully unaware of the failures of various nationalization exercises across it.
The question that emerges from all of this, beyond the ideological, partisan, and divisive tendencies currently at play, is what kind of state is needed to address the triple challenge of poverty, inequality, and unemployment confronting South Africa. That state can only be one that is developmental in the manner it manages and steers the economy in the direction of structural change; that adopts egalitarian policy positions that are socially and economically inclusive of all and sundry; and that is anchored in democratic principles and reflective of the will and aspirations of the people.
The upcoming general elections in South Africa not only marks two decades since the first democratic elections took place on April 27, 1994, but it will also be the first time the record of incumbent president Jacob Zuma is tested at the ballot box since he assumed the reins in May 2009 amid a cloud of corruption allegations associated with an arms procurement package. As was the case then, the 2014 elections will find the ruling African National Congress (ANC) facing a new electoral challenge, this time from a breakaway group representing the far left and a youthful political segment.
The three parties among whom the political contest is likely to be most competitive are the ANC, the Democratic Alliance (DA)—which historically draws its support from the white constituency—and the newly formed ANC breakaway group, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Although Parliament has been dominated by one party—the ANC—since 1994, political rivalries in the legislative body tend to be quite intense, with considerable polarization between the governing party and the largest opposition party, the DA.
The ANC’s roots lie in its role as a nationalist liberation movement that existed for the most part under banishment. It benefits a great deal from the sentimental attachment of the black majority to the liberation struggle and relies on mobilizing memory and historical symbolism to keep a firm grip on this constituency. Meanwhile, the EFF has crafted its political message around a radical program entailing the nationalization of land, banks, and mines, as well as promising large-scale industrialization of the economy, with the state playing a central role.
The political alternatives to the ANC are not regarded as broad or appealing enough to shift South Africa’s political ground away from its hegemony. The EFF’s agenda is seen as too narrow, and the youthfulness of its leadership betrays lack of depth and experience. The DA, on the other hand, has not successfully shed the image of a party beholden to white interests. The ANC exploits this perception to provoke fears about a return to apartheid under a DA government.
Since Zuma took over as ANC leader in 2007, and then as president of the country two years later, the party has been under severe pressure largely emanating from political scandals associated with him. Furthermore, various constituencies that are clamoring for change in economic policy are making a number of political demands. Corruption, unemployment, and dissatisfaction with public service delivery are some of the Achilles’ heels of the ANC government.
Over the last four general elections, the ANC has managed to attain at least 65 percent of the electorate’s support. In two of the four, it enjoyed a two-thirds majority. Those days are now gone. If estimations of the ANC are true, its stature has gradually declined in the eyes of the majority. Although the ruling party is likely to return to power given the deep sentimental attachment that the majority of black South Africans have towards it, many expect it to obtain no more than 58 to 60 percent of the vote, compared to a 65.9 percent win in 2009. The DA will likely harvest 23 percent in support, up from 16.7 percent in 2009, and the debutante, the EFF, could win between 5 and 6.5 percent.
The scheduled general elections in South Africa appear to have become particularly divisive, polarized, and pregnant with an impending implosion of the competing parties. The main parties, the African National Congress (ANC) and the Democratic Alliance (DA), as well as the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), each has had to deal with serious splinter movements. Key to the political contentiousness is a perception, created in the media, that incumbent president Jacob Zuma is unfit to govern and, therefore, by extension, so is the ruling ANC. While the strategy behind creating this perception is clearly to unseat the ANC from power, a secondary objective has emerged: to reduce its two-thirds majority drastically if the first scenario is not possible.
Meanwhile, underlying the political dynamics is an almost suicidal embrace in the economic arena between the mineworkers and mine owners, with the latter threatening to cut their losses and close several mines—a move that would further undermine the “good story” the ANC has been able to tell so far about its time in power. Business is close behind the mine owners, who are not willing to turn a trillion rand in cash (equivalent to about USD$30 billion) into investments until government policies are clear and favorable.
Foreign interests are also at play. South Africa’s independence from apartheid was the result of a protracted struggle in which the international community (through the United Nations) played an important role. So did the rest of Africa, and particularly southern Africa, which exerted selfless efforts through the Front Line States (FLS). The Pan Africanists are, therefore, intensely interested in the outcome of the upcoming elections.
Also notable from an international perspective is the investment of the ANC-led government, through its Africa Renaissance initiative, in the wider African peace and security dividend, with its presence at the African Union and its significant contributions to various peacekeeping missions. South African forces have been part of the Intervention Brigade in Darfur, South Sudan, the Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, and Eastern Congo, as well as participants in the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) generally. Only one party’s manifesto has remarked on the importance of continuing with this foreign policy expedition, however.
It is clear, then, that the issues at stake going into the South African elections this May reflect political, socioeconomic, security, and African interests. In particular, the legitimate interests and concerns of South Africa’s neighbors and the continent as a whole, which normally get “drowned” in the noise created among domestic constituencies, need to be given greater consideration.
On April 13, 2011, Andries Tatane, an unarmed protester, was killed by police in front of the Setsoto municipal offices in Ficksburg, South Africa. Tatane and others in the Meqheleng Concerned Citizens (MCC) group had delivered a memorandum to the municipality demanding improvements to service delivery and local governance, including increased transparency and an end to nepotism and corruption. Tatane, who had attempted to stop police from using a water cannon against an older man, was beaten by the officers and then shot at close range. He died on the scene.
While the death of civilians at the hands of police is, unfortunately, not a rare occurrence in South Africa, Tatane’s killing was captured on video and played on prime time national television. His death shocked the nation. Politicians, civil society activists, and political commentators called for a range of reforms. Three years later, on the eve of national and provincial elections, the question is, what has changed in Setsoto?
Despite lower voter turnout, local elections held a month after Tatane’s killing did not challenge the dominance of the ruling party, the African National Congress (although the party reassigned Ficksburg’s mayor, who had expected to continue in his post). Today, as the ANC and opposition parties once again prepare for elections, the central themes of the campaign echo the MCC’s demands: improved service delivery, better governance, and more jobs. According to the 2011 census, unemployment in Setsoto was almost 36 percent, significantly higher than the national average. The municipality has also seen an absolute decline in population, due in good part to the lack of job opportunities.
The ANC is campaigning on the promise of a “democratic developmental state.” While the water supply has improved in Setsoto, most areas, particularly poorer ones, still experience cutoffs. And while social grants—which are crucial for the survival of poor households, including pensions, disability, and child support— are means-based, other benefits are distributed according to less universal criteria. Ward committee members, who receive small stipends, are appointed by ward councilors, all of whom, except a lone Democratic Alliance (DA) member, are ANC. Beneficiaries of the Expanded Public Works Programme, which provides temporary work to the unemployed, are likewise identified by councilors. One of the largest employers in Setsoto is the ANC-controlled municipality itself. In the aftermath of Tatane’s death, a number of MCC activists were given jobs. Consequently, in Setsoto, the state increasingly looks like a patronage machine.
Furthermore, although state spending—crucial for economic development and the survival of the poor—has grown in Setsoto, key governance challenges remain to be addressed; these include improving transparency and reducing corruption. The two leading opposition parties, the DA and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), respectively call for “change” and “economic freedom.” Both ideas appeal to many residents. It is the ANC, however, that controls government in an area with limited private sector employment and extensive poverty. It also controls provincial and national government, to which municipal government must appeal for funding to bridge significant local budgetary shortfalls. The rational choice for many voters may be to support the party in power with the hope that it is the best way to get resources to their communities through well-connected family members.