Tag Archives: Jacob Zuma

A big election win for South Africa’s ANC, but results suggest future challenges

10 May

This piece was originally published on The Conversation at https://theconversation.com/a-big-election-win-for-south-africas-anc-but-results-suggest-future-challenges-26418

On the surface, 2014 appears to represent “business as usual” for the landscape of South Africa’s electoral politics. The African National Congress (ANC) has secured a fifth straight victory in the latest national election. The ANC polled 62.1% of the total valid votes cast. This represents only a slight fall of 3.8% from its overall performance in the previous poll in 2009.

Despite the good result for President Jacob Zuma’s ruling party, deeper analysis, combined with some interesting developments in recent months, suggests that in fact the ANC faces a number of future challenges.

Internal dissent

The ANC’s most recent victory has been achieved despite the deepening crisis of poverty, unemployment and inequality. Its election campaign, summed up in the slogan, “we have a good story to tell”, focused on its credentials as the party that overcame apartheid. There is an increasing tendency for the ANC to focus on past achievements to secure its contemporary legitimacy.

Nevertheless, a few significant figures within the ANC, including stalwart of the liberation struggle and former government minister Ronnie Kasrils, launched a “Vote No” campaign in the run-up to the election. Their dissatisfaction with the performance of the ANC in government led them to urge South Africans to either vote for one of the smaller parties or spoil their ballot paper by writing the message “no” on it.

The precise impact of this campaign is hard to measure. Only 1.4% of votes were spoilt (intentionally or otherwise) and the majority of smaller parties failed to secure even a single representative in the National Assembly. However, it is symptomatic of a rising tide of criticism of the ANC, reflected in both popular protest and discontent within parts of the labour movement.

Voter registration and turnout

Turnout of the electorate is one area that demonstrates the more partial nature of support for the ruling party. The official figure this year was 73.4%, down from 77.3% in 2009. However, this only represents the proportion of the 25.4 million South Africans who registered to vote in the first place.

Based on recent population data for mid-2013 it is estimated that the current voting age population is approximately 32.6 million. The 11.4 million votes for the ANC in the national ballot therefore only represents 35% of the voting age population. Moreover, registration levels are particularly low amongst younger voters. Only 60% of 20-somethings were registered, according to the Electoral Commission, compared to 90% of those over the age of 30. This disengagement from the electoral process may become even more of a challenge in the future.

Opposition parties are making inroads

The ANC’s support also varies on a regional basis. In 2009, its share of the vote fell in every single province except KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma’s home province.

This time the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), achieved a stronger showing nationally and has repeated its 2009 success as the leading party in the Western Cape. The DA has also made progress in Gauteng (South Africa’s most populous province), where the ANC’s share fell significantly from 64% in 2009 to 55% in 2014.

One noticeable result in 2014 has been the relatively strong showing (6.4% of the national vote) of the recently formed Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Led by former ANC Youth League leader, Julius Malema, their populist brand of black African nationalism, couched in left-wing rhetoric, has benefited from the continued absence of a more genuine left-wing alternative to the ANC. The EFF’s focus on the nationalisation of strategic sectors of the economy and land redistribution without compensation clearly has some resonance with sections of the poor black majority.

2009: room for a party of the left?

The ANC and DA are both committed to the broadly neoliberal, National Development Plan, as the solution to the deepening socio-economic crisis in the country. What are the prospects for a viable political alternative?

During recent months, tensions within South Africa’s largest trade union confederation, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), have reached breaking point. As a result, it is becoming clear that the potential formation of a left-wing political movement is on the horizon.

COSATU’s largest affiliated trade union, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), withdrew its electoral support for the ANC in December 2013. Since then it has begun the process of building a new political movement. The intention is to develop links beyond the organised working class by engaging with a number of the “new social movements” that have emerged since the late 1990s. Resistance in South Africa in the form of political protest has been on the rise and the very real challenge for NUMSA and others will be how to co-ordinate these actions, which at present remain localised and largely unconnected.

Predictions of the ANC’s imminent electoral decline made prior to the 2014 elections have proven to be wide of the mark. There are a number of reasons, however, to suggest that things may look very different when South Africa holds its next national poll in 2019.

Reflections on the Mandela Memorial Service

12 Dec

Tuesday 10th December 2013 saw the Memorial Service for Nelson Mandela held at the FNB stadium on the outskirts of Soweto. Rather unexpectedly, on my part at least, this became a more overtly political event than I was anticipating. Domestic South African politics was definitely not put on hold for the duration of the service. Most notably there were repeated choruses of loud boos aimed at current South African President, Jacob Zuma, from significant sections of the crowd. The biggest cheers seemed to be reserved for Barack Obama but interestingly, former South African President, Thabo Mbeki, was also well received. As a result the MC for the event and Deputy President of the African National Congress (ANC), Cyril Ramaphosa, repeatedly called for discipline from the crowd. Then towards the end of the service, when many had already left the stadium, Desmond Tutu showed his frustration at what he presumably thought was inappropriate behaviour for such an event. A news story in the South African press also suggests that the public broadcaster (SABC) was instructed to ‘cut away’ to try and hide the booing of Zuma.

So why did sections of the crowd react to Zuma in such a fashion? From watching on TV it was clear that some small elements of the crowd were clearly supporters of Julius Malema’s new political party (Economic Freedom Fighters). However, interviews with some members of the crowd broadcast on the BBC World Service suggest those booing came from a much wider constituency. Another report also suggested that sections of the crowd dressed in ANC colours joined in with the booing of Zuma.

So it seems the boos may have reflected a wider sense of disappointment with the performance of the current government and Zuma in particular. Some of the interviewees made direct reference to the accusations of corruption surrounding the upgrade to Zuma’s Nkandla homestead. South Africa’s Mail and Guardian recently published details of the core findings of the public protector’s provisional report on the so-called security upgrades to his home in KwaZulu-Natal, which suggests that the costs escalated from an original estimate of R27 million to R215 million. The provisional decision of the report is that Zuma will have to repay the state and face questions in parliament.

During the post-apartheid era, given that the ANC has been the main route to political power, much of the most significant debate has taken place within the party. In this sense, rifts within the ANC are nothing new. Bitter divisions led to the overthrow of Thabo Mbeki at the ANC’s National Conference in Polokwane in 2007. More recently branches of the ANC within the province of Gauteng (where the memorial service was held) failed in a bid to replace Zuma with Kgalema Motlanthe as ANC President at the Manguang Conference in December 2012.

A lively debate in South Africa has resulted as to whether the memorial service was an appropriate platform for citizens to display their feelings towards Zuma. The whole event clearly had a political agenda. I am sure it was no accident, given the recent focus of South Africa’s foreign policy, that the government gave the platform to the Presidents of Brazil and India and the Vice-President of China but not a single leader from Europe. This was not a funeral and given the frustrations of many, with the lack of socio-economic development and the increase in income inequality within South Africa since 1994, it is perfectly understandable.

How did Zuma respond? He delivered a rather dispassionate account of the familiar history of Mandela’s role in the struggle against apartheid. South African comedian, Trevor Noah, tweeted “did someone write this speech or is Zuma reading a Wikipedia page?”. There was precious little on the way forward for South Africa and in general it highlighted his significant limitations as a leader.

Does this all mean that the ANC will struggle to win the April 2014 election? In a word, no. However, there is clearly a rising tide of dissatisfaction within South Africa if levels of protest, as measured by police statistics, are a reliable indicator. South African academic, Peter Alexander, has called this the ‘rebellion of the poor‘ but what is interesting is that in an academic article published in 2010 he concluded that there was ‘no evidence that Zuma, or the ANC in general, were held responsible for people’s problems’ (Alexander 2010, p. 34)*. Maybe events on Tuesday suggest that the tide is beginning to turn. Nevertheless, an alternative ruling party remains a rather distant prospect.

* Alexander, P., 2010. Rebellion of the poor: South Africa’s service delivery protests – a preliminary analysis. Review of African Political Economy, 37 (123), 25-40.