Encouraging as this should be to Ramaphosa, what happened in Zuma’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) should give him pause for thought. In KZN, the ANC’s support dropped a full 10% from 64% to 54%, suggesting considerable disgruntlement among the party’s rank-and-file there at how the province’s first national president, who’s ability to play the victim is almost unparalleled, has been treated. 90 year-old Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) picked up most of the ANC’s lost votes, and is now the official opposition in KZN, replacing the DA. The other big winner in the province was the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), whose share of the vote leapt from 1.85% in 2014 to 9.7% this year.
The DA, which is today a broadly liberal democratic party but with some surprisingly Thatcherite tendencies, had a poor election. 2019 was the first time in over twenty years that the DA has polled fewer votes than in the previous one, which has been an uncomfortable experience for a party grown accustomed to the pleasures of continuous growth in support each time round. Several hundred thousand predominantly white voters deserted the DA this year, with many of them opting instead for the openly pro-Afrikaner Freedom Front Plus (FF+), which had its best election since 1994. While some of the white voters who left the DA were made up for by new Black supporters, it was not enough and the DA ended up with 3.6 million votes, down from over 4 million in 2014. The party will now have to decide whether to try to win back its lost white voters and risk alienating Black ones in the process, or else to continue on its declared journey towards becoming a more social democratic type party “for all South Africans”. Party leader Mmusi Maimane is already under pressure from his unhappy conservative rank-and-file, but criticism is also being levelled at others, including the former Nelson Mandela Bay mayor Athol Trollip and the former Western Cape premier Helen Zille, who have at times essentially blamed South African voters for not voting DA and sticking with the ANC instead.
The centre is holding
The EFF’s vote increased 3.5% in 2019 compared to 2014, bringing the party’s share to 10.8% of the total. 1.8m people, 700,000 more than last time, this year voted for a party whose leader Julius Malema has openly attacked ethnic minority groups and promises at rallies that “if we cannot be at the table, we will destroy the table”. The EFF wants all land, including urban land, to be nationalised and then parcelled out by government-appointed land commissars, and has also promised to double social grants, increase everyone’s salaries, and improve state health care, all to be paid for, apparently, simply by “eliminating” provinces and cutting down on waste. Many of the EFF’s supporters are first-time voters (the party has a strong following on university campuses) and others have come from the ANC, disillusioned, it seems, both by the corruption and self-serving that has beset the ruling party and by the time it is taking to realise the dreams Black people nurtured during apartheid of future emancipation and prosperity.
In that way, the ANC’s loss of support to the EFF mirrors that of the DA’s to the FF+, with disaffected voters in both cases peeling away from the centre to the extreme. But, importantly, the centre is holding. Between them this time, twenty-five years into democracy in South Africa, the two centre parties won 78% of the vote, markedly down from the 84% the two achieved in 2014 but still pretty high nonetheless.