South Africa’s fifth national democratic election has come and gone, and many familiar faces will disappear off the scene forever. New ones have appeared, others will return in new guises. Here are the big winners and losers of Election 2014.
The African National Congress
South Africa’s ruling party is a winner not because the election went well, but because it didn’t go as badly as it often appeared it would. It is hard to believe now that some ‘polls’ and predictions had the ANC declining to 53% of the national vote, from 2009’s 66%. A 13 percentage point tumble was always unlikely, but given its many problems heading into the elections it was not implausible that the ANC could be pushed below the 60% mark.
Why 60 in particular, and what would it have mattered if the ANC had fallen below that arbitrary mark? One of the most obvious features of South African politics since 1994 is the overwhelming dominance of the ANC and its alliance. The party’s hegemony, while reaching almost everywhere into our society, is most demonstrable in its successive emphatic electoral victories. The ANC has governed every one of the nine provinces at one point or another and has never polled below 62% of the national vote, gaining that percentage in 1994, peaking at 70% in 2004, and even getting 66% in 2009 when the party was supposed to have a ‘Zuma problem’. The 60-mark had come to take on a symbolic significance, a sign of whether it was possible to break the stranglehold of the ANC on South Africa’s electoral politics, even in the medium term if not immediately.
So nothing would have changed if the ANC had won 58 percent of the vote, but the party of Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo would have looked less unassailable than before, its political authority would have been seen to be slipping, whether or not it actually was in reality. Because perception is as important in politics as reality, the ANC has bought itself another five years of breathing space.
So, if falling below 60 would have been a sign of slippage, does limping above it signal the opposite? Is the ruling party in rude health? No, what the ANC has won is not a ringing endorsement of its present trajectory, but another opportunity to right itself. The ruling party still lost some 300 000 voters compared to 2009 (which was already a decline on 2004). What has saved face for Luthuli House is that a lower voter turn out this year muted the effect of losing over a quarter million votes.
But increasingly the ANC’s impressive results are a chimera. Falling democratic participation levels mask the extent of the party’s increasing legitimacy problem for now, but may pose insurmountable challenges in future: the 2014 voter turn-out was 73 percent, down from 77 percent five years ago. That’s bad enough, but nowhere near the full story. There were over 25 million registered voters this year, and 18, 6 million came out to vote. In other words, nearly seven million didn’t bother. Going further, the 25 million registered are only part of the voting age population of 35 million; another 10 million haven’t even taken that initial step. 11, 4 million of 35 million potential voters isn’t as impressive as ’11, 4 out of 18, 6′. Only half of people who qualify cast a vote on May 7, and the ANC has the active consent of only 33 percent of adult South Africans.
Don’t get me wrong, ordinarily there’s nothing wrong with that. Across the world, the governments of democratic nations are chosen by shockingly small percentages of the adult population. That reality, however, should provide no comfort at Luthuli House. Participation levels in South Africa are declining as a result of disillusionment with democracy, and those opting out are more likely to be potential ANC voters than anyone else.
In its moments of self-reflection after this election, the question the ANC should be asking itself is this: what happens when those who have given up on us and our promises, those who are shocked by our moral and ethical lapses, the poor who are angered by our coziness with money, and our cowardly subservience to destructive orthodoxies, when those alienated by our abandonment of the values-based leadership of Tambo and Mandela, disillusioned from the notion that we are capable of being for anything but ourselves; what happens when all these decide not to stay away, but turn up at the polls?
He was right you know. The majority of ANC voters didn’t actually care about Nkandla, at least not enough to abandon their party at the polls. Those who thought the issue important enough to alter their voting behaviour, stayed away from the polling booth rather than switch support.
The challenge for Zuma is to ensure the next term isn’t as scandal-ridden as the last, because it’s unlikely the ANC will beat the 60 percent challenge in 2019 if his second term looks anything like his first. Presumably, Zuma won’t want to go down as the president who eroded the ANC’s still enormous appeal.
The Democratic Alliance
Let me be the first to congratulate the official opposition party. Strike that, let me be the second, as I’m sure I was beaten to it by the orgy of self congratulation that the DA has unleashed on itself.
Four million voters turned out for the DA in 2009, up a million from the last time. They consolidated their control of the Western Cape, became the official opposition in four more provinces, and made a strong showing in Gauteng (even if it wasn’t quite the fight they promised us). The DA was the biggest profiteer from the demise of other parties, a trend that has been established over the last few election cycles. Still a bit of a way from truly challenging the ANC, the DA is nonetheless now established as the second party in SA politics. Their success in opposing the ANC may now provide a template for others, others who may have a better chance than the DA of actually replacing the ANC in government one day.
Which then brings us to the challenge for the DA going forward. Is the party capable of breaking out of the constraints of opposition, and project itself as an alternative government rather than an alliance of the gatvol? The latter stance represents a cul de sac for the party; the former is a huge historical challenge, but one that will need to be faced if the party is to have a future beyond the opposition benches.
The answer to the above question will depend on what the party does in the 2014-2019 term. The question may be split in two: on the one hand is the future of a number of major DA characters, on the other is the age old conundrum of whether the party can break through its racial glass ceiling and appeal to black African voters.
Helen Zille will continue as Premier of the Western Cape, the leader and custodian of what the DA sees as the model of governance for the rest of the country. But what happens to her in the party? She is expected to step down, either at the party’s next elective congress in 2015 or in two years later. Where does the party go from there? The pair of black potentials who’ve risen through the ranks through her patronage are hardly convincing. Lindiwe Mazibuko’s stint as the party’s parliamentary leader hasn’t been a stellar success, and her manner has alienated many in the party’s caucus. Moreover, the Mazibuko/Zille relationship isn’t what it used to be, and the DA’s black Cinderella has been usurped by the rather limited Mmusi Maimane, the party’s Gauteng ‘premier candidate’, as the heir apparent (more on him later). Patricia de Lille has disappeared from view, and her national profile seems to have taken a knock from her tenure as mayor of Cape Town. Which leaves Athol Trollip, the party’s popular Eastern Cape leader who lost out to Zille in 2007. He is, despite his fluent Xhosa and his popularity in the Eastern Cape, a white male; which brings us to the party’s race problem.
The DA still has a serious problem in speaking to black African voters. This is especially the case among poor and working class urban communities. For their part, rural blacks are barely aware of its existence. More worrying is that even among middle class blacks, who are more likely to be persuaded away from the ANC, the DA isn’t pulling up any trees. The problem is that the party often finds itself on the opposite end of that class’s material interests, whether on affirmative action and BEE, or employment statistics that depict the Western Cape as hostile territory for black African professionals.
According to the party’s own numbers, some 760 000 black Africans voted DA on Wednesday. These numbers are based on extrapolations from votes received in districts that are in majority black residential areas according to census figures. With up to 10 percent of voters casting their ballots outside their ‘home’ polling stations on Wednesday, this is of course not a perfect science. The true figure is unlikely to be much higher, or lower to be fair, than the DA estimate. Now here’s how the DA is interpreting the figures: as a party we continue to grow our support among the majority population, from a 0, 8 percent share in 2009 to just under 6 percent today. That’s a six-fold increase in one electoral cycle, and 20 percent of all people who voted DA were black Africans. There’s another way of looking at the numbers. There were nearly 15 million black African participants in Wednesday’s poll, out of a total of 18, 6 million. The DA, which is the official opposition, has just over 5 percent support in the majority population of the country. Unless an implausible six-fold increase happens again at the next election, it won’t be possible to take the party seriously as an alternative government for a while.
Whoever becomes the next leader, for the DA to break beyond 22 percent they’ll need more black voters. For that to happen, both the message and the delivery will need to change.
The African Independent Congress
If you’ve never heard of these chaps, don’t despair. Nobody outside of Matatiele has. But they did get nearly 100 000 votes, giving them at least two seats in the next parliament. That’s 50 000 votes more than Mamphela Ramphele, who attracted huge media attention and millions of donor dollars to her ill-fated ego project.
The AIC is a single-issue Eastern Cape-based party that was formed to protest against the incorporation of Matatiele into that province from KZN. The irony of that genesis is that they contested and won a seat in the Eastern Cape legislature in 2009. They now have two seats in Cape Town to push the issue. Since two MPs won’t be enough to force through the re-demarcation of Matatiele, one hopes that legislating for the rest of the country will do as a consolation prize.
The General in his Labyrinth
Parties much older than Bantu Holomisa’s UDM have disappeared in this election. We will likely never again hear of the party founded by Robert Sobukwe, nor any of those founded on the legacy of Steve Biko. And yet there is the Bantustan general, seemingly effortlessly surviving the decimation of small parties happening around him. The UDM will retain its four parliamentary seats, and for five years Holomisa will continue to rail against corruption in a gruff, deadpan Transkei accent.
Holomisa didn’t have the money and lavish media attention of enjoyed by the EFF and non-starters such as Agang, so his escape of 2014’s massacre of the small should not be underestimated.
The chairperson of the IEC survived a late court challenge to force her to step down ahead of May 7, and went on to deliver a reasonably satisfactory election, though not necessarily the smoothest we’ve seen. It was always a long shot to link Tlakula’s personal difficulties with the Public Protector and a private auditors’ report with the IEC’s ability to deliver a free and credible election, and the court had no just cause to force her out.
Moreover, citing Tlakula’s personal relationship with a mid level ANC leader to cast aspersions on her ability to do her job was a low blow. Her detractors wouldn’t have dared try that trick if she was a man.
The Independent Electoral Commission
The 2014 election wasn’t perfect, as the IEC would be first to acknowledge. But it was free and fair, peaceful, credible, conducted in a transparent way, and resulted in a demonstration of the will of those who participated. There remain two challenges that the IEC should address in future polls: the hitches experienced in the large metropolitan areas, particularly in the townships, must be ironed out. Townships have large population concentrations and limited infrastructure. It’s not acceptable for the IEC to be caught unawares by a large turnout in these areas. Who knows how many people are ultimately disenfranchised because they simply go home after waiting two hours in a queue at a voting station that’s run out of ballots?
Secondly, the strange new phenomenon of ‘mislaid’ ballots discovered on the streets must be stopped. The votes from these ballots had all been counted and didn’t affect the outcome, but anything that remotely undermines confidence in the process is a problem.
The Economic Freedom Fighters
Well then. It didn’t take long for the EFF to offer a glimpse into what the real point of their party is. Like Cope before it, the EFF is little more than a lobby group, a faction in an increasingly factionalised ANC. Commander-in-Chief and Fuhrer Julius Malema publicly celebrated his new party’s success on Saturday (and graciously ‘accepted’ that his party had lost in Gauteng) by pointing out that his party’s parliamentary numbers would be enough to give the ANC a two thirds majority. So the process to squeeze concessions out of the ANC begins in earnest (Malema’s re-integration, an NEC seat, disappearing criminal charges, free reign on the Limpopo tender trough and what have you).
And for my next magic trick, I will attempt to lead a parliamentary caucus from a prison cell.
1.2 million EFF voters
In his HBO stand up special Never Scared, comedian Chris Rock mocks the rise of David Copperfield thus: “Are we so starved of entertainment that we’ve now fallen for a trick-less magician?”
A similar inquiry must be made of over one million people who took a ballot paper, deliberately looked for the face of Julius Malema, and put a cross next to it. Were you on medication at the time?
Yes, the ANC is in a profound state of disgrace, let’s not sugarcoat it. Marginalized communities are disillusioned and looking for answers. But what kind of screwed up question are you asking yourself if the answer you’re coming up with is Julius Malema?
The combined opposition
How does the ANC win a majority of votes in places like the North West province and Bekkersdal? 34 dead at the hands of the state in Marikana. Nomvula Mokonyane went to Bekkersdal and told the entire community to f**k off with their dirty votes. How do they not lose there? When Khutshong burned in 2006, the entire community boycotted that year’s municipal elections rather than switch support. It is an incredible indictment that South Africa’s townships would rather disenfranchise themselves than support alternatives to the ANC. The opposition needs to sort itself out.
The ego has crash landed. What an unmitigated disaster that was. On Thursday night, as the full extent of Ramphele’s humiliation was clear and the ridicule got under way, her media people sent out messages to journalists asking them to be ‘gracious’ in their critiques. One wishes they’d had the courage to deliver that same message to their own leader. With a little grace, and a lot of humility, we could all have been spared the spectacle of Mamphela Ramphele’s political ego trip.
The Gauteng ANC
From 63 percent in 2009 to 53 percent this time. That’s the kind of drop the opposition wanted to see on the national stage. It’s an indictment of the Gauteng ANC that they were able to inflict that sort of damage only in their province. What, you can’t do well with Zuma at the head of the party? The Eastern Cape didn’t seem to have that problem. Nor did North West, where police killed miners less than two years ago. Or Mpumalanga, or Limpopo, or…you get the point. Sure, it’s much easier to organize people to boo Zuma at public appearances than it is to build party organization, but it’s a lot less useful in the end. The Gauteng ANC leadership has completely weakened itself with the 2014 results. Talk about cutting your nose to spite your face.
The Autumn of the Patriarch
At the IFP’s 2004 ‘elective’ conference, the buzz from the journalists and delegates on the floor was about if party founder and leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi would step aside for a younger leader to take the party forward. And if not then, when? Ten years later, that’s still pretty much the question around the IFP, only now it’s a much smaller party asking itself these questions. It’s now hard to believe that the IFP was actually the governing party in KwaZulu-Natal in 1994, the official opposition in 2004, and now an inconsequential third party in 2014. Perhaps when the last voter abandons the IFP in 2024, we might see a leadership change.
The ANC in Nelson Mandela Bay Metro
ANC – 49, DA – 40. Too close. And if you live in this metro, not at all surprising. But before the DA gets too excited about Election 2016, let’s recall that these numbers are similar to what we saw in 2009. Back then the DA wanked itself silly about the possibility of a Cope/DA coalition ousting the disastrous ANC. In 2011, the ruling party limped over the line, just. It really would be a shame if the same script played out again this time around.
Lekota and Cope
Having to eat a hat is the least of Mosiuoa Lekota’s problems. For one thing, there’s gonna have to be some rearranging of the furniture in Cope’s caucus meeting room. In fact, they’ll probably have to move altogether. Three MPs don’t need as much space as 30.
Little Obama is fast running out of ANC no-marks to lose elections to.
Ronnie Kasrils and the ‘Vote No’ crowd
18.6 million votes, only 252 000 spoilt. A similar percentage of spoilt votes (1.3%) to every election we’ve had since 1994. Moreover, the small parties that should have been the main beneficiaries of the campaign’s call for tactical voting all sank without a trace. Safe to say that didn’t work.
Soldier of misfortune
Neither winning nor losing, but profiting nicely from the demise of others. Or simply managing to dodge bullets, like this fella:
Remember him? Some battles are good to lose. As he watched the IEC leader board from wherever he was on Thursday night, he must have been mighty glad he wasn’t there for that.
A winner despite the Gauteng ANC’s bad showing last Wednesday. In fact, Mokonyane is perversely a winner because of it. Because of Gauteng’s nearly fatal miscalculation, Mokonyane will keep the premiership. The crowd that threw away the election is made up of Mokonyane’s sworn enemies, and they have put more energy into ousting her than they did into building the organisation’s structures in the province. With that crowd having done a good job of self-castration, Luthuli House is in a position to dictate to Gauteng. Zuma will now impose Mokonyane, his preferred premier, without fear of any effective resistance or comeback from Walter Sisal House.
The EFF, again
While the 2014 EFF phenomenon is similar in many ways to the 2009 Cope phenomenon, it would be wrong to think that the same people who gave the latter party 7, 5 percent of the vote last time are the same people who voted for Malema’s crowd. But what the success enjoyed by both parties in the their debut polls proves is that there exists a permanent pool of disaffected ANC voters who stand ready to back the party’s splinters to send a message to the ANC. It seems SA is developing a healthy three party system, with the parties being: ANC, DA, Latest ANC Breakaway. In 2014-19, the EFF is it.
The DA, again
The DA’s inability to build an alternative majority, and the reasons for it, are set out above and don’t bear repeating. However, what the party has been able to do since its formation in 2000, is to mop up the rest. SA’s multi-party democracy is becoming slightly less ‘multi’ with every passing election, and the chief beneficiary is the DA.