Johannesburg – The ANC bagged three times as many votes as
its nearest rival in South Africa's recent general election, but 2014 may be
remembered as the dawn of multi-party politics in the "Rainbow
In the end, when the rhetoric fell silent and the final
votes were tallied, it wasn't even close.
Despite talk of a landmark election that would see a
collapse in support for the ANC, the party freely and fairly walked away with
the sort of result normally reserved for election-rigging dictatorships.
With all the votes counted on Saturday, the ANC won almost
11.5 million of a total 18.5 million votes cast. See the ANC's 2014 Election Results Map.
Fewer votes for ANC
But while the ANC's numerical citadel still stands tall, its
ramparts have been breached.
The party actually attracted fewer voters than the previous
elections despite a population increase, hinting that its well-oiled and
well-funded electoral machine may be struggling to energise its political base.
The ANC's share of the vote has now dropped around 11% in a
"The victory for the ANC has come despite, rather than
because of, the performance of the economy over the past five years," said
Shilan Shah of Capital Economics.
"Economic growth is unlikely to exceed two-to-three
percent in both the near and medium term... this will raise doubts over the
ANC's ability to retain its majority beyond 2019."
Worse still for the storied anti-apartheid party: while it
sheers votes, its nearest rival the Democratic Alliance is rapidly gaining
A proven perennial
In a country where opposition parties seem almost seasonal -
blossoming, and briefly basking in the sun before falling dormant - the
Democratic Alliance's survival is a feat in itself. See the DA's Election Results Map.
But at this election the DA has proved itself to be a
From an also-ran in 1994, the party has gradually increased
its share of the vote nationally and since 2009 has controlled the Western Cape.
This time round it replaced a potpourri of parties to become
the official opposition in seven of the eight other provinces and saw its
support jump 30% to break the symbolic four million mark.
Only in rural Limpopo was it pipped to the post by the
populist message of Julius Malema's Economic Freedom Fighters.
More significantly for a party that has battled against
allegations of being too elitist and too white, it is rapidly gaining black
"The DA grew in this election by 1.1 million votes of
which 700 000 came from black South Africans," the party claimed.
"Twenty percent of our votes in this election were cast
by black South Africans," said leader Helen Zille.
"We're on track to achieve our mission of realigning
politics and unseating the ANC nationally within a decade."
Major inroads were made in urban areas, including
Johannesburg, where the party won 30% of the vote, teeing up a competitive
local election race in 2016.
But the party remains on the wrong side of all of the
important demographics that could win it an election.
'No real alternative'
Two decades after the advent of democracy, South Africa
remains mostly black, mostly poor and mostly rural.
The DA remains mostly white, mostly rich and mostly urban,
as embodied in party leader Helen Zille.
As if to underscore the DA's demographic problems, barely 24
hours after the votes were in, its most prominent black leader Lindiwe Mazibuko
Tipped as a future party leader, Mazibuko had led the DA in Parliament.
She decided that her time would be better spent at Harvard University.
And the DA's support in rural areas remains minimal - one
reason the ANC was able to keep such a high score according to Nomura bank
analyst Peter Attard Montalto.
"ANC support appears to have been sticky thanks to no
real alternative and a strong rural voting bloc," he told clients in a
So while South Africa is becoming more multi-party, a
complete realignment - with politics dominated by policy rather than race - may
have to wait.
There are already mumblings about a leftist party emerging
from South Africa's powerful trade unions and the ANC's broad tent politics
raises questions about whether they can keep everyone inside.
"The ANC will either face a labour party which could
really challenge it or it could face another split within its ranks in which
case it may have a much more competitive election next time," said
political commentator Steven Friedman.
- Election Maps.