On the 7th of May, 18 654 457 South Africans went to exercise their vote in the country’s fifth national and provincial democratic elections. The elections were declared “free and fair” and the IEC once again proved itself capable of delivering a credible, efficient election: the increasing number of incidents of irregularity notwithstanding.
There had been speculation that disillusion, apathy and uncertainty would produce a low voter turnout in these elections. More than 6 million did not go and vote. But, the turnout was still impressive as 73% of registered voters went to make their mark to determine which political party should govern.
In the run up to the elections there were two different narratives of South Africa’s 20 years of democracy. An ANC narrative focused on highlighting its achievements in delivering access to basic services and education and creating a better life for all. In contrast a narrative of a country descending into the feared spectre of the failed African state - corruption, high unemployment, lack of services, incapable government, patronage politics and conflation of state and party - emanated from opposition parties.
Within the ANC, the signs of splintering became increasingly evident with some comrades publically raising their concerns. This reached a crescendo with the vote-no campaign led by former Cabinet minister Ronnie Kasrils and former deputy minister, Nozizwe Madala-Routledge. There was therefore a degree of doubt – of both the outcome of the election and South Africa’s future - as we headed to the polls.
The DA believed it could capitalise on the discontent and attract a substantial vote from black South Africans to become a “blue Tsunami”. Two newcomers caused a stir in the political party arena, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) campaigning for expropriation of land and nationalisation of the mines in order to redistribute wealth in South Africa, and Agang SA who dreamt of “building a winning South Africa”.
The IPSOS/Markinor survey of April 2014 predicted the election outcome, but all parties hoped for different results. The election results near mirrored the survey with the ANC at 62.15%, DA at 22.23% and the EFF at 6.35%.
South Africans have spoken! “Democracy is alive and well” we are told. But, who is saying what? What do the results reflect about the state of our democracy?
Citizens have given the ANC another mandate to return to the Union Buildings. This is the party the majority still trusts to deliver on the promise of a non-racial, non-sexist and equal South Africa. The vote-no campaign had no impact. However, this trust is declining, with the ANC losing 4% with each successive election. Its loss of support has been the greatest in Gauteng – the heart of South Africa socially, politically and economically. Here the ANC has seen a drop in support from 64.80% in 2009 to 53.63% in 2014, a decline of 11.17%.
The ANC also registered significant decline in Limpopo (6%) and the North West (6%) – two provinces in which the EFF made inroads, becoming the official opposition with 10.74% and 13.21% respectively. These are also the areas with the lowest voter turnout in South Africa, Limpopo with 60.72% and North West with 66.32%. Limpopo is one of the poorest provinces in the country, whilst the platinum belt is now known for mine labour unrest and the Marikana massacre. A substantial number of people in these areas have therefore elected not to vote and/or to shift their vote to the EFF. The ANC can therefore no longer take the marginalised and working class constituencies for granted.
The EFF is becoming the party capturing the hearts and minds of these constituencies, including the youth. Whether or not they will be able to sustain and build up their party support, or implode like COPE, only time will tell. But, the red berets will certainly be unsettling the tedious politicking of the past.
The DA has been the biggest winner in these elections. Its support has been increasing exponentially - from 1.7% in 1994 to 22.13% in 2014. Although it did not, as it hoped, win Gauteng, it has increased its support by 9% in this province. It also succeeded to increase its majority in the Western Cape (from 48.8% in 2009 to 59.8%) and it has become the official opposition in KwaZulu-Natal, displacing the IFP. The DA has long captured white, coloured and Indian voters, with the Western Cape seeing itself as ‘the last frontier’ – first against the ANC (read black domination) and now against bad governance and/or corruption, often viewed interchangeably. This election the DA targeted black voters. In the end, they only garnered +/- 700 000 votes from this sector, i.e., 17% of their support base is black. This vote would have largely come from a growing black urban middle class. The ANC can therefore also no longer assume support from the black middle class. But, to govern South Africa, the DA will have to radically change its strategy to appeal to a broader black constituency and shed its bourgeois image! Class is becoming a defining element of party support. Since the black working class will remain the largest population, the odds remains stacked against the DA in its current construction.
The IFP is dying a slow death, with support declining by about 2% in each election, shifting them to 4th place in 2014. Close on their heels is a break-away party, the National Freedom Party (NFP), with 1.57% of the national vote. Does this paltry showing of primarily ethnically based parties mean that ethnicity is declining in relevance in South Africa or is it that the ANC is now viewed as sufficiently reflecting the needs and aspiration of that ethnic group?
Agang SA’s showing was a dismal 52 350 (0.28%) votes. South Africans displayed no trust in the ability of Dr Mamphela Ramphele to lead them into a future she dreamt of.
There is still a degree of fluidity within the South African political landscape. New parties come and go as they do in a vibrant multi-party system. But, South African party politics is progressively moving towards a two party system.
There was also both continuity and change in the issues of concern in these elections. Race and inequality remain key unresolved matters. Crime is taking a back seat and being replaced by a focus on corruption and the lack of service delivery. Gender was not a prominent issue and political parties did not actively seek to mobilize women. Is this because of a belief that gender representation (the numbers) has been achieved and therefore this is no longer relevant? Or, is it because we made little substantive progress in terms of changing patriarchal attitudes, such that when most of the gender champions disappeared from political office, the gender agenda went with them?
South Africa’s democracy is healthy! South Africa’s democracy is ailing! If the participation and management of elections are our yardstick, then we are consolidating our democracy. If dealing with the issues that propelled change in 1994 is the measuring tool, then there is still a lot of work and healing to be done to achieve non-racialism, non-sexism and equality. The sooner we are all able to get on with that job, the stronger our lived experience of democracy. The ANC has again been tasked with creating the enabling environment for this to occur and indicates that it has the roadmap to do this – the National Development Plan. As the deployment committee sits to ‘apply their minds’ on who will head the different ministries and departments, they must consider who is best able to ensure the implementation of the plan.
There will be no Mandela magic left to carry the ANC through in 2019. They will have to get the majority vote on the basis of delivery on the promises of the last 20 years. This is not only crucial for the ANC’s continued majority support but, more importantly, for the growth and prosperity of the country as a whole.
- Cheryl Hendricks is a professor in the Politics Department at the University of Johannesburg