ANC looking over its shoulder

2011-05-26 00:00

THE main story of the local government elections is fairly clear.

The Inkatha Freedom Party, which has been losing support ever since 1994, was extremely unwise to bring about the situation which led to the formation of the National Freedom Party.

It split its own diminishing vote, and the results are there for all of us to see. As in 2009, the African National Congress in KwaZulu-Natal gained many votes from previous supporters of the IFP.

These gains, again as in 2009, have partly masked the fact that the ANC lost ground in all the other provinces, especially in the Western Cape, where it was soundly beaten, and in the Eastern Cape, the Northern Cape and Gauteng. Its losses were particularly noticeable in the metros; and it is in the cities of any country that the political future is forged. The ANC is still the dominant party by far. But it now begins to be under threat.

The Democratic Alliance has made striking gains. This is partly because it has almost mopped up all the other opposition parties, but it is also because it has taken a fair number of votes from the ANC. Support for the ANC among whites, Indians and coloureds has become very small; and black support for the DA, though still distinctly small, seems to have trebled.

One gathers that the ANC national executive committee is about to ask itself what went wrong. It will presumably have little difficulty in recognising (even if it doesn't admit it publicly) that, as far as the minority communities are concerned, it has alienated them in numerous ways: corruption of various kinds, poor service delivery and a poor work ethic, extravagant cars, parties and journeyings for the elite, and belligerent racist and unconstitutional statements by people like Julius Malema and Jimmy Manyi.

(President Jacob Zuma has said that Malema's views are not those of the ANC, but if that is really so why did he share platforms with Malema throughout the country in the run-up to the elections?) Helen Zille claims that the ANC has become virtually a uniracial party and has moved away from Mandela's territory of non-racism, reconciliation and the Rainbow Nation, and that the DA is now moving into that gap. She has a point.

What of the ANC's black supporters? As we have seen, most of them renewed their allegiance to the ANC, but some stayed away and some voted for the DA.

Most Africans are well aware (in a way that the minorities are not) that the ANC has in fact delivered a good deal since 1994, in the way of houses, water, electricity, roads and other services; and they are understandably afraid that a party like the DA, with its prominent white leadership, might have other priorities. But many of them have been frustrated by the services that have not been delivered — and the government has never offered a coherent timescale for the roll-out of the numerous services that are needed to wipe out the huge apartheid backlog. The ANC will have to get its act together, become more efficient, and move beyond the phase of ad-hoc quick fixes. It must be aware that the DA's message of clean and accountable government is beginning to be noticed within its traditional constituency.

It has been a good election, well run by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), and dynamic in a healthy way. Things are changing, and all politicians will have to be more alert and more productive. This is as it should be in a democracy. Zille says that the DA has repositioned itself, now that almost one in four South Africans are supporting it. The ANC would be well advised to take what she says seriously.

What will happen in the coming years? Will the DA get larger and larger, until it is on 50-50 terms with the ANC?

My guess would be that this will not happen. It isn't easy to predict the future, but I don't think the DA, as it is at present constituted, has the capacity to grow to that extent. What might happen, in the long or shorter run — and maybe what should happen — is that there is a large reconfiguration within South African politics, so that we end up with two main parties (as in most mature democracies) — one "pro-poor", leaning towards the left, and the other, more business-oriented, leaning towards the right.

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