The ANC will have to decide if it fears the rise of the EFF so much that it panders to its pressures – or whether it sees the bigger picture of the necessity for more centrist and market-friendly initiatives to kickstart growth, writes Daniel Silke.
Despite arguments from Ace Magashule to the
contrary, Cyril Ramaphosa has extended the shelf-life of the ANC for another
Considering the appalling state of
governance over the latter part of the Jacob Zuma-term, the 57% victory was
nothing short of impressive – or it was also a reflection of how distanced
voters felt from the variety of opposition alternatives. The ANC brand survived
another five years, but it needed a new leader to give it some security.
But that's where the celebrations end. This
is a new era in which the ANC has no more cushion that accompanied the victories
in the 60 percentiles over the last two decades. It's now either deliver on the
"New Dawn" or face a further erosion of support with 50% a dangerous new
The message from voters was clear – the
brand gets one more chance with a leader that was considerably more popular
than the party. If this leader stumbles (or is replaced by a lesser figure),
things will go 'south' rather rapidly.
Significantly, both major parties in power,
the ANC and DA lost ground – and in similar proportions too. Incumbents who
bore the brunt of governance responsibility also bore the brunt of voter anger
and frustration with service delivery on the ground and the broader economic
and political malaise.
The DA suffered township-voter setbacks in
Gauteng as their mayoral positions in both Johannesburg and Tshwane failed to convince
voters they were substantially better than the previous ANC office-bearers.
Bucking this trend was a major reward for
better governance in the Western Cape where the DA – arguably at their weakest
given troublesome issues of leadership relating to Patricia de Lille and the
water crisis amongst others – emerged with a notable victory despite some minor
Although the EFF has been steadily showing
growth ever since their 2014 debut, their impressive increases across all provinces
can still disrupt politics even further. With their original 25 seats, they
punched above their weight in their confrontational style. Imagine what 44 MPs
will bring to the discourse in future.
But more significantly, the swing towards
the EFF from the ANC saw some parallels with the rise in the Freedom Front Plus
(FF+) vote – largely at the expense of the DA. Perhaps the most significant
secondary aspects of the election – other than the more vulnerable ANC- has
been this drift towards greater identity politics and away from the more "centrist"
political forces of the ANC/DA.
Perhaps too, we should not be too surprised
at this development. After five years of heightened racial invectives and
rhetoric from the EFF coupled with a more radical drift under Zuma and a
muddied debate around land expropriation, a segment of the white (and probably
Afrikaans-speaking electorate) was feeling more insecure.
political discourse the catalyst
The "broad church" that the DA
had become since 1999 – when it gobbled up many former National Party (and even
former Conservative Party) members – was bound to be tested at some point and a
more toxic political discourse as a result of EFF strategy was the catalyst
that unleashed a backlash.
Once seen as the protector of minority
interests, the DA vacillated on policy and allowed itself to have to speak in
the language of the ANC to perhaps appeal to a majority audience. In this way,
the DA failed to straddle the complex two pillars of its desired support base
and lost ground by satisfying neither end.
For the ANC, it shed a clearly more
populist-oriented vote to the EFF. Again, the broad church approach frayed at
the edges with tens of thousands either voting for Julius Malema or again,
staying away from the polls in some sort of act of protest. Both major parties
therefore had difficulty in appealing to all their component elements.
The beginnings of a more fringe-type of
balkanisation of the centrist political parties is not a new phenomenon
globally. In Europe where economic strains, immigration and religious and
national identity play an increasing vocal role, establishment parties are
finding similar issues in holding onto their fringes as more populist parties
become more attractive.
Certainly, the EFF have substantial growth
potential in future – more so than the FF+ just in terms of demographics. But,
given the rising levels intra-racial tension embedded in both the political and
economic debate within South Africa, identity politics and extreme forms of nationalism
can extend to larger sections of the electorate.
So whilst we all dissect the voting
patterns and behaviours, the seats allocation and the personalities elected,
there is a warning for both major parties that is not partisan and cuts to a
deeper threat to our democracy.
Political centrism – whether its quasi-socialist
of the ANC or quasi-Liberal under the DA (and neither terms adequately
describes the confusing philosophies of both parties) has taken a moderate beating
in this election. But, bringing voters back to the centre will only occur under
conditions of the improvement of the lives of the citizens of South Africa –
all of them.
on rainbow nation growth
Deep rooted economic insecurity, inequality,
endemic unemployment, governance failure and deep-state corruption undermine
nation-building and have put a brake on the rainbow nation growth.
As the party of power at national level,
the ANC ultimately faces its toughest test of all.
The need to restore growth and opportunity
to all will be the eventual test of whether South African politics balkanises
further into more dangerous territory or whether the emergence – finally – of a
better life for all is able to offset and reduce this threat.
The ANC now (together with the DA where
applicable) has to find common cause here – or face a damaging rise in fringe
politics that has – as has been seen in Europe – left many countries greatly
destabilised and deeply divided.
The ANC will have to decide if it fears the
rise of the EFF so much that it panders to their pressures – or whether it sees
the bigger picture of the necessity for more centrist and market-friendly
initiatives to kickstart growth. The choice the ANC makes will play a crucial role
in which side of the equation gains traction for the next five years.
Fortunately, the rise of the fringe is
still limited when stacked up against the broader election result. And, South
Africans and their politicians should not assume the worst. But now is the time
to take the electorate's warnings very seriously and lance the boil in its
- Daniel Silke is the director of the
Political Futures Consultancy in Cape Town. He can be found on Twitter
(@DanielSilke) and his website.
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