If you thought elections were tough, just wait till you see the machinations that political factions will be cooking up to cement their power base, writes Mondli Makhanya.
There will be many hard questions asked at the various postmortems that parties will be having as the 2019 elections begin to fade in the rear-view mirror.
There will be plenty of finger-pointing as the truces that factions entered into in the final weeks of electioneering are lifted. There will be cementing of divides and returns to old kraals. There will be plotting of coups and mutinies.
Whatever merriment you see leaders and activists engaging in, do not be fooled. They are not celebrating victories and gains. They are heaving sighs of relief that the worst did not happen. Truth be told, there was no winner in these elections.
President Cyril Ramaphosa and the ANC may have received a decent mandate to run the country for the next five years, but the best news for them was that they did not fall below the 55% mark and did not lose Gauteng. Those fears were real going into these elections, and the party pulled out all the stops to ensure that these psychologically damaging developments did not occur.
In the blue corner, DA leader Mmusi Maimane and his crew will be pleased to have retained the Western Cape with a clear margin, but setbacks at national level and in most parts of the country will signal a project stalled.
The party had big ambitions going into these elections, with DA-led coalition governments in Gauteng and the Northern Cape being eyed as the big prizes.
None of that was achieved, and instead, the party found itself being unseated from official opposition status in Mpumalanga, having already lost this status in the North West and Limpopo in the last elections.
For the past five years since the 2014 elections, the EFF had reason to be proud of lurching from non-existence to being the third-biggest party within six months of its formation. This was indeed a remarkable achievement, and the party has punched above its 6% weight both inside and outside of Parliament.
EFF leaders have boasted about the surprise they would pull come 2019 when they had had time to build. What they achieved was to move into the double digits, almost double the party’s number of MPs and secure official opposition status in a number of provinces.
Furthermore, the party made a major breakthrough in KwaZulu-Natal, where it had virtually no presence. The EFF’s 9.7% has made it the fourth biggest party in the province. It will now be a force to be reckoned with and is a crucial launchpad for the party come the 2021 local government elections. This was a good outing and is worth a pat on the back, but the EFF remains a distant third at national level.
Two parties whose leaders could be given a pass into Taboo nightclub are the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the Freedom Front Plus (FF+). But that is only because they managed to knock on the coffin just before the hearse entered the cemetery.
With just 2.4% and 0.9% respectively in the last election, these two parties’ obituaries had been written. They resurrected themselves, with the IFP scoring 3.8% and the FF+ hitting 2.38%. A boon for the IFP is that it took back its official opposition status in KwaZulu-Natal.
So, what now for the country’s two main political forces? This is where the mutiny and plotting come in.
The counting had not even finished when Ramaphosa’s detractors began sharpening their knives. The faction loosely grouped around secretary-general Ace Magashule and former president Jacob Zuma refuses to acknowledge the influence of the Ramaphosa effect on the electoral outcome. They are fully aware that accepting that his personal appeal kept many supporters onside and drew back some in the lost flock would strengthen his hand.
It would also weaken any plans and attempts to undermine him, whether in the run-up to the national general council next year or ahead of the 2022 ANC elective conference.
Beginning this week, there will be clandestine gatherings of ANC factions seeking to influence the composition of the Cabinet, the appointment of premiers, and deployments to senior government positions. Even though Ramaphosa has all the constitutional prerogative to make his own appointments, he is by tradition obliged to consult his top six colleagues and also include tripartite alliance partners in the conversation.
Ramaphosa’s post-election grip on the party will be put to the test in these discussions. He is likely to be forced to make some uncomfortable compromises in order to fend off internal detractors. A more difficult task for him will be deciding which of his own close backers to leave out of the reduced Cabinet. With the imperative of infusing youth and balancing gender, he will have to make tough choices and may end up creating enemies among his backers.
Maimane’s grip on the DA will also be tested in the coming weeks. Even before the elections, there were rumblings of a leadership challenge and even proposals for a splinter party to be formed. The party’s stagnation has now empowered Maimane’s foes, who wasted no time in laying the blame on what they see as his weak leadership.
With names already being bandied about, it is certain that an attempt – if not several – will be made on his political life in the aftermath of the elections.
Ironically, the reversal in fortune may have freed the DA from right wing blackmail. Most of the support that the party shed appears to have gone to the FF+.
The conservative party has made no bones about protecting minority interests, especially against transformative policies such as employment equity and BEE, which the DA broadly accepts. The possible defection of this support base that virulently railed against these policies has always been a sword hanging over the DA. However, there still remains a corps of leaders who see these policies as anti-liberal.
If Maimane sees off his internal foes, he will have to map out a coherent message that sets his party apart from an ANC that has Ramaphosa as its face. Shedding the white conservative vote and not replacing it with a black vote – which would mostly be drawn from the ANC’s market – does not make business sense.
As for the minnows, what successive elections have taught us is that voters want strength and have little time for parties who treat politics as a hobby. They want their parties to do something for them, whether it be governing or holding those in authority to account.
The electorate has time and time again indicated that the market has space for three big national parties and a sprinkling of regional players. They also like to have big personalities such as the United Democratic Movement’s Bantu Holomisa as an alternative to the big three. But such parties remain substitutes.
Parties who have been stubborn and not listened to this message have gone the way of the dodo. This election aptly showed this. Many of those who were decimated or barely survived will have to start flirting ahead of the 2021 municipal elections.