The Freedom Front Plus' Pieter Mulder, Pieter Groenwald and Wouter Wessels. (Photo: Jan Gerber)
The explosion of support for the Freedom Front Plus – albeit from a small base – has arguably been one of the most significant stories to come out of this election.
The FF Plus, a small Afrikaner interest party that has lingered at less than 1% of electoral support for most of its existence, has now been given a mandate by a significant number of South Africans.
The party was found by former SADF commanding general Constand Viljoen, who espoused the idea of a "volkstaat", or separate Afrikaner state, and was seen as the man who could lead an armed insurrection against the National Party government shortly before the 1994 elections. The disaster that was the AWB's foray into the then Bophuthatswana convinced him to engage in the political process and the FF (without the plus) received 424 555 votes from conservative, white and mostly Afrikaans speaking South Africans that year.
The FF Plus (the plus denotes the former Conservative Party, that merged with the FF in 2004) gobbled up the majority of the more than 470 000 votes the DA lost this year, with the party's position on race, language and safety being the biggest drivers of support.
The party's headline numbers make for impressive reading:
- It increased its real numbers by 249 129 votes, from 165 715 in 2014 to 414 844 in 2019 – just less than 10 000 votes short of their 1994 outing.
- The FF Plus's support is now equivalent to eight jampacked Loftus Versfeld Stadiums.
- The party is now the fifth biggest in the country, with their support more than doubling from 0,90% in 2014 to 2,38% in 2019, an increase of 1,48 percentage points.
- Its base is undoubtedly Gauteng, with both national and provincial levels of support jumping by more than 100 000 votes since 2014.
- The increase in the FF Plus's support in Tshwane (Pretoria) is converse to the losses suffered by the DA. National support grew from 27 000 (2,5%) in 2014 to 77 000 (6,8%) in 2019. Provincial support grew from 26 000 (2,4%) in 2014 to 66 000 (6,2%) in 2019.
The FF Plus has taken advantage of the vocal positions taken by its ideological stablemate AfriForum, the Pretoria-based Afrikaner-rights group. Increased agitation among Afrikaners, especially in the more conservative northern parts of the country, around issues such as the future of Afrikaans, farm murders, affirmative action and race is mainly driven by AfriForum, that has become a refuge for many.
The two organisations have historically not been close, but this seems to be changing, with a form of "toenadering" seemingly occurring between the two. They share many of the same ideological traits – including increased Afrikaner tribalist or nationalist sentiments – and their campaigns often converge around the same issues, like land or language.
AfriForum has said it won't contest elections, but with 10 MPs, instead of the four it has gotten used to, the FF Plus might just be the ideal partner to advance the cause of Afrikaner cultural hegemony, AfriForum's reason for being.
The DA however remains the party of choice for the overwhelming number of Afrikaners, with hundreds of thousands more voting for Mmusi Maimane's struggling party than for the FF Plus.
To be sure, the FF Plus of 2019 is not the same as the FF of 1994. But the fact that they're almost at the same levels of support as 25 years ago – when whites hoarded tinned food – is telling.