'The post-post-apartheid era has started'

Max du Preez

So the wide-ranging (and feared, in some quarters) radicalisation of the electorate so many people have warned about over the last year or two wasn’t reflected in the local government election results.

We should now raise suspicions that the militant populists, radical students and the wild voices on Twitter and Facebook we have heard recently do not represent a groundswell. That’s good news for stability, although we shouldn’t make the mistake of ignoring the really angry voices completely – especially those who didn’t vote.

We South Africans should be very proud that we have held 10 mostly peaceful and credible general and local elections since 1994.

But last week’s local election is very different from all the others. Words like “watershed” and “fundamental shift” come to mind. For the first time since we became a democracy we can say for certain that the political landscape would never be the same. The post-post-apartheid era has started; liberation movement politics are so 2007.

It is fair to say (fair, not popular) that DA leader Mmusi Maimane has emerged from this election as a genuine national role player and his party as a substantial political force.

President Jacob Zuma and other ANC and EFF politicians’ insults that Maimane was simply a black front for a white party and a stooge have boomeranged badly. It is a good sign that many voters didn’t take this kind of racial insult seriously.

The final analysis still has to be made, but it does appear that the DA could have received a million or so votes from black South Africans and a good majority of so-called coloured and Indian voters.

Only 8.4% of South Africans are white (8.8% “coloured” and 2.5% Indian) and yet the DA received just short of 27% of the vote. This does appear to point to growing black support and not only in the cities.

Stepping out from Zille's shadow

Maimane himself pointed out some examples of DA growth in black township areas: Umzimvubu Ward 23 from 1% in 2011 to 45% now, in Ntabankulu Ward 4 from 0.2% to 45.3% and Tshwane Ward 38 in Mamelodi from 7% to 30.6%.

The fact that the DA increased its support to more than 66% in Cape Town must surely be an indication that, contrary to the charges by the ANC and EFF, most residents are rather satisfied with the way that metropole has been run since 2011.

Maimane has now finally stepped out from the shadow of his predecessor, Helen Zille, and the powerful white male leaders of the DA. A Maimane confidente tells me: “He’s his own man, dammit, and they’re beginning to fully comprehend that.”

The DA didn’t reach its target of 30% of the vote, but with its new gains it does have real potential to help politically integrate the white community with the rest of South African society and perhaps breathe new life in the rather unpopular concept of non-racialism.

But the DA will in the months and years ahead have to make sure that its leadership structures reflect its new support – and it will have to prepare itself that it may shed some of its more conservative white followers in the years ahead.

The EFF has dominated the media since 2014 – in fact it can be said it dominated Parliament and the general political scene. Julius Malema said before last week’s poll that the EFF had trebled its support every year of its three-year existence.

And yet it could only increase the 6.3% it received in 2014 to 8.2%. It’s not even certain that it received many more disgruntled ANC votes than the DA had.

The EFF has strong growth potential and has earned its place in the political theatre, but the media will have to do serious introspection on its overly generous publicity given to a party with less than 10% of the vote.

Voters turning backs on the ANC

If the radicalisation of the electorate had been as significant as we have been warned and as we deduced from the EFF’s confrontational style and the vocal student protests, the EFF would have done much better.

The growing schism between rural and urban support for the ANC has now finally manifested very clearly as many of Zuma’s “clever blacks” turned their backs on the party or didn’t vote.

The same happened with Zanu-PF and Robert Mugabe, but there’s a big difference: South Africa is two-thirds urbanised and Zimbabwe only one third.

Zuma’s only solid support came from the Premier league provinces, the Free State, Northwest and Mpumalanga. That’s not enough to survive forlong in a democracy such as ours. (Zuma even lost the election in his own backyard of Nkandla.)

A Zuma successor could possibly win over most of his rural support, but Zuma can never regain the support of the majority of urban black South Africans.

I hear whispers of secret Zuma-exit meetings and I hope for the sake of the country – and the ANC – that these strategies will be successful in the next few months.

Hey comrades, if you’re concerned about your future rather than just your next pay cheque, jump ship now or go down with Number One.

- Follow Max on Twitter.

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