16 May 2014

South Africa: The Challenges Which the ANC Might Face - Come the 2024 Elections


TO quote former President Thabo Mbeki in an earlier speech after the 2004 elections in South Africa, on 07 May 2014 the people of South Africa spoke unequivocally saying "ANC govern!" However, it was no smooth-sailing for the ANC, this time around, as the party won 249 of the 400 seats in parliament compared to the 264 seats won in the 2009 elections. The Democratic Alliance (DA) - the official opposition - won 89 seats, a significant gain of 22 seats from the 67 seats they held after the 2009 elections. The ultra-leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) won 25 seats.

Granted, the ANC is likely to win the next elections in 2019 - although they may see a further decrease in the number of seats in parliament. However, 10 years down the road the 2024 elections may be a different ball game all together. A number of political dynamics have been at play in South Africa since apartheid was dismantled in 1994, which saw the ANC, the oldest liberation movement on the African continent, capturing political power for the first time. In the wake of the Nkandla scandal where about N$230 million of tax payers' money was reported to have been spent to upgrade President Jacob Zuma's private residence in his home village in Kwazulu-Natal, and the fierce opposition of the trade unions to the neo-liberal policies which the ANC government has been pursuing, the ANC had a real fight on their hands before the 2014 elections. Some notable ANC stalwarts and other influential public figures in South Africa, including Anglican Church Archbishop Emiratus, Desmond Tutu, went public before the elections to saying they would not vote for the ANC or would not vote at all. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) - an ANC affiliate - was deeply divided before the elections. Its Secretary-General Vavi Zwelinzima had been on suspension, which was ruled illegal by a Johannesburg High Court a few days before the elections. He was reinstated to his position and subsequently urged by his COSATU colleagues to not only campaign for the ANC during May Day in Port Elizabeth, but to also read from a "prepared standard script." However, he apparently decided not to read from the prepared speech in which he was expected to sing praise songs to the ANC, but instead delivered his own speech where he only urged the workers to vote and where he talked about the plight of the workers in general. Many within COSATU, notably the 300 000 member strong South African Metal Workers Union (Numsa) -COSATU's biggest affiliate - believe that Vavi has been victimised, because he has been critical of Zuma and the ANC's neo-liberal policies which are perceived to be more pro-big capital and anti-labour. Numsa, for its part had made it known, in no uncertain terms, that it would not support the ANC during the May 2014 elections although its individual members were free to exercise their democratic right to vote for any party of their choice. In fact, it went one step further by saying that it would contemplate the idea of forming a socialist party, which would accommodate other progressive forces after the 2014 elections.

The new kid on the block, newly-formed Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) of former ANC Youth League leader, Julius Malema, albeit controversial as they may seem, have been "exploiting" the plight and the anger of the urban poor and the youth to the maximum and they made political capital out of that. The EFF's remarkable performance after only a very short period in existence could be regarded as the political barometer against which the anger of the urban poor and the youth should be measured. The Congress of the People (Cope) - which broke away from the ANC a few years ago - has been relegated to an irrelevant political force on the South African political spectrum - they only managed to secure 3 seats in the recent elections. They seem to be squeezed between the EFF's radicalism, the DA's liberalism and the ANC's popularity. Cope does not offer any serious alternative political programme.

After all, these are individuals who were part of the ANC leadership and who became disgruntled when Mbeki was removed as ANC president in 2007. In terms of demographic profile and political background, they belong to the same generation like the current ANC leadership. Therefore they do not have anything new to offer the electorate.

Any analysis of political events in South Africa must, however, be premised on the discourse that the ANC (as a liberation movement) was fighting on a socialist platform and this had raised the expectations of the masses before the 1994 elections very high in terms of employment creation, poverty alleviation, wealth distribution and the equitable provision of social services in general. The ANC was a grassroots-based liberation movement accommodating individuals and groups from different political backgrounds. The different groupings which were housed in the ANC - as a liberation movement - included the South African Communist Party, COSATU, women and youth activists, as well as a host of other civil society organisations. All these formations rallied around the ANC's main objective - the dismantlement of apartheid and the eventual creation of a pro-poor socialist state. The then exiled and imprisoned ANC leaders were held in high esteem by the masses of South Africa. Among the iconic collective leadership of the ANC - which included the celebrated names of Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo, Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Joe Slovo - was, of course, the towering figure of Nelson Mandela. During the apartheid era, the ANC was for many years a banned organisation and most of its leaders were either in prison or exiled.

It was illegal to quote the words of some of these ANC leaders during the apartheid era. All these factors created a "worship" type enigma around the ANC, especially on the part of the oppressed black people.

After 1994, the ANC leadership, perhaps realistically so, knew that they could not implement a socialist programme. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and other socialist countries in Eastern Europe in the 1990s, socialism, as an international project, was forced on the back foot. As a matter of fact, there does not seem to be any convincing socialist model in existence at the moment - perhaps with the exception of Venezuela, which is currently also facing a major economic crisis - to substantiate the aspirations of a truly "socialist developmental state." Unlike the Cold War period which was characterised by superpower rivalry between the US and the Soviet Union in a bipolarised international system - pitching multiparty democracy and capitalism against socialism and one party rule - by 1994, when the ANC came into power, the world was completely different. By then multi-party democracy and neo-liberal economic policies had gained international currency and 'acceptance' as the two core sets of norms underpinning what has come to be known as the good governance paradigm. It is important to remember that the ANC did not come to power through an armed revolution, but through negotiations which led to the 1994 elections. During those negotiations they had to compromise on a number of key issues. In short, in 1994, the political dynamics and configuration of forces, both internationally and within South Africa, were completely different from those conditions which had prevailed when the ANC-inspired Freedom Charter - a socialist programme of sorts - was adopted at Kliptown in 1955. Therefore, we argue that the following factors might militate against an 'absolute' ANC victory in the 2024 elections: a highly unionised and maverick working class, which is class conscious and aware of its collective economic power and political voice; the possibility of the creation of a socialist party (as mooted by Numsa), which may find resonance with the current demands and aspirations of the workers; thirty years after the abolition of apartheid, the ANC's struggle credentials would have become 'a spent idea'; equally, the do it for Madiba slogan, which they were using in the 2014 elections would not bear any relevance, because by then Madiba would have been dead for more than ten years; South Africa has a strong and vibrant intellectual culture, which permeates civil society organisations and citizens in general and the citizens there are, by and large, very informed and not docile; South Africa, compared to most African countries, has a very high urbanisation rate (urban dwellers are generally more informed and more critical compared to rural peasants); the ANC does not seem to have a guaranteed critical mass of rural supporters in any province or an 'exclusive' ethnic constituency (compared to the Inkhata Freedom Party in Kwazulu-Natal, for example) and lastly, the culture of township militancy, which the ANC had helped to create in the townships during the anti-apartheid era, might as well come to haunt them - especially if the poor service delivery protests continue, mainly in the urban slum areas. Over the many years of the anti-Apartheid struggle, a culture of militancy was created which was spearheaded by the youth, trade unions and other civil society formations, especially in the black townships. During the 2024 elections, a fall from power for the ANC is possible and they might probably not lose to a single political party, but to a coalition of parties. In the next 10 years, the ANC will have to walk a tight 'political' rope between pursuing the pro-business, neo-liberal economic policies captured in the government's National Development Plan and moving more to the left to regain the electoral ground they have lost to the EFF. It must be noted that in 2004 the ANC won close to 70% of the popular vote, but that dropped to 65.9% in the 2009 elections and again down to 62% in the May 2014 elections. South Africa is too complex a country and therefore an ANC absolute victory (i.e. the over 60% margin of the vote, which the party has been capturing since 1994) cannot be taken for granted, come the 2024 elections.

*Gerson Uaripi Tjihenuna is a senior lecturer in Labour Relations at the International University of Management (IUM). However, the views expressed here are his own and not those of his employer.

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