South Africa: Opinion - Nelson Mandela Party's Last Easy Win in South Africa

Left: Service delivery protest. RIght: Voter's thumb marked after casting a ballot.
opinion

The elections in South Africa haven't produced a landslide result. Turnout was low -- young people, in particular, are shunning the ballot box. The dominant ANC is living on borrowed time, says Claus Stäcker.

Some 25 years after the end of apartheid in South Africa it seems as if nothing has changed. While the African National Congress (ANC) governs, the opposition grumbles.

Despite impassioned campaign efforts from the liberal Democratic Alliance (DA) and the left-wing populist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), there have certainly been no seismic shifts.

The election result was as predicted:the ANC lost votes, but not as dramatically as could have been expected. But at the same time, neither the DA nor the EFF gained much from the ruling party's losses, which one may have reasonably expected.

The EFF did not manage to hit a nerve as a protest party -- and the DA even lost votes.

In Parliament, things remain unchanged. The EFF's armchair revolutionaries in their clownish but propagandistically effective red overalls put the left under pressure while also not shying away from racist anti-white attitudes against the minority population.

The 'economic freedom' that they tout in their party name is limited to redistribution and the restriction of entrepreneurial freedoms. In other words, it is socialism Venezuela-style, driven by emotions and devoid of economic expertise.

The ANC -- socialist and liberal at once

The DA's smooth economic liberals, on the other hand, will continue to claim to be the only party with the necessary financial know-how.

They will avoid alienating entrepreneurs and white voters and thus continue to diminish the deep-seated social problems that stem from 400 years of white supremacy and arrogance.

But it is precisely these issues that are still crucial to the majority of the population today. And, years after the plight of Nelson Mandela, South Africa still has not found the answers to solve these issues.

Amongst all of this, a damaged and corrupt ANC, which with its concept of patriotism seeks to be both socialist and economically liberal. An ANC looking to unite irreconcilable factions within the party. It is striving to be Washington and Beijing in one, black and white at the same time, both Ramaphosa and Zuma, honest and corrupt, radical and liberal -- a collective movement that is almost for impossible for voters to gauge.

It is also still cashing in on its past. The ANC has until now positioned itself -- with the moral high-ground displayed by many former liberation movements -- as being deserving of permanently staying in government.

The ANC takes for granted that voters will time and again watch the party's attempts at making internal reforms. The ANC peddles Mandela's legacy, using it to win election after election and buying time-- only to squander it again.

But it won't last much longer. A change in sentiment is most evident in the number of non-voters. With just over 60 %, voter turnout was the lowest of all six free elections since 1994, when the rule of the white minority ended.

Young people are so disillusioned they did not even bother to go to the ballot box. Fewer than every fifth young voter exercised his or her right to vote. The apathy speaks volumes.

The final, easy win

No party, neither the ANC nor the strongest opposition force, the DA, nor the radical EFF with their populist appeal to voters, were able to inspire a majority of young people.

South Africa still lacks a dynamic, modern opposition party with the ability to reach consensus and mobilize the country's young people with both passion and pragmatism.

The opposition has once again been given five years to sharpen its profile. The time for navel-gazing is over. This was the final easy win for the ANC.

Party leader and President Cyril Ramaphosa scraped by with a slap on the wrist and with his anti-corruption agenda, he has again bought his party some time. But his term will be a probationary period, one granted on borrowed trust.

It is a loan that must be repaid within five years. But it all could quickly come undone if he fails to credibly clean up the ANC and the state which have practically been one in the last 25 years.

Ramaphosa will have to employ drastic measures to atone for the criminal legacies of his predecessor Jacob Zuma-- even to the point of excluding him from the party.

Ramaphosa must win over banks, stock exchanges and investors while stepping up efforts to bridge social divisions.

If he prevails, he could go down in history as the president that won the hearts of the people. If not, he will just become known for business as usual since the ANC has long been perceived as a party of the older generationl.

The time has come for real alternatives, that, this time around, nine million voters did not see materialize. However, it is they who hold the future in their hands.

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