There wasn’t any doubt that the ruling African National Congress (ANC) would win the fifth post-apartheid election in South Africa’s history.
But relatively poor showings by South Africa’s various opposition parties seem to have failed to hold the ANC under 60% of the national vote, with the party set to enter its third decade in power. Under the leadership of Nelson Mandela in 1994, the ANC rose to prominence after a decades-long struggle against white minority rule, and its political dominance hasn’t seriously been challenged at the national level in the past 20 years. That’s despite growing malaise over economic conditions, income inequality and mass unemployment. That’s also in addition to growing concerns about corruption under the leadership of president Jacob Zuma (pictured above), who will now be reelected to a second term once South Africa’s newly elected National Assembly convenes later this month.
Notably, the election was the first to include the votes of the ‘born-free’ generation, South Africans who were born after the end of the apartheid era. It was also the first election held after Mandela’s death last December at age 95.
* * * * *
* * * * *
Voters in South Africa yesterday elected all 400 members of the National Assembly and the governments of all nine provinces.
With just over 85.5% of the votes counted, the ANC led with 63.04% of the vote. The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) was winning 21.84%, its highest vote total to date. In third place was the newly formed Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) with 5.46%. Its leader, Julius Malema a former ANC Youth League head and a one-time Zuma enthusiast, was kicked out of the ANC two years ago, and he’s campaigned on a neo-Marxist platform of widespread land redistribution to black South Africans and nationalization of key South African industries, including mining.
* * * * *
RELATED: Who is Julius Malema?
* * * * *
Here’s the national breakdown — and the anticipated seat count, on the basis of the current results:
So for all the hand-wringing over the corruption, a deadly confrontation with striking mineworkers, the tension within the ‘tripartite’ alliance among the ANC, the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the ANC will hold almost exactly the same number of seats in the National Assembly that it held prior to the elections.
What does this mean for South African policy?
Zuma suggested earlier this week that he will move to implement greater market-based reform in his second term in hopes of stemming a rising tide of economic dissatisfaction:
Zuma hinted this week that the ANC needed to take a more pro-business tack, accusing the main platinum union of irresponsibility for dragging out a four-month wage strike, and he hinted at reforms in the pipeline. “We need an overwhelming majority so that we can change certain things so that we can move faster,” Zuma told a news conference. “There are things you need to remove so you can move faster. I won’t be specific.”
One influential minister said the ANC would focus on policies adopted at a 2012 leadership conference, when it rejected “wholesale nationalization” of industries and sought to quell investor concerns with business-friendly pronouncements. “The policies of the new coming government, the principles that will provide the framework for the new administration, have already been set out,” Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba told Reuters. “That is what we are going to implement.”
Zuma’s administration forcibly clashed with striking miners two years ago in Marikana, a scuffle that left 44 people dead, a jarring reminder of the kind of state-sponsored violence that was commonplace under white minority rule.
With muted support for the ANC — or even opposition — from many of South Africa’s leading unions, Zuma will see this week’s election victory as a mandate to move away from more union-friendly policies. Over the course of the past 20 years, South Africa has largely embraced a liberal market economy under the stewardship of the ANC, including former finance minister Trevor Manuel. The ANC has come a long distance from its Marxist roots.
Though Malema and his EFF cohorts will likely be pleased that they are now the third-largest political force in the National Assembly (and the EFF will now become the official opposition in Limpopo province and also, possibly, North West province), the rest of South Africa’s political elite and international investors alike will be soothed that Malema’s economically radical and racially diversive message attracted just around 5% of the electorate nationally.
In political terms, Zuma is barred from a third consecutive term, and the spotlight will move shortly to succession within the ANC, which will choose its new leadership at a conference in late 2017. Chief among the leading contenders is Cyril Ramaphosa, a longtime ANC leader who returned to politics after nearly 15 years in business when he won the deputy leadership of the ANC in December 2012. Ramaphosa is expected to become South Africa’s new vice president, and he could take the lead on new market reforms. Another contender is Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the current president’s former wife of 16 years, who has variously served as health and foreign minister in previous governments. She’s currently chairing the African Unity Commission.
But Ramaphosa will be 65 and Dlamini-Zuma will be 70 at the time of the next election, leading to speculation that the ANC could leapfrog to the next generation of leadership, embodied by the 42-year old Gigaba, the public enterprises minister who led the 2014 campaign and who was listed third on the ANC parliamentary list after Zuma and Ramphosa. Health minister Aaron Motsoaledi, at age 55, has also received strong praise from implementing a new HIV/AIDS policy at breakneck speed — former president Thabo Mbeki denied that HIV even caused AIDS, putting the country’s health policy years behind the international standard where the HIV/AIDS rate remains one of the highest (12.2%) in the world.
The election results are something of a mixed bag for the DA.
In 2004, the party won 50 seats on the basis of 12.37% support, and in 2009, it won 67 seats on the basis of 16.66% support. Right now, the DA is winning around 22% of the vote and will hold around 90 seats in the National Assembly. It’s a result that, on a long-term strategic basis, should delight Helen Zille, the DA leader.
What’s more, in Western Cape province, the DA widened its dominance against the ANC. Accordingly, Zille, a former Cape Town mayor, will continue as the province’s premier for the next five years. Here’s the result, with around 94% of all votes counted:
But hopes that the DA could break through in Northern Cape province or in Eastern Cape province proved unfounded. With 100% of the votes reported, the ANC leads 64.40% to 23.89% in Northern Cape — that’s slightly higher support than the ANC is winning nationally.
The most disappointing result may turn out to be in Gauteng province — with nearly 12.5 million people, the most populous in South Africa — where the unsteady ANC provincial leadership faced a strong challenge in the DA’s Mmusi Maimane, a rising star that, like so many other politicians, has been compared to Barack Obama for the hope-themed nature of his campaign. A member of the Johannesburg city council, Maimane represents the DA’s future as it tries to shed the image of a monied, primarily white South African party. But with around 46% of votes counted in Gauteng, Maimane seemed to have fallen well short of becoming premier:
While it’s still the best-ever result in the opposition party’s history, the DA’s gains are slighter than the results for which Zille and Maimane must have been hoping. At the rate that it’s going, it will win a majority sometime around the 2044 election.
If it’s a mixed story for the DA and the EFF, the 2014 elections were a downright disaster for South Africa’s other small parties.
The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), founded in 1975 as an alternative to the ANC, which has historically appealed to voters in the Zulu heartland, dropped to just 2.54% of the vote and nine seats in the National Assembly. The party won 43 seats and 1.54% of the vote in South Africa’s initial 1994 election, and it has lost vote share consistently. Though it won the highest share in the provincial vote in KwaZulu-Natal in 1994 and 1999, and it clashed violently with the ANC in the 1990s, it’s today in jeopardy of losing its status as the official opposition to the DA. That’s partially due to strategic mistakes, but it’s also due to infighting and the splintering of a new party, the National Freedom Party, which won around 1.5% of the vote nationally, taking much of the IFP’s base with it.
The Congress of the People (COPE), a breakaway faction of the ANC led by former defense minister Mosiuoa Lekota that opposed Zuma’s rise to the ANC leadership and that won over 7% of the vote in the prior 2009 elections, has sunk to just 0.70% of the vote.
Perhaps the biggest loser of all in the 2014 election is Mamphela Ramphele, who founded AgangSA, a new political party in 2012. Ramphele, a well-respected anti-apartheid activist, former World Bank managing director and the widow of Steve Biko, who was killed by South African police in 1977, returned to South African politics amid great fanfare. Earlier this year, the DA announced that it had reached a deal for Ramphele to become its presidential candidate. That merger fell apart days later, a debacle for both Ramphele and the DA, amid a cascade of ANC criticism that Ramphele was a ‘rented black face.’ Leading AgangSA as a standalone party, Ramphele barely registered in the election results, attracting just 0.24% of the vote.