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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Looking forward after Madiba's Departure: South Africa's Decision in 2014

Last December, Nelson Mandela, South Africa's great symbol of freedom and multiracial democracy, passed away to the Great Unknown at the age of 95. His death was mourned all over the world and appropriately so.

On the seventh of May this year, the Republic of South Africa will host its fourth general election since the abolition of apartheid and the election of Nelson Mandela in 1994.

South Africa is a parliamentary republic, headed by President Jacob Zuma of the African National Congress, the party Nelson Mandela ran under when he was overwhelmingly elected in 1994. South Africa has a bicameral legislature, with the upper house (the National Council of Provinces) representing provincial interests and the lower house (the National Assembly) representing the people directly. 

The National Assembly has 400 seats, and breaks down as follows: 

264 seats belong to the African National Congress. 

67 seats belong to the Democratic Alliance, the official opposition party to the ANC since 1999. 
30 seats belong to the Congress of the People. 
18 seats belong to the Inkatha Freedom Party. 
The 21 remaining seats belong to 9 different parties. 

Since 1994, the ANC has won every General Election, and still enjoys widespread popularity as it is the party that Nelson Mandela brought to power twenty years ago. Allegations of corruption, ineffectiveness, and nepotism, however, have hurt the party in the years following the euphoria that followed the end of apartheid. President Zuma has been heavily criticized for rape allegations, spending millions of rands on a private home, fathering multiple children with multiple women, and once making the claim that taking a shower after having unprotected sex would reduce the possibility of contracting AIDS. In what may be some cruelly ironic poetry, both rape and AIDS are huge problems in South Africa. 

It should be interesting to see how the death of Madiba, as he is called by his people, will affect the ANC and other parties in this upcoming election. Can the ANC mobilize and encourage its voters to  make a surge this election, or will Madiba's death represent one more move away from the glory of 1994 for the ANC? Recent developments and lingering problems seem to be pointing towards the latter, as public opinion polls have shown corruption has risen as a concern among the South African people. Even the ANC's allies, like the National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) have slowly pulled back in their support. 

The second biggest party in South Africa, and the official opposition party, is the Democratic Alliance, often referred to as the DA. The Democratic Alliance is a broadly centrist party that is led by Helen Zille, the premier of the Western Cape province and former mayor of Cape Town. Most white South Africans vote for the Democratic Alliance, and the party traces its roots to the old anti-apartheid Progressive Federal Party and the more liberal wing of the now-defunct National Party. Their spokesperson is charismatic Mmusi Maimane, who is running to become premier of Gauteng, a populous province in the centre of South Africa where the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria are. The party is very popular in the Western Cape, but its influence nationally is not as broad and it remains to be seen whether the DA can mobilize in newer places. 

The Congress of the People was formed by former members of the ANC in 2008 as a reaction to the ANC's corruption. COPE is a party that r
eminds me of the early Whig party in the United States-Democrats that broke away from the party because they disliked Andrew Jackson. The party did not last long after Jackson left office. Their performance in May depends largely on how much they can distance themselves from the ANC on policy and effectiveness, and being a relatively new party will make this difficult. 

 The IFP draws most of its support from regional interests rather than national interests. It's led by Mangosuthu Buthelezi and in 2009, had its worst performance since 1994, losing control over the one province that it enjoys substantial support in. (KwaZulu-Natal) However, Durban is a rapidly growing city and South Africans in the region may be drawn to support the IFP because of good economic fortune. 

Dark Horse: The Economic Freedom Fighters

The EFF is the newest party to launch a national campaign in South Africa's General Election. They are  led by Julius Malema, an expelled ANC member and his allies. Malema controls a far-left party, similar in vision to the ANC, but he's been convicted of hate speech twice and has corruption allegations around him, including tax evasion. He's frequently mocked in the mainstream media, and accused of being a radical. Some believe that he could act as a populist alternative to poor black South Africans, but his political prowess is largely unproven. 

Despite their shortcomings, the ANC will likely stay in power since they are able to reach high levels of voters throughout South Africa. The DA is very popular in the western part of the country, but lags far behind in the eastern part of the country, even taking a back seat to the IFP in and around Durban. Mmusi Maimane is certainly polished and will be a force to be reckoned with in the Premier (Governor) election in the province of Gauteng, but it's still yet to be seen if the DA can translate that into widespread support among black South Africans across the country. It's also not clear which party will be able to gain the support of the "born-free" generation of South Africans-those born after Apartheid was abolished are now old enough to vote. 

For some great South African political humor (and a very solid impersonation of Madiba) check out this Trevor Noah bit.

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