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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Five More Years for Zuma: The Aftermath of South Africa's 2014 General Election

This is an article I wrote for the Student Center for African Research and Resolutions, a student think tank in Washington, D.C. Check them out at for more student-produced news regarding African affairs. The article can also be accessed at SCARR's blog section. 

Originally published on May 22, 2014.

A few weeks ago, South Africans celebrated one of their most important national holidays: Freedom Day. Freedom Day is celebrated on April 27 every year and marks the anniversary of the elections in 1994 that brought Nelson Mandela to power after more than 40 years of brutal institutionalized racism, also known as apartheid.

On May 7, South Africans voted in the fifth General Election since apartheid was abolished, re-electing the African National Congress with 62 percent of the vote and giving President Jacob Zuma another five-year term.

South Africa is a parliamentary republic, headed by a president. President Zuma is a member of the African National Congress, the party Nelson Mandela ran under when he was overwhelmingly elected in 1994, signifying the official end of apartheid. South Africa has a bicameral legislature, with the upper house, the National Council of Provinces, representing provincial interests, while the lower house, the National Assembly, represents the people directly. The recent elections on the May 7 elected members to the National Assembly, who then elected the president, and also elected members to the National Council of Provinces.

Before the 2014 Election, 264 seats belonged to the ANC, 67 to the Democratic Alliance, 30 seats to the Congress of the People, and 18 to the Inkatha Freedom Party. The 21 remaining seats belonged to 9 different small parties.

Today, the National Assembly looks different. The ANC lost 15 seats to fall to 249 members in the assembly, while the DA grew to 89 seats. Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters picked up 25 seats and 6.35 percent of the vote. COPE and the IFP held a total of 13 seats combined, turning parliament into a mostly tri-party legislature.

The African National Congress has won every general election since the end of apartheid in the early 1990s, and still enjoys widespread popularity, as it is known as the party of Nelson Mandela. All three post-apartheid presidents have been ANC members.

Cracks may be appearing in the ANC’s foundation however. Today’s ANC is marred by corruption and a president whose list of scandals stretches, in the words of the Afrikaans stanza of South Africa’s national anthem, “uit die blou van onse hemel, [to] die diepte van ons see, oor ons ewige gebergtes, waar die kranse antwoord gee” which translates to “From the blue of our heavens, to the depths of our seas, over our everlasting mountains, where the cliffs give answer.”  President Zuma has been accused of rape, has multiple wives and an undetermined amount of children, and once made the absurd claim that taking a shower after unprotected sexual intercourse would reduce a person’s risk of contracting HIV. In response, artists in South Africa have depicted him in cartoons him with a shower faucet protruding from the back of his oddly shaped head. He has also recently been brought up on charges of corruption, and accused of using hundreds of millions of rands to fund a massive housing project for himself in Nkandla, in the eastern part of the country. Accordint to Gareth Newham of theInstitte for Security Studies for Africa, “Little symbolises the nature of our public sector corruption challenge better than the scandal of R215 million (about $20 million) of public money being diverted away from the public good to upgrade President Jacob Zuma's private homestead. It is therefore not surprising that research data supports the argument that corruption committed by politicians and government officials is driving negative public perceptions of corruption in South Africa.” The ANC has been passive at best with dealing with his antics, and one of South Africa’s largest newspapers, the Mail and Guardian, has told its readers to vote for otherparties. Polls showed that the ANC would likely still win the election with a majority, but some claimed they may fall below the 60 percent threshold they have easily tallied every year since 1994. This was not to be, but the ANC still sits high, retaining three of every five seats in the Assembly.

This is not all political paranoia. While South Africa is a functioning and fluid democracy with a large economy in a region of the world ravaged by dictatorship and poverty, it still struggles to catch up with other democracies. Unemployment is around 24 percent and substantially higher among younger South Africans. Crime is rampant, and South Africa has a rape epidemic that rivals India’s. Many South Africans are undereducated and victims to crippling poverty. The ANC has led South Africa forward to an extent, but the country has much more potential.

Behind the ANC sits the Democratic Alliance, or the DA. The DA is a broadly centrist, business friendly party that is led by Helen Zille, once the premier of the Western Cape province and former mayor of Cape Town. The DA has slowly but surely pulled together elements of the old National Party and a handful of smaller parties to create a small but growing opposition to the ANC. It’s not a very ideological party, instead campaigning on its more efficient record of governing and diverse base of support: While the ANC’s supporters are 96 percent black, the DA’s base is 50 percent white, 25 percent black, and 24 percent of mixed race, (a neutral term used in South Africa to denote mixed race people). 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 Mmusi Maimane, a candidate for premier of Gauteng, a populous province in the centre of South Africa where the cities of Soweto, Johannesburg and Pretoria are. The party is very popular in the Western Cape, but its influence nationally is not as broad. True, 2014’s election showed the DA grow its presence in every one of South Africa’s nine provinces, but that growth was mostly modest and the party still does not have the same mass appeal that the ANC does.

The DA’s growth has been consistent since 2000. In the 1999 elections, the Democratic Party, a predecessor to the DA, won 38 seats with 9.56 percent of the vote. In 2004, they won 50 seats, 12.37 percent of the popular vote. In 2009, they jumped up again to 67 seats and 16.67 percent of the vote. They took another 22 seats in this year’s election, increasing their total to 89.

The Congress of the People flopped in 2014’s election. Originally formed by former members of the ANC in 2008 as a reaction to the ANC's corruption and recall of former President Thabo Mbeki, they polled fairly well in 2009, gaining 7.42 percent of the vote and 30 seats, but only picked up 3 seats in this past election, likely due to their constant infighting and reactionary nature.

The Inkatha Freedom Party fared better than COPE but still fell in popularity, scraping out a meager 10 seats. They are led by Mangosuthu Buthelezi, and they have never been a nationally powerful party. The party peaked as an opposition party to the ANC in 1994, and has been declining ever since. In every election since 1994, the IFP has performed worse than the previous contest. They are only projected to win around 2.8 percent of the popular vote and only seem to be a regional force. Outside the province of Kwa-Zulu Natal, they are a non-entity.

It looks like Gavin Woods, a former IFP MP who published a scathing critique of the IFP’s platform, was right. In this document, Woods claimed that the IFP “has no discernible vision, mission or philosophical base, no clear national ambitions or direction, no articulated ideological basis and offers little in the way of current, vibrant original and relevant policies." Woods also warned the party that "it must treat Buthelezi as the leader of a political party and not the political party itself."

Last but not least is the Economic Freedom Fighters, led by Julius Malema, an expelled ANC member. Malema’s EFF is far to the left, even farther than the socialist ANC in some respects. While the EFF fared better than COPE and the IFP, Malema does not seem like someone who can make a political party widely successful. He has 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. His political prowess is largely unproven, despite the fact that EFF managed to pull 6 percent of the electorate. Like COPE, it is a largely reactionary party which does not bode well for longevity.

The DA seems to govern relatively cleanly and is not quite the “white party” some claim it is. (As mentioned before, nearly half of its support comes from black and mixed race South Africans.) Of course the ANC deserves enormous credit for the work they did with F.W. De Klerk’s National Party in the early 1990s to make South Africa a multiracial democracy, but the ANC of today is only a shadow of the party that took their seats in 1994’s election. With a stronger DA, the ANC may be forced to answer to its numerous scandals, and government may become cleaner nationwide. In any case, South Africa has a lot of work to do, and a healthy challenge to the status quo may help them on their way. 

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