ANC faces election backlash by disillusioned South Africans

Party losing support amid corruption scandals and economic stagnation

Helen Zille, leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, dances with supporters at a campaign rally in Hout Bay, Cape Town, on Thursday. The main opposition party has steadily increased its support base since 1994. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

Helen Zille, leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, dances with supporters at a campaign rally in Hout Bay, Cape Town, on Thursday. The main opposition party has steadily increased its support base since 1994. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA


The call this week by dissident veterans of the African National Congress for people to withhold support for the party in the coming general election illustrates the growing disaffection with the ANC’s leadership.

Former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils and ex-deputy health minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge said on Tuesday their “Sidikiwe! Vukani! (We’ve had enough! Wake up!) Vote No!” campaign was a warning shot at President Jacob Zuma and his colleagues.

Kasrils said spoiling one’s ballot or voting for a minority party in the election on May 7th could help dent the ANC’s parliamentary majority, and send it a message.

“If the ANC were to lose 3-4 per cent in this election they’ll still be in power, nothing will stop that,” he told reporters at Wits University in Johannesburg, “but what that signals . . . is that, ‘my God you guys [ANC] better wake up . . . you’re not going to last for five years, you’re losing more and more respect’.”

Kasrils and his colleagues may be in a minority in terms of senior party members willing to undermine their own movement’s election campaign, but their disillusionment with the ANC leaders is mirrored in many sections of South African society.

Violent protests
Support for the former liberation movement has never fallen below 62.2 per cent in a general election since the end of apartheid in 1994, but signs on the ground indicate the outcome of this campaign could be different from previous ones.

A range of scandals and issues under South African president Jacob Zuma’s leadership of the ANC have undermined the movement’s standing among the electorate, including the country’s black majority, its main support base.

An underwhelming service delivery coupled with high unemployment has led to a massive increase in violent anti-government protests. A study published in mid-February by the South African Institute of Race Relations revealed that from the start of January at least five anti-government protests were taking place every day.

There is also a perception that unbridled corruption exists within government at every level, and this has been reinforced by the recent Nkandla scandal, where more than €14 million of taxpayers’ money was spent on security upgrades to Zuma’s private rural home.

The death of South Africa’s first democratically-elected president, Nelson Mandela, last year has also robbed the party of its totem.

In addition, the continuing stagnation of the economy, the growth of the main opposition Democratic Alliance party and the emergence of new political rivals has left the ANC more vulnerable than ever before.

Political analyst Richard Calland believes this election will be the most competitive since South Africa’s first democratic election in 1994.

“For the ANC, the question is will it win over 60 per cent of the vote, or will it drop beneath that psychologically important mark, because once you are in the 50s you can see power drifting away from you.

“If the ANC vote did go below 60 per cent, then I would think senior ANC figures are likely to see President Zuma as an electoral liability, and, in the light of scandals such as Nkandla, I’d say it increases his chances to higher than 50 per cent of being recalled from office by the party,” Mr Calland said.

The ANC’s chief rival is the Democratic Alliance (DA). The main opposition party has steadily increased its support base since 1994, and in the last general election in 2009 it won 16.66 per cent of the vote, as well as control of the Western Cape, the only province the ANC did not win.

More recently, the DA took 24 per cent of the vote in the 2011 municipal elections, compared to the ANC’s 62 per cent (the party won 65.9 per cent in 2009) – a development that prompted the Democratic Alliance to publicly say it was aiming for 30 per cent of the vote in this year’s national election.

Calland believes the DA sees the May 7th election as another milestone in a longer journey, and that its main aim is to ensure it makes further progress in securing votes from the black electorate in general, but also geographically, as its stronghold remains limited to the Western Cape.

“The DA has to make progress in places like Gauteng [South Africa’s economic heartland]-formed Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), led by Julius Malema, the former ANC Youth League leader expelled from the ruling party two years ago. Initially observers believed the EFF, which espouses the nationalisation of mines, banks and other key sectors of the economy as well as the expropriation of land without compensation, would do well to take even two or three per cent of the vote.

However, Calland says that through its populist policies and charismatic leadership the party has managed to diversify its support base beyond the youth and the poor since it began campaigning last year. “They have been doing well and attracting support from the black intelligentsia who feel economic freedom has not been delivered to all. The pre-election polls are now saying the EFF could take up to 8 per cent of the vote, and much of this support will be former ANC voters,” he says.

What could be a major mitigating factor against a further ANC decline or the possibility of it having to enter into coalition governments at provincial level is the fractious nature of the opposition parties.

Ahead of the poll, the DA announced it had formed an alliance with the newly formed Agang SA, but this lasted only a few days, while the Congress of the People Party, which has 30 seats in parliament, was not able to consolidate an alliance with the DA either.

An alternative result from the political crises facing the ANC could be a lower voter turnout, as many people see few viable alternatives to the party that brought them political freedom, but has struggled to do the same economically.

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