Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Post-election landscape in SA

This is a re-worked version of an article I wrote for the London-based expatriate magazine, SA Promo. (Issue 25, June 2009) See the online version of the magazine here. You can "turn" the pages by clicking on the top right hand corner. This piece appears on pg 8, and another article I wrote on Jacob Zuma follows on. The sub-editing and formatting are really impressive and I think this little mag is a fantastic resource for those of us living abroad.


The general election of April 22nd has come and gone, and apart from a few administrative glitches, was a free and transparent process. Notwithstanding the continued dominance of the African National Congress, and some heated rhetoric from all parties, the success of the poll was an indication of the vitality of the democratic process. It was also hard-fought, with South Africans turning out to vote in large numbers and with a great deal of enthusiasm.

After a long and controversial path to power, Jacob Zuma is finally President of South Africa. Although winning by a convincing majority, the ANC failed to capture two thirds of the vote, narrowly missing out with 65.9%. This means the ruling party are unable to make constitutional amendments without the support of other parties.

President Zuma

The most interesting developments were in the opposition. Major gains were made by the Democratic Alliance, which retains its status as the official opposition after securing 16,5% of the vote. In addition to winning nearly a million new votes on the national level, the DA was also able to capture the Western Cape outright. This is the first time since 1994 that any party has won the province without the need for a coalition and was largely due to the switching loyalty of Coloured voters away from the ANC.

Helen Zille is now Premier and this gives the party she leads the chance to demonstrate its ability to govern a province. However, the start of Zille's tenure has been undermined by her choice of an all-male cabinet that has caused a rather unfortunate row over the ever-important problem of gender discrimination in the country. This was probably strategically unwise and sent the wrong message (although nothing compared to the hateful bile being spewed forth by the ANCYL). Overall, there is still a long way to go before the DA can challenge the dominance of the ANC at the national level.

Premier Zille

The Congress of the People (COPE), after a promising start, has proved disappointing (but resilient). Although many pundits predicted COPE would score between 20 – 30% of the vote, it only managed 7,42%. I did not speculate openly about how much it would gain, but certainly my thought was that it would at least breach the 10% mark. I held my nose and voted COPE and tried to argue that as a splinter of the ANC, it was the only party that would truly be able to challenge the dominant party in the foreseeable future.

But as the renaissance of the likes of Tokyo Sexwale and Matthews Phosa shows, it pays to stay within the ANC and bide your time until the balance of power shifts in your favour. Both were persona non grata during the Mbeki administration and were even accused, along with Cyril Ramaphosa, of plotting a coup to overthrow the President (goodness, what a paranoid leader he was). Now these men are back on top. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and S'bu Ndebele were also big Mbeki acolytes and have since repositioned themselves and are now in the Zuma cabinet.

Yes, we kinda-sorta can!

COPE failed for a number of reasons. It suffered from a nasty leadership tussle as well as a tragic lack of electioneering in the townships and rural areas. It has also struggled to shake its association with the failings of Thabo Mbeki, whose recall as President last September was the catalyst for the formation of the party. That said, COPE succeeded in drawing support from across the racial spectrum and has eclipsed the DA as the official opposition in five of the nine provinces. It is still early days for South Africa’s newest political party, but the drawing board will have to be wiped clean I'm afraid.

  • African National Congress: 65,9% - 264 seats
  • Democratic Alliance: 16,66% - 67seats
  • Congress of the People: 7,42% - 30 seats
  • Inkatha Freedom Party: 4,55% - 18 seats
  • Others: +/- 5% - 21 seats

Another change is that many of the smaller, interest-specific parties suffered significant losses. Patricia de Lille’s Independent Democrats, and Bantu Holomisa’s United Democratic Movement have run aground, winning about 1% of the vote each. Although nothing has materialised yet, both leaders have been rumoured to be considering joining either COPE or the DA. The Minority Front, Freedom Front Plus, ACDP, PAC and AZAPO have all badly haemorrhaged support and their future looks increasingly tenuous.

Overall, a successful free election in one of the Continent's most important countries. However, elections are not the only indicator of the vitality of a democracy. The ability of the elected leadership to submit to the independence of the institutions of state and to obey the rule of law will be just as important as a well-run and clean election.


Thank you to SA Promo for giving me permission to reproduce this work.

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