The Changing Face Of SA’s Politics

The Changing Face Of SA’s Politics

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The Changing Face Of SA’s Politics

The 2021 municipal elections in SA revealed some rather surprising results. The odd dichotomy of this year’s elections is the seemingly heightened public focus on the issue, while this year also saw the lowest voter turnout in history.

The IEC estimates that only around 46% of South Africans registered to vote voted in these elections, a stark contrast to previous years where it seemed that mass political canvassing drew voters to the polling stations en masse.

Rand Rescue takes a look at the results thus far and discusses some possible consequences.

The fall of the strongholds

In the last elections in 2016, the ANC had clinched a majority vote of 53,19% while they lost many municipalities they’d previously governed in the latest elections, with a mere 46,06% vote this year.

But the ANC is not the only party which has lost its voters, the main opposition party, the DA slipped from 26,9% down to 21,84% while parties like the ACDP, COPE and GOOD have all but slipped off the grid.

What’s quite alarming is the ignorance which seems to sustain the ruling politicians’ confidence. ANC’s head of elections, Fikile Mbalula, stated that the low voter turnout is better than their supporters giving their vote to opposition parties. Though he may be technically correct as far as the actual voter count goes, it’s this type of thinking which is at the heart of the low voter turnout in the first place. President Ramaphosa had similar sentiments, stating that voters had shown they’re eager for parties to work together. While this may also be true in general, the lack of voting interest does not necessarily translate to a national mindset of cooperation.

The DA, although adamant that they have made headway in the latest elections and that the public should not read too much into the numbers – what are elections but a count of numbers. The DA has lost 386 national seats and lost majority control of 8 municipalities in the 2021 elections.

It would be flawed to compare municipal election turnout to national elections, as the turnout is usually lower for these local elections. One must be reminded, however, that the number of non-voters are far lower than the 46% turnout given this 46% only represents 43,37% of South Africans since only 20 385 426 of the 60 337 222 South Africans are registered voters. Indeed, one could argue that many of the non-registered individuals are represented by children under 18 years or South Africans living abroad in areas without easy access to voting stations. And likewise, we could also argue that a chunk of the registered voters who didn’t vote are expats, but this is a pretty small chunk.

South African politics

The ANC and DA have definitely been haemorrhaging votes to the EFF and VF+ respectively as more of their voters opt for more polarised political narratives.

South Africa’s political makeup is unique in a sense that the left and right aren’t representative of liberal and conservative views in the traditional sense. Instead, the two poles represent distinct racial standpoints, with both extremes fighting for the rights of their own ilk.

One would be remiss to assume that the somewhat ‘tribalist’ stances of these two poles necessarily represent opposing political ideologies – the difference is merely that each group seeks to use these ideologies almost exclusively for their own race’s gain. Within the far left you’ll find many individuals with capitalist views, while you’ll also find that many far right splinter factions live in isolated micro-communities which maintain pseudo-Marxist social systems.

What would be deemed liberal by international standards is mostly represented by the centrist views in South Africa – those parties who seek equal rights for all, progressive economic policies, increased social and educational investment and so forth.

One could argue that the factions which would be labeled liberal by international standards are mostly represented by centrist politics in South Africa (those parties who seek equal rights for all, progressive economic policies, increased social and educational investment and so forth) – the middle ground of sorts. Yet this view does not entirely cater to a spectrum. For there are parties like the IFP and ACDP who are far more conservative in many ways than those parties towards either end of the spectrum, and yet they are also less radical and reactionary than those who uphold extremist views on racial segregation and superiority.

But we would blunder further by dividing the left and right by racial lines alone. For while the EFF is categorised as having an African nationalist ideology, the truth is that the party has had a hand in many xenophobic attacks – they’re not nationalist for all Africans. And while the VF+ has been labelled a pro-white party, the truth is that they are predominantly pro-Afrikaner.

An interesting progression was the achievement of ActionSA – an offshoot of the DA which came about through the efforts of former DA leader Mmusi Maimane and former Johannesburg mayor, Herman Mashaba (who serves as party leader). In their first elections this year, they grabbed 2,36% of the vote; a mere 0,01% behind veteran party VF+.

The pendulum is in full swing

While ActionSA is a possible candidate for clinching more votes from the left and right, South Africans are a bit fatigued by the pop-up and swift demise of splinter groups. Cope, AgangSA, Good, the Independent Democrats – all these parties talked the talk, but struggled to walk the walk.

Many South Africans have been dismayed by the poor performance of new parties who seem incapable of backing up their promises with real political clout. The side-effect of this is that many voters who are disgruntled with the ANC or DA choose to vote more to the left or right than wasting more votes on centrist parties, even if the ideologies aren’t necessarily aligned to their own.

We’ve noted the pendulum effect in past articles – which is the tendency of political ideologies to ‘swing’ systematically from one pole to another. We’ve seen the uptake in nationalist stances around the globe in the past few years, so it’s no surprise that South Africa is also leaning towards these extremes.

But there are additional factors which contribute to this polarisation. One, of course, being the lack of congruent representation in the middle ground (as mentioned above), and the other is the lack of trust in prominent parties.

The ANC has shown time and again that they are incapable of maintaining corruption-free governance, and the DA seems to have lost its identity along the way. Both these parties relied predominantly on disparaging the opposition in their latest political campaigns. While such tactics are marginally successful since they play on human fears, this is not the calibre of political leadership South Africans want or need.

Similar tactics were employed by both the GOP and DNC in the US elections last year, we’ve also witnessed the outcome of such political preschool playground and pottymouth antics.  If the only weapon in one’s arsenal is disparaging your enemy, then you have a problem. If the only choice for voters is ‘the lesser of two evils’, then the country has a problem. While the EFF and VF+ have also used such narratives in the past, perhaps voters are more keen to choose them since they’ve always maintained these views. An odd outcome of this primary party enervation was the IFP’s drastic uptake in the KZN. Though the party has always been a strong contender in the province, many believed that the current leadership crisis in the Zulu royal family will have hampered the IFP’s powers. And yet it’s the political infighting within the ANC which seems to have swayed voters to favour the IFP. 

What South Africans so desperately need and want is stability; a lasting foundation which serves as fertile ground for progression, economic upliftment and the roots of a truly equal society.

Beware the repercussions

One has to feel for President Cyril Ramaphosa. Although none of our politicians are blameless when it comes to the state of the nation – Ramaphosa is and was a businessman first and foremost.

Though he has a way with the people, it is not as pronounced and intuitive as other leaders. The odds were stacked against our current president when he took over from his predecessor. Not only was he handed an economy in tatters, but he had to step in and win the hearts and minds of South Africans across the board.

While he is certainly far more capable of leading the country than Zuma ever was, the backsliding ANC support may well be perceived by the international business and political world as indicative of his failure as a leader. This is problematic given that much of the international support SA has received since Ramaphosa took the reins was purposely offered due to international trust in his business acumen.

There may well be some investors who view the latest voting results as positive, perceiving this to indicate a more representative political society, but others may well see it the way South Africans see it. South Africans are disillusioned by our leadership, tired of waiting for progress and fed up with crime and poor service delivery. South Africa has lost trust in its leaders, and this holds true for South Africans of all ages, races and creeds.

Such sentiment is not really the type of motivation investors look for when hedging their bets. Even minimal insight into South Africa’s history will show how the latest election results point towards accelerated destabilisation, and major change coming for SA in years to come. As those parties further left and right of centre than the main konyne gain more traction, the violence and dissent which is so intrinsic to South African society is bound to increase as political parties fight for those extra votes with all their might.

A country divided

Though hung councils are part and parcel to politics, the surprise of the 2021 elections is the location of the hung councils. Historically, hung councils were predominantly found in rural areas where socio-economic factors as well as ethnicity, culture and religion play a major part in local decision-making.

This year the greatest number of hung councils are found in the economic hub of South Africa – Gauteng. 

Hung councils generally mean one thing – coalitions. While coalitions have been successful in the past, they also open parties up to criticism and scorn from their existing voter base. One such historic blunder was that of former NP and thereafter NNP party leader Marthinus van Schalkwyk. While most voters at the time had voted for the party due to its ideological stance, they weren’t that eager to support van Schalkwyk as party leader. Nevertheless, these NNP stalwarts cast their vote for their party, only to have their leader flip flop like a fish out of water and eventually walk over to the opposition party – disbanding the NNP in the process. Most parties are adamant that they won’t form coalitions, but it’s early days.

Many political analysts believe that the 2024 elections will sound the final death knell for the ANC. And while many people are excited for such a possibility, we should not hasten to celebrate the demise of any political party. The next few years are bound to see even more political strife as the big parties fracture, new alliances are formed and new parties seek to shake those hesitant followers loose from the parties who no longer serve them.

Plan in advance

There’s no way of telling which way the wind will blow, but one thing seems certain – things are going to heat up in the next few years which means more instability, more changes in parliament and more insecurity for South Africans.

It’s important to take a critical look at the state of the nation and plan for all eventualities.

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