Despite worker unrest
Twenty years after Freedom Day in 1994, the African National Congress won overwhelmingly in South Africa’s fifth national democratic elections held on May 7. The ANC, which has dominated South African politics for decades, even before coming to power in the first nonracial democratic elections, officially received 62.5 percent of the vote.
Following way behind the ANC is the Democratic Alliance, headed by former Cape Town Mayor Helen Zille, which gained 22 percent of the vote. While this represents an increase of 5 percent since 2009, the DA received just one-third of the support earned by the ANC.
Perhaps the most significant development in the national poll was the performance of the newly formed Economic Freedom Fighters, led by Julius Malema, the ousted president of the ANC Youth League. The EFF won 6 percent of the vote and is now the third party, behind the ANC and the DA.
The election outcome illustrated that the ANC retains the support of the majority of the South African electorate. Efforts by the DA as well as other political forces were largely unsuccessful in making a significant dent in the ANC’s margin of political authority within the national government or the National Assembly.
Chairperson Pansy Tlakula, of the Independent Electoral Commission that administers the poll, declared the 2014 national and provincial elections were “free and fair” and a confirmation that “democracy is alive and well and thriving in our land.” (southafrica.info, May 12)
Significance for political future
Overall, 29 political parties contested the elections, but only 13 won seats in the National Assembly. The ANC will lead, with 249 seats out of 400.
This represents a loss of 15 seats since the 2009 elections, when the ANC won over 65 percent of the vote. Following the ANC in the National Assembly is the DA with 89 seats and the EFF with 25 seats.
The ANC maintained a strong electoral campaign on the ground in all but one province. Since it is the party that led the national liberation struggle for decades, most South Africans remain loyal to its history and political legacy.
The only province where the ANC did not win a majority was in the Western Cape, which was retained by the DA. In the North West Province, the ANC won with 25 representatives; the EFF became the official opposition in the provincial government there with five seats, just ahead of the DA with four.
The North West Province is where the platinum sector of the mining industry is based. On Aug. 16, 2012, a massacre of 34 mineworkers by the provincial police sent shockwaves throughout the South African body politic and the world.
Since the massacre of the mineworkers, Julius Malema has won support in the area, which was reflected in EFF becoming the second-most popular party in North West Province elections.
In this area, continuing unrest among the mineworkers and rival organizing efforts by the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union had been expected to signal a huge drop in support for the ANC. The National Union of Mineworkers, an affiliate of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, is no longer the major labor organization in the so-called platinum belt, now in second place to the AMCU.
However, the AMCU did not appear to have a strategy for the 2014 elections. Its members in the platinum belt have been on strike for months. The bosses have remained intransigent and are refusing to reach an agreement with the union.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa is the largest labor union in the country and an affiliate of COSATU. It refused to support the reelection of the ANC. Irvin Jim, its secretary general, says he will form a workers’ party in the coming period to challenge the ANC over its neoliberal policies that negatively impact workers. However, such a party was not built in time for the recent elections, and it remains to be seen what the outcome of the NUMSA’s stated project will be, in light of the fact that the ANC maintains strong support among the organized working class.
A divisive conflict in COSATU over the status of Secretary General Vavi Zwelinzima was resolved prior to the elections, with the intervention of ANC Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who had served as the first leader of the NUM during the 1980s. The South African Communist Party had called for closing ranks in the working class in support of a resounding ANC victory.
The 3 percent decline in the ANC’s margin of victory in the national elections and the DA’s rise by 5 percent, as well as the emergence of the EFF as a third party, reveals some erosion of support for the ruling party. How long this trend will continue remains to be seen.
In the national elections in 2009, the Congress of the People, founded by disgruntled ANC officials, emerged as a possible future challenger to the ruling party. But soon COPE began to suffer from factionalism and is now on the verge of collapse, with a large section of its Assembly representatives resigning and rejoining the ANC.
The performance of the EFF and the DA in the National Assembly and within the provincial governmental structures will largely determine their potential for growth. At the same time, the viability of the South African economy must be addressed by the ANC in the near future.
South Africa and the world capitalist crisis
Issues raised by the EFF and the DA over the vitality of the national economy drew a small percentage of support away from the ANC. With the South African economy remaining well within the world capitalist system, it will be difficult for the problems of unemployment, land reform and poverty to be adequately addressed.
The EFF was castigated by both the ANC and the SACP for advocating nationalization of the mining and agricultural industries. The opponents’ argument was that the EFF’s demand for public control was not class-based and would only benefit a new layer of African bourgeois interests.
However, the question of land reform and nationalization of industry must be addressed by the government in order for the ANC to remain in power over the long term. The combined labor power of the South African working class must be harnessed for a transformation of the economy to take place.
Major changes are already underway on the part of the mining bosses inside the country. The owners of Lonmin and Amplats, two of the major mining firms, have threatened major restructuring, with resulting layoffs, in response to the ongoing labor unrest in the North West Province and other areas of the country. As a result of these uncertainties, the value of the rand, the national currency, has dropped significantly. It rose only slightly after the smooth outcome of the vote on May 7.
The DA represents a more right-wing approach to neoliberal economic policy. It seeks to reinstitute key aspects of the system of class privilege that was the official stance under apartheid, but at the same time is attempting to recruit more Africans into its ranks. The inability of the ANC government to create full employment over the last two decades has provided a political avenue for the DA to make false promises of job creation, which can never be achieved under capitalism in this period.
Consequently, the ANC will have to move to the left if it is to regain the support it has lost and ensure the goal of a national democratic revolution, as enunciated in the Freedom Charter and other documents. In the aftermath of the elections, the party is in a good position to resolve its internal disagreements in order to focus on the political tasks ahead over the next five years.