Home News South African voters reject party that offered them freedom from apartheid

South African voters reject party that offered them freedom from apartheid


Saturday’s election results showed the African National Congress had only about 40 percent of the vote after nearly all the ballots were counted, losing political control of South Africa for the first time since it toppled Africa’s last white regime 30 years ago.

South Africa faces the world’s highest unemployment rate, water and electricity shortages and rampant crime, with the ruling party defeating its rivals but failing to maintain the nearly 58% of the vote it won in the last election in 2019.

The shocking setback for Africa’s oldest liberation movement has set one of the continent’s most stable countries and largest economies on a difficult and uncharted path.

The party, which won international acclaim under Nelson Mandela, will now have two weeks to form a government with one or more rival parties that have derided it as corrupt and vowed never to ally with it.

“I was really shocked,” said Maropene Ramokgopa, one of the senior officials of the African National Congress (ANC). “It opened our eyes and said, ‘Look, we are missing something somewhere.'”

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s dream of re-election faces a serious threat as he will be forced to use the negotiating skills that helped him bring about the end of apartheid and unite his faction-ridden party, which is likely to be divided over which party to ally with.

Critics are expected to blame Mr Ramaphosa for the big drop and may try to replace him with his deputy, Paul Mashatile. The party’s previous biggest drop in an election was 4.7 per cent in 2019.

“I didn’t expect Ramaphosa to make things worse than he found them in five years,” said Khulu Mbatha, a senior ANC figure who has been critical of the party’s lack of anti-corruption efforts.

Before the 400-member National Assembly convenes to elect a president, parties must work out coalition arrangements. There are 52 parties in the national election, and the number of seats each party receives in parliament depends on the percentage of votes it wins. Without an absolute majority, the ANC can no longer choose the country’s leaders.

“South Africa will go through some teething problems as it enters this era,” said Pranish Desai, a data analyst at the nonpartisan group Good Governance Africa. “Some of these issues may be important, but voters decided they wanted this.”

Political analysts say that because the gap to reach 50 percent support is huge, the ANC cannot just pull in the smaller parties that would have allowed it to maintain its dominant position in the government. Instead, the ANC must rely on some of the larger parties that it fiercely fought with during the campaign.

A big question is whether the A.N.C. will accept or reject a new party led by Jacob Zuma, Ramaphosa’s sworn enemy and former president and A.N.C. leader.

Zuma was forced to resign in 2018 amid a corruption scandal. Feeling betrayed by his party and former deputy Cyril Ramaphosa, he helped form a new party, Khmer Rouge (MK), the name of the ANC’s armed wing during its fight against apartheid. Zuma was barred from running for parliament, but Khmer Rouge performed well in the election, taking crucial votes away from the ANC and other parties, analysts say.

“Of course, it did surprise the ANC,” Nomvula Mokonyane, one of the ANC’s top officials, said of MK’s performance. “It was beyond our expectations.”

Officials in Zuma’s own party say they are willing to work with any party, meaning a reunion with his former friend and now enemy is not out of the question – although it would be humiliating for the ANC.

Another potential ally of the ANC is the Democratic Alliance, which received the second-largest share of votes. Some ANC members accuse the Democratic Alliance of pursuing policies that would effectively return the country to the apartheid era. Others see a partnership between the two parties as a natural fit because the Democratic Alliance’s market-oriented views on the economy align closely with those of Mr Ramaphosa.

But joining the grand coalition could be politically risky for Ramaphosa because the DA has been adamantly opposed to racial policies aimed at boosting black employment and wealth and has pushed agendas that appeal to right-wing white groups.

The ANC could instead seek support from the Economic Freedom Fighters, a party founded a decade ago by Julius Malema, one of the ANC’s expelled youth leaders. Analysts say such a partnership could spook big business and international investors because the EFF insists on nationalizing mines and other businesses and redistributing land seized from white owners to black South Africans.

But such an alliance is attractive to some ANC members because Malema is one of them and a large part of the party is ideologically aligned with the Economic Freedom Fighters’ ideas of wealth redistribution.

There are fears the country is headed for political chaos that would divert attention from its many problems. Local coalition governments have proven unstable, with leaders changing at will and infighting so intense that lawmakers are unable to do anything for their constituents.

The country faces serious economic and social challenges, with many South Africans questioning Have they really gotten rid of apartheid?For many, the election represents a chance for a reset, comparable to the democratic transformation of the past generation.

During the election, the slogan “2024 is our 1994” circulated on social media and campaign posters, especially among young South Africans.

The landmark election ended the dominance of the SWAPO, a party that had led the fight against colonialism and reshaped Africa in the second half of the 20th century. South Africa’s apartheid government banned the SWAPO, sending many of its leaders into exile around the world. Stories of torture and suffering endured by these party members made many of them heroes in the eyes of South Africa and the world — a reputation that has kept many voters who grew up under apartheid forever loyal to the SWAPO.

That loyalty waned, however, as decades of ANC leadership left many South Africans without significant improvements in material conditions, while many of the party’s leaders amassed vast fortunes. Young South Africans Minorities who do not live under white rule have become a growing segment of the electorate, more interested in how a party performs in government than in its image.

Some of South Africa’s neighbours are ruled by former liberation movements that are close allies of the ANC and are also seeing falling electoral support. Analysts say the outcome of South Africa’s election could foreshadow the fall of other liberation parties.

Veteran ANC member Mavuso Msimang said that when he drove past long lines outside polling stations on election day, he feared the party would be punished for failing to provide basic services such as electricity.

“I said to myself, ‘You know, these people aren’t lining up to vote to thank the ANC for taking away the lights,’ ” he said. “It’s clear these people aren’t going to vote for us.”

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