The South African elections this week were expected to see a clear victory for the African National Congress (ANC). But nobody should believe that the ANC’s control is unchallenged.
Frustration at the lack of change in the last 20 years is feeding the growth of alternatives that express the anger of sections of workers, the unemployed, and the people shut out from the elite. And there is increasing pressure for a workers’ party to the left of the ANC.
Anger at the ANC saw a government minister chased away by furious residents when they went to campaign near Marikana, site of the massacre of miners in 2012.
President Jacob Zuma had to cancel a visit to the area.
The ANC appeals for votes on the basis that it has transformed South Africa. Certainly the defeat of the vile racist system of apartheid was a huge victory. But deep economic inequality remains—and with it race and gender divides.
The revelation of Zuma’s enormous state-funded personal estate has underlined the sense of a gilded few who prosper while the majority do not.
By some measures the ANC vote has been falling ever since the first post-apartheid election.
Feeling the ground beginning to shift beneath their feet the main trade union federation, Cosatu, has thrown itself into wringing out every possible vote for the ANC. It warns that the only alternatives are right wing parties that hanker for still harsher neoliberal policies and perhaps a return to pre-1994 racist oppression.
But that ignores the growing opposition to the ANC from militant trade unionists, tens of thousands of young people, and the socialist left.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), led by Julius Malema, has made a major impact during the election. At an EFF rally near Pretoria many cheered Malema’s stinging criticisms of the ANC and his demand for “economic freedom in our lifetime”.
Whatever happens on election day, there are crucial class struggles taking place. The strike by platinum miners continues and is a beacon of hope for many workers.
The 340,000-strong metal workers’ union Numsa is calling for a new workers’ party. It decided not to call for a vote for the ANC and to explore alternatives to the alliance of the ANC, Cosatu and the Communist Party.
Numsa argues this alliance is not working for the interests of working class people and it now seeks “the establishment of a movement for socialism”.
The election results cannot cover over the historic changes that are on the horizon.
Economic Freedom Fighters tap into huge anger
Half of young black people in South Africa have no job—and their prospects are not much better when they are older.
More black people live in shacks and other “informal housing” now than did at the end of apartheid.
The EFF is tapping into the wider anger at this inequality and lack of real change in the lives of working class people.
But its electoral success is currently limited by the low level of voter registration among the many young people who are drawn to it.
Only a third of “born-frees”—those born after apartheid—and 60 percent of people in their 20s are registered to vote.
The EFF is militant, but its policies stop far short of revolutionary change. Many of who support the EFF could be won to a new workers’ party.