The African National Congress (ANC) won a clear victory in the South African election. But its enormous majority—62 percent of the vote—masks major shifts taking place.
It retains huge loyalty as the party of Nelson Mandela and the main force that conquered apartheid. But the ANC’s vote is ebbing. It was won on the votes of 35 percent of those eligible to vote.
By this measure the ANC’s support has been falling ever since the end of apartheid.
The fall has been sharpest in the cities. Much press attention in South Africa has focused on the Democratic Alliance—a pro-business party based on the old white-led parties and sections of the black middle class.
Its vote rose but there is little sign it will grow any further. And exciting new forces are emerging. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a party that has existed for only eight months, won well over a million votes and will have 25 of the 400 MPs in the new parliament.
Its promises of partial-nationalisation of mines and banks echoed with those who are fed up with the timidity of the ANC and the slow pace of change since 1994.
The EFF has come from nowhere to be the official opposition in the North West province and Limpopo.
Lindiwe, an 18 year old EFF voter living in Potchefstroom, said, “I voted EFF, I worked for EFF, I joined EFF because the ANC is not our party. It has done so little to make our lives better.
“Many people here still live in shacks, 20 years after apartheid ended. All my life I have lived in a ‘free’ South Africa but we are not free until we control the economy.”
The question for the EFF—whose policies often do not match its fiery and radical rhetoric—is whether it will simply look towards the 2016 local election and the 2019 general election, or will become a party of struggle.
Its supporters address one another as “fighter”. Will the EFF be fighters for the thousands of platinum miners on strike for better wages?
Will its leaders be at the mines if the bosses organise scabbing? Will it back the campaigners in the townships and the unemployed?
Its leader, Julius Malema, will no doubt shake up parliament. He has pledged that EFF MPs will not dress in the usual garb but will wear red overalls to stress they are “going to work” for the poor.
Such moves make the EFF popular with many people. But it will take a lot more to become effective.
Meanwhile discussions about a new workers’ party are taking place. They centre on South Africa’s biggest union, the metalworkers’ Numsa. Numsa refused to call for an ANC vote and says it is in a process to create a movement for socialism and a united front between workers and poor.
This would be a hugely significant development offering a powerful alternative to the ANC. It could attract many who voted for the EFF—so long as it does not become fixated on parliament.