South Africa’s election results are a damning verdict on the ruling African National Congress (ANC). As early voting took place this week, people protested against poverty and inequality.
They blocked roads in Khayelitsha in Cape Town, Plettenberg Bay in the Western Cape and Umlazi near Durban. Two nearby community halls, meant to be used as voting stations, were torched.
“We’ve been forgotten,” said one protester. “Voting ANC is like digging your own grave.”
The ANC won 58 percent of the vote, down from 62 percent five years ago—and 70 percent in 2004.
Even this understates the ANC’s decline. A low turnout and millions of people not registering to vote meant that just 27 percent of those who could have voted backed the ANC. In 1994 that figure was 54 percent.
The party has failed to transform South Africa in the interests of the workers and the poor since the end of apartheid racial segregation in 1994.
Elizabeth Hashe from Soweto near Johannesburg said, “The ANC will claim victory but it is rotting. This is another big step towards its removal from government.”
The removal of Jacob Zuma as ANC leader and state president last year saved the ANC from an even more serious fall in its vote. Zuma presided over systematic corruption and looting from the state.
The super-rich Gupta family had business connections to Zuma and his family. A string of witnesses said the Guptas had influence over lucrative state contracts and appointments.
By 2017 mass protests and sit-ins called for Zuma’s removal. They came around the same time as “fees must fall” student protests that followed movements over university racism and exclusions.
After a tortuous internal struggle, Zuma was removed. This enabled some ANC critics to back the party again.
Big business had shrieked for Zuma’s removal because he was a destabilising element. In the main the corporations were reconciled to the ruling party once he was removed.
The South African Communist Party (SACP) announced in February 2018 that it could stand separately from the ANC at the next election. The SACP matters. It claims 280,000 members and has major influence in the unions.
Having been part of a “tripartite alliance” with the ANC and the Cosatu union federation for decades, a split would have been significant. But once Zuma went it shifted back to support the ANC.
Last month it wrote that “the ANC remains the only political formation on the ballot capable of leading this struggle”.
The Communist Party fully supported the ANC despite the painful lessons of the Zuma years. The ANC’s neoliberalism has no hope of creating jobs.Ronnie Kasrils, former ANC cabinet minister
Former ANC cabinet minister Ronnie Kasrils told Socialist Worker, “The SACP fully supported the ANC despite the painful lessons of the Zuma years. The ANC’s neoliberalism has no hope of creating jobs.
“The ANC still manages to pull nearly 60 percent because the African masses do not see any other party that gives them hope.
“There is a ‘liberation legacy’ of being the party that led the battle against apartheid—although it is growing increasingly thin.”
Zuma was replaced by Cyril Ramaphosa, who sums up the downward trajectory of the ANC.
Ramaphosa once led the militant National Union of Mineworkers. But he will forever be associated with the massacre of 34 miners at Marikana in 2012. Ramaphosa was a director of Lonmin, the mining firm that worked with police to carry out the killings.
He played a key role in the events, demanding “action” against the strikers.
The Democratic Alliance (DA), the ANC’s main parliamentary opposition, took 21 percent in the election, almost exactly the same as 2014.
The DA has its roots in some of the white parties that existed under apartheid but now has a mostly black leadership and support.
It grew by posing as a “clean” alternative to the ANC. But it openly backs big business and its manifesto called for mass privatisation. It opposed attempts to seize land for redistribution from the rich.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) saw the biggest rise in support. It went from 6 percent in 2014 to 11 percent this week.
Leader Julius Malema’s radical rhetoric has drawn in hundreds of thousands who suffer unemployment and poverty, and want real change.
The EFF manifesto highlighted the issue of land ownership and jobs. It claimed, “25 years since the attainment of political freedom, 80 percent of the population continues to occupy less than 10 percent of South Africa’s land.”
The EFF added, “More than seven million capable South Africans who need jobs are unemployed, with no hope that anything will change unless the current government is changed.”
Despite facing its own corruption allegations, the EFF has become the focus of some of the disenchantment with the ANC.
Regrettably that is not yet true of the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party (SRWP). Launched very recently, it seemed to have a solid base—the metalworkers’ union Numsa, with about 350,000 members.
But across the country it won just 25,000 votes, under 0.2 percent of the total. In its post-election statement the SRWP said, " Our revolutionary task now is to patiently, consistently and tirelessly explain the class content and character of not only the elections but of the parties that have won in these elections, to the working class and our members."
Numsa began talking about the launch of a new workers’ party more than five years ago.
But it hesitated, allowing the EFF to seize the time. Its manifesto put forward some excellent socialist policies, but there wasn’t enough time to create organisation on the ground.
The elections must become a spur to struggle. There has to be intensive organisation in workplaces and agitation over inequality, racism, the environment, services, jobs and other issues.
Cebolenkosi Mhala is a member of Abahlali baseMjondolo, the 55,000-strong shack dwellers’ movement based in the province of KwaZulu Natal.
He told Socialist Worker, “I never expected much from these elections. I know the crucial work will be what we do in our areas, among the poor.
“My organisation put out a statement that said, ‘We have discussed what it means to vote but still remain impoverished. What it means to vote but remain landless and homeless.
“‘What it means to vote but to be denied basic services that our constitutional democracy and international laws and standards have promised us.
“‘And we have discussed what it means to vote but get killed by the very same people you have voted into power.’
“This is what I stand by. Our power comes from below, from the struggle waged from the occupations and in the streets.”
South Africa has a very high level of resistance—protests, militant demonstrations and strikes. Building on them is the way forward.
ANC compromises betrayed the poor
Liberation movements that make concessions to capitalism eventually fail those they claim to be freeing.
The ANC leaders who headed South Africa after 1994 hoped to preside over a “fair” capitalism where black and white would be treated equally.
They hoped that “partnership” with the bosses would produce prosperity.
But the price for securing the goodwill of the powerful corporations, landowners and bankers was the abandonment of their promises to the masses.
Militant rhetoric was replaced by a plan to cooperate with capitalism, not confront it.
Apartheid meant racist oppression of the immense majority, and entrenched poverty.
The ANC brought some changes. But economic freedom remains remote.
Today the official unemployment figure is 27 percent.
But the figure rises to 37 percent if those who have given up looking for work are taken into account.
For the 20 million young people who have become adults under the ANC, unemployment is even higher.
The richest 1 percent own 70 percent of the country’s wealth, while the bottom 60 percent own a mere 7 percent.
The newly-formed South African Federation of Trade Unions, which had broken links with the ANC, said in 2017, “The ANC government embraced the worst kind of free market capitalist fundamentalism.
“This arose from the negotiated settlement which led to the democratic breakthrough of 1994 but which also guaranteed the continuation of monopoly, white-owned capitalism.
“As a result we have become the most unequal society in the world.”
The economic realities have political implications.
The government said 75 percent of the country registered to vote ahead of the latest poll.
But this left ten million unregistered—of which six million are under the age of 30.