By Charlie Kimber
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2908

Voters punish ruling ANC in South African election

The ANC is likely to need coalition partners in government for the first time
Issue 2908
Woman in red jacket and red beret takes her voting papers from officials during South African election

Economic Freedom Fighters national chairperson Zovuyo Veronica Mente voted in Northern Cape

The African National Congress (ANC), the party of Nelson Mandela, has slumped below 50 percent of the vote for the first time as results come in from this week’s general election.

On Saturday, with most of the votes counted, the ANC was on 40 percent of the national vote. That’s more than 15 percentage points down on the last election in 2019. And it would have fallen further had not the government gained respect from its leading role in accusing Israel of genocide in Gaza at the International Court of Justice.

Lying second, at around 22 percent, was the pro-corporate Democratic Alliance. It calls for more privatisation, abolition of the minimum wage and forcing unions to make damage deposits before strikes. It appeals to large sections of whites and middle class black people.

The ANC previously gained from its prominence in the defeat of apartheid—the vile racist system that existed from 1948 to 1994—and the prestige of Mandela. Its vote has fluctuated over the last 30 years but was always well above half. It took 62.5 percent in the first post-apartheid election in 1994 and that increased to 66.4 percent in 1999 and then nearly 70 percent in 2004. After that, the decline began—to 66 percent in 2009, 62 percent in 2014 and 57.5 percent last time in 2019.

Now it will have to look for a coalition partner or partners to run the government.

Five years ago president Cyril Ramaphosa campaigned on a promise to eradicate widespread corruption and reform the governing party. But corruption remains rampant and life for most black people has worsened.

Millions still live in shacks and face the violence of the state that sweeps away their flimsy homes because they don’t have permission to live where they are. Electricity blackouts frequently hit ten hours a day. Unemployment, officially, remains stuck at about a third of the working age population and is actually higher.

Some of the ANC’s vote has gone to the uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) party of former president Jacob Zuma which was on about 14.5 percent of the total on Saturday. He claims to be more radical than the ANC. But Zuma really wants no more than a different sharing of the spoils of office to benefit his own faction, particularly in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal.

The lack of change in the last three decades reflects how apartheid ended. It saw a compromise between the ANC and big business. Explosive workers’ struggles and mighty unions, combined with sustained uprisings in the black residential areas, had threatened apartheid. They also opened the way to an assault on capitalism itself in South Africa. 

A section of big business and the white political establishment decided that it was better to secure a deal with the black opposition rather than risk losing everything. This process relied on major concessions by both sides and saw the ANC shrink back from any assault on the corporations.

Of course there have been some changes since 1994, but not nearly enough. And real economic power remains with the same corporations as under apartheid. Meanwhile a tiny black elite has made itself fabulously wealthy, with South Africa being one of the most unequal societies in the world.

The top 10 percent own 86 per cent of wealth and the top 0.1 percent close to one third. The top 0.01 percent of the distribution (3,500 individuals) concentrate 15 percent of household net worth, more than the bottom 90 percent as a whole.

In desperate circumstances, sections of people can be pulled by reactionary, xenophobic demands. Left analyst Dale McKinley wrote this week that one of the lesser-noticed aspects of the election was the “rise of the right”.

He added, “Mirroring what has been happening in many countries around the world, South Africa’s electoral terrain has increasingly moved to the right.

“Whether it be the hate-filled invective and threats of violence against ‘foreigners’ of the Patriotic Alliance, the ‘law and order’ border control chest-beating of the DA or the deep-seated immigration system corruption, cynicism and mal-governance—under the cover of policy reform—of the ruling ANC.

“The 2024 electoral terrain has made scapegoating of ‘foreigners’—especially those that are poor and from the African continent—an increasingly popular political ‘sport’.”

McKinley denounced, “A mythologising of the past, a manipulation of ‘culture’, a (re)embracing of patriarchy and misogyny and a celebration of a dog-eat-dog world. It is a sad but harsh reality which now threatens to take South Africa down a very dangerous and destructive path.”

Such factors underline the need for genuine left politics.

‘The economy in South Africa continues to be under the control of white settlers’

Abahlali baseMjondolo is one of the strongest grassroots organisations in South Africa with 150,000 members. It offers a focus for workers and the poor, supports land occupations and revolts to win improvements for people in squatter camps and poor housing.

After an extended democratic process among its members, Abahlali called for a vote for the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) at the election. The EFF, led by Julius Malema, makes left pledges. It says, “The economy in South Africa continues today to be under the ownership and control of white minority settlers.” And it adds, “The political change-over in 1994, did not bring true liberation. It was a bluff which continues to subject black people to economic and social apartheid.”

The centrepiece of its manifesto was the nationalisation of mines, banks and other strategic sectors of the economy without compensation. But it makes concessions to its favoured parts of “patriotic” capital.

The EFF was on about 10 percent of the vote on Saturday.

Abahlali said, “In the 19 years since our movement was founded we have struggled to liberate ourselves from the chains of poverty, indignity and repression. 

“The ANC has been assassinating our leaders since 2013. In 2022 we lost three leaders to assassination and a fourth to a police murder. It is therefore imperative that the ANC be given a very strong message that repression will not be tolerated, and preferable that it be removed from power altogether. 

“The new MK party is an off-shoot of the ANC in which some of its worst people and tendencies are present.

“We are a socialist organisation committed to building socialism from below via the construction of popular democratic power. However, there is no left party on the ballot and so we cannot vote for the programme of any party or with any confidence in its allegiance to the people and to progressive principles. 

“It is not possible to vote for many of our key principles, such as the full decommodification of land or the right to recall.

“We have organised in our communities, built new communities on occupied land and taken our struggle into the streets, the media, negotiations and the courts.

“While our politics has always been grounded in building popular democratic power from below, and working towards building a national movement of communes and a global movement of movements, we have, since 2006, made various kinds of tactical interventions in elections while remaining autonomous from all political parties.

“Abahlali decided that in the 2024 general election, it would support the EFF. Abahlali is not joining the EFF or offering it uncritical support. This is a tactical vote.

“Abahlali will remain Abahlali, keep its autonomy and remain a people’s movement. On 29 May we vote. On 30 May we continue the struggle.”

In 2019 South Africa’s biggest union, the National Union Of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), launched a party, the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party. The decision to set up the party followed the police murder of striking black mineworkers at Marikana in 2012.
But Numsa was very slow to set up an alternative to the ANC and it wasn’t clear whether it was a party of struggle or a party to win elections. In the end it did neither effectively and recorded disastrously low results.

This time the union offered no candidates, recommended no party and restricted itself to warning about right wing forces.

Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance