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Truth to power

ANC’s landslide victory won’t shield it from forces of change

We’ll see about that. EPA/Kim Ludbrook

Jacob Zuma’s ANC won the 2014 South African election with 62% of the vote, 3% down from 2009. Its nearest rival, the Democratic Alliance, won 22%, 6% up. And the newcomers, Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters, won 6%. For Malema, under the proportional representation system, it means 25 seats in parliament.

But beneath the broad figures, there were many new permutations. The ANC’s vote was savagely eroded in Gauteng, the province which encompasses Johannesburg, the urban heartland of South Africa’s global financial clout. There, the DA surged forward; while it did not win the province as a whole, it shook the ANC in Johannesburg with an amazing cross-section of the vote – black and white, the rich and above all, the poor, meaning the black urban poor.

In Gauteng as a province, the ANC came in at 54%, a 10% drop; the DA took 31%, 10% up. But key Johannesburg wards fell to the DA.

For South Africa’s second biggest party, this had its own implications. Helen Zille, its leader, had a superb record as premier of Western Cape. She was the young journalist who exposed the police murder of Steve Biko; and had afterwards – her career ruined by the vengeful apartheid authorities – been a key figure in the female Black Sash movement.

But the star of the DA in these elections was Mmusi Maimane, a young technocratic candidate to become premier of Gauteng. His handsome features, mounted on posters adorning lamp-post after lamp-post, and his oratorial style that emulated Barack Obama’s, electrified the electorate.

At rallies he would ask: “What does the ANC offer, apart from history?” The next question was unspoken: what does the ANC offer for the future?

Old guard versus young guns

Jacob Zuma, an elderly historical figure, may have squandered the last of the ANC’s legacy. Bereft of new ideas, committed to building beautiful houses for himself and his wives, he would have gained substantially fewer votes than the ANC had there been a separate presidential election.

But in South Africa, parliament elects the president, and the largest party will once again be the ANC. Still, Zuma may well ask if he has a full term available to him.

Both Julius Malema and Mmusi Maimane will be in parliament, and will between them represent a new generation. If the analogy for Maimane is Obama, Malema has obviously built his image on a very self-conscious channelling of Hugo Chavez.

Meanwhile, the DA has broken out of the Western Cape, its coloured- and white-dominated stronghold. It now has a presence in Gauteng, and it now has a black champion with black followers, able to reach out to the born-frees, who look to the future and not to history.

Whatever happens, it cannot be Zuma who leads the ANC into the 2019 elections. He cannot legally serve more than two terms and will therefore have to retire to his magnificent hacienda-style complex. The ANC’s must decide whether to make a generation jump and go for a leader in his or her 30s. There are, however, far too many gerontocrats already manoeuvring on the waiting list for that to be easily done – but that means an ageing ANC leader will face two key opposition parties either led or represented by young men in their 30s.

In Gauteng, dependent on its role as a global financial player and therefore on globally acceptable standards of transparency and trustworthiness, the perceived corruption of Jacob Zuma was a huge factor. The modern rich rebelled against the medieval style of accumulation that Zuma embodied; new highway tolls, pushing up the transport costs of low-income commuters, and the promise of more “user pay” levies on other public services, led to the disaffection of the employed poor. And each person in employment may well be working to feed a circle of 30 dependents.

For them, the ANC is now led by oligarchs, who are out of touch with the everyday reality of the poor – promising no future, but clinging on to their ownership of history.

The question is, what does Zuma himself represent? These, his last elections, may also have been the last to see the ANC score more than 60%.

Mandela said the ANC would be the governing party for 30 years. It was a bold prediction. And it may be true – but more and more South Africans will be working towards 2019 to ensure it is only 25.

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