Voters punish ruling ANC in South African election

The African National Congress (ANC), the party of Nelson Mandela, has slumped below 50 per cent of the vote for the first time in the general election held at the end of May.

The ANC gained 40 per cent 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.

Second, at around 22 per cent, 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 per cent in the first post-apartheid election in 1994 and that increased to 66.4 per cent in 1999 and then nearly 70 per cent in 2004. After that, the decline began—to 66 per cent in 2009, 62 per cent in 2014 and 57.5 per cent last time in 2019.

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

Poverty and corruption

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 took about 14.5 per cent of the total. 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 per cent own 86 per cent of wealth and the top 0.1 per cent close to one third. The top 0.01 per cent of the distribution (3500 individuals) concentrate 15 per cent of household net worth, more than the bottom 90 per cent 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.

By Charlie Kimber
Republished from Socialist Worker UK


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