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Death knell for ANC’s political foes?

By Reuters Staff
April 28, 2009

William Gumede

South Africa’s national elections last week have reshaped the contours of the country’s political landscape. It has almost certainly killed off the careers of many opposition leaders who have become institutions and their parties with them. It virtually obliterated the peer parties of the ANC, with their roots as liberation movements, such as the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) and the Azanian Peoples’ Organisation (Azapo). It is clear the electorate believes these parties are irrelevant, outdated and under poor leadership. The Inkatha Freedom Party, whose founder, Mangosuthu Buthelezi also professed that it has its origins in liberation movement politics has also been brought down to size.

 The IFP has dominated the KwaZulu Natal province since the 1960s, but embarrassingly lost out to the ANC now. ANC President Jacob Zuma’s overt appeal to Zulu speakers in the province who have supported the IFP in the past, by arguing that is better to support him (Zuma) for the presidency, and have a Zulu-speaker in the presidency, has evidently worked. Many IFP supporters have voted for Zuma merely on the basis of ethnic affinity, rather than his record in government.

 But this strategy also run the risks of increasing ethnic divisions, with some Zuma supporters already whispering for the ‘Xhosa-Nostra’ to be purged from government. This is a reference to individuals who were allies of former President Thabo Mbeki, are Xhosa speakers or who are from the Eastern Cape province from where Mbeki and former President Nelson Mandela hail.

But other smaller parties, the United Democratic Movement, the African Christian Democratic Party and the Independent Democrats have also struggled, with many of their supporters swinging to the Democratic Alliance and the new political party, the Congress of the People, which were formed by former ANC members opposed to the election of Zuma as the party’s leader. The losing opposition parties, will now have to consider closing shop; refocusing on becoming municipal, rather than national parties; or merging with the parties such as COPE and the DA, which stands a greater chance in the future of challenging the ANC.











Other opposition parties will do better to form non-governmental organisations or pressure groups, agitating for their particular niche issues. Many opposition parties differ little in terms of policy, for example, the IFP, Democratic Alliance, African Christian Democratic Party, United Democratic Movement and Freedom Front Plus have virtually all the same policies. The problem is that many of these parties are little than ‘one man (or woman) and a fax machine’ parties. Alternatively, they have become so irrelevant, or so narrowly focused with limited policies, and beset by so many leadership wrangles that only they, but few voters take them seriously.

 One option is also to form a grand coalition party out of all the opposition parties, combining COPE, DA, IFP, ID into one opposition party, under one leader. Many opposition parties are reluctant to form alliances with the ANC, but they also baulked at alliances with other bigger opposition parties, often because the large egos of individual leaders. The massive voter turnout also shows that South Africa’s politics have been re-energised. Many voters who have not voted before, or others who have stayed at home before, and new voters born after 1994, have brought a new dynamic to South Africa’s politics.

The challenge now is to keep them involved not only in party politics, but on wider societal issues. This campaign was also all about promises, but with no detail of the policies, or their costing, or time-frame for delivery. Expectations have also been raised to fever pitch. But unless, the ANC or opposition parties, deliver, ordinary South Africans will rebel. This may be translated into citizens either not voting for the parties they voted for again, or violent social protests. In terms of the ANC, dashed expectations may have even trigger another break in the party.

 Yet, unless African and South African citizens actively hold their politicians accountable, lack of delivery, mismanagement and abuse of power by politicians will continue. The DA’s election in the Western Cape offers it an opportunity to prove to a wider electorate that it can govern better, more inclusively and be less corrupt than ANC provincial governments. Although COPE has not performed as well, by capturing more than 1-million votes, it now has an important foothold in national parliament and provincial legislatures, which it could built on to fight the local government elections in 2011 and the national elections thereafter.

The ANC had a well-oiled campaign, well-financed, which was specifically targeted at poor black South Africans, almost not campaigning among the black and white middle class. In contrast COPE did not tailor its campaign to the masses, focusing on the black and white middle classes in the cities, which won’t make any political party win an election. The DA made inroads into black communities in the Western Cape; but they must now reach out nationally.

The DA had to balance whether to focus on holding its own support base, white middle class voters, and reaching to a new base, the black majority, both strategies demand different, perhaps even contradictory responses. At the last minute the DA turned to focus on its old base, hence its ‘Stop Zuma’ campaign, which may have energised whites and minorities, but fell on stony ground among poor blacks, who want answers on jobs, health care and income support. Yet, both the DA and COPE now have the opportunity to forge a new kind of opposition politics which is more attuned to the needs of the majority. If they don’t they won’t grow any further.

William Gumede is author of Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC.


I agree with William. However, as your election results show, the parties he refers to still received about 900 000 votes (out of 17+ million cast. The sentiment that the smaller parties should consider closing shop should surely apply to those who contested the election but did not gain any seats. IFP splinter group NADECO is one such group. It is a pity William does not mention them or their ilk t all. Yes, the IFP has been chopped to size. But NADECO has been booted out ofthe House (of Assembly)!


The beauty of democracy is that people can change their leaders by peaceful mean, which is the election and South Africans whether or not victims of apartheid can be proud of themselves for making apartheid history.

The fear is the in-fighting between old friends that can ruin the chances of fulfilling promises, which will cost the ANC as well as COPE votes in the future rounds. Zuma needs to be focused on the delivery of jobs and ponder laws to fight inequality through parliament. If he succeed to lead with unity, Zuma has the chance as his predecessors to be re-elected for a second mandate.
I am of the view that Zuma has got what it takes to attract foreign investments while meeting the needs of poor black people, who in most cases can not be skilled for jobs after years of education deprivation.


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