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The ANC victorious: winning the election, losing the masses

By Benjamin Hale - posted Friday, 30 May 2014

On the 24th of May, 2014, Jacob Zuma was sworn into office for a second term as South Africa's President in an elaborate celebration held at the union building in Pretoria, which featured a local choir, musicians and dancers. However, despite the ANC's landslide victory at the polls, commanding an impressive 62.15 percent of the vote, a deeper analysis of the election results casts a long shadow over the party's recent celebrations. Although the ANC has narrowly avoided going under the much dreaded 60 percent support margin, which some commentators suggested would have created an internal crisis, its support has fallen overall by 4 percent since 2009 and 8 percent since 2004.

An analysis of the 2014 national and provincial elections by the Central Committee (CC) of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) paints an even grimmer picture of the ANC's electoral victory. The CC notes that 63.61 percent of people eligible to vote in South Africa, whether registered or not, did not vote for the ANC in the 2014 election, suggesting that the ANC was only elected into government by a mere 36.39 percent of people eligible to vote. This constitutes a fall in total support for the ANC to an all time low, and a decrease in support by those eligible to vote by 2.16 percent since 2009 and 16.6 percent since 1994. Furthermore, although the total number of people eligible to vote rose to 31,434,035 in 2014, a record 12,779,578 people stayed away, suggesting increased disillusionment with the political system in general and the ANC in particular.

At the provincial level the performance of the ANC was a mixed bag, with a fall in support throughout a number of working class areas. Principal among these was Gauteng, South Africa's most populous province and economic powerhouse, which the ANC only narrowly managed to retain with 54 percent of the vote, down from 64 percent in 2009. Conversely, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a new party with a radical left-leaning ideology, won 10 percent of the vote in Guateng, whilst the Democratic Alliance (DA) came second with almost 31 percent. Additionally, in the working class region of Nelson Mandela Bay the ANC lost its foothold with a meagre 48.5 percent of the vote. The loss of votes in these key regions suggests that working class South Africans are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the ANC's economic policies and turning towards alternative political parties such as the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).


Although the ANC was elected into government with 62.15 percent of the vote, the distribution of votes among the other leading parties reveals a growing opposition to the ANC led government from the middle and working class population. The main opposition party, the centrist DA increased its share of the vote by 5 percent since the 2009 election, winning around 22.2 percent nationally. However, the real standout is the EFF, a newly formed party with an ideology rooted in the works of Marx, Lenin, and Frantz Fanon which wants to redistribute national resources to benefit the poor. Although the EFF is a new contender on the South African political landscape it managed to win 6.3 percent of the vote, largely as a result of its recruitment drive throughout violent and impoverished areas, and the widespread appeal of its 'commander in chief' Julius Malema's populist, anti-western rhetoric. Although it is difficult to take Malema's rhetorical seriously, especially considering his own lavish lifestyle and current court charges of fraud, corruption and tax evasion, many voted for him to protest ANC policies and encourage it to follow through on its promises to the poor. Considering that the ANC's political power rests on an unemployed underclass (with some surveys suggesting that as many as two-thirds of ANC voters are unemployed), the EFF poses a legitimate challenge to ANC support among this constituency.

Apart from demonstrating widespread dissatisfaction with ANC economic policies the relatively strong support for the fledgling EFF party also suggests that the electoral 'gap' in South African politics is to the left of the political spectrum. As such, the only reason the ANC did notfare much worse in the recent election was the lack of a credible alternative among leftist parties to an ANC-led government. However, this may not remain the case for long, as the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) has manoeuvred away from the ANC-led alliance and signalled its willingness to explore the possibility of forming a political party. Numsa has remained a critic of the ANC-led alliance since the formation of the post-apartheid state, and has been increasingly hostile towards the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the ANC for a number of months. Given its liberation pedigree, financial resources, ability to mobilise members and Marxist-Leninist ideology, Numsa presents a real threat to the ANC should it decide to enter politics and constitutesa genuine leftist alternative.

Although the ANC won the 2014 elections, its position is looking increasingly precarious. With voter support slowly falling away, emboldened opposition parties, and the possibility of an alternative party that could pose a legitimate challenge to the ANC-led alliance, its future as the leading party is anything but assured. However, its decline is not inevitable, but will depend on whether the leadership remains beholden to neoliberal policy prescriptions and the needs of big business or to those of the increasingly impoverished South African populace.

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About the Author

Benjamin Hale is an honours graduate and PhD candidate at Edith Cowan University in the field of politics and international relations with a specific focus on Africa.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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