South Africa’s governing African National Congress (ANC), often accused of playing foul politics, was widely predicted to win last week’s general elections with a smaller margin than it did the last time. In the event, however, it came roaring back to power, snapping more votes than it did in 2009. Formed in 1912, the ANC won a resounding fifth consecutive election victory in a straight row, since 1994. Its leader and president of the country, Mr. Jacob Zuma, enthused that the victory reflected popular confidence in the party. The ANC took 62.15% of the nearly 19 million votes of the 25 million registered voters. However, it won notably the largest province and the country’s economic centre, Gauteng, by 53%, a drop of about 10% from its 2009 haul.
In the 400 member parliament, the ANC holds a solid 249 seats, a comfortable majority that will see it push through tough economic policies and legislation. The Democratic Alliance (DA), the centrist party with a liberal economic outlook, came an impressive second with 22.23% of the votes and securing 89 seats in parliament. It marginally improved over its 2009 showing. The most spectacular performance went to the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, only established last year by the fiery former youth leader of the ANC, Mr. Julius Malema. Expelled from the ANC for indiscipline and financial irregularities, Malema founded the EFF in 2013 and set out to tap into the frustration of the urban poor and a large army of unemployed youths. He consistently railed at the ANC and its government, accusing them of being too cozy with finance capital and depriving the urban poor of the fruits of freedom and democracy. He maintained that the economic priority of the EFF would be to effect income re-distribution. His message which resonated with the youths and the urban poor paid off handsomely as the party scooped 25 seats in parliament, overtaking the veteran Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) of 85-year Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi. The IFP won only 10 seats.
Among the 29 political parties, including the Kiss Party with red lips as its symbol, that went to polls, only about six won seats in parliament, but will all remain legitimate political parties. This is one lesson our own Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should learn from the South African experience. We consider it politically unhealthy to de-register political parties on account of their failure to win legislative seats. They should be given a chance to regenerate either through merger or alliance or even freely exit the political scene on account of lack of viability.
We salute the ANC for its crucial victory and also implore the party to do a thorough soul searching on why 20 years after the demise of apartheid, a big number of South Africans remain poor, while more and more billionaires are being minted from the ranks of the party and their business associates. The dramatic rise of the EFF party and its demagogue leader, Malema, should send out a clear signal that ANC must return to its popular freedom charter, which clearly spelt out improvement in the material condition of the people as the arrowhead of the liberation struggle. In a few years’ time, South Africa will have a generation of voters with faint idea of the vicissitudes of apartheid and ANC would find out its reputation as a former liberation movement would no longer be a vote magnet. It would then be judged by its performance, not for its heroic history.