Wed, Aug 10, 2016 - Page 9 News List

ANC’s losses a watershed moment for South Africa

Humiliating defeats in three key urban areas in last week’s elections have reset the stage for the 2019 national elections and marked the beginning of true multiparty system where the ballot box is used to hold those in power to account

By Justice Malala  /  The Observer

Illustration: Mountain People

South African President Jacob Zuma is well known for his antipathy toward urban black intellectuals, whom he labels “the clever blacks.”

In 2014, when he was asked about public concerns that he had used state funds to build himself a US$16.9 million palace in his home village in rural KwaZulu Natal, he replied that only “very clever and bright people” cared about the issue.

In a speech in November 2012, Zuma slammed urban blacks “who become too clever,” saying: “They become the most eloquent in criticizing themselves about their own traditions and everything.”

Last week, the “clever blacks” had their revenge on Zuma, delivering the heaviest electoral loss to former South African president Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) since democracy dawned in 1994, while setting up a mighty contest for national elections in 2019.

Although the ANC retained massive support in rural South Africa, its losses in urban areas were shocking and comprehensive. In Nelson Mandela Bay, the coastal city renamed in honor of South Africa’s most famous son, voters rejected the ANC and gave their votes to the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA).

Just 10 years ago, the ANC got 66 percent of the vote in the city famous for its struggle against apartheid. It polled a disappointing 40 percent last week.

On Saturday last week, Pretoria (in the process of being renamed Tshwane), the executive capital of the country, was set to be run by an opposition coalition after the ANC came in at a paltry 41 percent of the vote behind the DA.

The parliamentary capital, Cape Town, has been in opposition hands for more than a decade. The African continent’s economic powerhouse, Johannesburg, saw the ANC lose its majority, as opposition parties started coalition talks there, too.

The national story tells a similarly depressing story for the ANC. In local elections in 2006, the party received 66.3 percent of votes nationwide. The DA took 14.8 percent. Last week, the ANC reached just under 54 percent and the main opposition DA stood at 27 percent.

The election on Wednesday last week was a major turning point for the ANC and for South Africa. In October last year, ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe warned a party policy conference that were its support to plunge below 60 percent this year, it would mark a “psychological and political turning point.”

That moment has now arrived, as the party that led the international liberation struggle against apartheid failed to convince its core urban constituency to vote for it in significant numbers.

In urban townships such as Soweto, an ANC stronghold, voter turnout was as low as 46 percent, while those who did turn up increasingly voted for the opposition DA and the radical three-year-old Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) formed by expelled former ANC Youth League firebrand Julius Malema.

This is a watershed moment because it means South Africa is no longer a country dominated by one party of liberation. For long, we have been slowly inching toward being a proper, lively, multiparty system that holds power to account. We are now hurtling that way. It is exhilarating.

Former ANC treasurer-general Mathews Phosa, a businessman and former Zuma ally, summed up the ANC’s losses thus: “We need to accept the reality that there are many young people who voted for the DA. Where do these people come from? They left the ANC, and why did they leave the ANC? The clever blacks have spoken... The masses are punishing us with the weapon we won for them. The vote.”

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