-The fifth national general election in South Africa was far from mundane. The election was underlined by the significance of the country’s 20th anniversary of its political transition to a democratic dispensation. In many ways several major factors and issues underscored the pre-election period.
The first important issue to be noted about this election was that this was the first time that the generation born after Mandela took office (or, ‘born frees’) will be voting, seemingly without the political baggage of the past. Much of the attention focused on what would influence and shape the voting attitudes of this cross section of the population who are often referred to as Mandela’s generation. The second and more poignant factor to emerge for this election was that it marked the first real test of President Zuma’s five years in power amid the controversies of corruption scandals, irregular procurement of state resources and four cabinet reshuffles that characterised his administration. The third issue, while linked to the latter point, was closely related to Mandela’s legacy, which the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC) sought to invoke, in what some commentators interpreted, as a sympathy or loyalty vote following the passing away of the International Statesman in December 2013. Fourth was the pragmatic question of whether opposition parties would be able to consolidate their electoral footprint in the country. The official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), had pulled out all the stops to garner significant support mainly among African voters. For other smaller opposition parties, the critical issue was whether they could sustain their political relevance by improving their electoral support at the polls. This was definitely aligned to the final issue, which saw the emergence of two new political parties, namely Agang SA and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). While the phenomena of new parties emerging on the eve of elections is not new, the circumstances that led to the rise of these two parties had made the electoral landscape that more intriguing.
Formed eight months prior to the election, the EFF is led by the former ANC youth league leader, Julius Malema. Ousted from the ruling party for bringing the Party into disrepute, the former youth league head played on the sentiments of the disaffected voter who had felt economically vulnerable and marginalized from state benefits. Effectively the EFF translated such feelings into populist support for itself. Unfortunately for Agang SA, which was formed in early 2012 by Mamphele Ramphele, a former political activist and manager at the World Bank, the razzmatazz of its presence soon dissolved into a spiral of poor timing, internal strife, and a botched merger with the DA.
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) had three voter registration periods that saw a total of 25,381,293 South Africans being registered to vote in this election. Of this 18,402,492 valid votes were cast, constituting a voter turnout of 73.43 per cent. IEC officials noted that they were caught by surprise by the higher voter turnout than in previous years.
There was never any doubt that the ANC would remain in power for another five years. The more strategic question was what would be the final percentage that would see the ruling party over the finish line. Speculation was rife that the ANC may even dip below the 60 per cent mark. In the months leading to the election the ruling had lost appeal in certain sections of the electorate, especially among the youth and in some lower working class groups. Moreover there were attempts to consolidate the party’s footprint in Gauteng that was becoming a hotly contested province with the DA spending R100 million trying to secure a victory in South Africa’s economic heartland. Through its own internal polling, the ANC noted that it expected to get between 62-64 per cent of the vote, which reflected levels it had obtained in 1994.
The official results, which were announced by the IEC on 10 May, saw the ANC win the election by 62.15 per cent. While the ANC saw this as a vindication by the electorate still having the confidence in its ability to govern the country, the result demonstrated a waning level of support for the party from the 2009 election where it registered a 65.90 per cent. Though a relative decline of 3.75 per cent, which maybe construed as a negligible drop in support, in absolute numbers, however, this represents hundreds of thousands of lost votes.
Figure 1: South Africa: 2014 National Election Results
Source: Independent Electorate Commission: http://www.elections.org.za/resultsNPE2014/
For the DA, the party broke the 4 million mark in voter support. Increasing their levels of support to 22.23 per cent from 16.66 per cent in 2009, the DA appeared satisfied with its performance, although it missed its projection of 30 per cent by some way. The DA also remained in control of the Western Cape, managing to improve its performance to 59.38 per cent from 51 per cent in 2009. The ANC, on the other hand, which sought to recapture control of the Western Cape, only managed to improve its performance by 1.4 per cent from 2009 where it obtained 31.5 per cent to 32.9 per cent in 2014. The DA made substantial gains in Gauteng registering a 9 per cent increase its electoral footprint to record a 30.8 per cent from 21.8 per cent in 2009.
Unfortunately for the ANC, Gauteng recorded the largest loss in voter support for the party of over 10 per cent from 64 per cent in 2009 to 53.6 per cent in 2014. Not only has this rattled the party in terms of its identity among voters in the province but it also raised significant issues of whether the party has suffered the consequences of the policies that it endorsed like the controversial e-tolls, notwithstanding social service delivery protests and the issues related to President Zuma’s use of state funds for the upgrade of his homestead in Nkandla, which were seen as undermining the Party’s electoral footprint in the province.
Figure 2: South Africa: 2009 National Election Results
Source: Electoral institute of Southern Africa (EISA): http://www.content.eisa.org.za/old-page/south-africa-2009-national-assembly-election-results
The biggest winner out of the election was the EFF. Despite its often-unrealistic election promises, the party had done significantly well in securing a 6.35 per cent of the vote. Most analysts predicted between 4 per cent and 6 per cent voter support for the EFF, but it seems that the newly formed party with its signature red beret attire had exceeded expectations. In Gauteng, the ANC was a casualty of the EFF’s popular support, which had garnered 10.3 per cent of the vote. In two provinces, Limpopo and North West, the EFF had unseated Congress of the People (COPE) and the DA respectively to become the official opposition. Overall the Party secured its position as third on the national results list as well as in the majority of the provinces, except in the Kwazulu Natal where it was in fourth position bearing in mind that Kwazulu Natal is an ANC stronghold. The support for the EFF can be interpreted as a ‘protest vote’ against the ANC especially by lower working class constituencies who wanted to demonstrate their frustrations against the ruling party’s inertia and disregard for their interests.
The other significant trend to emerge from this election was the contraction of smaller political opposition parties. The Congress of the People (COPE), which emerged, as a splinter party from the ANC in 2008 following President Mbeki’s recall was the main casualty of voter dissatisfaction. COPE only managed to garner 0.67 per cent of the vote from what it had obtained in 2009 of 7.4 per cent. At the provincial level as well COPE had lost the confidence of its supporters, especially in the Northern Cape and the Eastern Cape, where the party’s votes decreased from 16.7 per cent and 13.7 per cent in 2009 to 3.6 per cent and 1.2 per cent in 2014 respectively. This loss of over 13 per cent in both provinces is indicative of the party’s implosion due to leadership struggles. It would appear that the DA and EFF had gained as a result of COPE’s poor showing at the polls.
Another telling feature of the election was the emergence of the National Freedom Party, which broke away from the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) before the 2011 municipal elections. With this being its first national election, the Party demonstrated its resolve both nationally and provincially by gaining 1.57 per cent in the national ballot and 7.3 per cent within KwaZulu Natal. The NFP’s support base appears to be constituencies in rural areas and women.
On aggregate a total of 29 political parties contested the national election with only 13 parties managing to garner enough votes to make it into the National Parliament. The challenge for the smaller political parties is to establish their relevance and identity amongst a discerning electorate, especially in view of the upcoming local government elections that will take place in 2016.
What is clear from this 5th national election is that there is a realignment of power structures both internal to party structures as well as in the way that the electorate has responded to what were previously perceived as traditional voting constituencies. For all political parties the lessons learnt from this election is to not under-estimate the sophistication of the electorate. But more importantly, the lesson drawn from this election is that voters will use their vote to demonstrate their frustrations against inefficiencies, poor governance, unfilled promises, and lack of service delivery.
The real challenge for the ruling party in forming its next administration is to be clear that the electorate does understand policies and cannot be hoodwinked. Furthermore, President Zuma’s administration will have to make good on the promises that have been made during the election campaign. Similarly for the DA and the EFF the real issue is how they will consolidate their support into an effective opposition voice in government. In two years time the electorate will be given the chance again to evaluate whether the government and others have lived up to their expectations and delivered on their undertakings. This time the stakes will be much higher as the local government elections in 2016 cannot be about lofty ideals and guarantees. Rather it is about the real bread and butter issues that affect people at the grassroots.
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