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Patrick Bond: A serious challenge to South Africa’s ANC still several years away

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ANTON WORONCZUK, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Anton Woronczuk in Baltimore. And welcome to another edition of The Bond Report. Here with us is Patrick Bond.

Patrick Bond teaches political economy and ecosocial policy and directs the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa. His research focuses on economic justice, geopolitics, climate, energy, and water. His latest book, coauthored with John Saul, is South Africa: The Present as History.

Thanks for joining us, Patrick.


WORONCZUK: So South Africa just held its elections for national government and the nine provinces on May 7. But can you give us a rundown of the election results?

BOND: Yes. So it wasn’t any real surprise. The ruling party, the African National Congress, which Nelson Mandela led from ’94 to ’99 when he was president, they won 63 percent, roughly. They lost about two and a half, three percent in 2009. In second place, the Democratic Alliance, a probusiness and traditionally white-dominated party. They improved dramatically, from 16 to 22 percent. And in third place, the other big player on the scene, especially in the coming years, Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters, a radical populist party. They started with nothing a year ago and got about 6 percent. So these are the three central forces, one centrist, neoliberal nationalist, if you will; the other a straight big-business, neoliberal party; and the third demanding more radical changes, especially on the economic front.

WORONCZUK: So do you see the gains of the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters as posing a challenge to the ANC’s power over South Africa?

BOND: Well, not at this stage in the electoral terrain. The real challenge comes in the next major national election, and in two years’ time there’ll be municipal elections. And by that time, what the Economic Freedom Fighters may represent today is a stalking horse for a larger left-wing project, the workers party, a workers and poor people’s party, promised by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, the biggest union. And they just in December broke away from ANC, and their promise is that they’ll start a workers party and come onto the scene as a major electoral force, perhaps combining in some way with Economic Freedom Fighters. So watch 2016 for a much more tightly contested battle when the ideologies are much clearer.

WORONCZUK: And from your vantage point, did the elections look free and fair?

BOND: Yes. There were few complaints, probably the most serious against the national broadcaster for its bias.

However, what we’ve seen in [most] postcolonial settings in Africa is elections becoming much dirtier when the ruling party comes under serious threat. In Zimbabwe in 2000, for example, when a genuine opposition emerged. It would have probably taken over were there free and fair elections. We began to see tricks and divisions, and all manner of ballot stuffing and other gerrymandering techniques emerged.

I think the free and fair and the general spirit of good will on May 7 does bode well, because there had been fears of violence in some of the hot spots. However, that sense of peacefulness will probably be very, very short-lived, because we’ve been seeing major protests in many of the communities. They’re called service delivery protests by many. And those probably will heat up as electricity prices increase yet again and as some of the other conditions that gave rise to such high rates of grievance by ordinary people, not really expressed in an electoral sense, but certainly in one of the highest protest rates in the world. And those will certainly continue.

WORONCZUK: Did we see any serious attempts to influence the outcome of the election?

BOND: Well, that’s interesting. There was initially by a businessperson, a man called Natie Kirsh, who has been on the scene here for many years and worked in Swaziland in a very close way with the repressive regime. He tried to put together the Democratic Alliance leader, Helen Zille, and a much smaller party, Agang, led by Mamphela Ramphele, and they were supposed to have a merger in which Mamphela Ramphele would have been the black leader of the right-wing opposition. But it fell apart at the last moment.

But at the same time, it was clear that the problem in South Africa, and perhaps unlike the United States at this stage, is there’s no Federal Election Commission and no disclosure of party funding. In the U.S., you’re just at the stage of getting unlimited campaign contributions by big corporations. That’s already a factor here. And most big corporations give both to the ruling party and to the right-wing opposition.

WORONCZUK: And so, Patrick, my last question. In December 2013, we saw the Metalworkers, which is the largest union in South Africa, with approximately 340,000 members distance themselves from the ANC. How did you see that play out in the election results? And how do the elections–how will they affect the Metalworkers’ struggle for better working conditions and political power?

BOND: Well, this is the big question ahead. Whether the alienation that the leadership of the Metalworkers, including 1,400 shop stewards who made that decision last December–I was with them that week and really saw the movement from below pulling the leadership to the left and breaking ties, demanding that President Jacob Zuma resign over scandals like his rural palace.

However, it’s very hard to know whether those 340,000 voted in one way or another, because the Metalworkers didn’t tell them which way to vote. They just said, as a union we will no longer fund the African National Congress and we will no longer support it. That has in turn caused a huge split in the trade union movement, which very likely in coming weeks will lead to NUMSA’s expulsion. And whether they start a major new super union and draw many other workers, whether they themselves are split, and then whether they can go into what they call a united front. They even have called this a movement toward socialism by allying with community groups, environmentalists, women’s groups, other trade unionists, independent socialists. This is the big challenge in the coming weeks. And I think the Metalworkers left this election alone. They were–played a low profile. And now the problem is: will they be able to get the momentum and the high energy and optimism for lefitsts that they had when they made that announcement in December.

I am rather optimistic. This is one of the most interesting periods, with the economic crisis continuing and very little to show from the African National Congress of changes that will solve the huge problems of inequality and poverty, unemployment, ecological degradation, and patriarchy and misogyny that really still make this society the most intense, but also the society with one of the greatest struggles for genuine liberation in the world today.

WORONCZUK: Okay. Patrick Bond, thank you so much for that report on the elections.

BOND: Thanks, Anton. Good to be with you again.

WORONCZUK: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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