Party of Nelson Mandela Suffers Defeat in South African Local Elections
Political economist Patrick Bond says the outcomes in the cities Johannesburg and Cape Town reflect that a great many of the urban and middle class blacks have turned away from the traditional party of Liberation.
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Washington.
The party of Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s reigning party since the end of apartheid, the ANC, took a hit in the country’s last local election. The centrist-right opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, won in some of South Africa’s largest cities like Johannesburg and Cape Town, marking the first time that less than 60% of South Africans voted for the ANC.
Now joining us to talk about South Africa’s local election results is our guest Patrick Bond. He joins us from Johannesburg where he’s the professor of political economy at Wits University. Thanks so much for being with us, Patrick.
PATRICK BOND: Great to be back with you, Jessica.
DESVARIEUX: So Patrick, let’s first try to understand a bit of the issues that are plaguing South Africa. The country’s unemployment rate is at a 12-year high, over 30%. It’s even worse amongst youth. The International Labor Organization estimated the country saw youth unemployment at 53% in 2014 and more than half the youth are unemployed in a country that has a whopping 47% of its population under the age of 24. So this high unemployment rate was clearly the main issue in this election. But now that the DA, the Democratic Alliance, is really in power in these major cities, what was their economic platform and what really drew people to their platform?
BOND: Yes, it’s an extraordinary time because the unemployment issue certainly bothers many of the voters who are alienated and disenchanted with the ruling party. But really they’ve been so many municipal level, local government-scale controversies and scandals in each of the sites and each one’s different. For example, Cape Town, the second-largest city, has had the Democratic Alliance in power and there’s this sense that that city’s done relatively well and has had a comparatively low corruption rate.
So they got a dramatic increase to 66% support, the ANC down to 26%. In Durban, in contrast, it’s Zuma’s home territory, and there’s plenty of, let’s call it crony capitalism, and all manner of relations that help to buy votes and to buy support. And there the African National Congress won comfortably with 58%. I think the DA will never make that great an inroad rode into that area. There was a hope that the Economic Freedom Fighters, the left wing party, would do well.
But it’s really been a battle here in the heartland, the industrial heartland, and in the Eastern Cape in Nelson Mandela Bay. Now that’s the old Port Elizabeth and that’s where Mandela himself was relatively close to. He grew up in a little town not too far from Port Elizabeth. But the ANC there was absolutely shattered by internal corruption.
DESVARIEUX: Patrick just so I’m getting this straight. Is corruption really at the heart of the issue why the ANC is losing its influence? And does the DA really have a much better reputation? You said there’s a sense that Cape Town is functioning with less corruption. But what’s the reality?
BOND: Well that’s right, Cape Town also has a bigger reserve budget and although they don’t do that much redistribution, there’s a larger middle class. And the Democratic Alliance has been very skilled at making sure that it has policies that appeal to middle as well as upper class whites. But the middle class and the working class of the colored voters in Cape Town give the DA 66% of the vote: a very, very difficult place for the ANC. Although they did before 2006 have a majority vote.
But yes Nelson Mandela Metro, that’s the Port Elizabeth area, that’s certainly been a case of corruption destroying the ANC from within. Just as one reflection, the mayor of that city Danny Jordaan, is apparently wanted by the FBI because he was allegedly responsible for arranging a 10-million-dollar bribe to Sepp Blatter of FIFA in Switzerland. Sepp Blatter has now left FIFA, but the 10 million dollars was to buy the World Cup rights in 2010. So the allegations of corruption in that area certainly go right up to the mayor.
Then we have Johannesburg and Pretoria and here I think the issue hasn’t been so much outright corruption but just a lack of delivery in some of the key areas and the fact that the national government of Jacob Zuma is becoming increasingly unpopular amongst middle class and urbanized black populations.
DESVARIEUX: Can you talk about that a bit more? The policies that the Democratic Alliance really puts forth that appeals to that black middle class, what are we talking about?
BOND: I think the first policies is ‘change’ and to get rid of ANC. In a sense it had become too powerful, too arrogant, and unresponsive. That meant, even in Johannesburg – which seemed to be run by a relative technocrat, and Pretoria where there was a big split in the ANC, the capital city of Pretoria – now looks like it also might be a victim for the ANC of these national level grievances that people have against Jacob Zuma. So I feel perhaps a great many of the urban and middle-class blacks have turned away from the traditional party of Liberation.
And this party, the African National Congress, its center of gravity is shifting more back to the Durban area, in KwaZulu-Natal province because Jacob Zuma’s of Zulu ethnicity and his ex-wife who may replace him, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, was recently the chair of African Union. She just left her job early to come and potentially be the candidate to replace Jacob Zuma if Cyril Ramaphosa, the businessman, doesn’t take over. And it’s in that sense that the ethnic bloc, the largest single ethnic group the Zulu people, about 7 million, and their neighbors in a couple of neighboring provinces, really will be, I think in the future, the site where the ANC will solidify its regional base.
And yet I must say, even there the traditional Zulu ethnicist party Inkatha Freedom Party did very well. And that was because one of the other parties, the National Freedom Party, couldn’t get onto the ballot. So they’ve moved up and they’ve even taken Jacob Zuma’s home base in Nkandla, a rural area. But it’s a big scandal because Jacob Zuma built a huge palace at taxpayers’ expense: 250 million rand, about 20 million dollars.
And it’s in that sense that we’ve got local people really rebelling against some of the national leaders. Even here in Johannesburg in the middle-class suburbs and the upper-class suburb where Cyril Ramaphosa lives, he couldn’t campaign successfully for the ANC vote there. So I think there’s a sort of shift of the ANC’s natural constituency and that will play out this week as there are coalition politics, really to determine who’s going to be the mayor in Johannesburg and Pretoria. Probably it will be the Democratic Alliance. Certainly in Port Elizabeth, Nelson Mandela Metro.
DESVARIEUX: Patrick, I want to talk about that new political party you mentioned, the Economic Freedom Fighters. They sort of emerged in the past few years as a challenge to the ANC from the left. Can you tell us a little bit more about their background, what they really stand for, and how well did they do in this August 3 election?
BOND: Well they did very well with 2 million votes. That’s about double what they’d done in the 2014 national election for president. They’re the third largest party and certainly the most vocal in the parliament. They regularly disrupt the parliament and Julius Malema is their leader. He was the Africa National Congress youth leader until Cyril Ramaphosa heading the disciplinary committee had him expelled.
In a sense he was expelled because he was being too cheeky. There were certainly allegations of his own corruption which were hard for him to rebut. But particularly he moved and he felt the oxygen on the left in South Africa and very quickly, made the first big electoral challenge. There are plenty of other left movements. The big Metal Workers Union, the largest trade union; lots of community groups, environmentalists, women’s movements, lots of social movements that would say they represent the left, and they’re not 100% happy given Julius Malema’s background. Can they trust him?
But he certainly did a good job of making this an election about the ANC being too controlled by corporations. Interestingly, the Democratic Alliance says no, the corporate influence and the influence of business to invest and create jobs aren’t sufficiently served by the ANC.
So the next week will determine whether there are coalition politics that might unite – quite anomalously – the center right DA, the Democratic Alliance, with 42% of the vote in Johannesburg and Pretoria with the Economic Freedom Fighters who were able to get 11% in both cities. And in that sense maybe we’ll see at least a short term coalition of the far left and the center right.
And the center right’s neoliberal policies, which are really probably most destructive at national level, may be tempered by the need to deliver to the poor people’s townships where they really have no experience, no members to speak of. They may have some middle class members in the townships but it’s going to be a very interesting time where the far left and the center right coalition could actually work in these two very important cities, Johannesburg and Pretoria.
DESVARIEUX: So Patrick, given that the Democratic Alliance has been steadily increasing in sharing the vote in South Africa and you mentioned it’s a possible coalition. Now do you think that they really have a chance to govern on a national level and with that possibility, if so do you think that they would be able to really challenge and fundamentally ship the economy in South Africa so that it works for the majority of South Africans?
BOND: Well that would be doubtful, given their orientation to big business line of thinking and neo-liberalism that has never really had any ambition to deliver to the vast majority. But you know they’ve got an exceptionally talented leader, Mmusi Maimane, and he’s considered sort of the Obama of Soweto. Very eloquent and clean, no corruption hints around him. And I think that that will be one of the questions in 2019. Would he continue to be a strong and young leader? He’s in his mid-30’s.
And then will Julius Malema continue to increase the EFF votes?
Now the ANC went down from 62% to 54%. That’s a big hit. They could go down much lower in 2019 if the continued corruption of President Jacob Zuma is unveiled. Week after week, scandal after scandal. He’s now back to facing over 780 corruption charges that had been taken off the book. Whether he’ll in fact last the whole next year and a half till next national election, remains to be seen.
But you know the big question, what will happen in the short term as the ANC – very, very sobered by this loss of about 8% – will they reshuffle the cabinet and get rid of their communists? Will they move to more populist fiscal policies as the rating agencies fear?
So then there may be a very interesting mix of movements and maneuvers from the top leadership of ANC as they attempt to consolidate. But I think the question for the left, especially those who sat out of electoral politics the last 22 years of freedom, they’ve never felt that there’s been a chance to use the electoral system to push the interests of working people, poor people, women, the environment, the youth, and especially with students about to protest again because of university fees, and with the working class in many, many strikes and communities and protests all over the country. Will they see the economic freedom fighters as their logical leaders now that municipalities EFF got a few council seats? Over 500.
The alternative is whether there’s a worker’s party on the horizon. But the metal workers with 350,000 members have threatened that they’ll start up and running in time for the 2019 election. And then with the worker’s party merged with the EFF in some sort of way to present much bigger than a 7% outcome that the EFF won this time.
DESVARIEUX: A lot of permutations in there. So we’ll have to wait and see how this all plays out. Patrick Bond joining us from Johannesburg. Thank you so much for being with us.
BOND: Thank you, Jessica.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.