The Meaning of the South African Elections

Statement of the National Committee of the Democratic Left Front on the 2014 National Elections
Following a very successful national conference at the end of March, the National Committee of the DLF held its first meeting over the weekend 9 ? 11 May. Taking place two days after r the 7 May national and provincial elections, our political discussion focused on the outcome of these elections, as well as the important strike in the platinum mines, the deepening crisis in the trade union movement and the NUMSA initiated united front and movement for socialism.

National Elections

As we mark the 20th anniversary of democracy, the ANC has unsurprisingly won the 5th democratic national elections, albeit on a reduced majority. A large part of the ANC vote continues to come from poor and working class communities. The continued mass support for the ANC is based on several factors not least the fact for millions of South Africans it is perceived as the party of liberation. It is seen as the party that has delivered improvements in the lives of the black majority, including the provision of housing, water and electricity. Even as these services are often cut-off, mismanaged or are of a poor quality, many still hope the ANC can correct its errors. The party?s support is also buttressed by the social grant system, which allows millions of beneficiaries to survive in the face of mass unemployment and the failure of the ANC government to address structural inequality. It is also important not to underestimate the question of identity and African nationalist consciousness in the durability of the ANC brand. Crucially, the ANC has held on to its mass support because no credible working class alternative has, as yet, emerged to challenge its dominance.

The electoral dominance of the ANC should not disguise the profound underlying political shifts underway in the country. The Marikana massacre, community protests, strikes in the platinum mines and NUMSA’s decision to create a united front are the most important signs of the unfolding rupture of the post-apartheid socio-political consensus. None of the fundamental problems facing the poor majority – growing inequality, mass unemployment, landlessness and increased poverty ? have disappeared.

20 years of democracy has produced the following indisputable facts:

  1. The official unemployment rate has increased from 15% in 1995 to 25% today. However, when we include the 2,4 million of workers that have given up looking for work and the 2,8 million designated homemakers, real unemployment is well over 40%.
  2. Poverty at work: Over a third of all workers are now employed through labour brokers and half of all workers earn less than R3300 per month.
  3. There has been a significant decline in the national income that goes to workers and the poor since 1994. Of the national income of R3.4 billion, 46.5% goes to wages. Only 43% of the private sector contribution to the yearly national income goes to wages. 57% of the income produced in the private sector is controlled by the tiny economic elite, and substantial amount of the income in wages includes the obscene pay that the employers and top managements pay themselves.
  4. Inequality: In spite of the social grant system implemented by the ANC government South Africa has become more unequal since 1994. Measured by the GINI co-efficient SA has a inequality measure of 0.7, making it one of the most unequal countries in the world.
  5. Increased and growing violence against women and children and in our communities.

The failure of the ANC government to use its massive majority in parliament over the last 20 years to redistribute wealth and to break the power of monopoly capital, lies behind these terrible statistics. The so-called good story of transforming the lives of the poor is simply not true.

The increased power of capital and growing inequality, unemployment and insecurity of work are behind the massive growth in strikes, protests and generalised resistance. Intensifying class struggle is seen in the current mineworkers? strike where workers are demanding a living wage. It is also evidenced in the farmworkers rebellion and the literally thousands of protests rocking local government from Phillipi in the Western Cape to Thohoyandou in Limpopo.

There has been a substantial decline in support for the ANC in precisely those areas of resistance and struggle, such as Marikana, Rustenburg, Bekkersdal and many other townships where there have been fierce struggles for decent work, a living wage and basic services. In election ?hotspots? Bekkersdal, Bronkhorspruit, Zandspruit, Sebokeng and Khutsong the ANC has underperformed by over 9 per cent as against its 62,2% national poll.

In Marikana, which has been at the centre of the political storm, the EFF received 52% of the vote while the ANC lagged behind with only 29,9%. In Rustenburg as a whole, the ANC?s electoral support dropped to 56,5%.

These elections have highlighted a deepening divide between the urban and rural support for the ANC. It is significant that in the most populous and urban-based province, namely Gauteng, the ANC vote declined by at least 9%. This is also true for other areas where the industrial working class is most populous such as Port Elizabeth. The ANC?s relatively strong showing in Durban is in part due to the demise of the IFP. Black working class youth, especially in urban areas, either chose not to register or tended to vote for the EFF.

The ANC?s support is clearly strongest in the more rural provinces of the country where people are most dependent on the social grant system for survival and where people are most isolated and cut off from information and the media. Furthermore, the ANC?s authority in rural areas is also increasingly based on conservative traditional authorities, which continue to assert control over large sections of the population.

We, as the DLF draw no comfort from the fact that a substantial number of eligible voters did not participate in the elections. Of the 31 434 035 eligible voters, 59,34 percent (18 654 457) voted while the remaining 40,66 percent (12 779 578) stayed away. The ANC received support from 36,39 percent (11 436 921) of the eligible voting population. The rate of participation of eligible voters has steadily declined from 85,5 % in 1994; 62,8% in 1999; 55,7% in 2004; 59,2 in 2009 and 59,3 in 2014. The vast majority who stayed away from the polls did so because they are deeply alienated from formal politics. It cannot simply or in a uni-linear way be assumed that a credible left alternative is going to be more successful in mobilising support from these layers.

Equally we draw no comfort from the growth of support of the Democratic Alliance, the real party of capital and neoliberalism. Their growth from 16 to 22 percent is both an outcome of cannibalising smaller parties such as COPE, IFP, ACDP, etc. as well as consolidating its support around insecure social layers among ?Coloured? and ?Indian? communities. As we can see by the unfortunate decision of the Abahlali baseMjondolo, which called for a vote for the DA, the favoured party of big business drew some support from some communities, made desperate by intensifying poverty and unemployment.

The alienation of working class forces is also seen in the electoral breakthrough of the Economic Freedom Fighters on a radical anti-capitalist platform. Despite its recent formation and limited resources the EFF obtained more than 6 per cent of the vote ? more than many commentators and polls had predicted. It achieved this electoral success,despite the deep scepticism on its credentials as a left working class alternative, given the alleged involvement of its leaders in cronyism and tenderpreneurship. The fact that more than a million people voted for the EFF and tens of thousands attended rallies or participated in their marches, indicates the enormous potential for the building of a working class socialist movement. This should give confidence to those in the trade union movement, not least NUMSA and its allies, that are contemplating the formation of a workers? party.

We are entering a new political period. The period of ANC hegemony is eroding. In the coming years there will be opportunities for the recomposition of the labour movement, possibilities for the re-emergence of united workplace and community struggles and the potential for these to create a dynamic towards the formation of a left alternative to the ANC with strong roots in the working class. The DLF will link to these process, build the struggles of working class formations and popular movements and work towards these processes coming together as a powerful left and socialist platform that can struggle to eradicate inequality and poverty. One step in this direction to which left forces must begin to give attention is the 2016 local government elections.


Issued by the National Committee
of the Democratic Left Front

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