Following the 2014 General Elections, Susan Booysen maintained that the final results sang two songs: one of ‘extraordinary repeat victory’ and the other of a ‘monolith of decline’.
Here we are, five years later, the final 2019 Election results have been confirmed and the same song still resonates. This time, it is concealed beneath the melody of Thuma Mina. The African National Congress (ANC) has won the majority in the National Assembly and 8 provincial legislatures, but the electorate is also fed up with the party.
Election winners and losers
This year’s elections were the most contentious in the country’s history, with 48 parties all competing in the national ballot.
There were many winners, namely the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), who won 10 per cent of the vote share and became the official opposition in three provinces; a testament to how well the party has managed to project itself as presenting a viable alternative to the DA and the ANC.
However, the question of transferability of the party still remains: it has a very niche appeal and it is hard to see the party as an organic whole beyond Malema, especially when their campaign was so highly personalised around the man.
Another winner was the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), which reverted back from its journey to obscurity to become the official opposition in KZN and the fourth largest party in the National Assembly.
This brings an interesting question of the state of tribalism in the province, and also the party beyond Mangosuthu Buthelezi.
And there were parties that were not winners, mainly the Democratic Alliance (DA), who experienced a loss of about 1 million votes but retained its majority in the Western Cape, following a heated campaign year for the party, suggesting that the party has hit a racial ceiling.
For many years, the party has battled to win over core constituencies due to ambiguous stance on policies such as BBB-EE. At the same time, the party has also struggled to retain some of its core base who, this time around, may have reverted to the FF+, due to inconsistent and unclear political messaging.
The FF+ had their best electoral performance for the first time since 1994, and it is indicative of a shift in identity politics assuming a larger role in these next few months.
ANC loses support but keeps majority voter share
We all knew that the African National Congress (ANC) would secure a majority, the question was just by how much.
Polls were varied; some predicted that the party would gain 61% of the vote, others predicted 67% or even 60%, but they ended up getting 57. 5%; the first time the party has ever received less than 60% of the vote share. The party lost 19 seats in the National Assembly, moving from 249 to 230 seats.
The prevailing question now across the media, is whether Ramaphosa can transcend party faction and conflict and kickstart economic growth and clampdown on corruption. However, reading through the names that appear on his candidate list, it seems as if the president’s commitment to tackling corruption is superficial at best.
It will be interesting in the next few months to watch how the internal politics of the ANC manifests itself into the national sphere and which ANC faction emerges as victorious.
Disunity in the ANC
There are already signs of disunity, following Ace Magashule’s timely and snazzy dismissal of Ramaphosa’s influence in helping the party to win. While I am inclined to agree with him in one respect – the election machine that is the ANC always do a great job in terms of developing and maintaining an effective electoral campaign.
Their successful monopolisation of the struggle against Apartheid and their symbolic influence as the first democratically elected Black government of South Africa, means that irrespective of what happens, some people will always support the ANC.
However, it is also important to recognise the influence of Ramaphoria and his New Dawn.
When Cyril Ramaphosa replaced Jacob Zuma, it was exciting. Zuma had taken the country to the brink of collapse and for the first time, in 9 years, there was a pervasive sense of hope, renewal and unity.
It looked like things would be okay, the markets and international media even reacted favourably to him. The ruling party, under the new leadership, promised to restore public confidence and the popularity of the party.
Despite this, in the months and weeks leading up to the election, the tone was different. There was a strong sense of disillusionment with our politics and waning hope. Something that is demonstrated by the low voter turnout (65%) of the election.
Low voter turnout, particularly amongst the youth
The youth turnout was notably low this election cycle, with over 6 million young people failing to register.
Across social media and in media publications, this has been most prominently interpreted as evidence of young people being apathetic or failing to understand the importance of voting.
I, as a young person, think we should give young people more credit.
Firstly, there is a substantial amount of power and political awareness that comes with the decision to not vote, with some people using it as a way of demonstrating their discontent with the electoral system and politics in general.
Secondly, young people are very politically engaged, just look at #FeesMustFall, it is just that none of the mainstream parties have worked hard enough to make them feel as if they have a stake in the trajectory of the country; they are the most affected by unemployment and have been in the forefront of challenging the status quo. They know what they’re doing.
It’s also a sign of a maturing democracy, youth participation is infamously low in many countries across the world. However, in a country like ours, where the average person is under the years of 35, these levels of participation are alarming.
I am fairly underwhelmed by the election results (and I am not alone in saying this), but it is important to acknowledge that the political scale has been tipped: both the ANC and the DA are in decline, while new and old parties are coming to the forefront.
Politics is likely to be even more contested and competitive than ever before; it’s a sign of growth for our young democracy, and that should be celebrated.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of TheSouthAfrica.com.