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Vol 55 No 10

Published 16th May 2014

South Africa

The last liberation election

Policies not history will determine support for the African National Congress after its fifth election win

It could have been so much worse for the governing African National Congress. President Jacob Zuma faced unprecedented personal criticism and ridicule because of the shooting of mineworkers in Marikana in August 2012, the attempted suborning of independent institutions, US$22 million in state spending on his Nkandla homestead and his close ties with the multi-millionaire Gupta family (AC Vol 55 No 9, Politics and Pistorius in the dock). In the end, on 7 May, the ANC merely put in its worst electoral performance since the first liberation elections of 1994, winning 11.4 million votes or 62.15% of those cast. That share was down from 65% in 2009 and a peak of 69% under President Thabo Mbeki in 2004.

Many electors said they were voting for the ANC or the late Nelson Mandela but had a low opinion of Zuma. This is likely to be the last time that the party can cruise to victory on its liberation struggle credentials in spite of putting up an unpopular leader. Its election managers took no chances: they kept Mandela's face – not Zuma's – as the symbol of their campaign and closely vetted all those attending their rallies for fear they would repeat the mass booing to which the President has been subjected at several public events this year.

The ANC's electoral performance, however, should save Zuma from an early rebellion in the party although many senior officials refer to him as a lame duck and say the succession struggle has already started. That would pit Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, currently Chairwoman of the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, or the rising star that is the ANC Treasurer General, Zweli Mkhize, against the Minister for Public Enterprises, Malusi Gigaba, and ANC Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. Zuma is said to favour his ex-wife, Dlamini-Zuma, whose tough management of the Home Affairs Ministry won plaudits; business would back the capable Ramaphosa.

Whatever Zuma's own views, he is likely to appoint Ramaphosa as national Deputy President, alongside his party position, but will try to circumscribe his powers. Talk of Zuma standing back as a ceremonial President while Ramaphosa operates as de facto Prime Minister is far-fetched: the two men, both formidable political operators, may struggle to reach an accommodation. If Zuma wants the government's ambitious development plans to work, he knows he needs Ramaphosa and that that dependence is not necessarily mutual.

Zuma's next test in 2016
The saga will take at least a couple of years to play out and the 2016 municipal elections are likely to trigger fresh problems for Zuma if the ANC takes a pounding and loses some key cities. Then his opponents may organise themselves for the party's 2017 elective conference, which could lay the groundwork for his ejection. For now the ANC still dominates politics and government. It won 250,000 fewer votes than in 2009 and has 15 fewer seats in the National Assembly.

That's frustrating for the party managers, who ran a highly effective campaign, but the ANC leadership can live with it. It doesn't give enough ammunition to Zuma's enemies within the party to launch a pre-emptive attack. The ANC has lost ground but it appears that this is largely accounted for by a lower turnout in several of its heartland provinces, as well as a dramatic drop in support in Gauteng Province, the richest in the country. With all the votes counted, the ANC won almost 11.5 mn. of a total 18.5 mn. Zuma's stronghold KwaZulu-Natal bagged an extra 277,000 votes. Together, Gauteng and KZN represent 44% of the total vote but the ANC lost 290,000 votes overall.

The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, won just 4 mn. votes or 22.23% of the total. That's over a million new votes, or 5.5% points more and 22 new seats. It's encouraging for the DA but nowhere near the point where it can dream of winning. The DA entrenched its control over the Western Cape, largely at the expense of smaller parties. It picked up 57% of the vote there versus the ANC's 34%. This compares to 49% versus 33% in 2009. The DA said the increase was because voters appreciate the fact that the province is better run than others. Critics said it just meant white and coloured people, who constitute a majority, were still scared of black people and were voting more tribally than ever.

The DA also made inroads into the ANC's support in the crucial province of Gauteng, where the governing party won 55% of the vote and the DA, 28.5%. In 2009, the ANC had won 65% and the DA, 21%, so the latest results represent a clear swing from the ANC to the DA. Reasons for the fall in ANC support include unpopular new motorway tolls, poor services in many parts of the province and distaste among its growing black middle class for Zuma's old-school, free-spending, Zulu patriarchal style. If this electoral trend continues unchecked in Gauteng, the ANC risks losing its overall majorities on the Johannesburg and Tshwane (which includes Pretoria) metropolitan councils in the next local elections, scheduled for 2016. That would be a massive blow.

Another metropolitan area at risk for the party will be Nelson Mandela Bay in the Eastern Cape, which includes Port Elizabeth, and where the ANC is engulfed in grim factional turmoil. It won just 49% of the vote to the DA's 40%, making the city a major DA target in 2016. If the ANC loses Nelson Mandela Bay, it will be a massive embarrassment that may serve to hasten Zuma's departure from the party presidency.

The Congress of the People (Cope), which was the darling of the 2009 elections, when it won 1.3 mn. votes, was annihilated at these polls, picking up just 123,235 votes, under 10% of its previous total. Cope failed because its leadership spent so much time in court battling it out over who should be party president and because it was so utterly unimpressive in Parliament, failing to use the inside knowledge of its ex-ANC members to hound the party in power and create any kind of profile for itself.

Where did Cope's votes go? The figures suggest that some must have gone to the DA but others reverted to the ANC, cancelling out, to an extent, the votes won from it by Julius Malema's Economic Freedom Fighters. The EFF won 1.2 mn. votes, a little less than Cope last time but an achievement that has made the party the third biggest in the National Assembly. It is even the official opposition in North-West and Limpopo provinces, the latter just next door to Zimbabwe, ruled by Malema's friend, mentor and donor Robert Mugabe.

Many are saying that the EFF tally proves that the real space for opposition to the ANC is not to the political right, where the DA sits, but to the left. They may be correct and the ANC may be tempted to veer leftwards to entice back EFF voters. Yet it could opt to spin the issue another way, arguing that its 11mn. vote tally, eleven times that of the EFF, proves that the bulk of the electorate still favours moderate reform to EFF policies of nationalisation and land appropriation without compensation.

Either way, Malema seems determined to highlight the issue. He may try to win support from ANC members of parliament, arguing that the EFF's 25 seats, combined with the ANC's majority control, could make an alliance with a two-thirds majority, which could change the Constitution's strictures on land redistribution. Antipathy between Zuma and Malema now runs deep. Malema and his EFF were the only party Zuma declined to greet during a visit after the count to the Independent Electoral Commission. Malema has said the EFF will side with the DA if it tries again to impeach the President.

2014 represented a new stage in the slow death of Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party. The IFP won 441,854 votes, down 45% from its 2009 tally and 78% down on the over 2 mn. votes it secured back in 1994, reducing its Assembly presence to just ten. Most of the votes that Inkatha shed were scooped up, it seems, by the breakaway National Freedom Party (NFP), led by the feisty Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi, a former Buthelezi acolyte, which won nearly 290,000 votes and six seats. This was despite kaMagwaza-Msibi's far lower profile than Mamphela Ramphele and her Agang party, which maintained a Twitter onslaught and media presence throughout but had no organisation on the ground. It got a hopeless 52,350 votes, just 0.28% of the total.

Cabinet posts
Ramaphosa heads the ANC's National Deployment Committee and is set to become the country's Deputy President and the driving force behind the National Development Plan (NDP). He was formerly Deputy Chairman of the National Planning Commission and his main task in Zuma's second government will be to entrench and implement the Plan. Insiders believe the government will establish a permanent institution, like the Development Bank of Southern Africa, to implement the Plan and take it out of partisan contention.

The Deployment Committee makes recommendations as to who should be appointed but the final decision rests in the hands of the President. With Trevor Manuel, the Minister in charge of the Planning Commission, out of cabinet, Ramaphosa will be in charge of the Commission. The NDP provides for tens of billions of dollars of infrastructure projects but rejects the nationalisation of key sectors such as mining. Proposed in 2011, it has encountered fierce opposition from ANC allies such as the National Union of Metal Workers but, at a post-election press conference, ANC General Secretary Gwede Mantashe said the party was committed to the Plan which set out its priorities on jobs, education and training. That suggests that several key figures who worked on the NDP will stay on, at least for now. Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan is reluctant to serve another term, but his work on the NDP alongside Ramaphosa and Manuel will be of critical importance in the coming months.

The job of Deputy Finance Minister may come down to a choice between the incumbent, Nhlanhla Nene, and the former South African Reserve Bank Governor Tito Mboweni, who ultimately has his eyes on the senior Finance post. However, unions are not happy with that idea, remembering all too well his time as Labour Minister under President Mandela and his time as SARB Governor. However, in the ANC hierarchy, Mboweni is a National Executive Committee member, sits on the powerful Economic Transformation Committee and featured high on the party's election list. On the other hand, Nene is on only the KZN provincial to national list. 

Under the proportional representation system, each party draws up lists of candidates for the national Parliament and provincial assemblies. If a candidate is put on the provincial list, he or she is more likely, although not certain, to get a job in the provincial government. Only in special cases does the central government bring people from the provincial list into a top national job.

Another union insider, Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel, is likely to be retained in a senior role although his portfolio might be cut. He is seen as a hard worker and has the ear of Zuma, who wants him to stay in the cabinet. A leaner, more focused team is on the cards with several ministries to be merged with others. Paul Mashatile's Arts and Culture Ministry may be merged with Sport. The separate Land and Agriculture ministries could also be merged. The incoming cabinet will also cheer the markets, Mantashe said. 'As the results were being announced and the elections were completed, the rand strengthened.'

Premiers and provinces
Zuma has the final say in appointing provincial premiers although the Provincial Executive Committees (PECs) do have some say and can submit up to three names to the NEC. KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Gauteng are to remain the same while other provinces – North-West, Northern Cape and Eastern Cape – will see some changes.

The ANC lost almost 300,000 votes in Gauteng and the PEC, which is led by Mashatile who was behind the dissident Forces of Change coalition, is likely to face the axe. Zuma loyalists will be jostling to take over. Provincial Secretary David Makhura was number one on the provincial list and is a favourite for the premiership, as well as the current Member of the Executive Council (MEC) for Education, Barbara Creecy.

We hear Zuma will punish the Mashatile and Makhura leadership by re-appointing Nomvula Mokonyane, the current Premier who is also known as 'Mama Action'. She has been a divisive figure during her last term but is a close ally of Zuma's (AC Vol 50 No 10, Pragmatism trumps ideology). The Eastern Cape's Noxolo Kiviet is also likely to go, even though she opted to remain on the Province's regional list instead of heading to Parliament. In the Northern Cape, the current ANC Chairman, John Block, faces corruption charges and is likely to be forced out. 

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