By Prince Kurupati
On May 8 2019, South Africans cast their votes in the country’s 6th general election. At 21:00, voting at all polling stations and the country’s main election body IEC started the process of tallying the votes. A few hours later, IEC started to announce the results of the elections region by region. On May 11, the main official results were announced proclaiming the African National Congress (ANC) which has been in power since the country attained its independence in 1994 as the victor.
With the announcement that the ANC had once again reigned supreme in the general election, it at the same time means that opposition parties in South Africa have failed once again to dislodge the revolutionary party from power. Considering that the ANC entered the election as a divided force after reports emerged alleging that top ANC officials including the former president Jacob Zuma were the brains behind the formation of a new opposition party, the performance of the opposition parties in South Africa in the just ended elections, therefore, paint a really worrisome picture.
Just to put the above into perspective, let’s check out what the figures say as per the votes cast (as adapted from Africa News):
May 11: Final results
- Voting Districts Captured: 22 925 of 22 925
- Total Valid Votes: 17 436 144
- Spoilt Votes: 235 472
- Total Votes Cast: 17 671 616
- Voter Turnout: 65.99 %
- Registered Population: 26 779 025
May 11: Top 5 parties after 100% of voting districts counted
- ANC: 10 026 475 votes representing 57.50%
- DA: 3 621 188 votes representing 20.77%
- EFF: 1 881 521 votes representing 10.79%
- IFP: 588 839 representing 3.38%
- VF PLUS: 414 864 representing 2.38%
May 11: Record 14 parties grab seats in parliament
Seats in the National Assembly. (Change in brackets).
ANC: 230 (-19)
DA: 84 (-5)
EFF: 44 (+19)
IFP: 14 (+4)
FF+: 10 (+6)
ACDP: 4 (+1)
NFP: 2 (-4)
UDM: 2 (-2)
COPE: 2 (-1)
AIC: 2 (-1)
ATM: 2 (new)
GOOD: 2 (new)
PAC: 1 (no change)
Al Jama-ah: 1 (new)
It is in light of the above that this article seeks to explain some of the reason behind the ‘poor’ performance of opposition parties in the recent South African elections.
Overreliance on Personality Politics
Opposition political parties in South Africa mostly the vibrant ones i.e. the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) generally tend to over-rely on personality politics. It’s important to note here that the overreliance on personality politics is in relation to the leaders of the ruling party. The strategies used by both the DA and the EFF in the last couple of years building up to the elections was to attack the then president Jacob Zuma.
Having successfully managed to win people over to their side mostly the urban young, the DA and the EFF spent much of their time attacking Jacob Zuma as a person for weak leadership. Opposition parties also relied heavily on Zuma’s unresolved corruption charges and dodgy sexual conduct turning it into political capital to consolidate their support base consisting mostly of the young urbanites.
While the constant and consistent attacks on Jacob Zuma certainly helped opposition parties in South Africa to gain traction with the majority of the urbanites, it did however subconsciously blind the opposition from focusing on the bigger picture i.e. looking for viable policy and ideology alternatives to challenge the ones offered by the ANC.
The overreliance on personality politics by the South African opposition parties, therefore, gave the ANC an upper hand in the run-up to the elections as the party simply changed the tables by deposing the scandal-prone Zuma and replacing him with the near perfect Cyril Ramaphosa. The deposition of Zuma completely wiped out South Africa’s opposition parties’ political capital hence on the eve of the elections, they were presented with a challenge to come up with a new campaign strategy. The EFF did try to come up with a new strategy i.e. the land expropriation without compensation stand but unfortunately, there was little time to explain and sell the message to a wider audience.
The Rural Vote
It’s no secret really that in Africa, more people live in rural areas as compared to the urban areas. As elections are a game of numbers, it, therefore, means that more attention ought to be given to the areas that have higher numbers in this instance rural areas. Fortunately for the ANC, the opposition parties failed to win over the rural vote. The DA’s campaign as has been the case since its inception was skewed towards its traditional support base of white, coloured and Indian minorities. The EFF on the other hand mainly focused on winning the vote of the young black urbanites (mostly those from poor backgrounds) with the party’s red beret becoming ubiquitous at political meetings, township funerals and on urban streets across South Africa.
A Lack of Unity
In the book, Political Parties French sociologist and political scientist, Maurice Duverger, opined that regime change between two parties is almost impossible unless the political system is a two-party one. Effectively, this means that an opposition political party can only depose another party in an election if there are limited parties contesting in an election optimally just two parties.
To put the above into perspective, Issaka K. Souaré, a senior researcher at African Security Analysis Programme writes that there are 16 opposition wins in Africa (talking only about smooth democratic power transitions thereby excluding coups and the like).
“Of the 16 instances, five were generally the result of a coherent opposition coalition, and five others occurred in two-party or bipolarized systems. The first coalition win arguably happened in Zambia in October 1991. In this historic poll, almost all opposition parties stood behind Frederick Chiluba’s Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) against the incumbent Kenneth Kaunda and his United National Independent Party (UNID). If it was not a coalition, then it was a de facto two-party system, for they were the two parties that competed for both the presidential and legislative elections that were held on the same day. The other opposition coalition wins happened in Niger in March 1993, in Burundi in June 1993, in Senegal in March 2000, and in Kenya in December 2002.
The opposition candidates have won twice in both Cape Verde (1991 and 2001) and Ghana (2000 and 2008), and once in Sierra Leone (2007). But there is an effective two-party system in all these three countries, at least since 1990. In Cape Verde, power alternates and is more or less equally shared between the African Party for the Independence of Cape Verde (PAICV) and the Movement for Democracy (MPD). In Ghana, it is between the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP), while the All People’s Congress (APC) and the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) have dominated the political scene in Freetown since the country regained independence from Britain in 1961.
The remaining six cases happened after transitional arrangements in which the former one-party ruling regime had been greatly weakened and discredited. This is what explains, to a large extent, the electoral victory of Pascal Lissouba’s Pan-African Union for Social Democracy (UPADS) in the Republic of Congo in August 1992; Albert Zafy’s in Madagascar in February 1993; Ange-Félix Patassé’s in the Central African Republic in September 1993; Bakili Muluzi’s in Malawi in May 1994; and Coumba Yala’s in Guinea-Bissau in January 2000. And in all these cases, save the Malawian one, the opposition victory only came at the second round when other parties coalesced behind the main opposition candidate, which then brings them to the first category. Didier Ratsiraka’s return to power in 1996 in Madagascar is the sixth and the only exceptional case of the data. The conclusion is almost clear and self-explanatory.”
The above therefore clearly illustrate that without forming a coalition, the results of the 2019 general election were a foregone conclusion long before the votes were even cast. Taking a cue from the 16 examples highlighted above, the only way forward for opposition parties is to form a coherent opposition coalition.