South Africans take to the polls on the 8th of May in one of the most contested elections since the dawn of democracy. While the African National Congress (ANC) has been entrusted with governing the state throughout this period, public frustration runs at an all-time high as many of the party’s promises are left unfulfilled. The election of the 6th Parliament takes place against the backdrop of a 25-year democracy stained by high levels of unemployment and stagnant economic growth. Several political parties, contesting the elections, have come to the fore and proposed solutions to the current challenges facing the state. The election manifestos and party lists of the top three political parties have been made public, leaving the electorate with the responsibility of carefully weighing the available options.
In a recent survey conducted by the Institute for Race Relations (IRR), ANC members gave a 51% ‘very unsatisfied’ score on the government’s performance in fighting corruption. Regardless of this rating, participants of the IRR survey indicated that out of all parties, they trust the ANC the most in delivering basic goods and services. While the decline in ANC support is apparent, opposing parties have not done enough to secure a majority vote due to a range of internal challenges.
African National Congress
The ANC list, released on the 16th of March, is topped by President Cyril Ramaphosa, followed by his Deputy David Mabuza and ANC National Chairperson Gwede Mantashe in the third position. ANC Secretary General Ace Magashule has praised the party’s list for its ability to capture the country’s diversity along the lines of race, gender, geographic spread, age, identity and class. A recent poll initiated by Ipsos has predicted that the ANC is likely to secure the election with 61% of the vote, which is 1.25% less than the previous election. ANC support at the polls has indicated a consistent decline over the years. Between 2004 and 2014, electoral support experienced a decline of 4.1%.
How the ruling party prioritises the fight against corruption, both within its manifesto and selection of candidates for parliament, has a strong influence on their performance in the upcoming elections. For the past few months, South Africans have witnessed, through Commissions of Inquiry, the various acts of corruption committed within state institutions. The crumbling of various state-owned entities, operated by public funds, is largely attributed to corruption, lack of accountability and the lack of a competent public service.
At the ANC’s manifesto launch, President Cyril Ramaphosa acknowledged the failures of the government in tackling corruption and echoed the need for a no-tolerance approach in rooting out corruption within the ruling party. The ANC’s supposed mandate following the instating of President Ramaphosa as party leader and state President has been encapsulated within its “Thuma Mina” directive – a call for public servants and civilians alike to serve selflessly in advancing the interests of South Africa. President Ramaphosa has positioned himself as being strongly opposed to corruption and has constantly assured the country of the party’s dedication in rooting it out. It then seems contradictory that the ANC’s list includes individuals, such as Malusi Gigaba (23rd position) and Mosebenzi Zwane (75th position) who have been implicated in state capture allegations. The inclusion of Zuma-allies Bathabile Dlamini (14th position) and Nomvula Mokonyane (10th position) has also raised concerns about the extent of the ANC’s commitment to tackling corruption. Although Luthuli House has indicated that mere allegations are not sufficient to justify the removal of individuals on their lists, the apparent lack of a vigorous approach in tackling corruption will only further taint the party’s image and affect its performance at the polls.
The results of the IRR survey, in which ANC members gave a 51% ‘very unsatisfied’ score on the government’s performance in fighting corruption, should be a matter of concern for the party. At a time where restoring the public’s trust in the ANC government should be paramount, the inclusion of implicated persons may prove to be counterproductive. The ruling party seems to be attempting to strike a balance between winning the public’s trust and managing factionalism within the party. The position that the party has chosen to take will only further threaten its fragile credibility.
The ANC has frequently faced public scrutiny for being out of touch with current issues through the deliberate exclusion of young people from key positions of power. 20% of the party’s 200 candidates are young people, with the youngest candidate being 20-year old Fees Must Fall activist Fasiha Hassan in 36th position. Former Wits SRC President and fellow Fees Must Fall activist, Nompendulo Mkhatshwa (25) also makes an appearance in the top 50 of the ANC’s national list at 101. The ANC’s top 10, however, has an average age of 59, with the youngest candidate being former ANC Youth League leader Ronald Lamola (36) in 5th position. While the presence of young people on the national list is noteworthy and an indication the ANC realising the importance of a generational mix, the inclusion of young people in key positions of power remains to be seen. At the ANC’s manifesto launch, President Ramaphosa acknowledged the epidemic of youth unemployment and the need for furthering free education. How the nominated candidates will perform in advancing the interests of young people as Members of Parliament also remains to be seen.
While the ANC is expected to secure the upcoming elections, public support is sure to decline owing to the party’s inability to adopt a vigorous approach in the fight against corruption in both word and deed. Having faced criticism for their inability to provide any notable changes within their manifesto and considering that most of the party’s ‘old faces’ have made a comeback to its list of national candidates, no radical changes are to be expected from its performance.
The official opposition was the last of the ‘big three’ to publicly release their list ahead of the national elections. At the top of the list is Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane, followed by Willem Faber and Evelyn Wilson in the third position. The party has described its selection of candidates as being representative of South Africa’s rich diversity. James Selfe, describing the list, has said: “When the people of South Africa look at the DA’s list they will see themselves. No other party can claim to represent all South Africans”. Their party list, however, gravely contradicts this claim. With only two of the top 10 candidates being black, the party’s claim of a diverse list in a black-majority country is severely placed under question. An Ipsos poll has predicted that the DA will most likely secure 18% of the national vote, indicating a decline of about 4.2% from the 2014 elections.
At the centre of the DA’s challenges has been their inability to adopt a strong stance on issues relating to race and representation. The DA has often faced criticism for its inability to provide sufficient clarity on its stance concerning diversity, race and black economic empowerment, along with its objection to affirmative action. Most concerning has been the party’s sluggish approach in dealing with members caught in racist incidents. Dianne Kohler Barnard (34th position), for example, features on the list despite repeated allegations of racism and xenophobia. In addition to this is the manner in which the party has dealt with former leader Helen Zille which is telling of the complex dynamics at play within the party. Zille, who often expresses controversial, insensitive and tone-deaf statements via her social media, has often faced criticism from a mostly black audience. DA leader Maimane, following a rally speech, was reportedly criticised by old guards within the party for publicly stating that white privilege and black poverty should be confronted. Such events reveal that members working towards the party’s internal transformation often have had to sacrifice their personal views in an effort to balance opposing party interests and maintain ‘unity’.
Ex-policy head Gwen Ngwenya makes an appearance on the list in 23rd position. Part of Ngwenya’s exit was influenced by internal differences concerning the party’s stance on Black Economic Empowerment (BEE). The case of Gwen Ngwenya bears testimony to the manner in which the policies and internal processes of the DA work against the growth and advancement of young black individuals within the party. The DA, which has often relied on the support of young black professionals, stands to lose much should they fail to adopt a stronger policy stance. South Africa cannot be a land of fairness and equal opportunity if the imbalances imposed by the past are not strategically addressed through policy. With the top ten showing an average age of 47 and a white majority, the ability of the party to transform itself remains in question.
Economic Freedom Fighters
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) was the first to publicly release their list of candidates with EFF leader Julius Malema taking the top spot. Following him is Floyd Shivambu and Advocate Dali Mpofu in the third position. EFF National Spokesperson, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi indicated that the list is balanced across age, gender and geographic spread. Ipsos has predicted that the party is likely to gain 10% of the national vote, close to 4% more than in the previous national elections. Having only come into power in 2013, the party was able to secure 6.35% of the national vote in the 2014 elections and establish itself as the third largest party.
The EFF has positioned itself as being in firm opposition to corruption and corrupt individuals in their quest to represent the interests of the poor and marginalised. Their manifesto, launched in February 2019, proposes a 20-year prison sentence for public servants found guilty of corruption. The inclusion of a youth-led EFF in parliament following the 2014 national elections incited vigorous debate on a variety of critical issues. Most notable were their efforts in persuading former President Jacob Zuma to ‘pay back the money’.
The EFF, in their manifesto, has also recognised the need to address the challenges of youth unemployment and quality education. Since their ascent into Parliament, the party has been relentless in vocalising youth-related issues. The EFF has often been heralded as being an influential force behind the Fees Must Fall movement and in advancing the concerns of the youth. Most notable has been the EFF Student Command’s (EFFSC) SRC victory at a historically SASCO-led Wits. The inclusion of prominent Fees Must Fall leaders on the EFF national list, then, comes as no surprise. Student activists and Fallist leaders Naledi Chirwa and Vuyani Pambo made it to the national list in the 30th and 31st positions respectively. EFFSC President Peter Keetse also took the 21st spot on the list. Their inclusion is likely to spark further debate on student-related issues and free education in particular.
The EFF’s manifesto has identified the influence of a ‘triple oppression’ through systems of race, gender and class as a hindrance in the advancement of black women in particular. They have also acknowledged the prevalence of gender-based violence and proposed key interventions in fighting violence against women. While the promise of 50%-woman representation has been achieved through their lists, the ability of the party to tackle the prevalence of gender-based violence is placed under question due to a culture of misogyny within the party. In August 2018, on behalf of junior EFF member Maggie Klaas (32), Seitebogeng Nkitseng, an EFF member of North West’s provincial legislature, said that Malema was not walking the talk when it came to his comments on the abuse of women. It was following a charge being laid against the party’s provincial deputy chairperson and chief whip in North West, Bunga Ntshangane. Instead of providing her with support and protecting her from her perpetrator, Maggie Klaas was charged with misconduct for speaking out publicly.
South African journalist Karima Brown was recently threatened with violence and rape by EFF supporters in a WhatsApp group. Instead of condemning the threats, EFF leader Malema placed Brown in a compromising position by publicising her number to his Twitter audience and further accusing her of being an operative. While the EFF is seemingly gender-progressive on paper, the culture of misogyny within the party is rife and gravely contradicts their policy claims.
South Africans are now presented with the difficult task of deciding which party is most deserving of their vote. With the manifestos and candidate lists of participating political parties now made public, the question remains: will each party’s claims and candidate choices be convincing enough to sway electoral support in their favour? Only the results of the election will provide the final answer.