by Apr 15, 2024Amandla 92, Feature

THE AFRICAN NATIONAL Congress is certainly fighting its most difficult election since the dawn of democracy in 1994. This may sound like a cliché that gets echoed every election, but now it’s true. The unabated decline of the electoral support of the ANC has been happening since 2009, when Zuma became President. It will now make the ANC fall below 50% of the vote. Almost all polls put the ANC around 45%, tending towards 40%. If you think polls are doomsayers, just look at the 2021 local government results— the overall ANC vote was 45.59%. 

The unabated decline of the electoral support of the ANC has been happening since 2009, when Zuma became President. It will now make the ANC fall below 50% of the vote.

The trend over the last 15 years has been that local government election outcomes tend to be a precursor to national election results when it comes to the ANC. In the 2011 local elections, the ANC got 61.95%, and in the 2014 general election it declined to 62.15%. In the 2016 local elections, the ANC received 53.91% of the vote and even lost the big metropolitan municipalities of Joburg, Tshwane, Ekurhuleni and Nelson Mandela Bay. In the following general election in 2019, it declined to 57.50%.

The trajectory of the ANC decline will continue even in 2024, with it getting not far from the 45% it got in the 2021 local elections. It is also clear that the pace of the ANC decline has tended to be faster, considering the outcomes of the 2019 general election and 2021 local elections. Thus, the ANC is facing a nightmare of unworkable coalitions and splits that mark the chaotic unfolding of the deepening ANC crisis, as it approaches the 2024 general elections, and beyond.

ANC engaged in a fake renewal

The nightmare is made worse by the fact that they have been pretending to be engaged in a renewal process to self-correct, since Jacob Zuma left the ANC presidency in 2017. This sham of a renewal process has made matters worse for them because they have claimed they are ditching corruption and embarking on a radical economic transformation; to restructure the Reserve Bank, implement a radical land reform, and redistribute wealth and income in the economy for the benefit of the poor black majority. This was all a blue lie, and they know it!

Now they are more discredited, even worse than in the Zuma years, because they don’t have a Zuma and Ace Magashule to scapegoat for their mess. If you want to see that they did nothing about corruption, look no further than their parliamentary list. You will see many of those implicated in the Zondo commission on state capture and corruption. Worse even: their current President Ramaphosa’s ascent to high office was based on an anti-corruption ticket. But he has a big cloud hanging over his head: the Phala Phala scandal that involves a stack of cash of more than half a million US dollars, whose real source remains unexplained.

Cyril Ramaphosa’s ascent to high office was based on an anti-corruption ticket. But he has a big cloud hanging over his head: the Phala Phala scandal that involves a stack of cash of more than half a million US dollars, whose real source remains unexplained.

The ANC used its majority in parliament to block the impeachment inquiry arising from serious violations and crimes by the President at Phala Phala, as established prima facie by the Independent Panel of two retired judges and one senior advocate. The formal reason they advanced when they were squashing the recommended parliamentary inquiry was that the President has taken the report of the Independent Panel on review in court. Once the ANC parliamentary majority voted down the report, the President went back to court to withdraw his review, on the grounds that the report of the Independent Panel had become academic since parliament had rejected it. Those are pure monkey tricks of the ANC to evade accountability!

The arrest of the Speaker of parliament following a R4.5 million bribe scandal, during an election period, has added fuel to the flames.

Unemployment, poverty, the delivery of public services including health, education and housing, and the deterioration of public infrastructure have all got worse since Ramaphosa took over at the 2017 ANC conference, on the back of a radical economic transformation that was going to improve the lot of the poor black masses. There are no radical policy interventions that have been put in place. So both the proclaimed anti- corruption stance and radical economic policies, which are the twin pillars of the sham ANC renewal, have fallen flat.

On the contrary, we have witnessed heightened neoliberal austerity of budget cuts in important public services, including health, education, housing and roads, and on government workers’ wages. Austerity has also extended to the reactionary, tight monetary policy of increasing interest rates. This is supposed to be to fight off inflation. But that inflation did not come from the oversupply of money, but from price increases by monopoly corporations and from imports due to breaks in global supply chains, following the Covid slump and the Ukraine war. This fiscal and monetary austerity has worsened the cost of living for poor families, workers and the middle classes.

The rise of the dangerous right: Zuma and his MK party

Ordinarily, Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto weSizwe party should not be posing any serious threat to the ANC electoral support because, according to Ramaphosa’s ANC, Zuma presided over “nine wasted years of corruption and state capture”, and Cyril is a renewal man. If anything, the ANC should be saying ‘good riddance’ now that Zuma has his own party that is based on Zulu tribalist mobilisation and defending his legacy of corruption. But on the contrary, Zuma and his MK party have added to ANC woes, so they are terrified to the core.

Zuma’s party is seriously threatening to take away significant ANC support in KZN, and in some parts of Gauteng and Mpumalanga. Some polls even put the MK party at 13% of the national vote, ahead of the EFF. If this threat to the ANC electoral support is real and the polls are to be believed, then the ANC is a reactionary party that shares with the MK party reactionary tendencies such as backward tribalist mobilisation and corruption. The praises the ANC gave to King Goodwill Zwelithini and Mangosuthu Buthelezi on the occasion of their respective passing in 2021 and 2023 also bear testimony to this. They praised these two as great patriots who fought for peace and democracy. This is contrary to their recorded history as reactionaries derailing our democracy, apartheid collaborators and the mass murderer that Buthelezi was.

As part of this rightward drift of embracing reactionary traditional leaders, with the hope to lure rural votes, ANC has now secured the endorsement of the criminally convicted King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo on its 2024 election campaign trail, after they wrestled him away from the EFF.

Zuma is a rightwing force whose danger to national stability and security was highlighted during the 2021 July unrest. Of course, Zuma’s rightwing political rise is on the back of the declining democracy and the deepening neoliberal crisis.

The ANC fears Zuma so much that they have not expelled him as an ANC member, despite the fact that he has violated the ANC’s own constitution by forming a party outside the Alliance and campaigning against the ANC. They only suspended his ANC membership long after he had announced the formation of, and started campaigning for, MK party. They claim their reason for not outright expelling Zuma is tactical; they don’t want to make matters worse in an election period. Yet they are busy fighting Zuma in the courts, trying to get his MK party deregistered and to stop using the uMkhonto weSizwe name and logo, since those are associated with the ANC brand.

Their approach on Zuma is confused because they are not principled and they don’t have control of a lot of stuff in their terrain; it can blow up their face any time, because the ANC implosion resembles an empire of chaos. The Zuma split is part of the deepening ANC crisis.

The nightmare of unworkable coalitions

The experience of coalitions in municipalities has been bad, fraught with unstable coalition governments, wherein mayors, executives and council speakers are changed willy-nilly. Given the big possibility (almost a certainty) of the ANC falling below 50% nationally, and losing Gauteng and KZN, they are panicking and want to be ready for coalition governments. They have attempted to make a law that would regulate the stability of coalition governments, but they have failed. They have also failed to formulate a coherent political strategy for coalitions because the ANC has become a political mess, unable to coordinate any big and complex political project.

As Hein Marais correctly points out in his 2011 classic book, South Africa Pushed to the Limit: The ANC now hosts such a disparate assortment of interests, ideologies and ideals that the progressive impulses are mitigated by a mishmash of coarse tendencies. The ANC can no longer credibly claim to be the custodian and manager of a coherent liberation project…Powerful sections of the ANC have acquired a reflective sympathy for policies that put the market ahead of society, and that push the pursuit of social justice deeper into the shadows. 

The ANC can’t agree among themselves to have a coalition with the EFF on the basis of a strategic perspective. They are also embarrassed to openly declare that they are more likely to go with the liberal DA. Maybe they will go with smaller parties if they fall below 50% only by a small margin.

Again, there is a permanent feud between ANC and EFF when it comes to agreeing on radical policy positions. EFF is always out to discredit the ANC as a sellout party. The 2021 experience of trying to amend Section 25 of the Constitution, in order to clarify the possibility of a radical land reform that is free of market forces, is a case in point. The EFF rejected the proposed amendment from the ANC-dominated parliamentary committee that was worded: “where land and any improvements thereon are expropriated for purposes of land reform…the amount of compensation may be nil.” The EFF objected and instead insisted on the wording expropriation without compensation”. Thus the constitutional amendment to easily enable radical land reform did not pass, as it did not get the required two-thirds majority of the vote in the National Assembly.

It is not clear if the ANC will talk to Zuma’s MK party to form coalitions, given the animosity between the two.

Despite desperate attempts ANC crisis deepens 

The ANC in Gauteng has been pursuing a massive programme of public sector employment. This should be commended. The neoliberal restructuring of the economy that has been consolidated by the ANC government since 1994 has been shedding jobs and making unemployment worse, with no private capital investment to expand output and create jobs on a large scale. Given the big numbers that are cited of those employed since last year (more than 90,000), these employment opportunities should be enhancing the electoral fortunes of the ANC in Gauteng, as a province where the ANC is set to lose.

However, it does not seem this employment scheme will work wonders for the ANC because it was implemented too late, close to elections, when the electoral noise and heat overwhelms everything. Most of those who got employed will probably vote for the ANC, but their number falls way too short to make a dent in improving their desperate electoral fortunes in Gauteng. It is unlikely that other voters who are unemployed will vote ANC with hopes inspired by the employment scheme, believing that their turn is coming. They will probably not vote ANC because of the cynicism that is widespread among voters from accumulated disappointments and failures since 1994.

30 years is certainly a long enough period to fail, trying to pursue a development strategy and trying again, and again, until you succeed. But with the ANC, the failure has been dismal because they were not committed to any sovereign development project. Instead, they succumbed fully to the dominant neoliberal development philosophy that allots a decisive role to market forces.

This election therefore depicts a decline of democracy, the deepening neoliberal crisis and the rise of the rightwing parties (MK, ActionSA, Patriotic Alliance, Freedom Front Plus) and rightwing social forces. The ANC decline continues unabated, yet there is no party that is winning an outright majority. It is a political crisis of absent political and social forces capable of posing an alternative, radical social vision that strengthens democracy and advances a development agenda that is buttressed in the social demands of popular classes, who constitute the majority of the population.

The ANC crisis has become an intrinsic part of the neoliberal capitalist crisis deepening in our country and globally. A meaningful exit out of this crisis is not to renew or reform the ANC. That is not possible. The ANC has to be transcended with a socialist revolutionary advance to exit from the deepening neoliberal crisis. Mass movements that wage mass struggles that have to register decisive victories must be built urgently. Of course, that has to be done outside elections but then exert political weight on elections, on the basis of political victories scored before elections, not after. Failure by the Left and popular classes to live up to this task and challenge will perpetuate the ruinous crisis as it gets worse.

Gunnett Kaaf is a Marxist activist and writer based in Bloemfontein. 

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