Election outcome: South Africa is moving away from a one-party state

The 2014 elections mark the emergence of new parties like the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters -- and portend a politics based on issues not loyalty to ANC. 

Ben Curtis/AP
Supporters of Julius Malema's opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, seen reflected in car windows, hold placards and shout at a passing government vehicle convoy driving an unidentified VIP, as they stage a protest outside the provincial results center for Gauteng province in Johannesburg, South Africa Friday, May 9, 2014.

A version of this post appeared on Africa in Transition. The views expressed are the author's own. 

 While much international attention has been focused on the Boko Haram kidnapping of up to three hundred schoolgirls in northern Nigeria, an episode that re-enforces a familiar Africa "negative narrative," South Africa has, yet again, conducted free, fair, and credible national elections.

With 99 percent of the votes counted, the governing African National Congress (ANC) has won 62 percent of the vote, the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA) has won 22 percent, while a new, left-wing party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) won 6 percent.

The rest of the votes were shared by numerous small parties. Turnout was a healthy 73 percent. The ANC electoral victory guarantees that President Jacob Zuma will remain in office.

Since the end of apartheid in 1994, South Africa has essentially been a one-party state. The ANC has enjoyed an overwhelming majority of seats in parliament. Its electoral high-water mark was in 2004, when it won 70 percent of the seats in parliament.

That is changing.

In 2014, its score of 62 percent of the vote, is its lowest since 1994. The party has been besmirched by scandal and accusations of cronyism. Many of the icons of the liberation movement, such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have abandoned it.

Nevertheless, as the party of Nelson Mandela and of the fight against apartheid, it retained overwhelming support from South Africa’s blacks.

If dominant at the national level, the ANC has faced competition at the provincial level from the Democratic Alliance.

The DA controls the Western Cape, and its leader, Helen Zille, is the province’s premier. Nationally, the DA has increased its share of the vote from 17 percent in the 2009 elections to 22 percent. In the Western Cape, it won a large majority of the votes, 59 percent.

The DA is the party of whites, “Indians” (South Africans of south Asian origin) and “Coloureds,” many of whom regard themselves as a separate, not mixed, race. Helen Zille is white, The Western Cape is the only part of sub-Saharan Africa where blacks are not a majority of the population; “Coloureds” are the largest racial group.

But, the DA has been reaching out to blacks, especially those in the new “middle class.” Its parliamentary leader is a black woman. It will be studying the returns to determine the extent to which it has been successful in attracting supporters from the black population. It will be encouraged by the fact that its percentage of the 2014 vote is greater than the percentage of whites, “Coloureds” and “Indians” in South Africa’s national population, which is less than 20 percent combined.

The EFF, a new populist party founded by former ANC bad-boy Julius Malema, will now enter parliament. The EFF is best known for calling for the expropriation without compensation of white property. It is likely to be a noisy left-wing voice in a body that has largely lacked that perspective. However, it is too small to have much impact of policy or legislation.

South Africa is moving toward political pluralism.

The ANC, if still by far the largest party, will be challenged in parliament by a revivified DA and, for the first time, a radical, populist left-wing party, the EFF. 2014 may have set the stage for even greater change in the next electoral season, in 2019.

The DA may have started to break out of its particular racial straightjacket, necessary if it is to be an alternative party of government. The powerful and wealthy National Union of Metal Workers has withdrawn its support from the ANC and is moving toward the establishment a labor party that would likely have more responsible leadership than the EFF. These signs of political pluralism are healthy for a democracy.

Nevertheless, in 2014, South Africans still have voted largely along racial lines. But, elections are moving from being largely a racial census to being about issues.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.