Election special: Throwing the bones

R.W. JOHNSON / It is still early to draw too many conclusions from the (partial) election results. And the level of analysis is not high. Last Sunday, I watched with amazement as two outside “political analysts” happily argued on eTV that the ANC was good for at least 50%, and that even if it went under 50%, 45% was the absolute bottom. This was based on absolutely nothing, while a plethora of poll results suggested the opposite.Another local nonsense is that people say “the ANC may go under 50%, but will still have a majority”. No. Under 50% means you have no majority. If you have, say, 45% and are still the largest party, you have a plurality. There’s a world of difference.

Two things stand out at this early juncture: the success of Zuma’s MK party and, to a lesser degree, Gayton Mackenzie’s Patriotic Alliance. It tells you some interesting things about South Africa that neither Zuma’s record of corruption nor the PA’s frequently corrupt municipal behaviour seems to have held back these parties.

Overall, of course, the theme of the election was fragmentation, as more and more parties (and independents) competed for votes. Such an evolution was built in from the moment South Africa opted for perhaps the most extreme form of proportional representation that I’ve ever seen.

But there is a larger question about fragmentation, which is, will the country hold together? The fact that MK looks set to take over 40% of the vote in KwaZulu-Natal poses this question. MK makes no bones about the fact that it doesn’t like the present constitution and wants a completely different, more “African” system in which the patriarchal authority of the Zulu monarchy and the traditional chiefs looms large.

It has also already made it clear that it doesn’t want the ANC as a coalition partner. This means the wholesale eviction from power of the ANC which has ruled KZN since 2004, a huge loss of patronage and influence. The IFP looks like MK’s natural coalition partner.

In addition, all the poll data from KZN showed a complete rejection of the ANC, Ramaphosa and even the ANC symbols. Often such sentiments are expressed in frankly tribal terms. I remember when President Zuma expelled Julius Malema from the ANC, Malema furiously denounced Zuma. I asked a black Durban friend for his reaction. “A Pedi boy”, he said, “is no match for a Zulu man.” Doubtless many KZN voters will have viewed the election as a contest between a Zulu leader and a (despised) Venda. That is to say, no contest.

For the MK lives in a Zulu world of its own. There were no T-shirts of Mandela, but lots with Inkosi Luthuli on them – in other words, a complete alternative symbolic lineage. There seems little doubt that a KZN ruled by an MK-led coalition will, to some extent, be a different country.

It can’t be expected to respond at all easily to instructions from the centre. The trouble is that KZN desperately needs help from the centre – starting with assistance to dig Durban out of the trouble it is in due to the thieving and incompetence of the Zuma-ite faction that rules it. Quite how this messy situation will play out, we can only guess at.

But some of the same questions are posed by the success of the PA in the Western Cape, where it looks likely to take 10% of the vote. How this occurred is a story of its own. A huge act of clumsiness by the DA leadership led to the resignation both as an MP and a party member of Ghaleb Cachalia, a strong pro-Palestinian voice. This was wholly unnecessary – the party could have treated Gaza as a free vote, a matter of conscience, allowing the party’s Muslim and Jewish communities to take up positions of their own choice. Instead, the Cachalia case convinced Muslims that the DA was anti-Palestinian, and they withdrew their support in anger and indignation.

For much of the campaign, this was evident both in a sharp drop in the DA’s poll standing and a surprising surge in the ANC’s support. Given that the ANC’ support in the Cape has been dwindling from one election to the next for almost 15 years, the expectation was that it would carry on down. But whereas in 2019 the ANC had got 29% of the vote in the Western Cape,, suddenly the polls were putting it in the 30-35% range. The ANC, sensitive to how their case before the International Court of Justice had served their cause, repeatedly suggested Naledi Pandor, the foreign minister who had brought the ICJ case, as their candidate for the premiership.

However, it must have been difficult for many of the Cape’s Muslims to make the leap to the ANC. They have appreciated the DA’s good governance, and have thoroughly absorbed the DA’s characterisation of the ANC as corrupt and incompetent. So in the end many of them defected to the PA, where they doubtless felt more comfortable – it is a Coloured nationalist party, and speaks to the resentment of many Coloureds at the influx of Africans (including foreign Africans) to the Western Cape. In the end the Gaza issue separated them from the DA, but this was not enough to keep them with the ANC. So as the election neared the ANC’s share of the vote shrank from 35% to barely 20%. Ironically, Gayton Mackenzie is pro-Israel, though he was smart enough not to boast of that.

Coloured nationalism has been struggling to find its voice for some time in the Western Cape. It is almost instinctively secessionist, looking back to the era of the Coloured Labour Preference zone which made the Western Cape the distinctive Coloured homeland.

Already the Freedom Front+, to the DA’s right, has picked up the cause of secession, and it is quite possible that the PA will do the same. This could severely embarrass the DA, many of whose voters would favour secession if it was a realistic prospect.

As yet, these are mere straws in the wind. But there is no doubt that the 2024 results have changed South Africa, and will work their way into the body politic for years to come.

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