And then it was over. Our thumbs were (mostly) purple, our blue and pink ballots were in the box and we had to wait patiently for the results of the most hotly contested election South Africa has ever seen.
Our 6th democratic election was deemed ‘free and fair’ on 11 May. After three days of furious vote counting, the ANC had come out victorious. However, their grip over South African politics is clearly becoming looser than before, with 57% of the electorate deeming them worthy of running the country, a big change from the 62% they received in 2014. What can we take out from these elections, besides for the controversial indelible ink and double voting issues?
The first thing we can analyse is voter turnout. Now, just after voting day, I looked around the staffroom, some shops and other areas, and I noticed many thumbs with faded brown on the nail and skin surrounding it. But according to the statistics this wasn’t the case in many areas around South Africa. Voter turnout was the lowest it’s ever been, at nearly 67% of registered voters. This means that nearly nine million people did not vote at all, and it was predominantly the youth (18-25) who did not vote. This sends a message to the parties out there – nobody is speaking the language these people want to hear.
A lot of people say that this happened because there is little voter education. However, I beg to differ. I have been teaching Life Orientation at Herzlia for three years now. One of the biggest sections we cover in the High School is civic responsibility, which includes voting. We follow the national syllabus, which means that for nine years since the Curriculum Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) was introduced, voter education has been taking place at school level. This demonstrates that most voters between the ages of 18-25 have had education around the importance of voting. To blame the low turnout on inadequate education does not make sense. The political parties should take the blame for not communicating with the youth in the gobbledygook they call election manifestos.
We can then consider the winners and losers of the vote. The ANC did indeed win the election, but with a majority of 57%, a 5% decrease since 2014. This translates into 19 less seats in Parliament, and also has massive implications in provincial legislatures throughout the country. The DA also did not do particularly well, losing five seats in this election and not achieving their outcomes of getting the ANC below a 50% majority in Gauteng and winning the Northern Cape.
The real winners of this election were Malema’s EFF and Pieter Groenewald’s Freedom Front Plus (FF+). The EFF managed to attain 10% of the vote, translating into 44 seats in Parliament, while the FF+ grew by six seats to have 10. This shows a tremendous shift in South Africa, where identity politics seem to have played a big role in the excellent results of these parties. And the main issue driving identity in South Africa for the past few years has been land.
The EFF is obviously the most well-known party with respect to the land question. They were the driving force behind the attempt to introduce land expropriation without compensation. This issue goes further than just legislation. It will see the amendment of the Constitution. And it’s not just any part of the Constitution, but for all intents and purposes the most sacrosanct section of the Constitution: the Bill of Rights. Malema and the EFF have used discourse around land as a tool to take in disillusioned voters from the ANC, those who have not seen any change in the last 25 years. With nearly 50% unemployment for people aged between 16 to 35 in South Africa, it’s understandable that there would be simmering resentment.
The land issue has also given traction to the FF+. Founded by Constand Viljoen as an alternative Afrikaner Nationalist party in 1994, they have gradually lost power throughout the years, as their voters were taken in by the open arms of the DA. However, it is once again being seen as the party for white Afrikaaans South Africans who are fearful of their land being taken away. The DA has been rather wishy-washy on the land issue, thus losing a massive support base. The FF+ has said that, regarding land expropriation without compensation, “The Freedom Front Plus launched specific action, for instance, we already laid a charge at United Nations Human Rights Council. We have submitted partition in parliament.” And although they won’t have much say when it comes to a vote to amend the Bill of Rights (a two thirds majority is needed to amend it), they will fight tooth and nail — the modern bittereinders.
The DA has said it wants to build a South Africa for all, but how can they be the voice of all the people? They certainly did not get the votes to prove they are. How can the blue wave wash over the anger of the disenfranchised youth or the fear of the Afrikaner volk who fear being removed from their land? The ANC will also not be able to bear down on its evergreen support base, as was seen in Kwazulu-Natal, where Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s IFP made an incredible resurgence and stole four seats back from the ANC.
It appears that we are not only heading down a road to a potential future of coalition government, but also that identity will inevitably play a massive role. We will potentially see a shift in all directions as parties try to convince the electorate that ‘they’ will fulfill everyone’s needs. Who knows what will happen in the Local Government Elections in two years’ time? It all depends on the fun and games that will take place in the legislature. I’m sure channel 408 on DSTV will never be dull again.
Craig is a teacher, father and Jewish observer
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