I hope the three parties that were happiest with last week’s election results realise the extent of their challenges over the next few years, says Max du Preez.
The ANC is happy that it got over 62 percent after a turbulent five years; the DA is pleased its support grew to 22 percent; and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have reason to brag after it achieved more than 6 percent after only eight months.
The ANC will be delusional if they didn’t take it seriously that its support has been declining steadily since 2004 and that it did badly in three big metros it previously dominated: Joburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay.
South Africa is not Zimbabwe. A party supported mostly by rural and traditionally-minded people or recipients of social grants cannot rule South Africa optimally.
The ANC will have to face the fact that it will lose quite a number of local councils to the DA in the 2016 local elections if it doesn’t drastically improve its running of cities and towns. Voters had previously shown that good governance was more important than blind party loyalty in local elections. The 2016 elections could serve as a springboard for the 2019 general elections.
The ANC will also have to square up to the reality that it urgently needs new, younger leaders to replace the present ageing leadership. More than a third of the voters in 2019 will be post-1994 youngsters and there are signs that working class and unemployed young people could drift towards the EFF and those in the middle class towards the DA in the years ahead.
Luthuli House would make a fatal mistake if they genuinely believe that its 62 percent meant that the electorate were immune to corruption and enrichment. Perhaps Nkandla didn’t matter as much as some expected, but my sense is that most voters didn’t approve of that amount of money spent on one family.
It could have been a case of “perhaps these guys are crooks, but they’re our crooks, and we’ll deal with them inside the ANC”. If that’s true, it won’t last if the crooks aren’t dealt with in the next few years.
The DA can be satisfied that it had increased their support from the black electorate to close to 800 000 (6 percent of the black vote) and has more than two-thirds of the three minority groups’ vote sown up.
The hardest part lies ahead. Helen Zille will soon retire as leader. The DA’s large number of black, coloured and Indian supporters will need to be represented in the leadership structures, and that, in turn, will bring about a new political culture in the party.
The DA can indeed claim that it is the most non-racial party, but the interests of its white, coloured, black and Indian constituencies don’t always coincide.
A very difficult balancing act will be needed of the new leadership. There has already been a small revolt among white Afrikaners that felt the DA was neglecting them and was sucking up to black potential voters, and about 15 000 of them went over to vote for the Freedom Front Plus.
A prominent, assertive black leadership will go some way in finally killing off the perception that the DA is still a party fighting for white privilege, but the party will have to work much harder to demonstrate that it cares as much for the townships and squatter camps as for the suburbs and city centres in areas under its control.
The EFF could be the party with the fastest growth potential, but then it will have to learn from Cope’s mistakes. It will have to work hard to establish branches all over the country and have proper elective congresses.
Julius Malema and his 26 fellow members of Parliament could play a very constructive role as advocates of the rights of the working class and marginalised. I look forward to the sight of them walking into Parliament with their red overalls and berets – that austere body can do with a jolt. But if they’re merely going to stick to their crude populist rhetoric, race-baiting and insults, they will have little impact.
Malema’s more mature and generous approach and statements during the last few weeks are a good sign. If he can pay his tax debts and survive the criminal charges against him, this young man could yet turn out to be one of our better political leaders – a statement I would never have dreamed of making a year or two ago.
But besides their own political future, the parties in Parliament will be seriously challenged in the next five years in effecting the radical economic transformation we’re promised and need – without damaging the economy and without having the unintended consequence of greater poverty and more serious inequality.
* Max du Preez is an author and columnist.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.