A calamitous fall in support for the ANC is unlikely to set in dramatically  it will be incremental, says the writer. File photo: Denis Farrell

While Zuma celebrates his victory, urban support for the ANC declines and the DA grows its numbers, writes William Saunderson-Meyer.


There are two truisms to be discerned in the still-squirming entrails of the general election, and they belong to President Jacob Zuma. The first is that the ANC will rule until “Jesus returns”. The second is that “It’s cold outside” the governing party.

Taking a cross-section of the democracy sapling and counting rings shows it has taken 20 years for the ANC to drop some seven percentage points from its 2004 high tide of 69.7 percent of the vote. At that glacial rate, one wouldn’t expect to see heavenly chariots, or a political changing of the guard, any time before the 2034 election.

Then there’s Zuma’s warning of the icy environment faced by those who leave the party. This election shows that not a single breakaway has yet thrived.

The United Democratic Movement, formed in 1999 out of the ANC and that fossilised relic of the Ice Age, the National Party, has shrunk from 3.4 percent of the vote to about 1 percent. Cope, born out of the bitter “recall” of former president Thabo Mbeki, has been reduced to less than a percent after garnering 7.4 percent in 2009.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), comprising expelled ANC Youth League firebrands and led by self-styled commander-in-chief Julius Malema, has fallen short even of that – about 6 percent when this column went to press. While the EFF has likely squeezed past the DA to form the official opposition in Mpumulanga, North-West and Malema’s home province of Limpopo, it still has barely broken 10 percent, while the ANC vote hovers around 80 percent.

It was Malema who Zuma was obliquely addressing when he warned against the cold. While Malema will continue to be a thorn in Zuma’s flesh if he personally makes it to Parliament – an array of fraud, corruption and racketeering charges, as well as a revenue service bankruptcy application, are all impediments – this was surely his best shot at sticking it to the ANC.

The EFF, after all, had hoped to draw all the anti-Zuma votes of disaffected former ANC supporters, ranging from imploded Cope to the likes of former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils, who urged ANC supporters to “vote no” by supporting any opposition party other than the DA, or spoiling their ballots.

As for AgangSA, created by Mamphela Ramphele, who came from the Black Consciousness tradition rather than the Congress tradition, what a train smash. It turned out to be less a gang than a lonesome pensioner toiling uphill, with barely a quarter percent.

In short, this is Zuma’s revenge, a personal triumph despite the declining ANC vote in both percentages and absolute numbers – possibly a million down on 2009’s 11.65 million – putting to rest speculation that Zuma would face a humiliating Mbeki-like recall, in the wake of the ANC getting a bloody nose.

Zuma is clearly going to be in charge, for good or ill, for another five years. The upside of that is that there might be a coherent attempt to implement the National Development Plan; the downside is more corruption and increasing authoritarianism.

The election is a personal triumph, too, for DA leader and Western Cape Premier Helen Zille. The Western Cape, captured in 2009 by the narrowest of margins, was held with close on 60 percent of the vote.

It seems that those Eastern Cape “education refugees” of whom she was so dismissive a few years back, might actually be voting for her.

The DA also not only increased its percentage of the national vote from 16.7 percent in 2009 to about 22 percent, but it gave the ANC a big skrik in Johannesburg and Tshwane metros. In doing so, it uncovered clearly the future fracture lines in the political glacier: the country is urbanising and ANC support is melting in the cities.

The DA should temper its exuberance, though. The killer statistic comes out of the past: in 1994 the National Party drew almost 4 million votes. The DA has yet to hit that figure.

ANC opponents can, however, seek solace in another historic fact. As we know from the National Party years, when a glacier eventually does crack, it can quickly become an avalanche.

* William Saunderson-Meyer is a columnist and author.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

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