‘Elections are becoming less and less bound to race’
The ruling African National Congress (ANC) that propelled the late Nelson Mandela to power in 1994 is once again expected to dominate today’s elections in South Africa. However, poor voter turn-out is putting a question mark over the party’s leadership and over the health of the country’s 20-year democracy. Georgina Alexander, head of the Politics and Government programme at the South African Institute of Race Relations, spoke with the Herald about the significance of the today’s milestone elections.
Why will around only half of all eligible voters be turning up to vote this year?
People feel disenfranchised. They think that no matter who they vote for, all the parties are the same. There’s also general dissatisfaction over the levels of corruption that exist, and a lot of the scandals that have been going on recently, for example the president (Jacob Zuma) spending 246 million rand (US$23 million) on his personal household.
To what extend does people’s loyalty to the ANC affect voting patterns?
To give you an idea, the main opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), is perceived to be predominantly white and so a lot of people feel that if they do vote DA they’re betraying the ‘liberation party’ and also that the DA is going to bring back apartheid.
How has the DA tackled that perception?
They’ve been trying to prove they’re good in government. They’re in government in the Western Cape which is the only province they rule in. What they’re trying to do is to get a message to a variety of voters that, ‘We’re a proven party of government and we’ve run this province very well.’… They’re also running with a multi-racial group of high-ranking party officials. I think they should be showing that they’re a non-racial party, but that’s another matter.
But isn’t race is an unavoidable issue in South Africa?
I think elections are generally becoming less and less bound to race. Basically, what South Africans want to see — and the political parties are picking up on this — is not who you are and where you’ve come from, rather what can you do? I think in the more marginalized provinces, identity politics is still having an impact. People are splitting their votes, voting for the ANC on a national level, but on a provincial level wanting to see a bigger impact on the ground, so often they’ll vote for a different party.
How does Julius Malema and his party, Economic Freedom Fighters, play into this trend?
Julius Malema is very revolutionary; the kind of rhetoric he uses is all about nationalization without compensation. He appeals to voters who might not vote because they feel their vote will mean nothing and to the unemployed. (In South Africa, youth unemployment among black people is 50 percent.) He’s expected to poll quite well, at around four percent, which will give him quite a nice contingent in parliament.
Is this the beginning of the end of two party politics?
I sincerely hope so. In the last election a break-away party from the ANC, COP (Congress of the People led by Mosiuoa Lekota) they did very well, they got around nine percent of the vote, or around one million people. But the party completely disintegrated and was paralyzed by infighting, which is partly why I think the middle classes of all different ethnicities who voted for COP are going to feel quite burnt this time around when it comes to smaller parties.
What challenges is South Africa facing in this next 20-year period?
It’s going to revolve around three E’s: education, economic growth and entrepreneurship. If we can get those things right, this country will take off. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem like it’s going to turn out this way… if the government wants to create 11 million jobs by 2030, we need to grow by 5.4 percent and at the moment we’re barely touching 2.9. The forecasts don’t look any better.