The 2014 general election is, in terms of the results, most probably the most interesting to decode since the advent of democracy in 1994. While the single-party dominance of the African National Congress (ANC) is still in place at national level, the different results that were achieved by the ANC nationally and in Gauteng are significant in two ways. First, it is clear that ANC voters split their votes and voted tactically. Second, and more importantly, they have shown that they are not as mindless in their support for the ANC as some have assumed. In other words, their support for the ANC is not a function of blind loyalty.
What is critical, therefore, is to do as honest an analysis of the messages contained in the election results as possible, given the fact that the two major parties, the ANC and the Democratic Alliance (DA), have been giving us selective analyses in their attempt to impose a reading of the results which coincides with theirs. To this end, we must avoid readings that seek to reduce the election results to narrow interpretations, since what makes the 2014 results interesting is the multiplicity of meanings to which they lend themselves.
At national level, the ANC won another emphatic victory despite the gains that were made by the DA. At 62% and 22% respectively, the gap between the ANC and the DA remains quite wide. Further, the manner in which ANC supporters voted at national level, compared with voting patterns in Gauteng, is both interesting and contradictory. But it is contradictory only at face value. Clearly, ANC supporters did distinguish between President Jacob Zuma as party leader, on the one hand, and the party itself, on the other. At national level, they recognise that ours is not a Presidential system. It is therefore quite possible that if our electoral system had been structured differently, Zuma would have garnered less support than the ANC.
The interesting part relates to the fact that the Gauteng outcome must be understood in terms of vote splitting and tactical voting. Supporters of the ANC have sent a very strong message that they will not allow the party to take them for granted. While every time a car passed under an e-toll gantry, an ANC vote disappeared, it is quite possible that negative perceptions of the President and his party at national level contributed to the poor showing of the ANC in Gauteng. If the party leadership is not honest about why the ANC did so poorly in Gauteng, the province will probably be governed by an ANC-Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) coalition government in Johannesburg and in the province after the 2016 local government elections and the 2019 provincial election. The DA will govern Johannesburg if it garners more votes than the ANC and the EFF combined or if it convinces the EFF to become its coalition partner.
But the Gauteng result has implications for both the President and the provincial leadership. Given the fact that the Gauteng leadership would have preferred former President Thabo Mbeki over Zuma as the face of the Gauteng campaign because of fears that Gauteng voters, particularly the middle class, do not like Zuma, the Gauteng leadership possibly feels it was vindicated by the provincial results. Unfortunately, though, the hand of the Gauteng leadership relative to the national leadership has probably been weakened, to the advantage of the President. But the President must remember that, at some point prior to the 2019 elections, his influence inside the party may diminish, especially when he approaches the end of his second and final Presidential term.
As for the DA, the party must be happy that it is the only one that has grown consistently since 1994. More important is the fact that its support among black voters has been increasing, albeit not at a pace that constitutes a major threat to the ANC at national level. However, if the ANC chooses to ignore what voters are saying through the 3.75% drop nation- ally and the almost 11% drop in Gauteng, the black middle class in Gauteng may abandon the ANC, to the advantage of the DA. But the DA must not ignore the amount of work it still needs to do to win over black voters at national level. In other words, the DA must convince black voters to vote for it nationally instead of splitting their votes, to the advantage of the ruling party nationally but to its disadvantage in Gauteng.
On the other hand, if a workers party is formed to contest the 2019 elections and the EFF maintains its momentum, the erosion of support for the ANC – if it materialises – will not necessarily occur to the advantage of the Blue Machine.
Whatever happens, the 2016 and 2019 elections will be very interesting indeed.