May elections: what is the price of an ANC electoral victory?

7th January 2019 By: Raymond Suttner

May elections: what is the price of an ANC electoral victory?

Raymond Suttner
Photo by: Madelene Cronje/New Frame

“Ramaphosa cannot afford to go to the elections with a divided ANC: if he does, a further drop in support at the polls is inevitable”

- Zima Matiwane and Zingisa Mvumbu - Sunday Times, 30 December 2018

In four months, there will be general elections for national and provincial legislatures.  While the other main parties are in disarray, the ANC cannot draw comfort from this.  Though possibly in better shape than the DA and EFF, the ANC remains very disunited, with open and covert signs of disaffection with the leadership of Cyril Ramaphosa from the side of Jacob Zuma supporters. 

The onset of the Cyril Ramaphosa presidency has seen some significant steps towards regularisation of governance and restoration of legality.  But, despite the appointment of a new National Director of Public Prosecutions, the criminal justice system has yet to function adequately and will require more extensive remedies-at all levels of the criminal justice system.  There is a backlog of uninvestigated or inadequately investigated cases or a backlog of cases not brought for prosecution or inadequately prosecuted.  Many who ought to face trial are not yet in the dock or when they have been, faced ill-prepared policing or prosecution.

Many people have not seen their living conditions improve significantly after the defeat of apartheid.  Indeed, the “poorest of the poor”, the supposed core constituency of the ANC find their living standards continuing to deteriorate.  Poverty and inequality levels have increased, with rising prices, unemployment, homelessness, deteriorating health care, and unsafe environments with regular exposure to crime and violence.

While the poor may have been the ANC’s base in the past, they may not offer their support unequivocally, any longer, in the light of the party’s extensive implication in and exposure to corruption and state capture.  Much of this was achieved by diverting resources that could have been used to address poverty relief and inequality.

The ANC faces a crisis of trust.   Ramaphosa has generally not been accused of corruption, with the exception of the BOSASA donation to his campaign for the ANC presidency, whose fall out is still being addressed. But what trust he enjoys is not the unqualified combination of rational and emotional attachment enjoyed by someone like Nelson Mandela. While Thabo Mbeki may not have enjoyed Mandela’s popularity, he was not distrusted on a wide scale or what distrust he evoked mainly related to policies he pursued, rather than personal dishonesty. 

DA troubles

Whatever the troubles of the ANC, the two strongest opposition parties are dealing with serious setbacks.  The DA appears to have weakened significantly compared with the time of its 2016 local government electoral performance.  It has failed to manage coalitions effectively and like the ANC, albeit on a lesser scale, has also hired and fired leaders in various local governments, creating an image of instability.  This phenomenon may only be less prominent than in the ANC because the DA does not govern over as extensive an area.

There is also considerable evidence of in-fighting and continued allegations that whites control the party and that black people, no matter what position they hold are not really free agents and part of key decisions.

The DA has not been able to manage coalitions partly because of arrogance, seen especially in Nelson Mandela Bay (NMB), but also because it has depended on EFF support, without any fixed agreement, and the EFF has decided to flex its muscles, which was part of the reason for the removal of Athol Trollip as Executive Mayor in NMB and the threat of removal of other DA local governments.

The DA displayed astonishing disrespect towards coalition partners.  In NMB the former mayor was often unwilling to consult or make concessions in order to keep the alliance in place. This is not to suggest that the partners, especially the UDM’s Mongameli Bobani, acted blamelessly.  But it was the DA who had the most interest in the survival of the coalition and needed to make the most efforts to secure agreement. Trollip was unapologetic over non-consultation, claiming that his leadership position did not require him to consult partners, who in his language, confused who was the tail and who the dog.  “They want to be the dog and to wag the tail. But they are the tail....” (Quoted in The Herald August 5 2017)

At a national level, while then trying to build a national alliance, after the 2016 elections, the DA sometimes initiated actions and campaigns without consulting its anti-ANC partners. There was no rule obliging them to consult but failure to do so jeopardised the consolidation of unity with other parties.

EFF loses its lustre

The EFF image has taken a battering since the fall of former president Jacob Zuma and this is primarily of its own doing.  It is not merely a case of “image management”, that they have not known how to pitch their message.  Nor is it that they have used imagery that is offensive or inappropriate while their practices have in fact been worthy of admiration. Both the imagery and practices have been deeply problematic in a democratic order.

Certainly, the departure of Zuma removed much of the rationale behind the EFF’s fame, such as it was.  But the organisation has lost the measure of respect that it enjoyed during the battle to remove Zuma, when as Carol Paton put it, “We all loved the EFF when Julius Malema was Constitutionalist-in-Chief but what will it be next?” (Business Day, 5 June 2018).  The EFF now displays a range of traits and practices that run contrary to the very constitutionalism that it invoked against Zuma and the clean government that it advanced in its call that he “pay back the money!”

This did not emerge suddenly through their being immediately and directly implicated in wrongdoing, but through a range of signs that were at first puzzling-like their extensive support for former SARS Commissioner, Tom Moyane and others associated with state capture and corruption, their vicious and racist attacks on Treasury Deputy Director-General Ismail Momoniat and Minister of Public Enterprises, Pravin Gordhan and his daughter, Anisha, EFF defence of the VBS bank against liquidation and implication in its looting, their defence of former Transnet CEO Siyabonga Gama, and their attacks on the Nugent and State Capture Commissions.

There are many other people of ill-repute they have defended and those acting in good faith whom they have attacked.  There is also their association with, and funding received from figures in the underworld, much of this undisputed.

The disquiet, that many who had a guarded respect for the EFF during the Zuma era, now feel, has been heightened by either overt racism towards Indians and whites or ambiguous statements that can be read as racism or incitement to the use of violence against sections of the population or violent seizure of land and property. 

The excessive language and threats of the EFF has increased with accumulation of evidence linking key leaders of the EFF and the organisation itself as beneficiaries of the looting of VBS and other underhand operations. There is also the possibility, if SARS recovers its capacity, of resurrection of tax evasion cases against Malema and other activities that may have constituted wrongdoing.

Emergence of NUMSA-initiated Workers Party

A new player on the political terrain is the National Union of Metal Workers (NUMSA)-initiated Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party (SRWP).  At an electoral level it has to be taken seriously insofar as NUMSA has 400,000 members and probably some two-thirds of those can be assumed to vote and also canvass for the new party.  Whatever the merits of the policies and identity of this new party it may secure close to what the EFF scored in the 2014 national elections. 

Few other parties have entered the field with the type of advantage that backing from NUMSA, a well organised trade union by most accounts, confers in terms of winning votes.  As an evaluation of the prospects of a specifically socialist party, electoral performance is insufficient, but that is not the focus of the present contribution, (though their programme will be more carefully analysed in a later article).

The SRWP may well reach a ceiling of under 10% of the vote and have little capacity for electoral growth because its message does not have a broad appeal, is very dogmatic and, in some ways, Brezhnevite or pre-Brezhnevite in speaking of the current international period being the final moments of capitalism. Thus, its prelaunch Congress Declaration includes this passage: “Recognising that we live in the epoch of imperialism and the decay and last days of the world capitalist system . . .”, a passage with sentiments that used to feature in Workers and Communist Parties in the decades before the fall of the Soviet Union.  Can one build a party on the basis of such an unrealistic estimation of the state of capitalism in the world today?

How can the ANC ensure it does not fall below 50% of the vote?

It has been repeatedly remarked that the ANC needs organisational unity in order to be sure of winning the election or securing a majority of the votes, without entering into one or other form of coalition or other electoral agreement.  Unity finds a prominent place in ANC discourse and always has from its inception (See the article entitled “Native Union” of Pixley ka Isaka Seme, motivating for the formation of the then South African Native National Congress, on the eve of its formation: ).  In many periods of ANC history, the organisation was in decline or had to weather serious divisions, as with the PAC breakaway in 1959, the aftermath of banning in 1960, then having to adapt to operating underground and the early military campaigns in Wankie and Sipolilo.  Many were demoralised in the late 1960s with the prospect of speedy return to South Africa appearing unlikely.

The organisation weathered these difficulties through building unity around carefully constructed programmes, notably the Morogoro consultative conference’s strategy and tactics document of 1969 which represented a sophisticated analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the apartheid regime as well as the possibility of defeating it over the long run. (  The document is currently unavailable on the ANC official website which has been down due to dispute over payment of bills)

But the divisions that plague the ANC today, between what are called “factions” are not of the same character as in the pre-1994 period. Factions are no longer based on significant ideological or programmatic differences, unlike earlier periods.  There are not actual divisions around policies or strategies and tactics, even though phrases like “White monopoly capital” (WMC) and “Radical Economic Transformation” (RET) may be a constant part of political discourse. What is actually at stake?

Those who have rallied around Cyril Ramaphosa pronounced their intention to clean up the state and uproot corruption.  They met with what may have been a surprising level of opposition from the Zumaites, who appear to enjoy significant support.  They have demonstrated a significant level of determination to combat Ramaphosa’s leadership and possibly remove him, over the last year.  There is little sign of similar demonstrations of organised support for Ramaphosa, possibly because he has not wanted these organised, insofar as he may not want to admit that he faces a threat. (It may also be the case that some who are apparently in the Ramaphosa camp, also fear the consequences of regularisation, because of deals, they may have entered, that could come under scrutiny).

The internal opposition to Ramaphosa mainly consists of members in good standing, as far as can be ascertained from reports.  What this means is that Ramaphosa who was elected by a small majority of conference delegates may still depend on unity between those who supported Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Jacob Zuma, in order to secure over 50% in national elections.

Indeed, it may well be that he also needs EFF support to ensure a majority in parliament and there are reports of talks between the two organisations.

Unifying the Ramaphosa and Zumaite groups is not akin to the unity developed after Morogoro in 1969. It has no policy basis and it may well be, as suggested before, that the price of this unity and certainly that with the EFF, if it is needed, may be some de facto immunity from prosecution, (probably through failure to remedy institutional dysfunctionality).  It cannot be formally granted because it is illegal. (See earlier article: ).

If that is the case, if electoral victory is secured in this way it reinforces the impression, that many already have, that the ANC has lost the moral integrity which drew many of its early supporters. 

The entire rationale of many who have supported Ramaphosa was based on a clean-up.  What some may ask has changed if the crooks continue to be unpunished?   It is easy for people to slip into cynicism, if the leadership were to condone any form of “immunity”.

It is not in the interests of the South African public that the clean-up is off the table or threatened.  It is important that those who intend voting for Ramaphosa or not voting against him and offering support in one or other way, should do so on the basis of unqualified commitment to legality and clean government. There can be no concessions for the sake of ANC unity, that undermine constitutionalism and state integrity.

The public needs to avoid lapsing into passivity.  The public voice in support of constitutionalism had an impact on the ANC conference that elected Ramaphosa to office. It needs to be heard again, affirming the values of freedom, democracy and clean government.

Raymond Suttner is a scholar and political analyst. He is a visiting professor in the Faculty of Humanities, University of Johannesburg and emeritus professor at UNISA.  He served lengthy periods in prison and house arrest for underground and public anti-apartheid activities.  His writings cover contemporary politics, history, and social questions, especially issues relating to identities, gender and sexualities.  He blogs at and his twitter handle is @raymondsuttner