May, 2019

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2019 Elections – disillusionment with political establishment the winner!

Weizmann Hamilton Executive Committee

The 2019 general elections will be seen, in time, as the most important since the advent of democracy.  For the first time since 1994, less than half of the voting age population cast their ballots. There are 35.8 million eligible voters. Of these 26.8 million are on the voters roll. In other words approximately 9 million are not registered. Only 65.9% of registered voters went to the polls. That means that a full 18 million (9 million unregistered plus 9 million registered non-voters) did not to vote. In addition there were a quarter-of-a-million spoilt ballots.

All 14 parties that managed to get seats are in parliament with the active electoral support of only 49.8% of the voting age population. This represents if not a resounding rejection of the entire political establishment, then at least a profound disillusionment with it. Had the non-voters all voted for a single different party, their vote would have exceeded those of all 48 parties who contested these elections combined.

This should form the basis for an analysis of the actual votes cast and their distribution amongst the parties.  The post election narrative has been dominated by the ANC and DA’s losses on the one hand, and the EFF’s gains on the other. Whilst the two main parties of capital are in mourning over their results, the EFF is celebrating. In reality the message sent by the masses in these elections is essentially the same for all parties – that not one of them inspires hope of a solution to the country’s deep economic, social and political crisis.

The ANC

The ANC’s 10 million votes may still seem impressive as a number especially by comparison to their nearest rival, the DA, a full 37% behind. Following the ANC’s 62% vote in 2014, then ANC secretary general secretary, Gwede Mantashe, bemoaned the reaction to the ANC vote. In any other country, 62% would have been seen as a landslide; in SA it is regarded as a defeat he bleated.

But it is the direction in which the arrow is pointing for both the ruling ANC’s and the official opposition DA’s electoral fortunes that is the key question. The ruling ANC’s vote fell below 60%, to 57% – its lowest vote since 1994. In absolute numbers the ANC’s lost 1.4 million votes, 19 parliamentary seats, from the 11 million votes and 249 seats they won in 2014.

More ominously for the ANC’s future, it held on to control of Gauteng, the country’s economic hub and most populous province, by the skin of its teeth, securing a mere 50.1%. The loss of Gauteng, the province carrying the greatest political specific weight, would have felt like a defeat. It would have placed on the near horizon, as soon as the next local government elections in 2021, and almost certainly in the next general elections in 2024, the likelihood of the ANC’s national vote falling below 50%.

This disconnect from political reality revealed in Mantashe’s 2014 remarks, were strikingly absent in the ANC leadership’s reaction to its 2019 results. Sunday Times columnist Ranjeni Munusamy(19/05/19) reports that “Ramaphosa arrived at the election results ceremony on 11 May looking like his dog had died rather than the person who had just rescued his party from having to share power in order to govern.” As if awakened from a nightmare in which they had seen the spectre of defeat, the ANC leadership wiped the sweat off of their collective forehead. The necessity for coalition government involving the hated DA and the feared EFF had been avoided.

ANC Head of Elections, Fikile Mbalula expressed the entire leadership’s sigh of relief with the statement that, without Cyril Ramaphosa as its presidential candidate, the ANC would have fallen to as low as 40%. That ANC secretary general Ace Magashule took advantage of this probable exaggeration of the extent to which the ANC vote might have fallen, found it necessary to contradict Mbalula publicly, is a case of protesting too much. A miss would have been as good as a mile whether it would have been 40% or 49.9%. Even the most boneheaded of Zuma loyalists like Ace’s deputy, Jesse Duarte, was compelled to acknowledge that the voters had given the ANC a stern warning. 

Throughout the election campaign, Ramaphosa had polled consistently higher than his own party. This is what most likely accounts for one of many significant features of these elections: that ANC voters split their ballots between provincial and national. The ANC lost votes in every single province as its voters cast their ballots for other parties there, but for the ANC nationally. These elections were conducted in this sense as a virtual presidential poll. Far more popular as an individual leader than his own party, Ramaphosa was able to act as locomotive to drag the ANC across the line to once more be able to form a government on its own.

These results confirmed the trend, evident since 2009, but underlined especially by the ANC’s electoral decline in the 2016 local government elections, when its national tally fell from the 62% in the 2014 general elections to 54%. Most dramatically, it lost control of three metros – Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Tshwane, leaving it out of power in four out of the country’s eight metros.

Just how fortunate the ANC was to emerge with the biggest vote is underlined by the fact that Ramaphosa’s accession to the presidency of the country was made possible by his victory at the ANC’s 54th elective conference in 2018 by the razor-thin margin of 179 votes. Those 179 votes are  widely accepted as having been gifted to him by then Mpumalanga provincial premier and now the country’s deputy president,  David Mabuza, in a last-minute betrayal of his pro-Zuma allies in the so-called Premier League of corrupt ANC provincial barons.

Those 179 votes are worth, in hindsight, the 7.6% that assured the ANC victory. But for Mabuza’s double cross, the ANC would have faced almost certain defeat under Zuma’s anointed successor, his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. The ANC did not so much win these elections as survive them. The ANC’s results show that its political capital as the party of liberation is close to exhaustion.

The Democratic Alliance

The DA has held on to its position as the official opposition despite its decline from 22% in 2014 to 20% in 2019. But as we pointed out after the 2016 local government elections, the DA’s 2014 results represented an electoral ceiling.  Believing its own propaganda, the DA portrayed its control of the metros of the commercial capital Johannesburg, the political capital Tshwane (Pretoria) and the politically symbolic Nelson Mandel Bay, giving it control, alongside Cape Town of half of the country’s most important metros, as sign of momentum. They set themselves the target of taking over the province of Gauteng and possibly the Northern Cape. But in 2019 they failed to extend their provincial electoral power beyond the Western Cape benefitting even there from the ANC’s chronic electoral crisis.

The reality is that they took control of the three additional metros through a deal with the EFF in what was in fact a coalition of losers. The DA has paid a heavy price for a deal that is seen as one in which it traded its “anti-corruption clean government” claims for the trappings of office with the EFF, a party with a corrupt leadership who installed DA mayors for access to lucrative local government tenders.

The DA’s hypocrisy in stridently denouncing the highly emotive policy of expropriation of land without compensation (EWC) that the EFF has forced on the ANC as official government policy, drained it of credibility in the eyes of white voters, fearing that EWC would result in land expropriation. Astonishingly, one of the DA’s election slogans was “Vote DA to stop the EFF and the ANC”! DA voters deserted the party, voting instead for the white nationalist right wing Freedom Front+ whose promises to defend their land rang much more true. The appearance of momentum towards their target of 30% of the national vote in 2019, translated instead to 20%, not only 10% short of its ambitions, but also the first electoral decline since 1994.

This result has dealt a body blow to the DA’s ambitions to be an electoral alternative to the ANC as the main party of capital. Its electoral decline has plunged the party into a leadership crisis as this loss occurred under the watch of its first black leader, Mmusi Maimane. A vacuous individual unable to shake off the impression that he is a black puppet of a white controlled party, Maimane’s installation as leader after the 2014 elections failed to attract black voters, its tally increasing by a miserable 0.4%.

The EFF

The EFF is of course triumphantly portraying its increase from 6% in 2014 to 10% in 2019. Its 1.8 million votes have boosted its seats to 44 from 25 in 2014 when it first contested.  It is now the official opposition in three provinces usually dominated by the ANC, namely North West, Mpumalanga and Limpopo.

A closer examination of the EFF’s votes, however, shows its 700,000 increase does not translate into momentum. It may have doubled its percentage compared to 2014, but it is up from 2016 by only 2 percentage points. Even in those provinces where it is now the official opposition, it is not in a position to form a coalition with other opposition parties despite the ANC’s decline. The EFF has benefitted much more from the ANC’s electoral travails than its own momentum. In an election where ANC voters continued, as they did in 2014, and 2016, to vote for opposition parties not out of conviction but to punish the ANC, the EFF has been in the hands of many voters no more than a whip to beat the ruling party than as a serious alternative.

Portrayed as the party of the youth, it has failed to enthuse the youth to register or, if they were registered, to vote. 6 million voters under the age of 30 did not vote. Statistics SA puts the total eligible voters aged 18-19, at 1.8 million. But just 341,186 — 19% — registered for the election. The impact of the astounding corruption allegations against the EFF leadership revealed in the run up to the elections, especially in the industrial scale looting of municipalities through the Venda Building Society, have yet to be felt. The prosecutions that will follow under Ramaphosa’s clean-up campaign, will erode the EFF’s votes in the future. The EFF’s election manifesto revealed a marked shift to the right in an increasingly pro-capitalist direction that has attracted the cautious welcome of capitalist commentators. The EFF’s announcement of its willingness to enter into coalitions with the major parties, will come to haunt it in the future.

The 2019 elections have confirmed what WASP has pointed out before: that there is a simultaneous crisis of political representation for both the ruling class as well as the working class. The ANC’s factional civil war is poised to intensify in the ANC government’s 6th term. Ramaphosa, who benefitted from unprecedented levels of capitalist media support both in SA and internationally, can continue his anti-corruption crusade only by further inflaming factional tensions that hardly abated during the election campaign. At stake for the Zuma faction is imprisonment for corruption. As Zuma’s defiant insistence that he has done nothing wrong, as he faces reinstated corruption charges shows, his faction will not resign themselves to their fate without a fight.

The ANC’s 57% is probably just enough to enable Ramaphosa to be portrayed as the first ANC leader to reverse its fifteen year electoral decline, raising its vote from the 2016 54% vote. This as well as the measures he has taken to dismiss corrupt ministers before the elections, the strengthening of state institutions  by the appointment of untainted individuals, the setting up of multiple commissions of inquiry into corruption that enjoyed wall to wall live coverage in the media, has given him the upper hand in the factional struggle… for now. But the hostilities in the factional war of attrition will continue in the form of “lawfare” as investigations and possible prosecutions maintain the lines of division. The referral of the ANC’s list of parliamentary candidates back to the Integrity Commission after it had been compiled by the branches, is but one of the arenas over which factional clashes will break out. Already, following the integrity Commission’s recommendations that those implicated in corruption should recuse themselves, has led to deputy president designate Mabuza requesting that his swearing in be delayed pending and appearance before it.     

Although the Zuma faction’s hands are stayed at present, rumours persist that they intend recalling him at the ANC’s National General Council (the highest decision making bodies in between conferences) next year, or at its next conference in 2022. Such an attempt, though unlikely, would  in all likelihood split the ANC. Ramaphosa’s security of presidential tenure thus depends on the fear of mutually assured destruction of the ANC that would follow.

It is for this reason that the more far sighted strategists, exasperated at the crass incompetence of the entire DA leadership, have urged it to change its focus from Ramaphosa and the ANC in favour of preparing itself to be a responsible partner in a future government of national unity with the ANC to save capitalism.

The SRWP

These elections have confirmed at the same time the enormous crisis of leadership for the working class. This was accentuated by the dismal performance of the Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party led by National Union of Metal Workers of SA (Numsa) secretary general, Ivin Jim. Erasing form history WASP’s contestation of the  2014 elections, it claimed to be the first genuine ”revolutionary socialist”  party to contest elections in SA. Supported by a myriad of small left forces and individuals, who spent far too much attacking WASP as “reformist”, as well as left-of centre media commentators, they swallowed their own propaganda about its base in the 300,000 Numsa.

Its 24,000 votes, a mere 4,000 votes higher than its probably inflated 20,000 membership claims, after a campaign funded by American Carribean billionaire Roy Singham (funder of one of India’s “Communist” parties) was a humiliation. Far more importantly, it was an emphatic rejection of a party that campaigned in the name of Numsa, by Numsa members themselves. That they believed that the usurpation of the union’s name would guarantee them the votes of its members is itself a reflection of a contemptuous attitude towards the working class. This, the Numsa members have stated  emphatically,  is not the party they had in mind when they convened a special national congress in 2013 and resolved to create a workers party. Both what the Numsa leadership failed to do in their 2013 Special National Congress – launch a mass workers party at the time of the most favorable prospects for it following the Marikana massacre – and what they actually did in 2019, launching a party separately from and against the Saftu WCS summit process, had the same effect. It cut across the process of the establishment of a genuine mass workers party unifying the working class. Into the vacuum on the left this created, the EFF has stepped. For this the Numsa leadership grouping behind the SRWP must take full responsibility.

Predictably the leadership has blamed the immaturity of the working class which “was not ready”. They have made derisory claims of vote rigging, joining a chorus of such reactionary outfits like Black First Land First in doing so.  WASP called for a critical vote for the SRWP not out of any illusions in this neo-Stalinist party, but to diminish the vote of the capitalist parties.

Offensive being prepared against the working class

The once mighty but now thoroughly emasculated Congress of SA Trade Unions, to its eternal shame, alongside the SACP, is supporting the billionaire ‘butcher of Marikana’. Cosatu denounced the general strike Saftu called on 25 April last year, to oppose legislation aimed at crippling the right to strike and picket.

Ramaphosa’s accession to the presidency represents the fulfillment of a childhood dream for him personally. But his tenure will turn into a nightmare. He comes to power against the background of the worst economic crisis in the post-apartheid period. An unreconstructed neo-liberal capitalist, and darling of capital in SA and internationally, he is poised to intensify the class war against the working class starting with raising VAT for the first time since the end of apartheid even before the elections.

After years of prevarication, the ANC has now decided to bite the bullet of privatisation of Eskom (the biggest electricity entity in the world) and, in the words of capitalist analysts baying for the blood of the “bloated public sector” workers, to “slay the dragon” of the public sector wage bill with plans to retrench over 30,000 workers. A number of unions, including Numsa are facing increasing hostile scrutiny by the Registrar of the Department of Labour. The Association of Mining and Construction Union that came to prominence after the mass exodus of mineworkers from the National Union of Mineworkers in the wake of the Marikana massacre is facing threats of deregistration.    

Ramaphosa comes to power at a time when strikes are at the highest levels since Department of Labour records began. Service delivery protests have made SA the protest capital in the world with the highest number of protest per capital globally. Protest continued throughout the entire election, escalating as polling day approached including on Election Day itself.

The economy shall have barely avoided a recession in the first half of 2019, but faces growth prospects of no more than 0.8% year on year, the same level as 2018. The 5.4% per annual growth required for ten years consecutively calculated by the National Development Plan Commission Ramaphosa himself chaired, merely to eradicate extreme poverty, is a pipe dream. The savage austerity demanded by the rating agencies will only aggravate an already dire situation with unemployment edging towards 10 million (40%) in what the World Bank has officially designated the most unequal society on the planet.

Towards a mass workers party on a socialist programme

The real mood of the masses was reflected amongst both those who voted and those which did not, is reflected in these protests and strikes; whether by staying away from the polls or casting their vote their “vote” amounted “none of the above”.

It is now a year since the labour movement took potentially its most important stride forward in the post-apartheid era through the Working Class Summit convened by the SA Federation of Trade Unions in May 2018. It brought together over a thousand delegates representing 147 community organisations, trade union affiliates and student groupings. It adopted a resolution to establish a mass workers party on a socialist programme. WASP played an important role in making this possible and will throw its energy into remedying its organisational, ideological and political weaknesses.

These elections reflect the urgent need for such a party to unify the working class around a common platform and programme of action across all the main theaters of struggle in the workplace, communities, and education institutions.  Thrust onto its agenda immediately is the offensive the Ramaphosa administration has signaled. It must be a party of mass action which all left formations must support placing their programmes and ideological positions to the masses for them to evaluate and test in action. This will be the best tribute that can be paid to the immortal martyrs of Marikana who paid in blood to lay the foundations for the reclamation of the proletariat’s class and political independence – the creation of a mass workers party on a socialist programme.