After thirty years in government the African National Congress (ANC) is still the largest party, after a general election at the weekend, with 40.18% of the vote but has lost its majority and is now seeking coalition partners. The Democratic Alliance (DA), the main opposition party, received the second-highest number of votes (21.81 percent) followed by the MK party (14.58 percent) and EFF (9.52 percent). A host of minor parties shared the remaining votes. Full results on the Election Dashboard.

The Democratic Alliance is the party of big business and is seen as the party of white privilege. The uMkhonto we Sizwe Party of Jacob Zuma (MK) who left the ANC after he was ousted by Cyril Ramaphosa over a corruption scandal in 2018. EFF is the left wing Economic Freedom Fighters.

The ANC is still mired in corruption scandals, as a wealthy black minority continue to enrich themselves while a third of the population are unemployed and living in extreme poverty. The top 10% of the population own 86% of the wealth and the super rich (0.01%) own more than the bottom 90% put together. The poverty and deprivation are driving a crime wave. Meanwhile infrastructure is crumbling as power cuts happen on a daily basis.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has tried to spin the result as a victory for democracy. In fact it marks the failure of the ANC to improve the lives of the majority of the people after thirty years in office. The end of apartheid did not end the social and economic inequalities. The big corporations still own most of the wealth. Some black people have gained admittance to the middle class, but they have done so on the backs of the people they are supposed to represent. The ANC has offered a route out of the townships for a privileged few. It has done nothing to tackle the source of privilege.

Some people think that a coalition government will be a wake up call for the ANC and make it more responsive to the electorate. But the path to coalition is fraught with difficulty. Jacob Zuma’s MK Party might look the obvious choice. But that would signal the end of any attempt to root out corruption, and Zuma wants his old nemesis, Cyril Ramaphosa, to resign. The DA will demand more restrictions on workers’ rights and an end to the minimum wage. The EFF is calling for nationalisation without compensation of key sectors like the mines and the banks. This makes it an unlikely coalition partner, though it would probably water down its demands considerably and compromise its principles for a place in the government.

If the ANC could not deliver meaningful and lasting change in 2004 with 70% of the vote, it is not going to deliver now. Coalition is likely to produce a government that is even less responsive to the needs of the people and therein lies a danger. When reformist parties fail, the electorate does not automatically move to the left. Voter apathy has been growing for 20 years and the grass roots organisations fighting back in the townships are subject to state repression.

This leaves the way open for right wing populists to step in and capitalise on apathy and despair. In South Africa there are already signs of resentment against migrant workers from neighbouring countries. The Patriotic Alliance only polled 2% in the election but its threats of violence against foreigners, i.e. migrant workers, coupled with the Democratic Alliance calling for stricter border controls, shows that South African politics is moving to the right and the ANC is moving with it.

The ANC managed to stave off defeat this time in part because of its support for Palestine at the ICJ. Going back to the time of Nelson Mandela there has always been a bond of solidarity between Palestine and South Africa that was strengthened by Israel’s support for apartheid South Africa. But a progressive foreign policy will count for nothing if you cannot deliver at home – a lesson for socialists fighting elections everywhere.

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