In the post-ANC world, a clear political identity and well-fenced turf will bring extra benefits
One of the key problems that parties contesting the 2024 general election will face is properly defining themselves — they will have to signal to their constituencies what they stand for, and many of them will probably fail at this.
While the evolving crisis within the ANC is still the most dominant and important dynamic in our politics, there is plenty of evidence that other developments will have an impact on the 2024 general election and the direction South Africa takes. One of these may be a profusion of new parties and new individual ambitions, all planning to benefit from the current political crises.
A major problem they will face is properly defining themselves — they will have to signal to a particular constituency what they stand for, and many of them will probably fail at this. This could lead to a splintering of constituencies and situations where some parties fail to enter Parliament because they have to share a particular constituency of voters with other players.
Last week, it was claimed on Twitter that former Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng may run for President, with a new political party called the All Africa Alliance Movement. While it makes sense for him to run for office at the head of what is (presumably) a religious party, he could find it hard going.
This is not because of any particular personal shortcomings on his part or because his party is not up to it. Rather, it’s because there are already several other parties in this space.
First, the African Transformation Movement (ATM) appears to have its roots in a traditional religious movement (although many have suggested that the ATM is really a cover for a faction of the ANC; certainly, its actions give that impression).
Then there is the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), probably the first party in our democratic era to campaign on an openly religious platform.
Both the ACDP and the ATM opposed mandatory vaccinations during the Covid-19 pandemic (the issue was a red herring as vaccinations were never mandatory).
Mogoeng also appeared to cast some doubt on vaccinations, suggesting his party would follow a similar course.
This means that all three of these parties will have to compete within the same relatively narrow pool of people with strong beliefs that define their political beings. Differentiating themselves from their competitors in such a saturated space will be difficult.
Why, for example, should one vote for the ATM rather than the ACDP, when they make the same promises?
Rule of law
The DA and ActionSA face a similar problem.
Both claim to stand for the rule of law, and to an extent, proclaim themselves to be the party of “order” (although it could be claimed that ActionSA places a greater emphasis on this). Their opposition to the ANC is equally vociferous and both have said they would never work in a coalition with the EFF.
Their actions make it harder for voters to differentiate between them, for two main reasons.
The first is that they work together in coalitions. Sometimes, when listening to an interview with a member of the Mayoral Committee for Joburg or Ekurhuleni it is hard to know which party the councillor comes from.
Second, many of their former members have moved from the one party to the other.
Just a few examples: ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba used to be the DA’s mayor in Joburg. On Monday, DA MP Patricia Kopane said she was resigning from the party and reaching out to ActionSA, which, in turn, said it was reaching out to her. ActionSA’s CEO, Michael Beaumont, was once a member of the DA.
It is likely that there will be more players vying for the pool of urban middle-class voters in the near future.
Rivonia Circle head Songezo Zibi has suggested that he may lead a new political grouping in the 2024 elections. Judging from the turnout at the launch of Zibi’s book Manifesto, this party may well compete for what could be called the “Sandton professional” voters.
These are voters for whom the DA, ActionSA and others are also competing, so Zibi’s movement would have to differentiate itself from those parties, just as they will also have to do with regard to each other.
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Breakaway from ANC
Last week, former ANC treasurer Mathews Phosa suggested in public that a group of ANC leaders may be considering leading a breakaway from the ANC.
While this has not been confirmed, it is likely that any such grouping would face the same problem as other parties, that of differentiating itself. How would it be different from the ANC? And what would make it more attractive than the ANC to voters?
There is an important parable here, the story of the Congress of the People, which has lessons for all of our political parties.
In 2009, the party received more than one million votes. This was mainly from voters who had previously supported the ANC but did not like the party’s new leader, Jacob Zuma.
By 2019, Cope had little or no support — its identity of “being the ANC without Zuma” was no longer relevant.
It is important to note that there are some parties that do not suffer from this problem, as they have been able to clearly define themselves and their constituencies for the long term.
At least two of them actively campaign for support premised on language. The Freedom Front Plus (FF+) and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) have bases in the Afrikaans and Zulu communities, respectively. Both appear loath to expend much energy in reaching beyond those communities.
While this may provide some ideological comfort to the continuity of their leadership, it also places boundaries on their future growth. Both have stable levels of support, but there has to be a ceiling above which they cannot grow, and both may be near that limit already.
The same is probably true of another party based on religion, Al Jama-ah. It campaigns exclusively among people of the Islamic faith and says it will fight for their interests.
It is interesting to note that the Economic Freedom Fighters is a very different case. It does not battle to define itself and everyone knows what it stands for. It does not base itself on ethnic identity (even if it wins more support in Limpopo and Gauteng than in other provinces).
This suggests that the radical nature of the EFF has made it easier to define itself. And the high media profile of the party and its leader, Julius Malema, has ensured that there can be no doubts about its identity and philosophy (it may be important to distinguish between its ideology, such as its consistent demands for expropriation without compensation, and its apparent flip-flopping on issues such as Zuma and Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane).
However, so well defined is this identity that it is difficult for the party to reach out to new constituencies. It may be harder for the EFF to change than for other parties to do so, should they choose to. This may also explain why two polls published this week suggest the EFF currently has the support of 9%-10% of the vote.
For parties to differentiate themselves requires them to attack the parties most different from them and also most similar to them. It is likely that Mashaba will attack the ANC in 2024, but also the DA, and vice versa. And that the FF+ and the IFP will end up virtually ignoring each other.
This presages interesting dynamics, particularly if parties attack those most like them during an election campaign, knowing that the day after the polls they could start their coalition negotiations. DM