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SA still in early stages of democracy and needs stronger party opposition, says Moeletsi Mbeki

SA still in early stages of democracy and needs stronger party opposition, says Moeletsi Mbeki
Moeletsi Mbeki, distinguished political analyst, author, and entrepreneur; Daily Maverick’s Senior journalist, Rebecca Davis; Prof Nicola de Jager, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science at Stellenbosch University. (Photos: Supplied)

Single party dominance in South Africa is a sign that the country is still a young democracy, argued political analyst Moeletsi Mbeki during a Daily Maverick webinar.

South Africa is not a ‘vibrant’ democracy but rather a country that is still in the early stages of its democracy, argued Moeletsi Mbeki during a webinar hosted by Daily Maverick on Wednesday 31 January 2024.

Mbeki, a distinguished political analyst, author, and entrepreneur, was reacting to questions about the African National Congress (ANC) during the webinar, which was hosted by senior Daily Maverick journalist Rebecca Davis alongside Professor Nicola de Jager from the Department of Political Science at Stellenbosch University.

The webinar discussed De Jager’s research paper, titled “Has the ANC lost touch with South Africans: The party over people”.

Mbeki said South Africa’s democracy is “at a very early stage” and that is why a single party, the ANC, has dominated government.

“That’s just the way it is for the last 100 years. We’ve had two political parties, the National Party and the ANC.”

This, Mbeki said, was a sign that “South Africa is a very immature democracy”.

Noting the hundreds of registered political parties in the country hoping to contest the upcoming elections, Mbeki said, “It shows you we have no clue what democracy is about”.

Who is to blame for decline in voter turnout? 

At the start of the webinar, de Jager explained her paper, including sections which showed the decline in support for the ANC over different election cycles. The most trusted president the country has seen was Thabo Mbeki, said de Jager.

Explaining her paper, de Jager pointed to a ‘massive decline’ in citizens voting.

“If you look at those who did not vote for the first time in our last elections, 51% did not turn out to vote… So this is massive,” she said.

“So what’s happening is South Africans are actually opting out of the democratic system. They’re not voting… and then we see those who are voting for the ruling party — it’s only 28% [of eligible voters],” she said.

This, de Jager said, was a “massive decline in terms of social support”.

Read more in Daily Maverick: ANC support plummets to 33%, but it is still likely to form a government next year, new study finds

In response, Mbeki said he disagreed with a lot of the details within de Jager’s paper.

“For example, Nicola has blamed, in a way, the ANC for the decline in voter turnout and for the lots of people staying at home instead of going to vote. You can’t blame the ANC for that,” said Mbeki.

“It’s the opposition. That is because the opposition has failed to offer policies that are attractive to the electorate.”

Mbeki argued that the reason why the ANC lost key areas such as Johannesburg and Tshwane was because some voters had become dissatisfied with the ANC’s economic policies and the opposition hadn’t offered a viable alternative.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Elections 2024 Knowledge Base

“So the people who are not voting are not voting because the opposition is not offering them meaningful policies towards solving South Africa’s economic problems and problems of crime and problems of unemployment,” he said.

De Jager pointed out that she illustrated the declining support for the ANC, which showed a kind of shift between “the citizen and the ANC” and it was evident in the election results.

She said what was now needed was to mobilise voters, and civil society as well as political parties need to help.

“We’re starting to see the mobilisation happening.” DM

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  • Exist Nomad says:

    I don’t know why supposed intellectuals constantly miss the direct reasons for the ANC problem and why the ruling party seems to operate with impunity. They are half right about it being an opposition issue but they aren’t clear on what it is about the opposition that is the problem. The problem is simply the absence of a non-racialised opposition. Every opposition party campaigns along racial lines, they appeal to a specific racial demographic not a “South African” demographic. This polarised rhetoric inevitably alienates the people most sensitive to racial polarisation, the black majority. And I can say this with utmost confidence that black South Africans would rather see the country burn than hand it over to another racist regime that looks down on black people. And the social hierarchy established by the apartheid government remains ingrained in society and its politicians. Everybody looks down on blacks. The Indian, white, coloured all look down on blacks. And for as long as those parties appear to serve the interests of their chosen demographic and not of the entire nation, the ANC will never leave. A non-racialised opposition, that is the missing link.

    • Denise Smit says:

      Is this not also an ingrained inferiority complex which contributes to the perceived experience of being looked down too. It does not come only from one side. Reset your compass if you can

  • Matthew Quinton says:

    Good article.. but we are not yet a democracy.

    We are a late-stage tribal kleptocracy.

    Until the majority of South Africans realise that there are options for voting other than “ANC” or “NO VOTE” we are essentially ruled by tribal loyalty and the only voting that actually matters is that which takes place at the ANC conference.

    We are getting there slowly but surely… but we are only a Democracy in name and not in function.

  • W De Soto says:

    SA needs a responsible party dedicated to economic, social, and political progress!

  • Johan Buys says:

    Democracy is over-rated.

    Going by the past miserable 30y it was no improvement on the disastrous 33y before that. The ANC kant has been in power for as long as the Nasionale Party kant. And here we are stuck in the middle between those two kante.

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