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ROAD TO 2024 ELECTIONS

FF+ shifts gear to woo black voters, campaigns for BEE to be replaced with Best policy

FF+ shifts gear to woo black voters, campaigns for BEE to be replaced with Best policy
Leader of the FF+, Dr Pieter Groenewald speaks during a breakfast party on 10 May 2024 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. The South African general elections will take place on 29 May. (Photo: Gallo Images / Volksblad / Mlungisi Louw)

Freedom Front Plus casts its election net beyond Afrikaners to focus on other minority groups.

One of the biggest surprises of the 2019 elections was the resurrection of the right-wing FF+ as it more than doubled its share of the vote from 0.9% (165,715 votes) in 2014 to 2.38% (414,864 votes).

This year the party believes it will trump its 2019 results as it has expanded its campaign work way beyond its traditional Afrikaans support base to other minorities.

Interviewed in the FF+ office in Centurion, FF+ CEO Pieter de Necker attributes part of the party’s growing appeal to its policy shift from focusing only on Afrikaners to all minority groups in the country. And he said the party’s internal polls show that they will surpass the 2019 result.

FF+

FF+ Votes from 1994 to 2019. (Source: IEC)

In this 2024 campaign, the party is going out of its way to really focus on other minorities, not just Afrikaans speakers.

For example, explains De Necker, the party has assisted and worked with various minority groupings such as the Venda, the Tsonga and the Khoisan people.

“So we’ve gone out of our way to get these communities to understand that they must have a voice and not necessarily to say that we must be their voice, but to encourage them. This is different from the idea of one big, broad church and we’re all happy, but your voice is disappearing in this church. How do you prevent those many minority voices from drowning out?”

De Necker explains that the party interprets Article 235 of the Constitution as giving communities the right to have the power to govern themselves to a certain extent.

“What we’re saying is, in your community, where you are at, take charge of what you can take charge of. If you’re part of a residence association or a city improvement district, as an interactive multiracial group, you still have certain things that’s binding you together. We stay together, so there’s certain values that bind us together where we are. In other places, you might feel you want to be bound together by your language. And that is the choice of the individual.”

Pieter de Necker, FF+

Pieter de Necker. (Photo: Supplied)

More inclusive approach

An example of this new focus is the FF+ recent campaign rally in Louis Trichardt which saw traditional Afrikaner supporters joined by supporters from traditionally black rural areas such as Nzhelele, Masisi, Malamulele and Musina.

Read more in Daily Maverick: FF+ manifesto — Cape Exit, guns and community councils

The party also roped in black candidates to contest for both regional, provincial and national ballots. Amongst the black communities they have visited so far is the Mphephu Royal Family at Dzanani village outside Louis Trichardt in Limpopo, Nancefield township in Musina and some parts of the former Kwa-Ndebele areas in Mpumalanga.

FF+ Limpopo leader Marcelle Maritz visited Dzanani accompanied by Ernest Nemafhohoni, a former ANC supporter who recently joined the FF+. He is number six on the national list of candidates and eight on the provincial list of the party.

Hundreds of FF+ supporters attending a mini political rally in Louis Trichardt in Limpopo. (Photo: Rudzani Tshivhase)

“People in the black communities are inviting the party leadership to visit them everywhere, they want FF+ to win and solve their service delivery challenges,” said Nemafhohoni.

“Our work in rural areas was as a result of our dedication over the past few years. Eventually, the communities themselves approached us,” said Maritz

Richard Mokaninga, the spokesperson of Vhembe Independent Candidates and former supporter of the ANC, said his organisation is supporting the FF+.

“The party will bring change in terms of the sustainable economy, food security and fighting corruption and crime,” said Mokaninga.

Mokaninga said the people of Vhembe district are aware that the FF+ was formerly an Afrikaner party but they are supporting it now.

“This issue of white Afrikaners is not applicable. We are in a democratic State where everybody needs to exercise their right. Let us unite, let us cut the barriers that says whites should be separated from blacks and try by all means to work together to bring about service delivery” said Mokaninga.

FF+

FF+ candidate Ernest Nemafhohoni on a campaign trail in Musina convincing an ANC supporter to vote for FF+. (Photo: Rudzani Tshivhase)

Issues of race

This sentiment was not shared by serial party hopper Lennit Max, the former Western Cape police chief who joined the ID, DA, ANC and was the FF+ mayoral candidate in 2021 but resigned from the party in late April citing racism.

He told News24 that he refused to campaign for the party because “As members of the FF+, we, as coloured people, are subjected to name-calling, [for example being called members of a] Boere Party, House N*****s, Oxwagon rope leaders (the person who walks in front of the oxen). The FF+ uses us as ‘fronting’, as well as ‘werf bobbejane [yard baboons]’”.

Western Cape Premier candidate Corne Mulder denied these allegations, but incidents like this play into the party’s stigma of having a separatist Afrikaner superiority complex with the wider electorate.

Elections analyst Wayne Sussman said the FF Plus gained votes from the DA in 2019  which lost 1.9% of the vote, particularly in places like Schweizer-Reneke where former DA leader Mmusi Maimane and DA federal youth leader youth Luyolo Mphithi were accused of race-baiting for questioning the racial separation of children in a Grade R classroom.

Five years later,  a few days before the next general election the party arguably responsible for the DA’s perceived rightward and white-ward shift is battling for airtime which has been dominated by two brash populists, the MK party and The Patriotic Alliance.

Read more in Daily Maverick: 2024 elections hub

“The MK party and the Patriotic Alliance are dominating the discussion this election. If you are not part of the discussion — the million dollar question is can you retain your votes?” asks Sussman.

The conservative leftwing populist MK party appeals to the RET faction of the ANC and Zulu speakers, who still see the face of Jacob Zuma on posters as messianic (despite the ageing patriarch presiding over nine years of State Capture).

And on the conservative right, the former convict turned businessman Gayton McKenzie is making waves across Coloured communities speaking the language of the poor and gatvol, threatening the DA in its heartland of the Western Cape with promises of destroying gangsterism and getting rid of illegal foreigners.

According to Sussman, the FF+ could be running out of steam — its slogan of “Herstel en bou” (repair and build) has a limited market of Afrikaners in the north and some Coloured voters.

Growing supporter base?

FF+ CEO Pieter de Necker disagrees with Sussman, arguing that the party did not only gain votes from the DA in 2019, but they also found that they attracted quite a percentage of traditional conservative Afrikaans voters who did not vote in 1994. In addition, they attracted coloured voters after the party allied with former Western Cape Premier Peter Marais’ Bruin Bemagtiging Beweging (Brown Movement).

De Necker added that the FF+ also found growing support from conservative English voters, especially in the Western Cape as the party promoted itself in Afrikaans and English.

The flight from the DA to the FF+, he said, was due to the perception that the DA supported broad-based black economic empowerment.

In contrast, the FF+ policy is not BEE but Best, (black economic skills transfer) focused on merit-based appointments.

FF+

Freedom Front Plus leaders in Mpumalanga province on a campaign trail visit traditional leaders in the former KwaNdebele area. (Photo: Supplied)

Formation

Started in 1994 as the Freedom Front by General Constand Viljoen for Afrikaners who wanted their own Volkstaat, the party gained nine seats in the first democratic parliament or 2.2% of the national vote with 424,555 votes cast. This support waned to just 0.8% (127,217 votes cast in 1999 which De Necker describes as the year “We fell out of the bus. We got such a klap. I think we ended up seventh in Parliament.”

Shortly before the 2004 general election, the Conservative Party, the Afrikaner Eenheidsbeweging and the Freedom Front amalgamated under the name Freedom Front Plus (FF+), led by Mulder. Later, they were joined by the Federal Alliance.

The amalgamated party maintained between 0.8% and 0.9%  of the vote in ensuing elections but they also lost some credibility when the Freedom Front’s leader Pieter Mulder accepted an appointment as Deputy Minister of Agriculture, by the new President Jacob Zuma in 2009.

The switch from a party for Afrikaner self-determination to embracing all minority groups happened when Pieter Groenewald took over leadership of the FF+ in 2016.

FF+

Freedom Front Plus leaders in Mpumalanga province visiting traditional leaders in the former KwaNdebele area. (Photo: Supplied)

The FF+ is one of the early members of the Multi-Party Charter with the DA, IFP, ACDP, ActionSA and others, which, could stand a chance of being put to the test in the Western Cape, as recent polls indicate that the DA’s support in the province is waning. As a DA coalition partner in  11 municipalities in the Western Cape, the FF+ is hoping to get a chance to promote its proposal of a Cape exit, with more federal powers.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Fact check — Is it likely the Western Cape could become an independent state?

The FF+ is federalist, an “umbrella of minorities” proposing self-determination.

De Necker says some people often ask why the FF+ is getting involved in coalitions and does not aim for a clear-cut majority.

He says the party counts the heads and knows that it does not have the support of the bigger parties. He acknowledges that certain people would never vote for FF+.

“We’re not even trying to go out and be the majority. But we will try and go and get as many votes as possible. We often joke and we say, “Our democracy counts the heads, but democracy doesn’t count what is in the head.”

Only the results after 29 May will tell whether the rise of the FF+ in 2019 was an anomaly or if the party’s idea of self-determination is gaining traction in communities other than conservative Afrikaners. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R35.

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