Opinionista Stephen Grootes 8 May 2014

Elections 2014: Another grand compromise (and counting)

As the election results come in at the IEC results centre, they start to answer certain questions, as well as raising new ones. Some of these questions are pretty blunt, for example: how popular is Bra Julius? That’s been answered now (not as popular as he thought he was). Other questions are more complex: are we changing as a nation; is ‘identity politics’ still defining us? And then there’s the provincial picture. Does it matter that Cope is no longer the official opposition in any of them? Come to think of it, does it matter that Cope is simply no more?

Let’s start with the broad stuff. It would seem obvious that the ANC is not as popular as it was. It’s simple, it got 65.9% in 2009, and it looks as though it will get around 63% now. But wait – as always with election numbers, there’s more: that 2009 figure came about in a political scene in which the EFF did not exist, and Cope did, so it’s not quite as simple. The choices are different, and people have had different options. All we really know is that in the 2014 environment, some people have voted for the EFF and the DA, and not the ANC.

While it is fun to see who is up and who is down, it’s often far more interesting to know how and why voters are changing their choice. In other words, we know there were over a million people who voted for Cope in 2009, but where did they go? The DA would have loved to claim them, but they can’t claim all of them, certainly. Some will have gone into the ether – the land of the non-voter. Others may well have gone to the EFF. (Which would show remarkable ideological suppleness.)

The other big dynamic that plays into this election is what could be the slow change from racial identity towards class identity when it comes to making political choices. These results show us that it is happening. The DA has clearly won a larger number of votes from black people than it did in 2009. In fact, once the numbers have been crunched, the Sunday Times may well have been correct to claim that more black people would vote for the DA than for the EFF. That tells us that more black people are attracted to the middle-class identity of the DA than the crass populism of Malema. In other words, there are plenty of people who have lots to lose who vote DA, rather than people who have nothing to lose who are voting EFF. Of course, it’s hard to know who may have very little to lose, and voted ANC. But that’s another story.

But if you are a fan of well-regulated capitalism, then you must live with the fact that you must combine the vote of both the EFF and the ANC when it comes to economic policy. In other words, should the ANC want to, say, change the Property Clause in the Constitution, it could do so with a little help from its former friend. Having said that, predicting what Malema will do on any given piece of legislation is difficult. Gwede Mantashe (who was officially the most tired politician at the Results Centre on Thursday) may not relish conducting piece-by-piece negotiations with him on some of the trickier aspects of high economic policy.

This election is really proof that the process of race to class identity is still very slow indeed. The ANC is down only around three percent, while the DA is up around seven percent. This dynamic clearly has a long way to go. Having said that, it’s a dynamic that is gaining momentum, and is likely to speed up. In other words, if the DA gains seven percent now, it could gain far more than that in 2019. Of course, that depends on whether a workers’ party is formed by then, because that will present people with genuinely different choices to the ones they faced in this election.

Gauteng is an interesting case study in this regard. It’s the most urban province, and the ANC has lost substantial support. It’s down by around ten percent. While the DA is still some way behind, in the lowish thirties, and the EFF has around eight percent, it seems to indicate more dissatisfaction there than in some other places. In other words, a bigger middle class, more votes for parties other than the ANC. For the moment, at least.

If there is one lesson to be learnt in these elections, it’s that internal discord kills you. It’s a golden rule, from the local tennis club to the world’s “most successful liberation movement”. The more time you spend fighting each other for control, the less successful you will be. Cope is going to be written up as the textbook case of that. It has been punished, and punished hard. It really seems impossible for Mosiuoa Lekota, and the people associated with him at the moment, to regain any dignity. Before the polls, Lekota claimed, as did the leaders of all the smaller parties, that he would push up his share of the vote. Now the grin he shows on his “Lekota for President” posters looks more clownish than clever.

Talking of people who look foolish, anyone who claimed that ANC would take back the Western Cape has been given a nasty surprise. Yes, Marius Fransman, we’re talking to you. Surely the ANC’s tracking poll came to the same conclusions as the DA’s tracking polls. The Western Cape was just never in play. This tells us that the ANC in that area is still a political disaster. The party has simply not learnt the lessons of opposition. It takes time, money and patience to be an effective opposition, and there is a skill to regaining power. The ANC is not using this opportunity well, and it could rue that, should it lose another province.

Of course, the opposite applies to the DA. Having now confirmed its control over the province, it seems to be learning the lessons of power, how to keep it, how to use it, and how to look like a government.

The EFF is now likely to be the opposition in Limpopo and the North West. It’s hard to imagine that they will be as well-briefed, well-organised, and resourceful as the DA in this role. But it is certainly going to spice up those provincial parliaments. The rhetoric will be, shall we say, less formal. But in reality, the EFF will be sending a load of inexperienced people into both Parliament and these legislatures. The ANC’s experienced members could well run rings around them.

All in all, this is really an election that, at the moment, appears to have something for everyone. The ANC won over sixty percent, the DA grew, the EFF got a respectable share of the vote. It’s yet another of our grand compromises. DM



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