Opinionista Oscar Van Heerden 24 April 2019

With factionalism rife in the ANC and DA and the EFF confused and immature, whither the 2019 election?

The state of South Africa’s major political parties is a sorry one, with factionalism, confusion and contradictions abounding. The country’s demographics and, especially, its urban composition, have shifted dramatically in the past 25 years. Still, it is possible to make some informed predictions about the election outcomes.

After the loss of the metros in 2016 to coalitions of the DA and EFF, what will the strategy for the ANC be to regain the confidence of the people, come the 8 May 2019 elections? Will the land question sway the votes toward the ANC? What is the state of affairs of the opposition parties? What will the percentage points be for each of the major players in this upcoming general election? And before some of you say that politics is not really my thing, just remember your vote counts. Or as Bertolt Brecht reminds us:

The worst illiterate is the political illiterate, he doesn’t hear, doesn’t speak, nor participates in the political events. He doesn’t know the cost of life, the price of the bean, of the fish, of the flour, of the rent, of the shoes and of the medicine, all depends on political decisions. The political illiterate is so stupid that he is proud and swells his chest saying that he hates politics. The imbecile doesn’t know that, from his political ignorance is born the prostitute, the abandoned child, and the worst thieves of all, the bad politician, corrupted and flunky of the national and multinational companies.”

Do you think the ANC is going to get a big mandate? Will it increase its majority or decrease, as most people believe? These are some of the myriad questions being asked, not only locally but also internationally.

When looking at political parties in the country, it is a sorry state of affairs, to put it mildly.

The first thing to remember is whatever happens in 2019 will largely be determined by voter turnout. I say this because all these predictions will remain academic unless voters feel the need to vote and have their say — otherwise what is the point?

So, when looking at the state of the main parties participating in this election, the national results are not the only results that matter — the provincial results are equally important, with Gauteng more important than others, needless to say. That said, all the parties are in a bit of a mess.

The second thing is that what they all have in common is they are all internally divided going into this election — the ANC and the DA more than most.

For the DA, Patricia de Lille is not the only story, nor the “walkout” of nine of their members. There are serious identity and policy clashes inside the DA between the hard liberals and those that have a slightly more social-democratic inclination. The two parties have weak leadership: Cyril Ramaphosa may be the exception; he is slightly stronger as a leader, but by and large, the ANC does not have a strong cohort of leaders. The DA certainly doesn’t have a strong leader. The EFF, on the other hand, has a strong leadership core, but pretty much nothing else to back it up.

So why are there these problems with the parties? I suggest several reasons:

The inability of all the parties to have read the shifts within the country and the electorate — and there have been some fairly significant shifts and changes in the social structure, in urbanisation, and significant class mobility in the past 25 years. There are different subjectivities now, and different subjectivities demand different types of responses. And parties have not kept pace with what it is people are asking for.

The second is demographic shifts: There’s an age demographic and urbanisation element with which the parties haven’t kept pace. This matters because it’s not just a shift from older to younger people, it’s also a shift, as suggested, in class structure and social mobility. Inequality and deindustrialisation went parallel with these developments.

The urbanisation of SA can be segmented into four subsets: The elite, citizens who have access to key entry points in business and commerce, government and global centres of power, power and technologies at the top level; the organised, but weakening urban working class, employed and organised in unions; third, the informal working class, the people in the informal working sectors, street vendors, part-time job seekers; and last the urban underclass, unemployed, homeless and entirely dependent on social grants and other forms of social wages.

So you have these four types of citizens and it’s hard for any party to devise policies encompassing all these segments of urban society.

The ANC and whether it will survive its own internal feuds

The ANC for its part has four identities: it is a party, a social movement, it is a patriotic front and it is an alliance. And depending on who it is speaking to, it morphs into one or another of these identities. This seems rational to maximise your utility and bring your points across.

However, identities also give rise to certain absurdities, such as the ANC marching against itself in the past five years. This identity schizophrenia gives rise to the policy being subjected to mix messages from all quarters, such as we’ve seen with SASSA and SAA. The minister of finance says one thing, another minister says a different thing. One part of the party says no e-tolls, the finance minister says, no, you must pay tolls. So, who must we believe?

Then there is also the matter of the ANC lacking fidelity to its own rules. The Integrity Committee says one thing, but if you don’t agree you can just ignore it, delay it or defray it. So where do their voters go?

I suggest that a core part will remain, but the losers of Nasrec might vote with the BLF, others still are saying they will punish the ANC by not going to the polls, and still others might transfer their vote to the EFF.

Or, they might all decide to band together, put up a united front because losing does not help any of them, and decide post-election what to do with Cyril Ramaphosa, or wait for the five-year-term to end and take another bite at the cherry.

Regardless of what happens, it must be borne in mind that if the ANC gets 60% and above, President Ramaphosa will be fully in charge of his government and his party.

Should the ANC get anything less than 58%, the party leadership will be in charge and CR will have to concern himself with merely running the country.

Should the ANC get less than 55%, the party will use this to push Ramaphosa towards an urgent National General Council where they would want him to step down.

The EFF, a hodgepodge of policies and ideological confusion

This party is as divided as the others. In my view, one could argue that there are three strands within the EFF. It has some factionalism, but because it is not so mature, little is ventilated outside of the party. It is immature not only because of its age as a party, but also immature in its behaviour and posture.

Besides the minor tensions we’ve seen in Gauteng, Limpopo and North West provinces playing out in the EFF, we don’t know much else of what’s going on in the party. I do, however, believe there are different groupings in the EFF.

The one is what could be referred to as the believers: These are people who genuinely believe in the EFF as an alternative party with an alternative ideological premise. There’s a second group that takes a wait-and-see approach which says we’ll stay in the EFF as long as it serves our purposes, and if not, we will go wherever such expectations can be fulfilled, mainly the ANC. Then there is a third bunch of EFF supporters, which can be referred to as the returnees, who are itching to go back to the ANC, but are waiting for favourable conditions under which they can make such a return.

All of this is compounded by the VBS scandal, which, if not managed properly internally, could spell disaster for the party. It will no doubt play the game of blaming, scapegoating and much more. This might introduce a crisis in the EFF in the near future.

It doesn’t have any discernible political strategy. All of the policy plans it stood on were taken over by the Zuma administration. The land question, the Reserve Bank matter and free Higher Education, to mention a few. To what extent Ramaphosa can continue with this strategy, we will have to wait and see. But suffice to say all the EFF is left with now is a hodgepodge of ideology and destabilisation tactics.

These are the only two tactics it has with which to campaign. That’s the sum total of its strategy. So, to sum up the EFF, and to quote a dear friend of mine, “they want power without responsibility, and they want authority without accountability”.

So where will its voters go? I think it will loyally stick with them, it will pick up some votes from the disgruntled youth, unemployed youth from the townships who don’t want to vote for the ANC because they don’t see a future with the ANC. So perhaps we can give the EFF a generous 9% in the upcoming polls, definitely not in the double-digit figures.

The DA, internal identity and ideological conflicts

Sometimes based on race, sometimes not, sometimes based on ideologies, sometimes on identity. Mmusi Maimane is a weak leader; I don’t think he knows his own party and what it’s about. He is so weak that he cannot interpret his own party’s internal rules because there is one set of rules and disciplinary procedures for one member and a different set of rules for Helen Zille and yet another set of rules for Patricia de Lille.

On the question of the secret ballot in 2018, the DA insisted and went to court for this right, but then in some local municipality matters where its councillors requested the same right, it refused. Where some of its members did participate in secret ballots, it expelled those members. So, there is inconsistency in its own approach to its own rules.

Not to forget its policy inconsistencies on matters such as BBBEE, and its approach to municipal entities: It is curious that what Cosatu has been demanding from the ANC — to take national control of all municipal state-owned entities — was not done by the ANC, but by the DA.

It can be argued that it is completely counter-intuitive to what the DA stands for, which is to subcontract and have arms-length contracts, or privatise as a whole, and it did the complete opposite in this instance. So where do the DA voters go? Certainly, they don’t go to the EFF — that much we know. Some, a very small portion, might go ANC because of Ramaphosa. Others will stick with the DA or distribute their votes among the smaller parties such as Cope or the ACDP or — and many of them don’t want to hear this — the Freedom Front Plus.

Part of what’s going on in the DA is a backlash against Maimane himself. And if they cannot hold this ship together its traditional voters will fracture in three ways: Those that stay with the party, those that go Freedom Front Plus, and others to the smattering of other smaller parties.

Last, it behoves us all to remember that, where parties are weak, citizens are strong. Where parties are weak, the demand-making, claim-making of organised citizen groups goes up. But this is reliant on how well organised and well-resourced citizens are. We’ve seen how resources and commitment were mobilised to fight State Capture, and can only hope that this civil society commitment continues.

As for the prediction of which party will get what percentage of the votes, let me attempt to do some informed guesswork:

The ANC will remain at its current level, if not increase by one or two percentage points, to 64%.

The DA will decrease its overall percentage by a few points and might even face serious challenges in the Western Cape — perhaps 21%.

The EFF is likely to increase its overall percentage, but will remain in the single digits, perhaps an increase to only about 9%.

The new BLF will take up at most two seats and the same will hold true for the new NUMSA party, perhaps.

Predictions of this nature are never an exact science, but let’s see if indeed the Cyril Ramaphosa victory at Nasrec will translate into an election victory for the ruling ANC come 8 May 2019. DM

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