Having looked at some of what we may expect from the three biggest parties, the ANC, DA and EFF (should any of them win municipalities in next month’s election), we can look, now, at the smaller parties. And there are very many of them… including the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), Freedom Front Plus (FF+), African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), United Democratic Movement (UDM), African Transformation Movement, Good, National Freedom Party, African Independent Congress, Congress of the People (Cope), Pan Africanist Congress of Azania and Al Jama-ah.
If we cast a wider glance there are 504 political parties currently registered with the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC), and 325 will be contesting the local government elections.
Of the parties represented in Parliament, which may or may not be significant when it comes to municipal elections, the IFP is the largest with 14 seats. As you go down the list the numbers drop dramatically among parties like the Pan Africanist Congress and Al Jama-ah, which have a single seat each in Parliament. Other than the IFP, it’s hard to see which party can make any significant impact in a municipal election and (hopefully) in local government. The IFP has experience in governance, which would serve it well.
Among the “new parties” is Herman Mashaba’s ActionSA, which is both new and has a very real opportunity to shake things up. Whereas the Mashaba party seems to be a free-market liberal party, its social justice pillar is a counterweight to what seems like a straightforward law-and-order approach. This places ActionSA as quite a centrist party, but its “Solutions Blueprints” to “fix things” and its “getting things done” approach can make it an attractive option. This is especially significant in a city like Johannesburg where urban and social breakdown and lawlessness seem rampant. All things considered, though, Mashaba is somewhat of a known quantity. He may well get things done, and Johannesburg’s infrastructure deficit needs a lot of attention.
What can the small parties achieve?
As for the raft of small parties mentioned at the top, they are relatively “unproven” in terms of having actual experience in governance (again with the exception of the IFP). They represent a range of sentiments, from sectarian politics to social democracy.
The most prominent sectarian political parties are the FF+, which focuses mainly on Afrikaner people; the (ACDP) represents “the Christians”; and Al Jama-ah represents Muslims. There is also a strong trend of social democracy that runs through political parties, notably the UDM, Good and Cope.
Given their mainly sectarian focus, it is difficult to imagine any of the small parties winning municipalities, but we should not dismiss the likelihood that they will provide something of a “refuge” or an alternative to the “big three” (ANC, DA and EFF). In practical terms, should they win any seats in municipal elections they should have the (limited) power and ability to put pressure on main policymakers. In this way, voting for these parties will send a strong message to the big three, especially the ANC, that there are other options. As previously mentioned, the EFF is at a disadvantage because it has not had much experience in government. The ANC has dominated municipal government with disastrous results, and while the DA has a clean record on paper, it has major blind spots. On the back of this, the small parties, with notable exceptions, are even more inexperienced.
In the Western Cape, the DA’s biggest threat comes from Patricia de Lille’s Good party. Good seems a viable alternative to the DA and the ANC in the province, but the liberals will probably capture much of the vote. The strength of the smaller parties lies in their ability to hold the big three to account, and to serve as kingmakers of sorts. They would have to play a type of two-level game by working with communities and representing said communities — whether or not they have their hands on the levers of power. The IFP has a natural home in KwaZulu-Natal and expectations in the province would run high.
In the event that parties like the FF+, ACDP or Al Jama-ah do not gain any municipal seats, they can represent their constituents effectively on other legal platforms. I guess what is key to understand here is that “losing” an election or not winning any “seats” is not the end of the road. You can still represent your voters or “your people”. This reference to “your people” is mainly a reference to political parties concerned with “minorities” (like Muslims or white Afrikaners).
These parties are actually being quite aggressive in contesting the elections. For example, Al Jama-ah is contesting 1,000 wards in 27 municipalities in seven provinces. This is a significant leap from previous national elections (in 2016) where they contested five municipalities with about 50 candidates. The strength of these parties lies in the fact that they represent alternatives to the big three — notwithstanding the fact that they lack experience. The FF+ represents a historical moment that many people believed came to an end when the National Party folded shortly after 1994.
An elementary explanation is that the FF+ represents an ideological moment that started in the late 19th century (among Afrikaners), which was fundamentally anti-British and gained traction among Afrikaners after the South African War. This ideological movement would claim Afrikaans as its own language, notwithstanding the fact that there are more coloured people who speak Afrikaans, or evidence that Afrikaans emanated from the South East Asian slave community. Their cultural and religious homes would be shaped by Calvinism — which is also not unique to white Afrikaners.
In sum, the small parties represent a place to hide for people who have had enough of the big three, or who have simply lost faith in and simply distrust the ANC, the DA and the EFF. But at the local government level, political office bearers are closer to their publicum in the delivery of public goods and services.
It’s necessary to have a seat in local government, but it’s insufficient — especially in a society where local politicians like Andile Lungisa have been elected. There is no harm in wanting to represent minorities, and less so when you want to make sure that minorities are protected, served by local government and provided with public goods and services. DM