South Africa election: Everyone's a winner

Supporters of African National Congress at a voting station in the Nkandla district, 7 May 2014 The ANC's commanding victory shows that the public has not lost faith in the party

If you were looking for a political earthquake, you've come to the wrong election.

South Africa marked the 20th anniversary of its hard-won democracy with a ballot that was more about consolidation than seismic shifts.

The governing African National Congress (ANC) lost a few percentage points nationally compared with 2009, but when you consider the bad headlines - from the police shootings in Marikana, to violent service delivery protests, to President Jacob Zuma's alleged corruption, to the government's failure to deliver text books to school children - it is not unreasonable for the party to spin its 62% of the vote as a formidable victory.

The result is proof of the power of incumbency, and of the fact that South Africans have not yet lost faith in the party of liberation.

What the ANC does with its hefty mandate remains a moot point.

With vote counting almost complete, results of South African elections at the Independent Electoral Commission Results Center, in Pretoria, South Africa, show the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party in the lead, 9 May 2014 The ruling ANC gained a majority of the vote, far ahead of all opposition groups
A Democratic Alliance supporter waves the party's flag outside the Colorado polling station in Mitchells Plain on the Cape Flats, South Africa, 7 May 2014 Nevertheless, the Democratic Alliance also increased its share of support
South African President Jacob Zuma greets supporters of African National Congress after voting at a voting station in the Nkandla district, 7 May 2014 President Zuma will have to decide whether the party should change course

Will it use it, as many foreign investors hope, to forge ahead with its business-friendly National Development Plan against the wishes of the unions?

Or will President Zuma feel he has an excuse to continue with his business-as-usual juggling act - as he tries to balance the demands of union allies, internal rivals and business leaders?

ANC leaders have been queuing up to insist that decisive change is coming.

'New focus'

Meanwhile, the election has already brought a measure of clarity to the country's eclectic opposition - by virtually eradicating a whole range of smaller parties (remember Agang?), and leaving only two with any claim to a national profile.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is trying to sound enthusiastic about what any other party would consider a resounding success.

The DA's support has jumped by about a third - from 17% to 22% of the vote - but this is a party characterised by a yearning impatience for power and it will be disappointed that it failed to win control of the key province of Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg.

Oddly, the DA appears to have lost votes to a party with which it would appears to have nothing in common - the brash, populist, red-beret-sporting Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF); an indication, perhaps, that many people wanted to make a protest vote against the ANC, rather than put someone else in power.

Members of the newly formed Economic Freedom Fighter's (EFF) party monitor early results of South African elections at the Independent Electoral Commission Results Center, in Pretoria, South Africa, 8 May 2014 The Economic Freedom Fighters have joined South Africa's new political triumvirate, coming third in the polls
South Africans queue to vote at a polling station in Saulsville, west of Pretoria, South Africa, 7 May 2014 About half of South Africa's population were registered to vote

The EFF's 6% is either a staggering success for a brand new party, or a huge let-down for a group of self-styled revolutionaries who may yet prove to be following a well-worn path of other ANC-breakaway groups who have proved to be flashes-in-the-pan.

Either way, the EFF now joins the ANC and DA as South Africa's new political triumvirate. There will be new challengers in the years ahead - with another workers' party poised to emerge from the fracturing trade union movement. But for now the stripped-down opposition may bring new focus and relevance to South Africa's parliament.

"It'll become a more activist institution, less prone to abuse and intervention. It's good for South Africa," said the DA's parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko.

Critics have noted the bias in the state media here, and the first signs of real scepticism about the independence of those organising the elections. But in broad terms this election suggests that South Africa's democracy is in robust, abrasive health.

Perhaps this vote will be seen, in retrospect, to mark a turning point, as the last election still dominated by the loyalties and logic of the 1994 vote, with black politics still largely focused on splits and rivalries within the ANC.

In other words, real multi-party politics are starting to become well-embedded here. And the next few years could well see the ANC lose hold of the nation's political narrative as the DA, the EFF, and new left-wing parties challenge the old order.

Andrew Harding Article written by Andrew Harding Andrew Harding Africa correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Pretty trite to say "everyone's a winner" really. Ingredients are there that could still turn everyone into a loser despite the best efforts of Mandela and others to try to stave off the backlash/account settlement. Anyway Viva ANC, what else can one say? And hope for the best

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    @@ jack daniels esq

    300 years of white prosperity ruined in 20 years of black rule

    @@ African Gypsy

    "" ...Dear Jack Daniels remember that it was prosperity for white people. When I first came to SA, I was astonished to see people who would in England have jobs stacking shelves in Tescos, managing companies. ..""

    SA will be like Zimbabwe in 5 years or less - current government useless

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Mr Harding You're wrong when you say that everyones a winner. The big losers are the DA supporting commentators,self appointed experts and journalists who earlier in the year said the ANC might not get 50% of the vote. They are all claiming they knew the ANC would win but that's not what they said in the months leading up to the election.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Dear Jack Daniels (9), remember that it was prosperity for white people. When I first came to SA, I was astonished to see people who would in England have jobs stacking shelves in Tescos, managing companies. Why? Because they were white. And they were spectacularly incompetent and corrupt in these reserved jobs.
    In the post 1994 world, incompetence and corruption are more evenly distributed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    300 years of white prosperity ruined in 20 years of black rule

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    If you talk to South Africans you will know that the ANC is regarded as corrupt and incompetent. They stay in power because the majority of the electorate cling on to the party of Mandela and distrust others. Fortunately the DA, which is a more evolved party, has increased its vote by a third. Eventually South Africa will get the decent government it deserves.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    A good result. Zuma has delivered stability, and will do so for another term. He does nothing until forced, and when he does do something, it is whatever is best for him. This is predictable, and that is what we all need. The corruption is appalling morally, but one can work with it. Stability is what matters for business.
    This is good as democracy gets in Africa.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    To "Truth logic sustainability the final frontiers", the reason only 50% of the population registered to vote is that the voting age is 18 years. South Africa has young population. The remaining 50% or is not eligible to vote.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    You have to pay tribute to the black South African people and their steadfast patience, as many have seen no real improvement in their standard of living since the ANC came to power?

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    #1 I agree. SA is heading for civil war.

    Mandela's reconciliation, much praised in the predominantly white western world, left the biggest issues unaddressed - especially unfair wealth distribution.

    The whites of South Africa have retreated to their "homelands" and stay quiet in the hope they get to keep everything. As the ANC loses votes, it will up the pressure on the whites - like Zimbabwe!

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    so Andrew miller the anc will lose power in the next few years will they? remember the media darlings COPE who you said were going to do well 5 years ago? 20 years ago nelson mandela got 62% of the vote and the main opposition national party of fw de klerk got 20% inkatha got 10%. today the anc and main opposition are relatively unchanged. once again the anc and voters humiliate the commentators

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    With 50% of the voting population not registered to vote, it is an insult to suggest everyone is a winner

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    This article conspicuously tries to dismiss the racist EFF as being a "protest vote". Invoking Godwin's Law here, I'm wondering if people in the 1920s thought that votes for the NAZI party were also protest votes.

    Civil war will come to South Africa, 1994 only delayed it but expect it by the 2020s when a generation who isn't afraid of the whites decides to try and take the property of the whites.



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