Monthly Archives: May 2014

Guest Post: Ireland 2014


David J. Barrett contributed this excellent guest post covering the results of the European and local elections in Ireland

The Irish European and Local elections, along with two parliamentary by-elections, took place on May 23rd. They were the first truly major nationwide polling test of the Fine Gael-Labour coalition that took office in 2011, when the financial collapse and subsequent involvement of the IMF finally brought down the increasingly beleaguered Fianna Fáil-Green coalition.

Since the General Election

The new Fine Gael-Labour government, elected amidst a tidal wave of popular anger that brought Fianna Fáil, the largest party in the Irish state in every election from 1932, to third and behind both of the new coalition partners, had considerable good will towards it. Led by Enda Kenny, the long standing Fine Gael leader (since 2002) and a former Minister for Tourism, the government had a crushing parliamentary majority. There were indications that the government could prove fractious. Labour, a Social Democratic party, had largely campaigned against excessive cuts to public services, while Fine Gael, a Christian Democratic party, had made it very clear that they were in favour of implementing the proposed austerity budgets negotiated by their predecessors, even if they were not very happy with it. The final coalition agreement, while containing commitments to several socially liberal reforms that pleased Labour, largely followed the Fine Gael line on the economy.

The government has trumpeted its economic success. Unemployment has fallen steadily (but remains very high), Ireland has left the bailout program and its bonds are no longer rated as ‘junk’. However little of this has, or is expected to, reach the general public. Emigration, particularly to Britain and Australia, remains enormous. Taxes are now among Europe’s highest, public services are rated as mediocre at best compared to other European countries and, most importantly, there is absolutely no sign that anything other than tax increases and budget cuts will be on the cards at all for at least another ten years, making it hard for the public to feel optimistic for an economic recovery that is unlikely to benefit them at all.

Inevitably therefore, this enormous popularity was not to last, and the government as its term has gone on has suffered increasing domestic setbacks. They were most obviously felt by Labour, which began to suffer enormously from (effectively) conceding the economy to Fine Gael. While immediately following the General Election Labour won both the Presidential election and a by-election in Dublin West – the constituency held by the Labour Deputy Leader Joan Burton – the party has increasingly suffered from defections and resignations the longer it has been in government. In November 2011 – six months after taking office – popular junior minister Willie Penrose had resigned from the party over the relocation of an army barracks in his constituency. He was followed one month later by the resignations of two backbenchers over the austerity proposed in the budget, with one the resignations being Patrick Nulty – the newly elected deputy for Dublin West. In September 2012 another junior minister, Roisin Shortall, a senior party figure who was considered a strong contender for a cabinet post, resigned from the party and government over disagreements with the Fine Gael Minister for Health James Reilly following perceived favouritism of his constituency in health resource allocation. In December of that year another backbencher resigned over the budget, eventually joining Fianna Fáil, and in June 2013 MEP Nessa Childers resigned as well, saying that she “no longer wanted to support a Government that is actually hurting people”.  Throughout all of this time the party suffered the loss of a steady stream of local councillors, most of whom resigning from the party with issues of the support of the party leadership for austerity.

Labour’s poll rating fell steadily, from roughly the 19% it received in the general election of 2011 to 9-10% by 2014, and a clear fourth place in the polls, behind Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin. In March 2013 the party suffered a crushing defeat in the Meath East by-election – a largely commuter belt constituency where the party had received 21% in 2011 – winning a mere 4.6% of the vote. In spite of all of this Labour’s woes were certainly not the biggest challenge facing the government.

Kenny, having survived a challenge to his leadership in 2010 by his Deputy Leader Richard Bruton, began to surround himself with those figures in Fine Gael who stood by him in that time, and appointed all of them to senior cabinet posts. Unfortunately, it was these figures that began to cause the government the most trouble. A referendum on Children’s Rights that passed in 2012 still has not been signed into law because the Minister for Children used departmental money to promote the referendum – which is unconstitutional in Ireland and resulted in a legal challenge to its validity. Environment Minister Phil Hogan was responsible for the implementation of water and property taxes nationwide, which has made him a lightning rod for public anger. Health Minister and Fine Gael Deputy Leader James Reilly, in addition to negative press over favouring his constituency, has been plagued by a series of news reports discussing cost overruns in his department and for his botched removal of certain medical cards (which provide free medical care to needy groups, such as pensioners, those in poverty and certain chronic illnesses), with his department supposedly taking cards away from individuals with terminal cancer and down syndrome on the basis that they were unneeded. Furthermore his flagship policy – free medical care for children under six, has proven surprisingly unpopular as people perceive the money for it to be taken off other aspects of the health service.

However it was Justice Minister Alan Shatter that caused the most problems. While widely respected as an excellent legislator and an advocate for liberal reforms such as the legalisation of divorce early on in his career, he is also regarded as arrogant and difficult to work with. A scandal erupted in February 2014 involving the bugging of the Gardai Siochana Ombudsman Commission, the body responsible for investigating claims of malpractice by members of the police service, with equipment sophisticated enough that they had to have come from another government agency. Following this and allegations made about police malpractice Shatter and the Garda (Police) Commissioner were forced to resign only a little over three weeks before the elections were due to take place.

However it was not only the government that was suffering problems. Both of the main opposition parties had issues going into the election campaign. On the 30th of April 2014 the leader of Sinn Féin (SF), a left wing and nationalist party with historic links to the IRA, was arrested for involvement with the murder of Jean McConville, a widowed mother of ten, in Belfast in 1972. McConville was ‘disappeared’ by the IRA for being thought to be a British informer, but was subsequently posthumously acquitted. Adams has long been linked to the murder but has never been formally connected to it until new evidence emerged from an oral history of the Northern Ireland conflict conducted in Boston College, Massachusetts. While he was released without charges brought against him three days later it was thought that this would remind people of SF’s past, and bring its association with conflict back into the minds of voters. However it did not notably impact on the polls.

Fianna Fáil (FF), a centrist party with populist leanings, also had problems with the past after it emerged that Mary Hanafin, a former Deputy Leader of the party and cabinet minister who was defeated in the 2011 election wipeout, had been nominated to contest the local elections in Blackrock, an affluent suburb in the south of Dublin. While the party initially denied it, and said that she was running on her own, it transpired that she had received the necessary paperwork from the party general secretary to be a party candidate. This caused quite a degree of anger, as Hanafin was strongly associated with the last FF government, which FF was trying to distance itself from. Eventually the party compromised by saying that they were only acknowledging the other candidate as an official candidate. It should be noted though that despite the huge news coverage this provoked, the party quite quietly ran several other former deputies defeated in 2011, such as Charlie O’Connor in Tallaght, a working-class Dublin suburb, and Margaret Conlon in Monaghan, a rural county on the border with Northern Ireland.

In addition to the regularly scheduled local and European elections two by-elections were also held. The first was held for the tragic death of Nicky McFadden, a Fine Gael deputy for the rural midlands constituency of Longford-Westmeath, of Motor Neuron disease. The second was held following the resignation of Patrick Nulty, elected as a Labour deputy but now an independent, in Dublin West, a working class commuter belt constituency. Nulty himself was elected in a by-election earlier on this parliamentary term, and resigned over inappropriate messages sent to constituents over Facebook.

The Campaign, candidates and elections in Ireland

Ireland uses PR-STV to count elections. This is a proportional system where voters rank candidates, and not parties, in the order of their preference – eliminating the bottom ranked candidates and distributing their preferences until all of the seats are filled (more details can be found on Wikipedia) . Ballot papers are often very long.


The Dublin ballot paper for the European parliament election

Election campaigns in Ireland are highly personalistic. The single best thing that politicians can do to win votes is regarded as knocking on people’s doors and personally meeting them (called canvassing). Parties put up posters, giving their candidates, and rarely their party, prominence on every lamppost (a selection are on the right and left).

From top to bottom, local election candidates in the Rathgar-Rathmines ward in Dublin – Mary Freehill from Labour, Patrick Costello from the Green Party and Paddy Smyth from Fine Gael. All were elected.

From top to bottom, local election candidates in the Rathgar-Rathmines ward in Dublin – Mary Freehill from Labour, Patrick Costello from the Green Party and Paddy Smyth from Fine Gael. All were elected.

For European elections profile is considered crucial however, as the constituencies are considered far too large for canvassing. The parties therefore place great care on who they nominate. There are three constituencies for the European Parliament – the three-seater Dublin, South, a four seater containing most areas south of the capital, including Ireland’s second city of Cork. Midlands-North West, another four-seater, contained the central rural counties, the border with Northern Ireland and most of the Western seaboard.

In Dublin Fine Gael nominated Brian Hayes, a prominent junior minister. Labour nominated their incumbent MEP Emer Costello, a replacement for the previous elected MEP, and Fianna Fáil nominated local councillor Mary Fitzpatrick, who was well known for her acrimonious relationship with former Taoiseach Berie Ahern, and was widely regarded as having her election hopes in 2007 personally sabotaged by him in spite of them being on the same party ticket. FF evidently hoped that nominating someone with such a clear association against the old party leadership would stand to them. SF however nominated the almost completely unknown Lynn Boylan, an ecologist. For the minor parties the far-left Socialist Party nominated its sitting MEP Paul Murphy, who replaced party leader Joe Higgins upon his election to parliament. The Green Party nominated party leader Eamon Ryan, a former cabinet minister now without a seat in parliament following their collapse, and People Before Profit, a minor Trotskyist umbrella group, nominated local councillor Brid Smith. Among the more notable independent for the area was MEP Nessa Childers, formerly of Labour. Polls indicated that Boylan and Hayes would take the first two seats for Dublin, with the final seat competitive between all other candidates, with Fitzpatrick, Childers and Ryan being somewhat ahead of Costello, Murphy and Smith.

In South Fine Gael nominated outgoing MEP Sean Kelly, Senator Deirdre Clune, member of a political dynasty in Cork, and deputy Simon Harris, based just south of Dublin. Fianna Fáil nominated immensely popular incumbent Brian Crowley, a socially conservative figure, and Kieran Hartley, an anti-pylon campaigner. Labour nominated incumbent Phil Prendergast, who was expected to struggle, and SF nominated Liadh Ní Riada, the party’s Irish language officer, who has never previously run for office. The other candidates were the Green’s Grace O’Sullivan, a Greenpeace activist, and independent Diarmaid O’Flynn. Crowley was considered almost certain to be the biggest vote winner nationally, and Kelly and Ní Riada also considered certain to be elected. The last seat was considered to be an internal battle between Fine Gael’s Clune and Harris.

More Local and European posters – from top: Brian Hayes, the Fine Gael candidate for MEP for Dublin, Frank Kennedy, a FF local candidate in the Pembroke-South Dock ward in Dublin, Claire Byrne, a Green candidate in the same ward, and Paul Murphy, the sitting Socialist MEP for Dublin. All bar Murphy were elected.

More Local and European posters – from top: Brian Hayes, the Fine Gael candidate for MEP for Dublin, Frank Kennedy, a FF local candidate in the Pembroke-South Dock ward in Dublin, Claire Byrne, a Green candidate in the same ward, and Paul Murphy, the sitting Socialist MEP for Dublin. All bar Murphy were elected.

In the sprawling Midlands-North West Fine Gael nominated their outgoing MEPs Mairead McGuinness and Jim Higgins, FF nominated outgoing MEP Pat ‘the Cope’ Gallagher and Senator Thomas Byrne. SF nominated Monaghan councillor Matt Carthy, Labour ran long-shot candidate Senator Lorraine Higgins and the Greens ran former senator Mark Dearey. Additionally a number of independents ran in the region, ensuring a lively contest there. Outgoing independent MEP Marian Harkin, regarded as a centrist, ran to hold her seat. Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan (nicknamed such because of his supposed resemblance to supervillain Ming the Merciless), a deputy for Roscommon and an eccentric figure in Irish politics, ran on a Eurosceptic platform that criticised EU protection of bogs and marshes (as in rural Ireland they are often dug up for fuel). In Ireland however he is best known for his advocation of the legalisation of cannabis. Additionally independent Senator Ronan Mullen was a candidate. He is well known for his vociferous opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. Most polls agreed that McGuinness and Carthy were certainties, and that Flanagan was polling competitively, and would be in the reckoning with Gallagher and Harkin for the final two seats.

In the Dublin West by-election most candidates were the same as the last by-election in the area, and were local councillors. The seat was regarded as competitive between FF and the minor Socialist Party, which has a strong base in the area. The Longford-Westmeath by-election had Fine Gael nominate the sister of the deceased deputy, and FF nominated the son of a former deputy for the area, both hoping to capitalise on dynastic goodwill in the area. The seat was regarded as competitive between the pair of them, with Labour and SF far behind.

While both Martin Schultz (the PES candidate for EU commission president) and Ska Keller (the Green candidate for the same post) did campaign in Dublin, Irish voters would be forgiven for not knowing this, seeing as it received no news coverage. The campaigns stayed remarkably parochial and focused on local concerns that had little to do with the European parliament, the most notable of which was the Socialist Party renaming itself as the ‘Stop the Water Tax-Socialist Party’ for the election (creating the amusing situation in Ireland of the far-left campaigning against water and property taxes which the right does not oppose), which is something that the European Parliament has no power over.

It was widely expected in the local elections that Labour would do very badly, although some of the worst damage might be mitigated due to local government reforms. Environment Minister Hogan stipulated that all local wards must have at least six seats, which meant that many wards were merged. He also tried to address the population imbalance of local councillors, which meant taking seats away from rural areas and giving them to urban ones, and particularly Dublin, where most of Labour’s seats are. He also increased the overall number of councillors in compensation for the abolition of town councils, a largely powerless layer of local government just below the county councils that the election was for.

For the local elections the ward of Ballybay-Clones, in Monaghan, has not voted yet owing to the death of one of the local councillors in the polling station, so there are six more seats to be filled.


European Parliament

Turnout: 52.44% (-6.2%)
MEPs: 11 (-1) in 3 multi-member constutiencies
Electoral system: STV

Fianna Fáil (ALDE) 22.3% (-1.8) – 1 (-2)
Fine Gael (EPP) 22.3% (-6.8) – 4 (nc)
Sinn Féin (GUE-NGL) 19.5% (+8.3) – 3 (+3)
Labour (PES) 5.3% (-8.6) – 0 (-3)
Green Party (G-EFA) 4.9% (+3) – 0 (nc)
Socialist Party (GUE-NGL) – 1.8% (-0.9) – 0 (-1)
People Before Profit – 1.5% (+1.5) – 0 (nc)
Independents and others – 22.4% (+10.9) – 3 (+2)

Full count details available at

Local elections

Fianna Fáil – 25.3% (-0.1) – 266 (+48)
Fine Gael – 24.0% (-8.2) – 232 (-108)
Sinn Féin – 15.2% (+7.8) – 157 (+103)
Labour – 7.2% (-7.5) – 51 (-81)
Green Party – 1.6% (-0.7) – 12 (+9)
People Before Profit – 1.7% (+0.8) – 14 (+9)
Socialist Party – 1.3% (+0.4) – 14 (+10)
Independents and Others – 23.7% (+7.4) – 198 (+69)

Newly elected Green councillor Claire Byrne made quite a good series of graphics for each local election result, helping to visualise the process of a PR-STV count for those who are not used to it.

The results of both the Local and European elections were catastrophic for the government. Both governmental parties performed worse than any poll predicted. Labour’s dreadful showing was both predicted and still shocking for the party. It was not even competitive for a European seat – with all three of their candidates going out of the count very early on. However it was in the local elections that Labour’s nightmare became clear.

Labour had long been relying on a local vote for its councillors – counting on its local members being much more popular than the party nationally and therefore able to withstand the pressure of the electorate, much like FF were hoping in the 2011 General Election. Like FF, they were bitterly disappointed. An initial early projection had the party winning as few as 39 seats nationally based on an exit poll, and early indications seemed to bear that out, with initial expectations suggesting that the party may elect as few as three members on Dublin City Council, where they had 18 outgoing councillors. The final results were somewhat better, as the party scraped through to hold a number of seats by narrow margins, with eight survivors in Dublin City. Nonetheless, their result was appalling. The party was reduced to only two seats from 86 in Cork City and county – an area where they have four parliamentary deputies – and were entirely eradicated in Cork City and Waterford City. In Wicklow, a commuter county south of Dublin that was a long-time stronghold for Labour, the party won no seats and only 3% of the vote. In working class Dublin the party was nearly totally obliterated. It returned only one councillor with a constituency average of 13% within Dublin South Central, a very deprived area where the party won 35% and two members of parliament in 2011. It went from 28% in the General Election to 11%, and no councillors, in Dublin Central – where the Minister for International Development has his seat.

The party held up somewhat better in middle class areas and in some of their more rural strongholds, although even here success could be measured in holding seats rather than gaining them. It still won 18% in the Dublin Bay South constituency, which contains mostly wealthy and well educated professionals and is a stronghold for socially liberal politics. The party sensationally held on to a seat in Clontarf – a middle class suburb without the more bohemian elements that characterise Dublin Bay South that the party has had difficulty winning even on good days. In the wealthy suburbs to the south of Dublin City, in Dun Laoighaire-Rathdown, the party only lost one seat on the whole council to leave them with seven. In their rural strongholds in the South-East of the country the party also had credible performances. In rural Carlow and Kilkenny, the party won 13% and 11% of the vote – more than sufficient to hold their parliamentary representation there, and the party clung to representation in rural Wexford and Waterford (where, as already mentioned, their heavy losses were actually in Waterford City, where they should do much better). The party is starting to resemble the Liberal Democrats in Britain – with strength in certain rural pockets and among the liberal middle class, and not among the working class that they claim to represent.

Fine Gael’s election was also awful – although somewhat disguised by how badly Labour did and the fact that they held all four of their European seats. No poll had the party coming in second, and the party’s losses in some areas were quite severe. The party failed to return representation in Dublin South Central (which may be becoming a government blackspot) and also suffered heavy losses in Donegal, a border county in the North that always feels as though the government is treating it badly, and Mayo, the constituency of the Taoiseach Enda Kenny – where his brother came extremely close to losing his council seat. What seems to have hurt the party most is extremely poor candidate strategies at local level. The party seemed to be planning on the basis that they would perform much better than polls predicted that they would – and not worse. Apparently the party was planning on an electoral bounce from leaving the bailout program that never actually materialised. In Bray for instance, a Dublin commuter town, the party ran three candidates and only had one electoral quota between them – almost causing the party return no representative there.

By contrast in Europe and the by-elections the party has reason to be pleased, in spite of the defeat of long-time MEP Jim Higgins. In spite of finishing about 400 votes behind FF in the national vote total it won four seats to the one won by its great rival. It achieved this by good vote management and candidate selection. Its lone candidate in Dublin, junior minister Brian Hayes, polled better than the party did in the local elections, and scraped in, probably on his high profile. While Jim Higgins was defeated in Midlands-North West Mairead McGuinness won quite easily there, and in South the party managed to get both Kelly and Clune elected with significantly fewer votes than FF – who only won one seat there. They managed this by having a fairly even split between their candidates, meaning that they tended to avoid being eliminated early in the count. Additionally the party held Longford-Westmeath fairly easily, making this the third time out of four the government has won a by-election (before this parliamentary term no government had won or held a seat in a by-election since 1982).

FF’s feelings about their result are probably mixed. On the one hand it is clearly the largest party in local government again. On the other hand the party has legitimate reason to be disappointed. It actually lost votes on its last, awful, local election performance and many of its gains could be attributed to how badly Fine Gael and Labour did than by a popular mandate for FF. What the party has most reason to be pleased about was its modest recovery in Dublin, where the party currently has no parliamentary representation and where its decline was starting to look terminal. It placed second in the Dublin West by-election – easily ahead of both government parties and it took nine seats on Dublin City Council and came second, and won a seat in all bar one ward on the City Council (which was more than either Fine Gael or Labour managed on either count). Both Hanafin and the ‘official’ party candidate won in Blackrock despite the controversy of her candidature, which clearly did not hurt the party, and is one more seat than the party had any reason to expect in the ward. It is the largest party on numerous councils that are very different from each other, from republican and border county Donegal to prosperous Dublin commuter belt in Kildare. More disappointingly, the party failed to win long-time strongholds like Kerry and Galway, and placed second in the Longford-Westmeath by-election – which is usually reasonable territory for them. Nonetheless, the party has, since the 2004 local elections, lost 164 county council seats, with 84 gone in 2009 alone. This gain of 48 seats in no way compensates for this loss. The party still has a long way to go towards complete recovery, but it may have stopped the rot.

In Europe however the party has most reason to be disappointed. In spite of actually winning the largest number of votes nationally, it only won a single seat – that of Brian Crowley in South. This places it behind both Fine Gael and SF. The reason for this can be seen in awful strategy and vote management. Their candidate in Dublin actually placed third on the first count, but was overtaken by both the Greens and independent MEP Nessa Childers as the count went on, and placed fifth. While certainly a credible performance that has placed their candidate well for a parliamentary seat when the next general election is called, they will still be disappointed with the result. In South Crowley seems to have refused to share his vote or engaged in any kind of disciplined constituency split that Fine Gael undertook, causing the party to lose a seat that, by all rights and even by vote share, they should have won. This is a problem the party has had before at parliamentary level, with former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and cabinet minister Willie O’Dea running away with astronomical vote totals, only to leave the other party candidates in the dust with far too few votes to win a seat. However it is Midlands-North West that is most bitter for the party. In spite of polls always showing that it was possible and the insistence of the MEP Pat ‘the Cope’ Gallagher that his seat was in no way secure, the party still seemed shocked when he lost the final seat by a mere 275 votes. While the constituency was undoubtedly crowded with lots of strong candidates, it seems to have been a huge error to run two candidates – allowing Marian Harkin to assemble a strong lead on early eliminations that transpired to be, just about, unassailable. The party needs to have a long, hard look at its strategy. It lost two seats which it had the votes for – one because it could not impose a constituency division or vote split on a sitting MEP, another because it could, but the ensuing vote split meant that their lead candidate had just too much ground to make up.

Sinn Féin is, understandably, delighted at its result and is certainly the clear winner of the election. All three of its European candidates won and won well, including coming first in Dublin. On Dublin City Council only two of its candidates failed to be elected. The party is now without seats in only four wards across the whole Dublin area – and it was unlucky to fail to win in Rathgar-Rathmines. The party finally achieved its breakthrough across middle class Dublin. It topped the poll in Dundrum, considered the epitome of prosperous south Dublin. It won a seat in Killiney, a haunt for old money where Bono lives. It won a seat too in Pembroke-South Dock in another poll-topping performance – the ward containing Ireland’s most expensive addresses and embassy row. In working class area its results were stunning even to the party itself, and it could have won several more seats if it had actually run more candidates in those areas. For instance in exurban and working class Tallaght South the party won over 50% of the vote – which could easily have it won it three or even four of the ward’s six seats, but it only ran two candidates. In Clondalkin, a similar ward, the party had more than three vote quotas between its two candidates. Very unexpectedly, the party placed first on the first count in the Dublin West by-election. Dublin West, in spite of it being largely working class, has always been considered a bad area for the party with the local strength of the Socialist Party, and while the party placed third in the by-election in the end, it is well placed for the future.

Outside of Dublin its performance could be considered good rather than spectacular. It placed a clear third in the Longford-Westmeath by-election, and failed to win the very republican counties of Kerry and Donegal, which on the back of such a strong showing it should have been more competitive in. Nonetheless the party had clear successes. It beat the Labour Party into fourth place in Galway City – where it had previously had no representation. The party placed second in Cork City, with eight seats and clearly ahead of Fine Gael. It won seats in every ward in rural Limerick – one of their worst areas nationally historically. On the back of this kind of performance there are very few areas where SF could fail to be at least competitive in a general election, and the other parties know it. Indeed their rhetoric towards the party has noticeably softened since the results, hinting that they would be willing to consider coalition with them.

It was a good election all round for the three main small parties – the Green Party, the Socialist Party and People Before Profit. The Greens only narrowly missed a European seat in Dublin, and its candidates in other regions performed credibly. While its vote in the local election fell this was because it ran much fewer candidates than last time, and it won twelve seats, a gain of nine. This included a poll-topping performance Rathgar-Rathmines in Dublin – the first time the party has headed any poll anywhere since 1999. It should be noted however that nine of the party’s seats are in the greater Dublin area, including Wicklow, and those that are not are personal fiefdoms in Dundalk and Kilkenny that the party had held even in 2009. It missed seats in Galway and Cork with good candidates, and it must be noted that even their Dublin seats tend to be in areas where the party had won before their collapse. The party seems to have bounced back to where it was before, and it would need to do quite a bit better than this local performance to win any parliamentary seats – but, like FF, it remains on track for recovery.

The Socialists had a mixed day. On the one hand they won the Dublin West by-election and took fourteen council seats, a real breakthrough. On the other hand they lost their European seat in Dublin fairly easily. Taking the by-election sets up their winning candidate Ruth Coppinger to succeed their long-time parliamentarian Joe Higgins, who is retiring, as the Socialist voice in Dublin West. It was always going to be difficult holding the European seat without Higgins as a candidate and, indeed, no poll had the co-opted MEP Paul Murphy as truly competitive for it. The local result was very good. In addition to its usual sweep of council seats in its Dublin West stronghold the party took a seat on Dublin City Council for the first time, and had a breakthrough outside of Dublin –winning three seats in Cork City and three in Limerick.

People Before Profit had similar reason to be pleased. Unlike the Socialists, it never expected to be competitive for Europe so polling well, even if not well enough for a seat, was a pleasant surprise. The party did quite well in the Dublin area – wiping Labour out in Dun Laoghaire ward, the personal base of de-facto party leader Richard Boyd-Barrett, and winning three seats in Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown council – and only very narrowly losing two other seats to Labour in the area. It also broke through on the other Dublin councils. In Dublin City Council it won five seats – including its first seats on the North side of the city that it usually unofficially ceded to the Socialists. It won fourteen seats overall. Like the Socialists this sets them up to have a full parliamentary delegation come the next general election.

One of the big news stories of the contest though was the success of independent candidates. In Europe their success was particularly high profile. Nessa Childers held her seat in the European Parliament, in spite of moving constituency to Dublin. Europe may too need to get used to Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, who did very well in Midlands-North West and took the first seat, and Marian Harkin held off FF to win the last seat in the area. At local level too independents were successful, increasing their representation on virtually all councils. Many independents elected are associated with particular independent parliamentarians, and so resemble a kind of unofficial local party, with such organisations being quite prominent in Kerry, where there are two of them, in Kildare and in Waterford – all places with strong independent deputies. Additionally many councillors formerly members of Labour had spectacularly good elections, placing ahead of the official candidates of the party they left. In spite of the generally good results some of the more established local independents and minor parties did quite badly though. The ‘Lowry Group’ in Tipperary, associated with former Fine Gael Minister Michael Lowry who is under a seemingly never-ending corruption investigation – only returned three councillors. The long established ‘Gregory Group’ in Dublin’s North Inner City did not return any official group candidate – although a former group member was elected as an independent. United Left, a micro-left party associated with two far-left parliamentarians that were connected to the Socialists and People Before Profit before, only elected one councillor.

It is probably foolish to talk of independents as one group. Many of the rural independents are about as far removed from the left-wing urban independents as it is possible to be in the Irish political space – but many of these candidates will certainly poll well in a general election, and win seats.


The most immediate consequence of the election was the resignation of Labour’s leader Eamon Gilmore, who resigned rather than be ousted by a group of panicked parliamentarians. Virtually every member of his parliamentary party has announced that they are running for either leader or deputy leader and, whoever wins, is likely to be much more combative than Gilmore over government economic policy. Depending on who it is and what they demand from Fine Gael, this could destabilise the government enough to cause it fall.

Fine Gael, too has been shaken. The party was under the illusion that FF was now so tainted that it could nearly win by default. That is clearly not the case. The party now knows that it will need to fight hard to win a second term in government – something never before achieved by the party. FF, for its part, knows that it may yet have a chance of re-entering government, stabilising nerves.

If SF remain coalition poison, which is becoming less likely but still present for the parties, and independents do as well as this, only a coalition of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is likely to be mathematically possible after the next election, something that is likely to finish the junior partner in that alliance utterly. It seems likely that Ireland is entering a period with no truly large parties, and no real political stability.

European Union 2014: Overview


Elections to the European Parliament (EP) were held in the 28 member-states of the European Union (EU) between May 22 and 25, 2014. All 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), elected from their individual member-states, were up for reelection. The EP serves a five-year term and cannot be dissolved.

Electoral systems and theory

The European Parliament has 751 seats distributed between the EU’s 28 member-states, according to ‘degressive proportionality’ which means that while the allocation of seats between the member-states is roughly proportional, the smaller member-states elect more seats than they normally would under a strictly proportional system. A member-state has at least 6 MEPs, and a maximum of 96 MEPs. Germany, the most populous country in the EU, elects 96 for a population of 80.5 million – electing one MEP for every 838,789 inhabitants. Malta, the smallest country, has 6 MEPs for a population of 420,000 – electing one MEP for every 70,227 inhabitants. Under the Lisbon Treaty, the Council of the European Union (‘Council of Ministers’), acting unanimously on the initiative of the EP, adopts a decision fixing the number of MEPs for each member-state.

European elections are subject to certain EU-wide common principles and rule. First and foremost among them is the requirement, instituted in 2002, that elections in each member-state must be based on some form of proportional representation (including STV). Secondly, under the Lisbon Treaty and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, every EU citizen residing in a member-state of which he/she is not a citizen has the right to vote and stand for election in the member-state of his/her residence under the same conditions as nationals. Member-states are free, while respecting these basic principles, to adopt their own laws regarding the electoral system, voter and candidate eligibility. For example, most countries elect their MEPs in a single national constituency but six member-states (Belgium, France, Ireland, Italy, Poland and the UK) are subdivided into regional constituencies which each elect a specific number of MEPs. Countries may set variable thresholds or no thresholds (if applicable) in the PR system, as long as it does not exceed 5%. Some countries allow voters to alter the list of candidates (open list PR), while others do not (closed list PR).

Rules on voter and candidate eligibility vary from country to country. The concept of ‘residence’ for EU citizens resident in another EU member-state varies – France, for example, requires EU citizens to be registered in their municipality of residence while the Czech Republic requires EU citizens to be listed on the population register. In some countries, a minimum period of residence is required. Rules on voting by non-resident nationals in their country of origin varies considerably – France now allows all French citizens living abroad and registered on the consular electoral lists (or in a municipality in France) to vote, Greeks residents abroad may only vote if they live in the EU and in Ireland only those resident in Ireland may vote. The age of eligibility to stand varies, although it generally set at 18; in some countries, such as Belgium, voting is mandatory.

The EU is something of a juggernaut, with complex institutions and procedures which are incomprehensible or off-putting to many. The EU Parliament is one of the two institutions of the EU which may be considered as being the EU’s legislative branch. The Parliament, however, lacks the power of legislative initiative – EU laws may only be drafted by the European Commission, the main executive and bureaucratic arm of the EU. The Parliament may suggest legislation, the European Council (the meeting of the 28 heads of state/government) often sets the EU’s policy agenda but only the Commission has the power to draft legislation. Most (and, with each new EU treaty, more) legislation proposed by the Commission falls under the ‘ordinary legislative procedure‘, meaning that it must be approved by both the Parliament and the Council of the European Union (Council), another ‘legislative’ organ representing national executives (composed of different configurations of cabinet ministers from the EU-28  based on the topic discussed; voting is carried out through qualified majority voting procedures or, less often, by unanimity). The text is first read by Parliament, adopting or amending the Commission’s proposal, before it is sent to the Council which adopts Parliament’s position or amends it. If it is amended, Parliament examines the Council’s text in a second reading, where it adopts it, amends or rejects it with an absolute majority. If the Parliament amends the text, the Council holds a second reading where it can either approve or reject all of the Parliament’s approval. In the latter case, a conciliation committee with an equal number of members from both organs seeks to adopt a compromise position (if it does not, the text fails). A compromise position must be approved by both Parliament and Council. On a minority of matters a ‘special legislative procedure’ is used – consultation (Council must consult Parliament, but Parliament’s position is nonbinding) or consent (Parliament must consent to Council adopting legislation proposed by the Commission, but cannot amend it).

The use of the ordinary legislative procedure has been constantly expanded under successive treaties, strengthening Parliament’s role from a powerless consultative and advisory body to a body with substantial legislative power (although still weak compared to national legislatures). In practice, policy-making in the EU is largely achieved through constant negotiations and consultations between different bodies – the Commission works with Parliament and Council throughout the process, and Parliament and Council work informally throughout the legislative process meaning that it is rare that a text is not approved after first or second reading. In the Council, most work is done by committees of high-level bureaucrats from the member-states and only contentious issues are decided at formal ministers’ meetings.

The Parliament, since the Lisbon Treaty, has power over the entire EU budget which is prepared by the Commission and examined by both ‘houses’ of the ‘legislature’. The Parliament adopts or amends the Council’s position on the budget; in the latter case, it is sent to a conciliation committee to reach agreement on a joint text, which must be approved by both Parliament and Council – but Parliament can adopt the budget even if the Council rejects the joint text.

The Parliament has oversight powers over other EU bodies. According to the Lisbon Treaty, after EP elections, the President of the Commission is proposed by the European Council on the basis of the election results. The Parliament approves or rejects the European Council’s candidate. National governments appoint one Commissioner (except for the member-states from which the President and High Commissioner for foreign policy are from), who individually appear before EP hearings. The Parliament approves or reject the Commission as a single body; it has never rejected it outright, but in the past, Parliament’s pressure has forced the names of proposed commissioners to be withdrawn. In theory, the Parliament can censure (vote of no confidence) in the entire Commission with a two-thirds majority; this has never been used formally, but in 1999, the Commission was forced to resign after Parliament rejected the budget over allegations of corruption in the Commission.

MEPs sit by political group, not by country. Today, EP political groups must be made up of at least 25 members representing at least 7 member-states, and groups receive funding and guarantee committee seats. Some MEPs are unaligned, formally known as non-inscrits, the French term for members not part of any group. The groups are different from European political parties – the former are created for parliamentary/institutional reasons, while parties are transnational alliances of parties which receive recognition from the EU if they meet certain rules (notably respect the founding principles of the EU, participation in EP elections, have received either minimum electoral support in EP elections or be represented by elected parliamentarians at the EU, national or subnational level in 25% of member-states). Europarties receive funding from the EU. The groups may coincide with Europarties – the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) is both a party and a homogeneous group; but not necessarily. The European Greens form a group with the regionalist European Free Alliance (EFA), known as the Green-EFA group. Some individual MEPs from parties which are not affiliated with Europarties often join one of the groups.

Relations between groups tend to be consensual, especially as far as the mainstream centre-right and centre-left (and liberal) groups are concerned. The presidency of the EP is traditionally split between the EPP and the Socialist group (S&D) during the five-year term of the EP. Some groups tend to be highly cohesive on votes in the EP – VoteWatch’s stats for the last term showed the G-EFA, EPP and S&D groups to be cohesive on over 90% of votes, while the heterogeneous eurosceptic Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group voted cohesively on less than 50% of matters. Agreement between ideological lines is commonplace for mainstream groups: VoteWatch shows that, for example, in the 2009-14 EP, the S&D group’s votes matched that of the EPP 73% of the time (it also matched that of G-EFA and the liberal ALDE very often).

Over time, the EP has been gradually strengthened, a way for EU policy-makers to alleviate the democratic deficit of the EU. In practice, attempts by the EU to promote the role of the EP, encourage participation in EP elections and promote voting on pan-European rather than national concerns have generally failed. Most citizens are unaware or uninformed of the role played by the EP, hardly surprising when you consider the complexity and – oftentimes – opaqueness – of the EU institutions; additionally, although the EU is (for good or bad) a major source of legislation and regulation binding on the EU-28, many citizens feel distant from the EU or don’t see how the EU impacts their daily lives. The mainstream media takes relatively little interest in the activities of the EP and the work done by MEPs, meaning that the EP remains widely viewed as a ‘Mickey Mouse Parliament’ and the bulk of MEPs remain out of the limelight. A lot of politicians treat the EP as an elected gig with a nice pay, providing a platform for them to (re)gain prominence in national politics; the EP welcomes politicians who lost their seats in the national legislature or parties which struggle to win seats in national legislatures (often far-right or far-left parties) but can win EP seats by virtue of PR. To be sure, most MEPs do work hard and pay attention to EP work, but it’s a relatively thankless job in that few ‘regular citizens’ notice or care about their work. Oftentimes, the MEPs who work the least in the EP are the loudmouths using the MEP as a platform in national politics (or who are in the EP because they need an elected gig they don’t have elsewhere). For example, retiring French MEP Philippe de Villiers (the least active of France’s MEPs) told voters that the EP is useless – but it did take him twenty years as an MEP to reach that conclusion!

Turnout in EP elections has declined constantly from the first direct elections in 1979, from 62% in 1979 to only 43% in 2009. In 2009, the lowest turnout came from the Eastern enlargement states of 2004 (a low of 19% turnout in Slovakia) and the UK, although the two key drivers of European integration – Germany and France – had turnout in the low 40s. Turnout in EP elections is slightly higher than in US midterm elections – which is unsurprising, because EP elections can easily be compared to US midterms. Research has consistently shown that voters who do vote in EP elections do so largely on the basis of national political considerations, and those motivated to vote in EP elections are often those who wish to use the elections to punish their national governments (‘voting with the middle finger’). European elections are also a chance for voters to cast protest votes for smaller parties or to vent their anger with domestic politics. European parliamentary history is filled with weird minor parties which enjoyed a flash-in-the-pan success in one country in one EP election before failing in the subsequent national elections. Who remembers the Agrupación Ruiz-Mateos, which won 2 MEPs in Spain in 1989? Or the election of 6 MEPs from Germany’s hard-right Die Republikaner in 1989, before falling back into irrelevance? Who will remember the election of Pirate Party MEPs from Sweden in 2009, twenty years from now?

When EP elections are remembered after the fact, it is usually for specific results in a given country. Many would be challenged to recall the pan-EU results of, say, the 1994 EP elections. In France, for example, the EP election of 1984 is remembered because it was the first electoral breakthrough of the far-right.

Efforts by the EU/EP to promote participation and engagement have basically been dismal failures – largely due to the perception that the EU remains unresponsive to citizens, that EP elections are useless (in that little changes as a result), lack of citizen interest in EU-wide issues, local media and political narratives focusing on national concerns (with many local opposition parties calling explicitly to vote against the national government).

In these elections, the major EU-wide parties each nominated their own ‘candidates’ for the President of the Commission, a ‘race’ made all the more interesting by the retirement of the incumbent President of the Commission, José Manuel Barroso. The ‘nomination’ of these candidates reflected the different parties’ views on the EU and the internal dynamics of each of them as it relates to the EU – Eurosceptic groups and parties did not nominate candidates, while some leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel questioned the rationale of linking the EP election to the selection of the next President of the Commission.

The centre-right EPP showed perhaps the most reticence to this idea, but it ultimately nominated Jean-Claude Juncker, the former long-time Prime Minister of Luxembourg (1995-2013), a prominent EU-wide personality and committed supporter of deeper European integration. The centre-left Party of European Socialists (PES) had a convoluted and open nominating process, but Martin Schulz, the German Social Democrat (SPD) president of the EP, was the only candidate. Like Juncker, Schulz is a major player in EU politics and a strong supporter of European integration.

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) party selected former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, a strong supporter of a federal Europe. The European Democratic Party (EDP), which sit with the ALDE Party in the ALDE group, also supported Verhofstadt’s candidacy.

The European Greens had an open online primary with four candidates, which resulted in the nomination of two co-candidates – German MEP Ska Keller and French MEP José Bové. The Party of the European Left (EL), the Europarty made up of various communist, far-left, democratic socialist or ‘radical left’ parties, nominated Alexis Tsipras, the popular leader of Greece’s Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), an historically minor radical left party which became the main opposition party in Greece in the historic 2012 elections. Tsipras became a popular icon for the anti-austerity and anti-neoliberal movements in Europe, which have often tried to imitate SYRIZA.

There was an active and concerted attempt to create a EU-wide horse-race between Juncker and Schulz. Several televised debates were held, but viewership was low and the whole race attracted little interest in the actual national campaigns. National parties which are members of the EPP, PES, ALDE, Greens and EL have reacted to the nomination of pan-EU ‘presidential candidates’ in different ways. In France, for example, the terribly unpopular Socialist Party (PS) focused heavily on Schulz and ‘electing a Socialist President of the Commission’ to ‘change politics’ while the centre-right Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) made little to no mention of Juncker and tried to obscure Juncker’s federalist views which are out of place for a party which has been big on vaguely Euro-critical posturing. Many scoffed at the idea of a ‘presidential race’ which the EU promoted – understanding that Parliament does not actually ‘elect’ the President itself, and sensing that the choice of the President is still largely in the hands of national governments.


The 2014 EP elections came at a difficult time for the European Union. The EU has been badly hit by the economic crisis and/or the Eurozone crisis, some countries more than others and in different way, but nearly every single one of the EU’s 28 member-states have been impacted in one way or another by the economic crisis in Europe. The economic crisis and government policies responding to it has, in a lot of countries, led to a social crisis and major political upheavals.

The impact of the economic and social crises on the EU have been immense. For the EU as a political project, the last five years have been particularly challenging. With rising unemployment and major economic and fiscal problems, many politicians and parties have questioned and/or attacked the viability of the Eurozone or the desirability of further European integration. There has been a clear and marked rise in Eurosceptic sentiments across the board, even in traditionally Europhile countries (such as Italy); bred by frustration with the economic crisis, disillusion with the EU as a political project, discontent with the EU’s management of the economic crisis or nationalist sentiments against ‘bailouts’ for poorer member-states or against ‘bailout’ conditions imposed by countries such as Germany and institutions such as the EU and the IMF. Naturally, the rise of anti-establishment and oftentimes Eurosceptic movements or parties in many countries owes a lot to domestic political factors and conditions – but given that a lot of these factors are the result of the EU-wide economic and social crisis, there’s certainly a common trend to be found. We need to be careful about imagining pan-national trends in support for political movements: the ‘rise of the far-right’ which everybody talks about is often real, but it is not universal and it has come in different forms with parties of vastly different outlooks and levels of extremism (from neo-Nazis in Greece and Hungary to respectable and polished right-wing populists).

In individual member-states, the crisis and popular sentiments resulting from the crisis have led to substantial political changes compared to the political situation as it stood in 2009, when the EP was last elected. In Italy, Greece and the Czech Republic, realignments of the political systems in those countries may be taking place. In Spain, the hegemony of the two traditional parties of government in the country has been severely weakened by the economic crisis in the country. In countries such as France, Austria, Ireland, the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Hungary, populist movements on both the left and right have emerged or gained strength, often adopting an anti-establishment outlook which is both critical of the domestic political elites and of the EU.

Since the last elections to the EP in 2009, a number of European governments and leaders have been defeated at the polls and replaced by new governments – in a lot of these cases, the defeats of the incumbents owed a lot to the economic crisis and the unpopularity of the government’s response to it. Ireland, the UK, France, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, Italy, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Greece, Cyprus, Lithuania, Finland and Denmark (among others) have governments of a different political stripe than that which existed in 2009. The most recent national elections in Greece, Italy, the Czech Republic and Ireland (all held since 2009) saw historic results which may or may not portend some lasting political realignments.


The turnout across the EU was 43.09%, unchanged from 43% in the 2009 election. According to the EP’s official website, the distribution of new MEPs according to the groups which existed in the 2009-2014 EP is as follows (the recount of votes in some countries may change this distribution):

EPP – 214 seats (-60)
S&D – 191 seats (-5)
ALDE – 64 seats (-19)
G-EFA – 52 seats (-5)
ECR – 46 seats (-11)
GUE-NGL – 45 seats (+10)
EFD – 38 seats (+7)
NI – 41 seats (+8)
New parties (unaligned) – 60 seats (+60)

On these preliminary results, which will change with the creation of new groups and the affiliation of independent MEPs to existing groups, the centre-right EPP has retained its plurality in the EP, although it now controls only about 28-29% of the seats and suffered the sharpest loses of any group. EPP parties lost ground, sometimes substantially, in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, Romania and Greece. The S&D failed in their attempt to replace the EPP as the largest group – the centre-right has held a plurality of seats in the EP since the 1999 EP elections.

Although it had been expected to come out strengthened from the election, the Socialist group is basically unchanged from the pre-election situation. Strong gains in Italy and Romania and a stronger performance in Germany did not cancel out major loses by S&D parties in France, Greece, Spain and the Czech Republic.

Simple map of largest existing group (number of seats) in each member-state (source: Wikipedia)

The liberal group, ALDE, was another of the major losers of the election – it could be ascribed to the unpopularity of the liberals’ European federalist traditions at the present time, but the culprits are the major loses suffered by large ALDE parties in the UK and Germany (and the loss of all seats in Italy, held by the moribund Italia dei Valori, which had done very well in 2009).

The Green-EFA group will likely come out a bit smaller from the election, after a fairly strong intake for the Greens back in 2009. The Greens lost ground in Germany and France (the two largest EU countries), but performed well in some smaller member-states such as Sweden and Austria. Especially in France but also in Germany, the Greens had performed extremely well (abnormally well in France) in the 2009 EP elections, but had since lost support in national elections. The G-EFA group is likely to amputated by four seats when the new groups are formed, as the right-wing Flemish nationalist N-VA is likely to be kicked out of the group or choose to join a more right-wing group, such as the Euro-critical ECR, on its own.

The European Conservatives and Reformist (ECR), the conservative anti-federalist and Eurosceptic group spearheaded by the British Conservatives, lost 11 seats – largely due to the major loses suffered by the UK Tories and the Czech Civic Democrats (ODS), which did not cancel out gains made by the ECR’s other main component, Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) party. The group appears bullish about its future, however, with the prospect of attracting the 7 new MEPs from the Alternative for Germany (AfD), the new anti-Euro party in Germany. However, there have been constant rumours that the AfD’s inclusion in the ECR may strain relations between David Cameron and Angela Merkel, with the latter pressuring the former to keep AfD away from the ECR. The potential inclusion of the nationalist N-VA might be at odds with the Tories’ opposition to Scottish independence in Scotland’s referendum this fall.

On the far-left, the European United Left-Nordic Green Left (GUE-NGL) has gained significant ground. Those who like imagining broad pan-national political trends which don’t exist will think that this is due to a generalized swing to anti-austerity and Eurosceptic parties in Europe. The reality is that such swings have taken place, but they’ve been far from pan-European. The GUE-NGL’s gains are due to major gains by member parties in Greece and Spain and smaller gains in Italy in Ireland. In countries such as Germany and France, there has been no such ‘swing to the hard left’.

The Europe for Freedom and Democracy (EFD) group, the most hardline Eurosceptic/anti-EU group (and furthest to the right of all groups), also gained ground. Its main gains all came from the UK, where EFD’s main component, UKIP, gained 12 seats. The right-wing populist/far-right Danish People’s Party (DF/O) also gained 2 seats in Denmark. In Italy and Greece, EFD parties suffered loses.

The campaign and now the post-election horsetrading has been marked by talk of the creation of a far-right group in the EP. During the campaign, some far-right parties, spearheaded by Marine Le Pen’s successful National Front (FN) in France, joined forces in the European Alliance for Freedom (EAF). The EAF was joined by the FN, Austria’s Freedom Party (FPÖ), the Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV), the Lega Nord from Italy and the far-right Flemish separatist Vlaams Belang (VB); the youth wing of the far-right Swedish Democrats (SD) also collaborated with the EAF, but it now appears that the SD wants to keep out of the EAF. The EAF has over 25 seats now, after the FN’s huge success in France, but its MEPs only come from five countries. It would need to find MEPs from at least two more countries. The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn (XA, Greece), Jobbik (Hungary) and NPD (Germany) can’t and won’t be touched with a ten foot pole by any politician, including Le Pen, who is concerned about keeping up appearances. The AfD, UKIP, DF and True Finns (PS) do not want, in turn, to ally with the EAF, judging the FN to be too extremist and uneasy about the racist and xenophobic tendencies of these parties. The EAF will likely seek to seek out the support of the hard-right libertarian Polish Congress of the New Right (KNP – but the FPÖ finds them crazy) and two right-wing populist parties from Lithuania (TT, in the EFD group) and Latvia (NA, in the ECR group) to put a EAF group together.

In the past, the far-right had been unable to put coherent groups together due to the lack of numbers (in 2009), clashing nationalisms between the European far-right parties (especially in Eastern Europe, a lot of nationalist parties concentrate their fire on rival neighbors, such as the fight between the Hungarian and Slovakian far-right) or some rogue Western European MEP who makes some racist comment about Romanians or something. The future EAF group appears more coherent, given that all five current members meet up on anti-EU and anti-immigration/Islam views.

If any broad pan-European trends can be discerned, it is a fairly widespread swing against governing parties (either compared to the last EP election or national election) – certainly nothing unusual in a EP election. There were substantial swings against the governing part(y/ies) in France, the UK, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands, Greece, Portugal, Sweden, Bulgaria, Denmark, Slovakia, Croatia, Ireland and Slovenia. Only in Italy, Romania, Hungary and Latvia did the senior governing party win a clear victory at the polls. There was a secondary swing to anti-establishment, often Eurosceptic, movements in some EU countries – France, the UK, Spain, Austria and Denmark clearly stick out here; in Germany, the new Eurosceptic AfD performed well while in Italy the radical anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) won 17 seats in an underwhelming performance for the Beppe Grillo’s movement. But while there was a clear swing towards Eurosceptic and/or anti-establishment parties – some of them new (M5S, Spain’s Podemos) or old (FN, UKIP, FPÖ) – it is quite tough to notice a universal swing towards such parties. In the Netherlands or Bulgaria, for example, such parties actually lost ground. This further underlines the very national nature of EP elections – we definitely need to treat this election as 28 separate national elections largely driven and explainable by national political developments. Unfortunately, a lot of the media reporting on the elections have focused on the major countries, especially the more ‘sensational’ results in France or the UK, as to create some kind of narrative of universal anti-EU wave.

The EPP’s plurality likely means that a member of the EPP will be the next President of the Commission; if the EU’s act about ‘presidential candidates’ over the last few months had any truth in it, Juncker would be the natural and legitimate candidate for the job. He argues, backed by the PES, that he should get first job at cobbling together a majority to become President of the Commission. However, as per the EU treaties, the actual power of selecting the next President of the Commission effectively remains with the member-states meeting in the European Council. Therefore, it is far from certain that Juncker will be selected. British Prime Minister David Cameron, a Eurosceptic, has been trying to rally anti-Juncker colleagues – so far he’s been joined by Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (whose nationalist and often autocratic EPP member-party is often at odds with the EPP’s mainstream moderate and pro-EU views). There is a widespread cynical view that the next President will be whoever Angela Merkel wants it to be. Merkel has been noncommittal on the question or tried to avoid it. There has been a lot of speculation about the EPP and PES coming together to form a Grand Coalition, with the agreement of dividing up the main EU jobs: President of the Commission, the presidency of the European Council (Herman Van Rompuy is retiring in December) and EU high representative on foreign policy.

In the coming posts, we will look at the detailed results in every one of the EU’s 28 member-states. These posts should generally come in alphabetical order, but there might be exceptions.

South Africa 2014

In the next three weeks, expect posts (time depending) on the EU, India, Colombia, Ukraine and Belgium. I am still welcoming any contributions from readers who wish to help out with the coverage of this avalanche of elections by submitting guest posts.

National and provincial legislative elections were held in South Africa on May 7, 2014. All 400 members of the National Assembly, the lower house of the Parliament of South Africa, and all members of South Africa’s nine provincial legislatures (a total of 430 seats) were up for reelection.

This post on the South African election is my longest one yet – it is meant to complete the relevant sections of my incomplete pre-election Guide. Good reading!

Electoral system

I covered South Africa’s political system in extensive detail in the first section of my (unfortunately) incomplete Guide, with details on the electoral system and constitutional framework.

South Africa’s system of government may be defined as being a parliamentary system, but it has elements which make it a hybrid between a parliamentary and presidential system.

The National Assembly, the lower house, is made up of 400 directly-elected MPs who serve a five-year term and are elected by closed-list proportional representation. Voters cast a vote for a party in the national election, but the allocation process once votes have been cast is fairly complex. In theory, half of the seats are filled from regional lists and the other half is filled from a party’s national list, although parties are under no obligation to submit both regional lists and a national list. In the first stage of allocation, the seats in each province are apportioned according to the largest remainder method. In each region (province), a quota of votes per seat is determined by dividing the total number of votes cast in the region by the number of regional seats, plus one (the Electoral Commission determines the number of seats allocated to each province before the election). The result plus one, disregarding fractions, becomes the quota of votes per seat for the region. To determine how many seats each party will receive in the region, its total number of votes is divided by the quota of votes per seat. This will produce a whole number, which is the number of seats initially allocated to the party, and a surplus. Once this calculation is performed, the sum of allocated seats is obtained. If this total is smaller than the number of regional seats, unallocated seats are awarded to the parties according to the descending order of their remainders. The seat distributions from all provinces are aggregated at the national level, to obtain the number of regional list seats allocated to each party.

The second stage begins with the proportional distribution of all 400 seats in the National Assembly. A quota of votes per seat is again determined by dividing the total number of votes cast across the nation by the number of seats in the National Assembly, plus one. The result plus one, disregarding fractions, becomes the quota of votes per seat. To determine the number of seats each party will receive, its total number of votes is divided by the quota of votes per seat. This will produce a whole number, which is the number of seats initially allocated to the party, and a surplus. Once this calculation is performed for all parties, the sum of allocated seats is obtained. If this total is smaller than the number of seats in the National Assembly, unallocated seats are awarded to the parties according to the descending order of their remainders, up to a maximum of five seats. Any remaining seats are awarded to the parties following the descending order of their average number of votes per allocated seats.

The regional list seats are then subtracted from the total number of seats allocated to that party’s list, and the remaining seats are filled by the candidates on the national list in the order determined before the election. In the event a party does not present a national list, the seats allocated to it at the national level are filled from its regional lists.

The upper house, the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), is made up of 90 members, with each of South Africa’s nine provinces sending a single delegation made up of ten members. Six of the ten delegates are ‘permanent delegates’, serving for the duration of the legislature and elected by the provincial legislatures, proportionally in accordance to the strength of the parties represented in the provincial legislature. The other four delegates are ‘special delegates’ – the provincial Premier, and three other special delegates elected by the provincial legislature, again proportionally to each party’s strength. The special delegates rotate based on the matter being discussed by the NCOP. According to the Constitution, while the National Assembly “is elected to represent the people and to ensure government by the people” (Section 42.3), the NCOP represents the provinces, “to ensure that provincial interests are taken into account in the national sphere of government” (Section 42.4).

Except where the Constitution provides otherwise, the NCOP’s members vote as delegations, with each province having one vote and the vote is carried with five provinces voting in favour. Legally, a delegation must vote in accordance with a mandate approved by the provincial legislature it represents. On ordinary bills not affecting the provinces, the NCOP votes individually, each delegate having one vote.

The National Assembly has full legislative powers on most matters, and its members as well as Ministers and Deputy Ministers, may introduce any piece of legislation. The NCOP considers ordinary bills not affecting the provinces and it may approve it, amend it or reject it but the National Assembly can pass the bill again with a regular majority. The NCOP has significant power on legislation affecting the provinces (Section 76 bills), with the power to introduce a certain category of such legislation (Section 76.3 bills) and it must approve all Section 76 bills. If there is a disagreement on a Section 76 bill, it is sent to a Mediation Committee which then produces a compromise bill which is sent to both houses; if that bill has originated in the National Assembly, the National Assembly has the power to override NCOP opposition and the Mediation Committee (but with a two-thirds majority). The NCOP must also approve some constitutional amendments (amendments to Chapter 1, the Bill of Rights or any amendment dealing with the NCOP or provinces), in such cases, the amendment requires a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly (three-fourths for amendments to Chapter 1) and the support of six out of nine provinces in the NCOP.

The President of South Africa is the head of state and government and is elected by the members of the National Assembly at its first sitting. The President may not serve more than two terms, and he may be removed from office with a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly (for ‘a serious violation of the Constitution or the law’, ‘serious misconduct’ and ‘inability to perform the functions of office’). The National Assembly may pass, with a regular majority, a motion of no confidence in the President. If carried, the entire cabinet and the President must resign. The President assents to and signs bills, refers bills to the National Assembly for reconsideration (if he/she so chooses) and chooses members of the cabinet.

South Africa has nine provinces with significant devolved powers and their own provincial legislatures and Premier, a framework similar to that of the national government (except that legislatures are unicameral). The provincial legislatures, which consist of between 30 and 80 members – the exact number of seats, except for the Western Cape, is set by the IEC based on provincial populations, are elected by closed-list proportional representation (largest remainder method). The provincial Premier is elected by the provincial legislature, and appoints a cabinet (Executive Council). Concurrent powers shared between both levels of government include, among others, agriculture, environment, health services, housing, public transport, tourism and trade. Exclusive provincial powers include local archives, libraries, museums, provincial planning, provincial cultural matters and provincial roads and traffic. The provincial executives are responsible for implementing provincial and appropriate national legislation, administering national legislation, developing and implementing provincial policy and preparing and initiating provincial legislation. The national Parliament, may, however, under certain circumstances, intervene in exclusive provincial powers.

Registration and voting is voluntary. All South African citizens over the age of 16 with a valid identity document may register to vote, although only registered voters above the age of 18 are eligible to vote. Elections for all levels of government are managed by the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC), a chapter nine independent state institution.

20 years of democracy (and ANC rule)

South Africa’s 2014 general election, the fifth since 1994, is a landmark election in the country’s young democracy. 2014 marks the twentieth anniversary of multi-racial democracy – the first free elections open to all races were held on April 27, 1994. 2014 is the first election in which the “born-free” generation – young South Africans born after the end of apartheid (1994) – are eligible to vote. 2014 is the first election to be held after the death, in December 2013, of South Africa’s first black President, the legendary Nelson Mandela.

Since 1994, South Africa has been a one-party dominant system ruled by the African National Congress (ANC), the historic liberation movement. The ANC has won every election since 1994 with over 62% of the vote, peaking at 69.7% in 2004 and winning 65.9% in the most recent election, in 2009. The ANC also governs eight of South Africa’s nine provinces and all of the country’s major cities, except for Cape Town.

Much can be said – good and bad – about the ANC’s record in the last twenty years, and a lot depends on one’s perspective. It is important to recognize both the good and the bad which has come with 20 years of ANC rule in South Africa.

South Africa is now a liberal democracy, with a constitution which is often said to be one of the most progressive constitutions in the world – especially thanks to its Bill of Rights. Although two decades of ANC rule have eroded the independence of independent institutions and has hampered Parliament’s constitutional mandate to hold the government accountable to the people, South Africa remains an electoral democracy with free and fair regular elections. Despite cases of judicial and political misconduct, South Africa’s judiciary remains independents and the courts have rendered judgements against the government or its policies. Even if impunity for corruption remains a huge problem, a number of politicians – including members of the ANC – have been convicted and served prison time for corruption. Since 1994, the courts’ interpretation of the Bill of Rights have resulted in landmark judicial decisions, which notably abolished capital punishment (1995), upheld the country’s liberal abortion laws (1998) and ordered the legalization of same-sex marriage (2005). The Constitution guarantees a wide range of freedoms, including the freedom of speech, assembly, freedom and security of the person and conscience; these rights are generally respected and protected in practice. Although the public broadcaster, the SABC, is often accussed of being biased in favour of the ANC, South Africa has a large array of private media sources which may often be critical of the government and investigate corruption scandals. The country has a vibrant civil society with a large number of NGOs and community organizations which can be influential on government policy.

Above all, institutionalized racism is a thing of the past. All South Africans – regardless of their race/ethnicity – have the right to vote, live and work wherever they wish, move freely across the country, love and marry who they want, engage in political activities unimpeded, protest the government within the limits of the law and are equal before and under the law. Races mix and intermingle freely, especially in the middle-class suburbs of urban centres.It is a lasting and significant achievement, whose importance should not be downplayed. Nevertheless, twenty years is a short period of time to erase the legacy of hundreds of years of segregation and racism from popular culture, individual mindsets, society, the economy and politics. Racial antagonisms, stereotypes or misconceptions remain deeply rooted in individual mindsets, meaning that the slogan of a ‘rainbow nation’ remains far more of a dream than a reality.

It is clear that poverty, inequality, unemployment and high criminality remain huge and daunting challenges for South Africa and it is also clear that the ANC has failed on a number of fronts in tackling these issues adequately. Nevertheless, it is necessary to recognize that there have been significant improvements in the standard of living of many South Africans. According to the World Bank, the percentage of the population living below the national poverty line declined from 31% in 1995 to 23% in 2006. According to a recent publication by Stats SA, the percentage of people living under the upper-bound poverty line declined from 57% to 45.5% between 2006 and 2011. Between 1996 and 2011, according to the respective censuses, the percentage of the population (20+) with no schooling declined from 19% to 8.6% while the population who had graduated Grade 12 and/or had higher education increased from 23.4% to 40.7%. The percentage of formal housing increased from 65% to 77.6% in the same time period, and more houses gained access to piped water (61% to 73%), flush toilets (49% to 57%), electricity for lighting (58% to 85%) and basic household amenities.

Since 1994, a black middle-class has emerged – a much larger number of black South Africans now attend universities alongside white students, live in historically lily-white middle-class suburbs and hold professional or managerial positions in the economy, although major racial inequalities remain in the makeup of the country’s moneyed elites and economic power-holders. Although blacks remain significantly poorer and more disadvantaged than whites and other racial minorities, many have nevertheless seen their standards of living improve in the past 20 years.

A reason for the increase in the standards of living and a decrease in the poverty of the South African population, especially the black majority, has been the social grants created by ANC governments. In 2011, about 15 million South Africans received social grants.

Homicide rates in the RSA  since 1995 (source: UNODC)

Homicide rates in the RSA since 1995 (source: UNODC)

South Africa remains one of the world’s most violent and crime-ridden societies, with a homicide rate of 31.1 in 2012/2013 according to police (SAPS) statistics – representing a total of over 16,000 murders in twelve months. Other crimes are extremely common as well – according to the SAPS’s latest crime statistics, the other most common types of crime included theft, burglaries in residential premises, drug-related crimes and assault. South Africa is tragically notorious for very high levels of sexual violence – the SAPS reported over 66,000 sexual offences in 2012/2013 (an extremely high rate, representing 127 per 100,000 inhabitants) and everything indicates that the actual rate may be much higher because only a minority of rapes and sexual assaults are reported to the SAPS. Some surveys have found that about a quarter of men in two provinces admitted that they had raped someone. Thousands of children and newborn infants have been raped in the past decade (often by relatives or guardians), an horrendous phenomenon attributed to the ‘virgin cleansing myth’ which holds that someone may be ‘cured’ of HIV/AIDS if they sex with a virgin. Despite very progressive legislation on gay rights, homosexuals in South Africa face the threat of ‘corrective rape’ (to ‘convert’ them to heterosexuality). Crime-fighting efforts are hurt by the poor reputation of the SAPS, which has been hit by numerous cases of police corruption, incompetence and insensitivity up to the highest levels of the force.

Nevertheless, violence and murder in South Africa has declined since 1994 and the waning days of apartheid. In 1995, the homicide rate in the country stood at 64.9 and has fallen by 18% in the last ten years. According to SAPS statistics, most types of crime have also decreased in this period, except for robberies, drug-related crimes and commercial crime. Nevertheless, there was a slight increase in most crimes – included murder – between 2011/2012 and 2012/2013. During the negotiations to end apartheid and the pre-electoral period in 1994, several regions of South Africa were in a state of quasi-civil war due to political violence between warring parties (notably the ANC and the Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party, or IFP) and the serious threat of terrorism from white supremacist groups such as the AWB. Today, political violence between supporters of different parties has been nearly eliminated, with only limited incidents during election periods in a handful of hot zones. Similarly, white supremacist terrorist organizations have almost all faded from view and pose no threat to the state.

Economic policy and socioeconomic challenges

The ANC, in general, has often prided itself on its sound management of the economy. Indeed, existing (and mostly white-owned) businesses in the country and foreign investors were fairly enthusiastic or at least positive about the ANC’s management of the economy in the 1990s and early 2000s.

The ANC was born as a small, moderate black ‘bourgeois’ movement, but the radicalization of the movement after 1948, the influence of the alliance with the Communist Party (SACP), ties with the Eastern Bloc and the socioeconomic effects of segregation and apartheid on the black population meant that the ANC moved firmly to the left during the struggle against apartheid and found its allies mainly on the left. To this day, the ANC governs in a ‘Tripartite Alliance’ with the South African Communist Party (SACP) – an historic ally of the ANC and the liberation movement – and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the country’s largest trade union federation founded in 1985 and a major player in the liberation movement in the late 1980s. The apartheid government, under PW Botha’s ‘total onslaught’ strategy, sold the notion of the ANC as a dangerous communist movement and the ‘red danger’ (rooi gevaar, combined with the old and explicitly racist black danger or swart gevaar) to the Western world and his white constituents in South Africa.

In the Freedom Charter, a landmark document adopted by the ANC and its Indian, Coloured and white communist allies in 1955, it is stated that subsoil minerals, banks and monopoly industry shall be owned by the people (state), that the wealth of the country be ‘restored to the people’ and that the land ‘redivided amongst those who work it’. The Charter’s vision was reiterated by the ANC during the duration of the struggle, by the United Democratic Front (UDF) in the 1980s and the ANC still refers to it as a foundational document. In documents issued by the ANC during the negotiations to end apartheid, the party enunciated a ‘developmentalist’ perspective arguing for a mixed economy with some state intervention in the economy with the aim of a more equal distribution of wealth, the development and reconstruction of the economy. In 1994, the ANC and its allies adopted the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), which served as the basis for the ANC’s platform in the 1994 election. The RDP largely remained in the Charter’s tradition, aimed at the democratization of the economy, alleviating poverty, addressing the catastrophic state of social services and human development for the majority of South Africans, the broader development of the economy and economic growth. Although the RDP included some economically liberal measures, the gist of it still accorded a leading role to the state in restructuring the economy. Indeed, under the guises of the RDP, the ANC government spearheaded a major infrastructure program in the 1990s which built over a million cheap houses (so-called ‘RDP houses’, often criticized for being dreary and bleak pillbox-like mass building structures), a major expansion in access to piped water, electrification, the construction of 500 new clinics and a public works program.

When it took office the ANC quickly signaled that it would not take any revolutionary or radical decisions, and instead began arguing for a fairly liberal economic policy. In June 1996, the ANC’s new finance minister, Trevor Manuel, unveiled the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) plan as the government’s macroeconomic framework. GEAR aimed to achieve a ‘competitive fast-growing economy’ (at a rate of 6% by 2000) which would create 400,000 jobs by 2000; to reach these targets, GEAR called for the reduction of the budget deficit (to 3% by 2000), reducing inflation, a relaxation of exchange controls, a reduction in tariffs, policies to stimulate private and foreign investment, the acceleration of non-gold exports, privatization and labour market ‘flexibility’. Although GEAR still talked of income redistribution, poverty reduction and infrastructure development by the state, the general theme of the new government’s macro-economic framework was very clearly liberal and destined to please the business community and international financial institutions. The ANC – led by Trevor Manuel, labour minister Tito Mboweni (who later became Governor of the South African Reserve Bank, from 1999 to 2009), then-Deputy President (later President) Thabo Mbeki, trade and industry minister Alec Erwin and Mbeki’s right-hand man Essop Pahad – defended GEAR as necessary for sound economic growth and job creation while claiming that GEAR nevertheless remained in the tradition of the Charter and GEAR (although, in 2002, President Mbeki would claim that the ANC had never been and would never be a socialist party). The ANC, since 1994-5, had been preparing the ground for a shift away from its interventionist and ‘developmentalist’ orientations by arguing that the National Party (NP) government had left it with a huge debt and deficit – indeed, South Africa’s economy had gone down the drain due to a wide host of factors since the 1980s.

GEAR, however, was strongly criticized by the left of the movement – namely COSATU and the SACP – as being a betrayal of the Charter and RDP values and a home-grown version of the ‘structural adjustment programs’ which would be unable to address the issue of massive income inequality. In short, the left saw GEAR as ‘growth without development’, whereas the RDP sought ‘growth with/and development’.

GEAR was largely unsuccessful in meeting its targets. Economic growth never did hit 6%, and growth from 1995 to 2000 was generally weak. However, the early 2000s saw strong economic growth, under Mbeki’s cautious orthodox fiscal and monetary policies – South Africa’s economy reached growth rates over 5% between 2005 and 2007. Under Mbeki’s presidency, the domestic and foreign business community and international finance generally praised the ANC’s sound and competent handling of the economy. GEAR’s major failure, however, was jobs: the official unemployment rate grew from about 19% in 1996 to nearly 30% in 2002. Since then, unemployment and jobs has remained South Africa’s leading economic and social problem, remaining stuck at frustratingly high levels between 21% and 25% (at the official, and conservative, definition – under the expanded definition, over 35% of South Africans are unemployed). Instead of creating jobs, the policies of government and business following GEAR led to major job loses.

Official unemployment and absorption rates in South Africa since 2003 (source: Stats SA, own graph)

Official unemployment and absorption rates in South Africa since 2003 (source: Stats SA, own graph)

In Stats SA’s latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey for Q1 of 2014, the official unemployment rate stood at 25.2% – a 1.1% quarter-to-quarter increase and 0.2% year-to-year increase. Under the expanded definition of unemployment, the figure was 35%. Only 42.8% of the population aged 15 to 64 has a job. Unemployment, like almost all social and economic indicators, is conditioned by race. Under the expanded definition, 39.9% of blacks, 27.6% of Coloureds, 17.6% of Indians and 8% of whites were unemployed. There is also an even more extreme age factor: young South Africans, especially young blacks, face extremely high levels of unemployment – across all races and using the expanded definition, 66% of those 15-24 and 39% of those 25 to 34 were unemployed against 14.4% of those 55 to 64.

A 2006 study said that while the proximate cause of high unemployment was that “prevailing South African wages are too high compared to real wage levels that would clear labor markets at lower levels of unemployment”, the structural cause was the weakness of export-oriented manufacturing since the 1990s; the relative shrinkage of which led to a fall in demand for low-skilled or unskilled labour. In 2013, only 25.6% of employees in all industries were considered skilled, compared to 46.1% who were semi-skilled and 28% who were unskilled. Even in tertiary industries, only 29% were skilled and 43% had less than the Matric (South Africa’s high school graduation exam).

However, despite fairly neoliberal fiscal and monetary policies, the ANC also retains interventionist pulses – the public sector remains a major employer, the government still owns many industries and utilities, labour laws are criticized by some as being restrictive, some regulations and laws still deter private and foreign investors, employment equity laws impose increasingly strict guidelines on businesses and subject them to fines if they break them, corruption is a major problem and the new dispensation since 1994 has been used by a lot of ANC cadres to enrich themselves in business, creating a crony capitalist system.

It is also worth pointing out that despite an economic record which is very far removed from traditional socialism, the ANC ‘talks left, walks right’ with leftist rhetoric which still talks of the ANC as a ‘revolutionary liberation movement’, an ‘economic revolution’ and the ANC styles its ideology and policies as the ‘National Democratic Revolution’.(

For a party which had an ostensibly ‘radical’ economic platform prior to winning office, why did the ANC shift towards neoliberal policies? The negotiations to end apartheid in South Africa are sometimes referred to in the literature as an ‘elite pact’ – the elite of the old ruling party, the NP, reaching a compromise and agreement with the elites of the opposition liberation movement, the ANC. In these negotiations, the NP conceded a number of important issues to the ANC – it abandoned all previous demands for entrenched group rights, ‘minority vetoes’, consociational government, special legislative and executive representation for races and effectively accepted the ANC’s maximalist demands of majority rule, one man one vote, centralized devolved government and a Bill of Rights based on individual rather than group rights. In return, the ANC adopted a liberal democratic constitutional framework, the independence of the judiciary and some form of limited protections for linguistic and racial minorities. However, the most significant concession made by the ANC to the NP was its acceptance of a liberal, capitalist macroeconomic framework which guaranteed property rights, the continuation of orthodox fiscal and monetary policies and a general focus on growth and economic stability rather than redistribution.

The NP’s own evolution from defense of minority rights (and opposition to majority rule) to a more impassioned defense of the existing liberal capitalist economic model was a gradual process, whose roots were apparent beginning in the early 1970s. After HF Verwoerd’s assassination in 1966, the NP shifted from the Afrikaner nationalism of the 1940s – with its core tenets of republicanism, anti-imperialism, Calvinist mysticism and opposition to ‘English’ (or ‘Jewish’) monopoly capitalism – towards pan-white nationalism, which sought alliance and conciliation with the English-speaking whites (the traditional opponent of the Afrikaner) in the context of shared opposition to black majority rule, ‘communism’ and the defense of capitalism. This shift was facilitated by the settlement of the republican question in 1961 and the economic advance of the Afrikaner since 1948 as a result of NP policies; under the prime ministership of BJ Vorster (1966-1978), apartheid was increasingly subordinated to economic concerns when the two clashed (but, at the time, white supremacy remained beneficial to the South African capitalist economy). Radical white supremacists – such as Albert Hertzog and his followers, who were expelled from the NP in 1969 – challenged this new paradigm, defending a dogmatic and bygone vision of ‘Verwoerdian apartheid’, but the NP remained firmly in control. Within the NP, the verligte (enlightened) faction emerged, grouping well-connected economically liberal individuals in the party who placed capitalism above rigid defense of apartheid and were willing to compromise on some aspects of white supremacy in order to protect white minority rule. The verligte, in contrast to the conservative verkrampte, were pragmatic, flexible, open to compromise and eventually evolved towards neoliberal capitalism in the 1980s.

Under PW Botha (1978-1989), the priority of the NP government became the defense of white minority rule against an upswell of black resistance following the strikes in 1973 and the Soweto riots in 1976. To achieve this aim, Botha used several tactics – mixing reform with repression. Botha enjoyed close ties with the traditional Afrikaner business elites in the Cape Province, and Botha’s economic team – with Barend du Plessis, an admirer of Margaret Thatcher’s policies in Britain, serving as his finance minister after 1984 – was clearly neoliberal in orientation (although Botha had no clearly defined economic views himself). He came into office when the apartheid system had contributed to an economic deterioration – because of the rigidity of influx control, a severe skills shortage and an artificially limited domestic consumer market. Faced with growing demands from big business and Afrikaner capital, Botha’s government acceded to some of their requests to adapt apartheid to the capitalist economy.  For example, Botha’s government adopted the recommendations of the Wiehahn and Riekert commissions (appointed by Vorster), which had called for the legalization of black unionization within limits, the regularization of urban blacks by granting them property rights and the relaxation of influx control (all the while tightening the screws on blacks outside urban areas or illegal black migrants from the ‘homelands’) – in a nutshell, the NP finally admitted what had been obvious since the 1940s – black urbanization was a permanent reality (accepted by the United Party’s Fagan Commission in 1948, but rejected by the NP’s Sauer Commission). Under Botha, the aim of his ‘reforms’ were to coopt pliable non-white elites into the system in order to perpetuate white minority rule and domination. The business sector saw the lack of a black middle-class as an obstacle to the survival of capitalism, and the NP realized that it would need to find black allies in order to maintain power. Botha’s attempts at cooptation of blacks, Coloureds and Indians (the latter two groups with the Tricameral Parliament) failed horribly, and by the second half of Botha’s stint in office, the focus shifted to repression and the consolidation of the ‘securocracy’ at the helm of the state. The economy collapsed even further under the weight of international sanctions, capital flight, growing indebtedness and a rapid increase in the levels of violence and political instability throughout the country (with states of quasi-civil war building up in KwaZulu-Natal and the PWV). However, Botha’s eclectic strategy of reform through cooptation and ‘total onslaught’ repression under an opaque and often extrajudicial securocracy signaled a major shift in the NP’s identity and class basis. With the split of Andries Treurnicht’s hardline faction to form the Conservative Party (KP) in 1982, the NP moved from being a cross-class Afrikaner nationalist alliance to a white-dominate elite alliance of whites (Anglo and Afrikaner) and pliable non-white tools. With the economic crisis, Pretoria had also become increasingly dependent on loans from the IMF and private lenders, and it had adopted neoliberal IMF-dictated policies (notably privatization.

During the negotiations to end apartheid under FW de Klerk’s presidency, the verligte faction – now represented by Roelf Meyer, a young technocrat who went on to become the NP’s lead negotiator alongside the ANC’s lead negotiator, trade unionist Cyril Ramaphosa – gained the upper hand over the verkramptes, who were determined to fight till the end to protect minority rights or gain a ‘white veto’ under the new constitutional arrangement. Seeing that minority/group rights were unpalatable to the ANC and even the West, the verligte leaders compromised with the ANC and their interest became clinching an elite compromise to secure conditions for continued capital accumulation. To prod the ANC away from its interventionist and socialist inklings, the NP led a concerted effort along with business leaders, foreign investors and international financial institutions to move the ANC in the direction of free-market capitalism. South African business leaders had began meeting with ANC leaders in exile as early as 1986, and as the negotiations on a new constitution moved forward, parallel meetings were being held between ANC leaders and business leaders. Derek Keys, a former mining executive who was brought in as FW de Klerk’s technocratic finance minister, played a major role in these talks with ANC leaders (people including Manuel, Mbeki, Mboweni etc) and bringing them towards ‘pro-business’ viewpoints with guarantees to protect property rights and abandon any serious intentions of nationalization. These negotiations not only included the ANC but also COSATU, who agreed to tariff reductions and GATT/WTO membership. The collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War and the rising tide in favour of free market solutions were further impetuses on the ANC to move away from interventionist and socialist ideas. Unlike other African liberation movements, the ANC gained power in an era where there was no ‘alternative’ economic model to capitalism as there had been during the Cold War.

In the end, therefore, the NP had successfully pushed the ANC towards accepting the core tenets of the free-market economy and capitalism. After taking office in 1994, the ANC therefore honoured its part of the ‘elite pact’ with the NP – Derek Keys was kept on for a few months after the 1994 election and the incoming ANC government revised the original RDP (drafted in collaboration with COSATU and the SACP) with a White Paper which effectively laid the ground for GEAR in 1996.

Perhaps the best example of ‘elite pacting’ came in 2005, when the remnants of the NP (rebranded as the New National Party) merged with the ANC. Since the NP’s ill-advised decision to quit the national unity cabinet with the ANC in 1996 and FW de Klerk’s later resignation from the leadership (and his replacement by the incompetent Martinhus van Schalkwyk, who is now the ANC Minister of Tourism), the NP had lost its white supporters (in 2004, the bulk of the NP’s vote came from Coloureds – a group which the NP had disenfranchised in the 1950s) and was unable to become an opposition party. It waffled between frontal opposition to the ANC or cooperation with the ANC government, finally settling in favour of the latter. The ANC-NP merger certainly does appear quite contradictory given the party’s history, but by 2005 the hardliners had decamped and the NP had long since given up being an ethnic party. Already during the transition, the verligte leaders had been able to safeguard the interests of (predominantly white) capital and expand the ranks of the property-owning middle-classes to blacks. Unable to deal with the loss of power, the NP found the only way out of the hole and the only chance to share the spoils again: merging with the ANC. The merger aroused some opposition within the ANC, notably from the SACP (though mostly because it feared the NP was a Trojan Horse which would turn the ANC into a right-wing party); but Mbeki’s allies had actively supported a merger which went down on terms extremely favourable to the much stronger ANC.

Affirmative action and Black Economic Empowerment

Instead of nationalization, the ANC government has implemented affirmative action policies – known as Black Economic Empowerment (BEE, or officially Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment) and Employment Equity – to address apartheid’s economic legacies. The ‘designated groups’ who benefit from BEE and Employment Equity are blacks, Coloureds, Indians, women of all races and people with disabilities of all races.

Under Employment Equity, first adopted by law in 1998, all designated employers (firms with over 50 employees) are obliged to make their workforces racially representative through analysis of workforce demographics and employment practices and the yearly submission and implementation of an employment equity plan/report (including numerical goals to achieve equitable representation suitably qualified people from designated groups). In effect, employers must set and meet racial targets to make their workforce representative of the economically active population (so it must be 75% black), and they are subject to fines – made more onerous by a series of controversial amendments to the Act in 2013 – from the government if they fail to do so. The 2013 amendments also raised significant controversy and concerns over ‘racial quotas’ because it repealed provisions which forced the government to take into account skills shortage when evaluating employers’ compliance.

Although Coloureds and Indians are legally entitled to benefit from Employment Equity, the behaviour of the Department of Labour and the wording of proposed bills in recent years have raised controversy. The 2013 amendments ultimately retained the clause requiring the government to take into account national and regional workforce demographics when assessing employers, a prior 2010 bill had removed references to ‘regional’ demographics. Because the Coloured population are heavily concentrated in the Western Cape and Northern Cape provinces, and Indians are largely concentrated in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), there was significant concerns that Coloureds and Indians would struggle to find employment in their home provinces. The Director-General of Labour added fuel to the fire by stating that Coloureds were ‘over-concentrated’ in the WC.

BEE’s aim is to make the economy more broadly representative of the demographic makeup of South Africa, by promoting meaningful black ownership, management, employment, training and skills development in South African companies. Each company (with a turnover over R10 million) is evaluated by the government on a BEE scorecard, under which they are required to meet minimum requirements in a number of different areas (ownership, management, employment equity, skills development, procurement from BEE firms, supplier/enterprise development etc). To achieve the requirements of BEE, companies undertake a number of BEE initiatives – policies, practices and business transactions (for example, selling shares in a company to a company owned by blacks). The company’s score on the BEE scorecard increases or decreases their chances of winning government procurement contracts and insufficiently ’empowered’ companies in regulated sectors may see their licences revoked. Responding to criticism that the first BEE scheme was heavily focused on enriching a select few, the Mbeki government adopted ‘Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment’ (B-BBEE) in 2003, which aimed to distribute wealth across a broader spectrum.

This text from the Institute of Race Relations gives a good overview of the EE and BEE laws and codes as they stand after the 2013 amendments, and explain the costs of both policies on small businesses.

BEE has been a highly divisive issue in South African politics. There has been the common criticism leveled against affirmative action policies in general, but there is broader criticism of the results of BEE. Instead of redistributing wealth and jobs to the black majority, BEE has been perceived as having helped a well-connected few – ANC cadres, black entrepreneurs and other black middle-class individuals on good terms with the ANC – while leaving the bulk of the black majority in continued poverty. Indeed, a lot of the BEE deals – valued at R600 billion according to the Institute of Race Relations – have benefited a small closed circle of black entrepreneurs, many of them with close indirect or direct (serving on party executive) links with the ANC, COSATU and the SACP. The ANC has been accused of using BEE as a means of providing patronage, meting out punishment and co-opting potential rivals within the Alliance and allowing them to make a buck. A number of ANC leaders from the struggle era have benefited quite handsomely from BEE and the new economic policies, joining the ranks of an increasingly deracialized business elite – people such as Tokyo Sexwale, Cyril Ramaphosa, Jay Naidoo and Saki Macozoma have become wealthy businessmen, even while keeping a foothold in politics. Sexwale, a former provincial premier and the Minister of Human Settlements from 2009 to 2013, sat on the boards of several important corporations and founded Mvelaphanda Group, a large holding firm which had interests in diamond mining and oil and which made Sexwale one of the top beneficiaries of BEE. Although Sexwale officially gave up most of his business interests and chairmanships when reentering in 2009, a lot of business empire (especially as it relates to mining) remains clouded in secrecy – with unclear secret dealings over mining deals in Guinea, for example. Ramaphosa, a former trade unionist (in the National Union of Mineworkers, or NUM, one of the main unions in COSATU) who was touted as one of Mandela’s potential successors in 1998-9 before being sidelined in favour of Mbeki, left active politics and became a multi-millionaire with several investments in mining and seats on the boards of mining firms, including Lonmin, which owns the infamous Marikana platinum mine.

The new black business elite has been negatively perceived as a clique of ‘crony capitalists’ who have enriched themselves, joined the ranks of the elite but given little attention to the plight of the black majority.

Black, Coloured and Asian average income per capita as a % of white income (=100), 1917-2008

Black, Coloured and Asian average income per capita as a % of white income (=100), 1917-2008

In general, BEE’s success has been rather limited. While it has succeeded in broadening and deracializing the ranks of the elite, which had been the goal of the ANC-NP ‘elite pact’ in 1994, BEE has not really radically altered the ownership structure of the South African economy. A number of companies complied with BEE solely on paper (officially defined as ‘fronting practices’ by a 2013 amendment to the B-BBEE Act, and now punishable by potential jail time), but actually limiting blacks from participating in the management or granting associated economic benefits. In 2010, The Economist reported that blacks served as the CEOs/CFOs of only 2-4% of the 295 companies on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange; they are present in larger numbers (but still far below the actual demographic makeup of the broader population) on the boards. Most of the economy remains controlled by white South Africans.

Generally, the larger white-owned corporations and big businesses have generally adapted to the new constraints of BEE and the new post-apartheid dispensation quite well. The ANC has made friends with leading businessmen (Anton Rupert and Harry Oppenheimer, two of South Africa’s most well-known business magnates of the 20th century, became friendly allies of the ANC after apartheid – a system which they had generally opposed but still benefited from), regardless of race, a friendly association for which the ANC has often been criticized. A lot of the larger businesses have not criticized BEE: they know that the ANC and BEE are here to stay, many understand the rationales and aims of BEE and they have the resources to adapt to the system. The costs of BEE have generally been less onerous for the larger corporations than for smaller businesses, who have tended to suffer most from the high costs associated with BEE transformations. The amendments to the BEE codes in 2013, which set even stricter requirements for black ownership, management control and procurement and which made achieving strong results on the BEE scorecard considerably more difficult, will likely hurt small businesses and family-owned companies (who also have to comply with mandatory EE laws, made more stringent by 2013 amendments). Critics of the EE and BEE legislation say that small businesses bear the heavy costs of meeting ‘unrealistic’ EE racial targets and complying with BEE guidelines (especially if they seek to keep the government as a potential customer); the pressures may in turn force them out of business, adding to the crisis of unemployment.

Instead of alleviating the problem of income inequality in one of the world’s most unequal societies, BEE and other government policies may have instead aggravated the problem. South Africa’s Gini coefficient has actually increased since the fall of apartheid, and has stabilized at about 0.7 in the last decade, making South Africa one of the world’s most unequal countries. Existing income inequalities between the races have been worsened by growing income inequalities within racial groups: for black South Africans, the Gini coefficient increased from about 0.5 to over 0.6 since the fall of apartheid. Today, over half of the black population remains poor, while less than 1% of whites lives under under the upper-bound poverty line.

Land reform

Land reform has been another legacy of apartheid which the government has struggled to address. The years between 1870 and 1920, especially the post-Boer War years, saw the growth of commercial and capitalist (white) agriculture in South Africa (especially in the British colonies of Natal and the Cape), with the consolidation of land in the hands of powerful large landowners at the expense of poor white landless tenant farmers (bywoners) and black tenant farmers and squatters. This transformation was accompanied by a succession of legislation which aimed to disposes Africans peasants of their relative independence and/or their access to white-owned land, ultimately culminating in the 1913 Natives Land Act. The Natives Land Act confined black land ownership (in a communal framework) to the ‘native reserves’ – rural areas which made up 7% of the country’s territory (increased to 13.5% with the Native Trust and Land Act, 1936) and which would form the basis for the apartheid-era homelands or Bantustans. In ‘white South Africa’, blacks were banned from buying or hiring land.With the Land Act, blacks were ‘proletarianized’, being forced to become cheap migrant labour for the mines and cities or farm workers dependent on a white landlord. NP rule in the 1960s and 1970s boosted larger farms, leading to an increase in the size of farms and a decrease in the number of farmers. The white-owned farms became mechanized agri-businesses, and beneficiaries of generous agricultural subsidies from the NP government. When apartheid ended in 1994, about 87% of privately-owned commercial farmland was owned by whites.

The Constitution adopted in 1996 guarantees property rights, although a clause of the Bill of Rights allows for expropriation with compensation “for a public purpose or in the public interest”, a term which explicitly includes land reform. The Bill of Rights also grants persons or communities dispossessed of property by the Land Act or other racially discriminatory laws the right to restitution of property or equitable redress.  The ANC government passed as Restitution of Land Rights Act in 1994 to govern the process of restitution or equitable redress envisaged by the Constitution, setting December 31, 1998 as the deadline for applications for land claims. A commission was created to resolve restitution claims, through negotiated settlements rather than expropriation. Under restitution, most claimants have settled for financial ‘redress’, although 2.6 million hectares had been redistributed by 2009.

The window for claims closed in 1998, but in 2013, about a quarter of claims registered with the government were not yet finalized and about 50% of the land acquired for restitution had not yet been transferred. In 2013, the ANC government passed a Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill, which reopened the window for restitution claims and extended the deadline to 2018. The law was criticized for undermining independent ownership rights in favour of traditional tribal leaders, the financial cost of reopening restitution (R129-R179 billion), limits on land restoration made dependent to ‘productivity’ and confusion around pre-1913 claims (for example, the Khoisan people dispossessed of their land prior to 1913).

On the separate issue of land reform (redistribution), the ANC adopted a policy of “willing buyer, willing seller” at market price, similar to the British-funded scheme in Zimbabwe between 1980 and 1992 and policies promoted by the World Bank, and set an initial target of redistribute 30% (26m ha) of land to black people by 2014. However, twenty years later, only 6-7% (less than 3m ha) of land has been redistributed – pushing the government to push back the ‘deadline’ to 2025, although it is estimated that if current performance continues, the likelihood of reaching that target by 2025 is low. Furthermore, a lot of the land which has been redistributed lies unused because of a lack of capital, skills shortage, the poor quality of a lot of the redistributed land (the high-quality land is often beyond the means of those black farmers who can acquire land), the government’s excessive focus on commercial agriculture and a lack of support services from the state. The land redistribution process has been hampered not only by intransigent white landowners as the ANC likes to claim, but also by insufficient budgets – it has already cost the government $6 billion, and the extension of the deadline to 2025 could cost it another $9.4 billion.

The ANC has been criticized for having chosen a very cautious and conservative path, and interpreting that property rights language of the Bill of Rights in a way which limits the government’s ability to intervene. The Minister of Agriculture and Land Reform between 1996 and 1999, Derek Hanekom, a white Afrikaner ANC member, took a fairly activist and pro-redistribution stance, but under Mbeki’s presidency, he was replaced by Thoko Didiza, whose ministry now tended to focus heavily on commercial farming by a new class of black commercial farmers rather than alleviating poverty.

Others, wary of radical land reform (such as the fast-track land reform/expropriation without compensation policies pushed forward, with disastrous results, by Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe), have argued that the issue is one of land development and use rather than land tenure, and often warn that a Zimbabwe-like approach to land reform in South Africa would prove economically disastrous because a lot of white-owned farms are productive agri-businesses and major employers. Some point out that the government itself owns a lot of land which is currently unproductive. The general failure of land reform since 1994, the poor experience on redistributed land (for a variety of reasons) and tense relations between white owners and black farm workers or landless blacks has significantly heightened tensions in rural areas. Well publicized farm attacks – often by unemployment young black men against white farmers – have attracted a lot of attention in the West, although their numbers are hard to quantify and there have been numerous misconceptions or urban myths surrounding farm attacks (for example, there is little proof that the attacks are politically motivated).

Corruption and the arms deal

Corruption has been a major problem in post-apartheid South African politics, with a widespread perception both domestically and abroad that the government is extremely corrupt and ‘kleptocratic’. The reality isn’t that horrendous – while corruption is a reality, South Africa is actually one of Africa’s least corrupt countries – on the 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index, South Africa ranked 72nd in the world (placing it behind Botswana, Rwanda, Ghana and Lesotho) and actually is ranked as less corrupt than India, PR China and EU member-states Greece and Bulgaria. However, a lot of South Africans compare their country’s corruption problems with that of other G20 members, and, indeed, with such comparison, South Africa is considerably more corrupt. Two decades of ANC rule have worsened the problems of corruption and especially the impunity of politicians and public servants. The ANC has tended to fight tooth and nail to defend its corrupt MPs and cabinet ministers from prosecution, it has perverted independent state institutions (such as the SAPS, the Auditor General or the National Director of Public Prosecutions) to keep them from doing their constitutional job to investigate and punish corruption, and it has blocked Parliament and its own MPs therein from investigating corruption and holding the government to account as it is constitutionally mandated to. The electoral system contributes to the difficulty of Parliament to hold the ANC and government to account: all MPs are elected from a closed party list, and their ranking on the party list (and, hence, their chances of winning a seat) are determined solely by their party rather than by voters, so their actual accountability is with the party which got them there in the first place. It is no secret that an ANC MP (or an opposition MP) who has criticized the party’s leadership or acted contrary to leadership fiats are often forced to resign from office or are removed/downgraded from the list at the next election.

The largest scandal in post-apartheid South Africa – perhaps even in South African contemporary history – is the massive Arms Deal scandal which dates back to the last years of Nelson Mandela’s presidency but which continues to haunt the ANC to this day and his directly involved incumbent President Jacob Zuma and several ANC cabinet ministers past and present. In 1998-9, the ANC government announced its intention to modernize the South African National Defence Forces (SANDF)’s defense equipment with the purchase of frigates, marine helicopters, light fighter aircraft, submarines and battle tanks – the very idea of this deal was soon questioned, given the new government’s purported committment to reducing defense spending in favour of reducing poverty. The deal, finalized in 1999, involved about R50 billion (1999 rands) in purchase of new military equipment from German, British, Swedish and French arms firms. Beginning in 2000, the first allegations of corruption, bribery, gross conflicts of interest and fraud began to emerge, through the work of whistle-blower opposition MP Patricia de Lille and an investigation by the Auditor General. The first questions pertained to the decision to award the fighter jet contracts to BAe/SAAB – the costlier bid (in this big contract, the government decided to exclude cost as a criteria, despite a cheaper and technically equivalent bid by the Italians), the decision to grant the frigate deal to the German Frigate Consortium, the allocation of a naval sub-contract to a French company at substantial cost and inadequate offset guarantees from the successful bidders. The actual costs of the deal quickly ballooned out of proportion, far exceeding the government’s initial estimates.

The Minister of Defence at the time, former Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK, the ANC’s armed wing during the struggle) commander Joe Modise, was alleged to have received R5 million from BAe to the MK Veterans Asssociations, R10-35 million in bribes from various bidders and shares in a defense company (Conlog) which benefited from the arms deal (Modise would later become chair of Conlog after leaving office). The Director of Procurement in the SANDF, ‘Chippy’ Shaik, was accused of favouring his brother, Schabir Shaik, who was director of a company (partly owned by Thomson-CSF, a French contractor chosen by the German Frigate Consortium to provide the combat suits for the ships) bidding for sub-contracts. That naval suit contract had gone to Thomson-CSF over a local contractor favoured by the Navy itself; it was no coincidence that Schabir Shaik’s company was owned by Thomson-CSF and that its board included people linked to Chippy and Joe Modise. Altough Chippy, in a parliamentary hearing, claimed to have recused himself from meetings where his brother’s interests were discussed, it soon became clear that he had lied – he had participated and intervened in government meetings, to promote his brother’s business.

As Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) began an investigation, under the leadership of IFP MP Gavin Woods and ANC MP Andrew Feinstein, further details of corruption in the arms deal began to be uncovered. Contractors who had not been selected alleged that Chippy Shaik and men linked to Modise were expecting bribes if their bids were to be seriously considered by the government or to give a ‘push’ to their bids.

The ANC leadership in government (Deputy President Jacob Zuma) and in Parliament (the Speaker), as well as the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) initially assured Scopa of their full support for the arms deal investigation. But as Scopa, spearheaded by Woods and Feinstein, began digging too deeply and sought to involve the Special Investigating Unit (SIU, an anti-corruption authority with the power to recover money lost to corruption and crime) in a wider investigation, the ANC leadership in government (led by Essop Pahad, President Mbeki’s ruthless enforcer) quickly moved to rein in the investigation, brought the ANC’s parliamentary leadership under the whip, undermined Scopa’s work and made sure that the SIU was not part of any investigation. Mbeki resisted pressure from the media and civil society, and refused to sign a proclamation for SIU to participate in the investigation. Scopa’s ANC members were turned against Feinstein and the investigation, and obediently obeyed the party line. The Auditor General, who had originally independently pursued the case, was bullied by the Presidency and the government into submission. As Andrew Feinstein, the maverick ANC MP defied orders from above, he was relieved of his chairmanship of the ANC component of Scopa and was finally compelled to resign from Parliament in August 2001.

The Auditor General’s report into the deal, in November 2001, included several serious accusations or comments (Modise’s behaviour with Conlog, Chippy’s conflict of interest, non-compliance with procedures) but ultimately avoided the issue of cabinet’s honesty on the costs and exonerated cabinet of any wrongdoing. It was later revealed by the media that the report had been doctored by the concerned ministers, the President and Chippy before publication. The published report absolved the cabinet of wrongdoing, whereas the original wording had said that Ministers could have influenced decisions during the process to select the costlier BAe/SAAB bid. That aircraft had not been the preferred option of the Air Force (SAAF), it was not of much greater technical capacity than Italy’s Aeromacchi jet but it was selected after the cabinet subcommittee decided to remove cost as a criteria. Nevertheless, Parliament (=the ANC) accepted the doctored report and quickly moved to close down Scopa’s investigation into the matter, with a report which expressed satisfaction with cabinet’s answers.

Tony Yengeni, the ANC Chief Whip (who had chaired the defense committee at time of the arms deal), was arrested and charged with receiving a luxury Mercedes 4×4 at a substantial discount from one of the bidders (EADS), in October 2001. He was ultimately convicted of defrauding Parliament in 2004, sentenced to a four-year sentence in 2006 but released on parole in January 2007. A few months later, Yengeni was triumphantly elected to the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC). Throughout his ordeal, Yengeni was defended by the ANC, which resisted attempts to deepen the investigation into his case. Several politicians received discounted luxury cars from EADS. Yengeni’s prosecution was one of the few which the ANC accepted, to please the public, while still ensuring that Yengeni only got what amounted to a slap on the wrist.

In November 2001, Schabir Shaik was arrested. Schabir Shaik was Jacob Zuma’s business partner, giving him generous loans to pay for Zuma’s debts, expensive lifestyle and financial problems at the time. In return, Shaik was using the money to buy influence as Zuma rose through the ranks of the ANC after 1994. In March 2000, Shaik had met with French bidder Thomson-CSF and both agreed that Thomson would pay annual bribes of R500,000 to Zuma (who was having trouble covering the costs of the construction of his new residence/compound at Nkandla, in rural KZN); in return, Zuma would protect the French company from judicial investigations in South Africa and promote their interests on future bids. However, no money was forthcoming until February 2001, after Shaik had pressured Thomson-CSF into honouring their deal. The NPA charged Schabir Shaik with corruption (the payment of a R1 million bribe to Zuma, plus the solicitation of the Thomson bribe) and fraud, and in June 2005 a High Court in Durban sentenced Shaik to 15 years in jail for fraud and corruption (he was released in March 2009, on medical parole). Most significantly, the judge’s ruling described the relationship between Zuma and Shaik as one of ‘mutually beneficial symbiosis’.

That bombshell judgement had major political fallout, as the opposition and the media called on Zuma to resign as Deputy President. On June 14, only some two weeks after the Shaik judgement, President Mbeki dismissed Zuma as Deputy President. Zuma’s dismissal from government would mark the beginning of a bloody power struggle in the ANC between Zuma and Mbeki’s clans, and the beginning of long judicial procedures against Zuma which would last until 2009. The NPA wanted to and could have charged Zuma alongside Shaik in 2003, but Bulelani Ngcuka, the boss of the NPA, opted not to after the government (Mbeki’s Minister of Justice, Penuell Maduna, either as a favour to Zuma or to shield the whole cabinet and Mbeki). However, only six days after he was dismissed in June 2005, the NPA’s boss, Vusi Pikoli, charged Zuma with corruption. The details of Zuma’s trials are covered in a later section on the Zuma-Mbeki conflict.

Zuma was not the only top politician involved in the arms deal. Mbeki, who was Deputy President at the time of the deal and played a major role in guiding and supervising the deal, had also met with Thomson-CSF more than once. Although the ANC successfully stifled and politicized Scopa, foreign investigations into other aspects of the arms deal continued despite the ANC’s best attempts to shut them down by being uncooperative with foreign authorities. In Britain, the Serious Fraud Office unearthed a web of front companies which channeled over 100 million pounds to South African politicians, and looked into allegations that BAe had paid bribes to the ANC, Modise and Chippy. In Germany, prosecutors looked into millions of dollars in bribes paid by ThyssenKrupp (the main member of the winning German Frigate Consortium) to Chippy. The South African government – led by the Department of Justice – obstinately refused to cooperate with the British and German investigations, In 2007, a rogue ex-spy died in a mysterious car crash after he had leaked details of an alleged R30 million bribe to Mbeki himself from a submarine contractor.

Many questions remain unanswered, but the arms deal continues to haunt the ANC. Overall, Andrew Feinstein estimated the total costs of the deal to be in excess of R130 billion. His excellent book, After the Party, is a scathing account of the culture of corruption in the ANC and a detailed investigation into the huge scandal which is the arms deal. In August 2013, another investigation into the arms deal opened and has already face concerns of political meddling.

Mbeki’s presidency was marred by other scandals. These include ‘Cellgate’ – political meddling to ensure a Saudi cell company received a cellphone license amidst claims of massive contributions to ANC coffers; ‘Oilgate’ – a BEE company channeling millions of rands worth of public money to the state oil company to pay for the ANC’s 2004 electoral campaign; ‘Travelgate’ – MPs who misused or sold their parliamentary travel allowance for private ends and various other (uninvestigated, naturally) allegations of illegal party financing through BEE deals. The ANC has often cashed in on on BEE deals or public works contracts, ANC politicians have become increasingly disconnected from the plight of their poor constituents and taken to their new lavish lifestyles on the public purse or public officials being woefully incompetent or corrupt.

The best example of the latter comes with the Jackie Selebi/Vusi Pikoli scandal, at the end of Mbeki’s ill-fated second term. Jackie Selebi, the SAPS commissioner and Mbeki ally, was openly associated with Glenn Agliotti – one of South Africa’s biggest crime bosses, who was suspected of being behind the murder of controversial bankrupted businessman Brett Kebble, a generous contributor to various ANC factions including Zuma. In September 2007, the NPA issued a warrant for Selebi’s arrest, but Mbeki refused to dismiss him. Instead, Mbeki suspended Vusi Pikoli, the independent head of the NPA, for pursuing charges against Selebi. A compliant parliamentary inquiry led by former Speaker Frene Ginwala, controversial for having participated in the shut-down of meaningful independent thought at Scopa during the arms deal, exonerated Mbeki of any wrongdoing. Although Ginwala conceded that Pikoli was fit to lead the NPA, President Kgalema Motlanthe chose to dismiss Pikoli in December 2008. Selebi was arrested in early 2008, forcing Mbeki to give him an extended leave of absence – but he nevertheless renewed his contract a few months later. Selebi was finally replaced in July 2009, and went on trial in 2010. Selebi was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in jail (after appeal), after Agliotti had revealed that he had bribed Selebi and that the two had been close friends. In July 2012, Selebi was released on medical parole after serving only 200 or so days in jail.

Scandals under the current presidency, including Nkandlagate, are discussed further in the post.

HIV/AIDS policy

HIV/AIDS is the leading public health issue in South Africa. In 2011, the adult prevalence rate of HIV was estimated to be 17% – the fourth highest in the world behind the neighboring countries of Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana, but with over 5.6 million people living with HIV in the country, South Africa has the highest number of infected individuals. Stats SA in 2013 estimated that 16% of adults 15-49 are HIV-positive, continuing a slow increase in the infection rate from 15% in 2002. About 5.3 million people are HIV-positive, up from 4 million 12 years ago. AVERT has more detailed statistics, which show that women – especially young and middle-aged adult women – and blacks are the most affected by the tragedy. In Africa, the pandemic is characterized by heterosexual transmission and exacerbated by poverty and internal mobility (migrant labour).

HIV/AIDS began in the 1980s, under the apartheid government, which had little interest in black public health issues and chose to mostly ignore the question. The first ANC government with President Nelson Mandela took a much more assertive stance and active interest in the issue, which became one of the RDP’s lead projects, but initial optimism soon petered out as the government failed to take strong leadership on HIV. In the Sarafina II public awareness campaign, the government ended up wasting millions of rands into a bungled and mismanaged PR disaster. In 1997, the government took an active interest in Virodene, a local drug banned by the Medicines Control Council (MCC) for being based on a toxic industrial solvent; Mbeki, the Deputy President, was interested by the issue and unsuccessfully pressured the MCC into changing its policy. The ANC government rejected the distribution of AZT, an ARV drug, claiming that it was too expensive.

If Mandela’s response to HIV was underwhelming, Mbeki’s response – or lack thereof – to the crisis proved disastrous and fatal. Mbeki denied that HIV caused AIDS, arguing that socioeconomic factors such as poverty were behind it. Additionally, Mbeki, a paranoid person by nature, often alleged that the HIV/AIDS linked was a conspiracy concocted by international pharmaceutical companies to make profits by selling drugs to poor Africans. A big fan of calling anybody who disagreed with him a ‘racist’, Mbeki ranted that the disease was being used to smear black people as ‘promiscuous’ and ‘sex-crazy’.

In less conspiratorial moments, the ANC government – led by Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, the Minister of Health, argued that ARVs were far too expensive and would bankrupt the country (a ridiculous assertion, especially if you consider the money the ANC wasted on the arms deal) or that they were toxic. The cost argument was only a respectable cover for Mbeki’s denialism, given that in 2000, the German manufacturer of Nevirapine offered to provide it for free but the Minister rejected the offer. In 2001, the government won a case against the international pharmaceutics producers who had challenged a 1997 decision to enable domestic production of generic drugs. The government then denied that its victory in court allowed it to introduce an ARV program.

The government’s policy was criticized by civil society, the media and sectors of the ruling coalitions. Zackie Achmat, a former ANC supporter who is HIV-positive, founded the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) in 1998 to campaign for an ARV program and became the most active and vocal opponent of Mbeki and the ANC’s denialist stance on HIV/AIDS. Achmat refused to take ARVs until all who needed them gained access to them. Mandela, who regretted his government’s lack of leadership on the issue, was privately annoyed with Mbeki’s position and publicly called for action (and stated that HIV causes AIDS). Within the alliance, the SACP and COSATU registered their disapproval of Mbeki and Tshabalala-Msimang’s policies. Many within the ANC and cabinet, however, once again bowed to the party line and obediently endorsed Mbeki’s unorthodox positions. In 2002, the TAC won a court case against the government, which was ordered by the High Court to implement a Mother to Child Treatment Plan, but the government slid its feet. Tshabalala-Msimang instead preached the values of ‘natural’, ‘African’ treatments such as lemons, garlic and beetroots, a position for which she was rightly mocked.

Ultimately, economic pressures (Mbeki’s policies, criticized internationally, were seen as potentially unsettling foreign investors) and pressure from TAC led the government adopt a timid roll-out of treatment, including ARVs, just prior to the 2004 elections. By 2005, however, after a slow and piecemeal roll-out, the number of people on ARVs remained below target. The reason was that, despite the rhetoric, Mbeki and his Minister remained uncommitted to the new policy and had no actual plan to fully implement it. During this time, Mbeki remained a denialist and Tshabalala-Msimang was preaching for beetroots and lemons. The government publicly associated with fellow denialist ‘dissident scientists’ (most of them charlatans and frauds) such as Matthias Rath. In 2006, the Deputy Minister of Health, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, temporarily replaced Tshabalala-Msimang while she was ill in the hospital. Madlala-Routledge, who had been critical of Mbeki and the government’s denialism and handling of the pandemic, reversed course and adopted an ambitious plan working in tandem with civil society (including TAC) to coherently tackle AIDS. In August 2007, Mbeki fired Madlala-Routledge on flimsy grounds and Tshabalala-Msimang, the widely despised Minister, returned.

Life expectancy declined from 62 years in 1992 to 51 in 2006, with a particularly steep decline in the late 1990s and early 2000s corresponding to the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the government’s atrocious response thereto. Lesotho, Swaziland and Botswana, the other countries hit by the pandemic, also saw their life expectancy decline during this period. A Harvard study estimated that over 330,000 people died unnecessarily during Mbeki’s presidency as a result of his denialist policies.

When Mbeki was removed from office in September 2008, and replaced by Kgalema Motlanthe, Tshabalala-Msimang was demoted and Barbara Hogan, a ANC MP known for her independence, became health minister. This marked the final end of Mbeki and co’s denialism, and the adoption of a much more pro-active AIDS strategy focused on treatment with ARVs. In 2009, with Jacob Zuma’s election, the new Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi continued the government’s welcome shift in policy. Motsoaledi has presided over a successful ARV program, the biggest such program in the world providing treatment to over 2 million people.

Education, healthcare and service delivery

One of the biggest concerns for the majority of South Africans is ‘service delivery’ – the delivery, by the three levels of government, of basic services including housing, sanitation, water, waste removal, flush toilets, electricity, public education and healthcare. There has been a significant increase in ‘service delivery protests’ in recent years, caused by local residents – especially in informal settlements – who protest the poor record of service delivery, corruption and politicians’ little interest in their concerns. A lot of these protests, especially in recent years, have turned violent with allegations of police brutality and a total of 43 deaths in such protests between 2004 and 2014. A recent Mail & Guardian post had interesting data on protests.

When the ANC took office in 1994, it faced the challenge of building a single education and healthcare system. Under apartheid, education and healthcare had been segregated – for example, black education was adminstered by a separate government department. Black education was massively underfunded by the government, of terrible quality and with a poor curriculum. HF Verwoerd’s Bantu Education Act (1953) aimed to provide black education ‘in conformity with their own tradition and needs’ (read: to prepare them for the unskilled migrant labour market). Since 1994, public education and healthcare is desegregated. But major racial inequalities remain – traditional white public schools are of higher quality than black public schools, and whites have the resources to access higher-quality healthcare in the private sector.

Public schools are allowed to charge additional fees, although parents can apply for full or partial reduction of fees and public schools may not legally refuse admission to children living in the vicinity. South Africa spends a comparatively large share of its GDP on education, but it has poor results in global education rankings – notably with reports which have ranked math and science education as the second worst in the world. School infrastructure is bad, with some schools lacking electricity and water and most schools lacking a stocked library. Particularly in poorer, black areas, teachers are often unqualified or under-qualified – it is said that up to 20% of teachers are absent on Mondays and Fridays, yet the government has been reluctant or unable to hold teachers to stricter standards, in part because of unions.

The Department of Basic Education seeks to convey the idea of improvements in education and a high-performing system by reporting the Matric (high school graduation exam) pass rate. In 2014, the Matric pass rate was the highest ever at 78%, up from 61% in 2009. However, very few people take the Matric pass rate seriously (even the department’s website states that ‘the matric pass rate on its own is not a good measure of academic achievement in the schooling system’). To begin with, the standards for passing some subjects are extremely low – 30% in some classes. Secondly, between the time students enter school and the time that they sit from their Matric, it is estimated that about half of them will drop out before reaching Grade 12. The statistics obscure the fate of that half, which dropped out. Because few people take the Matric seriously, only about 15% of them have marks which allow them to enter universities (which are made even more restrictive by tuition fees), forcing them to join trade schools or – oftentimes – swell the ranks of the unemployed youths. Employers complain that universities do a poor job of training graduates and bemoan the lack of skilled manpower, yet they take little interest in taking on and training poor, young unskilled workers themselves.

In 2012, the Limpopo textbook crisis symbolized how under-funding, mismanagement, incompetence, corruption and entrenched regional inequalities combine to degrade the quality of education. In January 2012, as the school year began, schools in the poor northern province of Limpopo reported that textbooks had not been delivered. The provincial department of education, in a state of total disrepair and financial crisis, had been placed under the administration over the Department of Basic Education in late 2011. Several deadlines and a first court order (after Section 27, a civil rights group, took the government to court demanding urgent delivery of textbooks) were not respected by the government, with the end result that by late June 2012, a lot/most of schools had not received their textbooks and full delivery was only completed by October 2012. The textbook saga was marred by allegations of fraud and corruption in the textbook procurement process, government mismanagement and incompetence in the delivery of textbooks and an campaign of misinformation and denialism by the Department (with Angie Motshekga, the Minister, denying that there was a crisis in education in the face of such damning evidence).

Healthcare remains marked by similar inequalities. Under the two-tiered healthcare system, the poorest 84% of the population relies on public healthcare while about 16% of South Africans have the financial resources necessary to attract a high-end, high quality private healthcare system. Although the private system covers only a small advantaged minority, it accounts for half of health expenditure in the country. The public system, for which most users pay user fees, faces issues including the lack of physicians, shortages of supplies and drugs and poor management between different administrative levels. Poorer South Africans, who rely on the public healthcare system which even the government admits works poorly, are also those most at risk for HIV, TB and infant mortality.

Foreign policy

South Africa’s post-apartheid foreign policy was to be based on the promotion of human rights, democracy, regional cooperation, poverty reduction in Africa and peacekeeping. While South Africa is no longer a pariah of international diplomacy and an increasingly major player on the global scene – with participation in the BRICS, the G20 and two terms as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, the actual direction of Pretoria’s diplomacy has often fallen far short of rhetoric.

President Thabo Mbeki eloquently expressed grand dreams for the ‘African Renaissance’ and took an active interest in the promotion of continental cooperation based on the values of democracy, rule of law, justice, human rights and socioeconomic development. Along with the presidents of Nigeria, Algeria and Senegal, Mbeki launched the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) as a policy framework positing the need for good governance, robust economic management, regional integration and the development of social infrastructure with the aim of reducing poverty. However, NEPAD quickly ran into criticism that it achieved nothing while the local South African left criticized it as a neoliberal ‘GEAR for Africa’ scheme. Mbeki’s dreams of African Renaissance and his general pan-Africanist demeanour raised eyebrows in South Africa, with some critics viewing the new direction as contrary to the ANC’s traditional values of non-racialism and Mandela’s goal of national reconciliation across racial lines.

The grand rhetoric of African Renaissance was mostly fluff, it turned out, when South Africa was confronted with neighboring Zimbabwe’s descent into chaos under Mugabe after 2000. Throughout his presidency, Mbeki stuck to a controversial policy of ‘quiet diplomacy’ with Zimbabwe, consisting of friendly engagements with Mugabe and tame ‘commitments’ which Mugabe almost never respected. Mbeki resisted international criticism of his ineffective policy, and refused to condemn Mugabe’s authoritarian rule despite the economic collapse of the country, the collapse of democratic institutions, rigged elections, intimidation of the opposition and the plight of the thousands who suffered at the hangs of Mugabe’s regime. After the 2008 elections, which Mugabe actually lost, South Africa and the SADC negotiated a power-sharing agreement between Mugabe and the opposition, with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai serving as Prime Minister of a national unity cabinet. But when it became evident that Mugabe was reneging on his end of the deal and effectively using the power-sharing agreement to undermine Tsvangirai, South Africa did nothing.

Mbeki and South Africa’s attitude towards Zimbabwe stemmed from their determination to ensure regional stability. About two million Zimbabweans immigrated to South Africa, joining the ranks of thousands of other African immigrants, placing strains on service delivery and creating major tensions with black South Africans. The end of Mbeki’s presidency, in 2008, was marred by violent xenophobic riots in the black townships in urban South Africa. Within the alliance, COSATU and the SACP were very critical of Mbeki’s position and advocated for a tougher stance. While Mbeki denounced the Zimbabwean opposition, the MDC, as being in the hands of the CIA, COSATU leaders met with MDC leaders on several occasions. Some have speculated that Mbeki’s anti-MDC and pro-Mugabe position stemmed from domestic strategic calculations – given that the MDC grew out of the Zimbabwean union movement, Mbeki might have believed that success for the MDC might embolden COSATU to follow a similar partisan route and break its alliance with the ANC.

Although Jacob Zuma was more critical of Mugabe, under his presidency since 2009, South Africa’s position towards Mugabe hardly changed. In 2013, South Africa was quick to congratulate Mugabe on his reelection and recognize the results of the vote.

Polokwane: Jacob Zuma vs. Thabo Mbeki

Thabo Mbeki, a Xhosa from the Transkei like Nelson Mandela, was the son of ANC-SACP activist Govan Mbeki, one of the Rivonia Trialists who spent 24 years imprisoned on Robben Island with Mandela. Thabo spent most of the struggle years in exile, after receiving his post-secondary degrees in Britain, and by the late 1980s he was one of the leading ANC negotiators who met with officials of the apartheid regime in secret meetings. After 1994, Mbeki, the leading Deputy President in Mandela’s cabinet, slowly imposed himself as the technocratic administrator of the country (Mandela taking a more symbolic role as the national re-conciliator) and later as Mandela’s heir apparent within the ANC – sidelining rivals such as Cyril Ramaphosa and Matthews Phosa (the Premier of Mpumalanga), both of whom would latter become leading opponents of Mbeki. In 1997, Mbeki was elected ANC President at the Mafikeng Conference of the ANC and in 1999, with the ANC’s landslide victory in the second democratic elections, Mbeki became President of the Republic.

Mbeki is a complex man – fairly cold, distant, aloof, suspicious, insecure and even paranoid. His presidency was marked by the centralization of powers in the office of the President, the rigid enforcement of party dogma and the party line in the ANC parliamentary caucus and a much weakened Parliament which lost most of its independence. Mbeki largely surrounded himself with nonthreatening yes-men, people like Essop Pahad, Mbeki’s top right-hand man and ‘enforcer’ in the office of the presidency. Mbeki, a fairly well-read and intelligent man (notwithstanding his AIDS denialism and tendency for paranoid rants), was uncomfortable in public setting – his image is that of a tweed-wearing, pipe-smoking Anglophile intellectual, but with ideological sympathies for pan-Africanism which differentiated him from the ANC’s Freedom Charter tradition of non-racialism. Clearly insecure and even paranoid, Mbeki saw plots all around him – he became famous for his diatribes and rants against white racists or other shady groups who conspired against South African democracy. Mbeki had little tolerance for dissent within the party, and as the episode of the arms deal inquiry reveals, any hint of dissent from party/cabinet dogma was quickly and ruthlessly dealt with. Ultimately, Mbeki’s policies (on AIDS, Zimbabwe, GEAR etc) style of governance alienated a large section of the ANC top brass and the party membership. COSATU and SACP, alienated from Mbeki due to disagreements over GEAR, AIDS and Zimbabwe, rallied against Mbeki, as did the traditionally radical ANC Youth League (ANCYL).

Jacob Zuma is an opposite personality from Mbeki. A Zulu from rural KZN (Nkandla), Zuma received no formal education – unlike Mbeki, the British-educated academic – and joined the ANC in his teens. Zuma, active in MK (the ANC’s armed wing), spent ten years on Robben Island in the 1960s, continuing the armed struggle from exile in neighboring countries or underground in South Africa. After 1994, Zuma served as a provincial cabinet minister (MEC) in KZN but rose through the ranks of the national leadership to become ANC Deputy President in 1997 and Deputy President of South Africa in 1999.

Zuma is a friendlier and jovial man, who appears less insecure and paranoid than Mbeki and certainly far more at ease in public settings. Zuma is a chameleon, in that he can be different things to different audiences – donning a suit and tie and a more polished speech for a crowd of businessmen or white South Africans, or appearing either in traditional Zulu garb or in t-shirts preaching a more radical for a crowd of ANC supporters. In his personal life, Zuma is a polygamist who has been married six times and currently has four wives. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zuma’s second wife (divorced since 1998), is a prominent ANC politician who served as health minister under Mandela, foreign minister under Mbeki and home affairs minister until 2012 in her ex-husband’s cabinet. She is currently the chairperson of the African Union Commission. He married his most recent wife in 2012. Zuma has had at least 20 children with his wives, with rumours of more kids born out of wedlock. In 2010, when Zuma was President, the revelation that one of Zuma’s mistresses had given birth to a daughter caused a political scandal in South Africa.

Zuma is rather keen on his Zulu cultural heritage, appearing dressed in traditional Zulu attire for traditional dances or marriages. In his campaign for the leadership of the ANC, Zuma’s opponents drew attention to the heavy use of ethnic and ‘tribal’ rhetoric by Zuma’s supporters (Zuma as the ‘100% Zulu boy’), in contradiction with the ANC’s traditions.

Between 2005 and 2007, the height of the Mbeki-Zuma civil war, the battle was often presented in ideological terms as a battle between the centre/right of the party under Mbeki and the left of the party, under a populist Zuma who had the backing of COSATU, the SACP and the fiery and controversial radical future head of the ANCYL, Julius Malema. Malema famously told supporters that he was ‘ready to kill’ for Zuma, and he was a fan of the controversial struggle song ‘Kill the Boer’. Zuma was, rhetorically, to the left of Mbeki and his style definitely made him the more populist leader of the two. However, a lot of the civil war boiled down to a complex clash of factions and personalities in a party which has always been a delicate coalition of different and unstable factions, provincial sections and personalities (in a way, not too dissimilar from the NP!). In 2007, there was also an ethnic element in the battle. One one of the ANC’s main achievements has been its ability to draw and hold together a coalition made up of different, distinct and sometime rival linguistic/ethnic groups (‘tribes’), something which has a lot to do with popular black rejection of the NP’s ‘divide and conquer’ strategy of emphasizing ‘tribalism’ and the ‘nations’ of the wider black population. Nevertheless, the ANC under Mandela and Mbeki, two Xhosa from the Eastern Cape (and the former Transkei homeland), sometimes irked non-Xhosa blacks – the ANC received the moniker ‘Xhosa Nostra’ to denote frustration with the EC/Xhosa’s extended hold on power and office. Zuma’s main power base was his native KZN, traditionally the black province which had been the ANC’s weakest link, but to style his coalition an ‘ethnic’ one, despite the ethnically-charged rhetoric of his supporters, would be wrong. He was supported by a majority of provincial branches at the 2007 Conference. Mbeki’s style had alienated a good deal of the ANC’s members and leaders from him, allowing Zuma to put together a strong coalition of the malcontents.

Mbeki’s decision (see above) to fire Jacob Zuma from his office as Deputy President of the country days after Zuma’s corrupt business partner, Schabir Shaik, had been convicted of taking bribes for Zuma from a French weapons firm, began a deep internal crisis within the ANC which led to Zuma’s election to the ANC presidency in 2007 and Mbeki’s removal from office by the ANC in September 2008. Although Mbeki was constitutionally ineligible for a third term as President in 2009, he fully intended to succeed himself as ANC President to ensure that he could pick a loyal ally to replace him as President in 2009.

Zapiro cartoon of Jacob Zuma and his showerhead

Jacob Zuma was charged with corruption by the NPA in June 2005. In December 2005, Zuma faced another scandal – he was charged with raping a 31-year old woman, the daughter of a deceased ANC comrade, at Zuma’s home in the Johannesburg area. Zuma admitted that he had had sex with her, but claimed that it was consensual. Zuma’s supporters claimed that their man was victim of a judicial persecution organized by Mbeki, a claim lent some credence when the young woman’s credibility was called into question during the trial. Nevertheless, Zuma and his supporters drew controversy to themselves. Zuma, who had unprotected sex with the woman, claimed that he had protected himself from contracting HIV by ‘vigorously showering’ afterwards, a comment which drew both criticism and derision. Zapiro, one of South Africa’s leading cartoonists, continues to depict Zuma with a shower attached to his head. Zuma’s supporters strongly defended his innocence, using disturbing rhetoric which was often misogynistic, vilifying Zuma’s accuser, burning effigies of her and shouting abuse. Zuma aptly made use of Zulu traditions to add an element of cultural sensitivity to the trial, which was presided by a white judge. Zuma claimed that he knew she wanted to have sex because she wore only a wrap and allowed Zuma to massage her, and concluded by saying that, in Zulu culture, it is not acceptable to leave a woman aroused without having sex with her. During the trial, Zuma spoke in his native isiZulu and addressed his supporters in isiZulu, and excited them with his rendition of the struggle song Umshini wami (bring me my machine gun). In May 2006, Zuma was found not guilty in a controversial trial.

Zuma’s corruption-arms deal trial was a roller-coaster ride. In September 2006, a High Court struck the NPA’s case against Zuma from the roll, after the NPA had asked for more time to prepare their case (after years of preparation). Zuma proclaimed himself an innocent man, and suddenly found new appreciation for the judiciary, after accusing it of being part of a witch-hunt against him.

In December 2007, at a tense ANC Conference in Polokwane, Jacob Zuma was elected President of the ANC, winning 60.2% of the vote against 39.3% for Mbeki. Zuma’s list swept the races for the four other executive positions – Kgalema Motlanthe became ANC Deputy President, Baleka Mbete became ANC National Chairperson, Gwede Mantashe became ANC Secretary-General (defeating Mbeki ally and defence minister, Mosiuoa ‘Terror’ Lekota), Thandi Modise became ANC Deputy Secretary-General and Matthews Phosa became ANC Treasurer (defeating Deputy President of South Africa, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka). The Mbeki camarilla was trounced in elections for the ANC’s National Executive Council (NEC), which was topped by Mandela’s ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. From the Mbeki list for the NEC, only Ramaphosa (not clear why he was on the Mbeki list, given his 1997 and 2001 conflicts with him), Trevor Manuel and three other names were elected to the NEC. Essop Pahad, Alec Erwin, Jabu Moleketi and Manto Tshabalala-Msimang were defeated. Zuma supporters such as Jeff Radebe, Lindiwe Sisulu, Tokyo Sexwale, Blade Nzimande (from the SACP), Ace Magashule, Valli Moosa, Tony Yengeni, Siphiwe Nyanda (like Yengeni, a beneficiary of EADS bribes), Derek Hanekom and Bheki Cele (later appointed as police commissioner) were all elected.

The national battle at Polokwane also unfolded at the provincial level, with ugly battles for control of the provincial branches of the ANC in nearly every province. The conflict was particularly brutal in the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape, two provinces whose delegates to Polokwane had backed Mbeki. In the EC, the pro-Mbeki Premier, Nosimo Balindlela, was ousted from office thanks to pressures from COSATU and the SACP, although she was replaced by another Mbeki supporter, suggesting other issues were important. In the WC, the pro-Mbeki Premier, Ebrahim Rasool, who had already struggled with a local ANC divided between blacks and Coloureds, was removed from office by the NEC in July 2008. In most other provinces, there were factional conflicts for the control of the provincial executive.

Mbeki remained President of South Africa, but as even more of a lame-duck, having lost control of the party and being placed under very close watch by the Zuma-led ANC NEC. Mbeki lost interest in leading the country, devoting himself to the foreign trips he so enjoyed and the protection of Jackie Selebi (see above). In early 2008, South Africa was hit by power cuts which seriously weakened Mbeki’s image as the successful economic manager/technocrat. The power shortages owed to a major increase in the demand for electricity while the government refused to invest in expanding electricity infrastructure and corruption in Eskom, the state-owned electricity company. In May 2008, xenophobic riots against black African immigrants killed over 40 people, putting a terrible black eye on South Africa’s notion as the ‘rainbow nation’. Mbeki’s handling of the riots – he went off to a conference in Japan during the riots, and he dithered about calling in the army.

In late December 2007, only a week after Polokwane, the NPA recharged Zuma with fraud, corruption, racketeering and money laundering. As he had done in 2006, between 2007 and 2008, Zuma’s legal team did all it could to ensure that their client never appeared before a court and to prevent the NPA from gaining access to compromising evidence (centered around a fax in which Thomson agreed to the bribery deal with Shaik and Zuma). In September 2008, Judge Chris Nicholson ruled Zuma’s recharging to be null and void because the NPA had broken the constitution by denying Zuma the right to make representation. What retained attention, however, was Nicholson’s controversial statement that there had been political interference (by Mbeki) in the case against Zuma, alleging that Mbeki’s Ministers of Justice had influenced the independent NPA (citing the suspension of Pikoli and the timing of the new charges against Zuma, right on the heels of Polokwane). Nicholson did not rule Zuma to be guilty or innocent, and even called for a commission of inquiry into the arms deal. Mbeki applied to appeal the ruling, decrying the ‘improper, vexatious, scandalous and prejudicial findings’ against him.

For the ANC, the Nicholson ruling was too much. On September 19-20, days after Nicholson’s ruling on September 12, the ANC NEC met and voted to impeach Mbeki. Mbeki was under no constitutional obligation to resign, given that the President may only be removed from office by Parliament, but, as a loyal ANC member and committed to the country’s stability, Mbeki obediently bowed to the NEC’s decision to remove him from office – and very speedily at that – by September 21, he was announcing his resignation in a TV address and by September 25, Mbeki was out of office. The Parliament elected Kgalema Motlanthe, the generally respected ANC Deputy President and ‘soft’ Zuma supporter, to the Presidency. It was understood that Motlanthe’s presidency would hold the chair warm for Zuma until the 2009 elections. He retained ministers like Trevor Manuel from Mbeki’s cabinet, while hardened Mbeki loyalists such as Pahad, Erwin, Moleketi (and his wife), Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and Lekota left government.

In January 2009, the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that Nicholson had incorrectly interpreted the constitution in faulting the NPA for not allowing Zuma the right to make representation, and ruled that Nicholson’s allegations against Mbeki overstepped the limits of his authority. However, on April 6, 2009, less than a month before the 2009 election, the NPA announced that it was dropping all charges, after new revelations confirming political interference by then-NPA boss Bulelani Ngcuka to favour Mbeki. However, the NPA reiterated that it felt that it had a strong case against Zuma and praised the behaviour of the prosecuting team.

President Jacob Zuma

In April 2009, the ANC was reelected in a landslide (with 65.9%), albeit the ANC’s vote share declined for the first time (down by about 4%). Zuma was elected President by Parliament in May. Kgalema Motlanthe, the ANC’s Deputy President, became Deputy President of South Africa. Pravin Gordhan replaced Manuel as Minister of Finance, although Manuel was placed as Minister in charge of the National Planning Commission and Gordhan had similar macroeconomic views to his predecessor. Jeff Radebe became Minister of Justice, Siphiwe Nyanda obtained communications, Tokyo Sexwale became Minister of Human Settlements and the SACP’s Secretary-General Blade Nzimande became Minister of Higher Education and Training.

Zuma’s presidency began relatively well. Before his election, there had been major concerns that Zuma’s presidency would mean a further swing towards authoritarianism while the h0t-headed declarations of some ANC, SACP and ANCYL stalwarts about the judiciary led to concerns about the independence of the judiciary under a Zuma presidency. Although the new government quickly abolished the Scorpions, the investigative arm of the NPA which had played a major role in prosecuting Zuma, Yengeni and Shaik (the ANC members at Polokwane had adopted a plank calling for the Scorpions to be abolished), the worst fears about an authoritarian lurch did not really come true. For example, the controversial judge and Zuma ally John Hlophe (who had received payments from a firm while ruling on a case pertaining to said firm) was not placed on the President’s list of nominees for the Constitutional Court. Instead, Sandile Ngcobo, an independent justice, became Chief Justice. In 2011, however, the nomination of Mogoeng Mogoeng as Chief Justice sparked controversy, mainly because of Mogoeng’s reputation as a Christian conservative. Zuma’s other appointments, for example to head the Reserve Bank, were also praised. On the other hand, Mo Shaik, the other brother of Chippy and Schabir, was named to head the secret service.

The incoming government also promised to be tough on corruption, but it quickly turned out that that was for show. S’bu Ndebele, a former Premier of KZN and the new Minister of Transport, was soon accused of having accepted bribes, gifts and trinklets from a group of road building contractors. In 2010, the wife of the Minister of State Security, Siyabonga Cwele, was arrested and charged with drug-trafficking. The heads of parastatals such as Armscor (the arms procurement agency, which already has a bad rap from the arms deal) and Transnet (a large rail, port and pipeline management company) were sacked or suspended in corruption cases. Beginning in the summer of 2011, Bheki Cele, the National Commissioner of the SAPS, was accused by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela of unlawful conduct in a multi-million dollar deal with a business tycoon (and friend of Zuma) over lease deals and police stations. In December 2011, the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled invalid Zuma’s appointment of Menzi Simelane, a former Department of Justice top bureaucrat who had scuttled the arms deal investigations and was later humiliated in the Ginwala inquiry into the Pikoli dismissal (Ginwala’s report blamed him for misleading the Minister), to be National Director of Public Prosecutions (the NPA). In October 2012, the Constitutional Court upheld the lower court’s decision. In 2011, Sicelo Shiceka, the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, was finally fired after Madonsela had found him guilty of spending over R1 million of public money on private first-class air travel and luxury hotel, reportedly visiting a convicted drug-dealing girlfriend in jail in Switzerland. In October 2011, Cele was suspended (and the Minister of Public Works, also involved in the lease scandal, was fired) and finally fired in June 2012 by President Zuma. Mac Maharaj, an ANC struggle veteran who fell into disgrace under Mbeki but returned as Zuma’s official spokesperson, has faced allegations that he and his wife took kickbacks from Schabir Shaik on a drivers’ license deal when he was Minister of Transport under Mandela. In 2012, Maharaj threatened Mail & Guardian journalists with criminal charges when they sought to publish details of a confidential interview which the Maharaj spouses gave to the Scorpions in 2003; in 2013, the same newspaper published details obtained from Maharaj’s estranged sister-in-law which added new evidence to confirm allegations that the two had received kickbacks from Shaik in 1996.

Special Investigation Unit (SIU) probes into corruption in the public sector uncovered a pitiful scene. The Social Security Agency, which handles the millions of grant payments, was found to be riddled with fraud. Top bureaucrats in the Passenger Rail Agency, the language board, the state communications regulator, the SAPS’s crime intelligence division and the postal service were suspended over allegations of corruption. The SIU estimated that about 30 billion rands are wasted annually through overpayment and corruption. Other investigations reported billions of rands’ worth of improperly awarded tenders, often awarded to friends and families.

Jacob Zuma has been in hot water over his ties to the Gupta brothers, three Indian businessmen who have built close ties with Zuma and his family (his son is in business with them). In April 2013, the Gupta controversy became ‘Guptagate’ when a plane filled with Gupta family friends and guests to a wedding (being held at Sun City, South Africa’s famous gaudy casino resort) landed at Waterkloof air force base, sparing them from customs and immigration but raising huge security risks. Officials and police officers were axed during investigations. Zuma did not personally authorize the landing, but a military officer under investigation claimed she facilitated the landing believing instructions allegedly emanating from Zuma and/or his office.

The Protection of State Information Bill, aka the secrecy bill, has been the subject of political controversy since 2010. The bill replaces a 1982 act on information protection, and controversially proposes to impose tough 25-year jail terms for leaking of classified documents and stiff penalties including jail terms for disclosure of other classified information. The bill defines ‘national interest’ very broadly and vaguely, although amendments by the NCOP in 2012 narrowed the definition and made other changes to protect with exemptions for the public interest and limited the bill’s scope. The lower house passed an amended bill in April 2013, but Zuma sent the bill back for reconsideration by the National Assembly in September 2013, which sent it back to Zuma in November 2013. The bill has been criticized by the opposition parties, COSATU and a wide range of civil society organizations. Since 2010, the bill has been vastly improved to respond to criticism, with a more limited scope (no longer covers commercial information, no longer overrides the Access to Information Act, limited to cabinet and security agencies) and narrower definitions of key terms (national security, national interest), but remains controversial with still open-ended definitions of national security, vague wording of ‘economic and technological secrets’ and major concerns over penalties for possession and disclosure of classified information. The bill is likely to end up in front of the Constitutional Court.

The economy and the NDP

Zuma’s election did not see a significant shift to the left in economic policy. When Zuma took power, South Africa’s robust economic growth were a thing of the past and the country was hit by the global recession in 2009, unlike most of Africa. South Africa’s economy, based partly on struggling manufacturing (notably cars) and mining sectors, is more closely connected to the global economy and is vulnerable to fluctuations in the European and North American economies. Once in office, much to the COSATU and SACP’s chagrin, Zuma did not signal any shift away from the pragmatic and orthodox policies followed by his predecessor. In the first budget in 2010, Gordhan resisted pressure from the left to drop inflation-targeting in favour of an economic policy based on growth and job creation. That budget’s only concession to COSATU was the extension of the age limit for child-support grants from 15 to 18, an ANC election promise in 2009.

COSATU’s recriminations against Zuma began as early in 2009, with an unsuccessful court challenge to an agreement to sell 15% of a subsidiary of the parastatal telecom operator Telkom to Vodafone. COSATU threatened strikes over wages and interest rates; in 2009 and 2010, the country was rocked by strikes in factories and the public sector demanding wage increases. In September 2010, the country was paralyzed by public sector strikes from employees, backed by COSATU, demanding higher wages.

While Mbeki had been autocratic in his management of government business, Zuma has largely tried to avoid confrontation and taking big decisions (or delaying them as long as possible). In doing so, Zuma has been accused of being vacillating, indecisive and certainly very un-innovative in his handling of the country.

Because of the economic crisis and wildcat strikes in many economic sectors, Zuma’s presidency has been marked by a deteriorating job situation, with an increase in the official unemployment numbers from 4.2 million in 2009 to over 5 million, or 24.4% to 25.2%. As noted above, the job situation is particularly catastrophic for young South Africans, well over half of whom are unemployed or discouraged. The government was widely accused of lacking a coherent plan to create jobs, until it gave in to the opposition’s demands in late 2013 and passed a bill creating a ‘youth wage subsidy’, which went into effect for New Year’s 2014 after being a issue of hot political debate between the ANC, COSATU and the opposition for over three years. The youth wage subsidy is, in essence, a tax break for employers to encourage them to take on young workers. The new law allows employers to claim back half the salary of a young employee (18-29) earning at least R2000 a month. COSATU has been strongly opposed to the youth wage subsidy; while its opposition may stem from grubby attempts to keep their older members from losing their jobs to young recruits, there is a strong case made against the new law which does not address the core issues of youth unemployment – the lack of training, and, arguably, the absence of flexible labour legislation.

At the end of the term, two bills dealing with mining and private security industries were criticized. A mining bill would allow the state to take a 20% stake in any new petroleum venture, and allows for the state to purchase a larger stake with an output sharing deal. The security bill would limit foreign ownership in private security firms to 49%, worrying two British security firms with large investment in what is a growing and profitable sector in South Africa. Taken with the 2013 amendments to the EE and BEE laws, detailed above, the government is accused of weakening property rights, reducing private sector autonomy, threatening businesses with draconian penalties and deterring foreign investment.

Led by Trevor Manuel, the National Planning Commission drafted a National Development Plan (NDP), a sort of roadmap for South Africa’s next 20 years until 2030 which has been championed by Zuma, the ANC, the SACP and some opposition parties. The NDP’s two main objectives are to reduce the number people living under the lower-bound poverty line (R419 per month, per person) from 39% to 0% and to reduce the Gini coefficient from 0.69 to 0.6. Other goals to be achieved by 2030 include reducing unemployment to 6%; increasing employment from 13 million to 24 million in 2030; raising per capita income from R50,000 to R120,000 by 2030; increasing the share of national income of the bottom 40% from 6% to 10%; ensuring that skilled, technical, professional and managerial posts better reflect the country’s demographic makeup; broadening ownership of assets to historically disadvantaged groups; increasing the quality of education; affordable access to quality health care; universal access to running water at home and a social security system covering all working people. It calls for annual GDP growth of 5.4%, and a particular emphasis is placed on education with calls for improved standards, universal access to education, measures to allow employers to recruit young labour market entrants and expanding youth services programs. Largely, the NDP reads a wishlist of laudable goals, but the actions proposed to reach these goals are poorly detailed and the NDP serves mostly as a vague policy proposal or blueprint for more coherent action.

However, the NDP has divided the alliance. Parts of COSATU have criticized the NDP, drawing comparisons to the (in)famous GEAR and saying that the document reeks of neoliberalism and ‘right-wing’ thinking. It drew attention to the unambitious targets for reducing inequality, which would remain extremely high by world standards in 2030 (the NDP’s definition of poverty is also very conservative) under the NDP’s scenario; this contrasts with perhaps overly ambitious job creation targets, which the left fears would just create low-quality jobs in small businesses and the private sector. The NDP’s proposed actions are vague, and generally reflect a mix of interventionist government actions and neoliberal measures with limited government intervention, but on the issue of jobs, it takes a liberal stance with a clear focus on private sector/small business job creation (tax incentives, like the youth wage subsidy), export-led growth and a clear call for deregulation and economic liberalization. COSATU criticized the NDP for the focus on a job strategy which would create low-wage, unproductive jobs in the service sector rather than manufacturing, and the export-driven strategy which it claims exposes the country to competition, force a focus on ‘niche exports’ rather than industrial policy and attraction to the NEPAD (allegedly neoliberal) model of regional development. The NDP reiterates GEAR’s macroeconomic prescriptions, arguing for the need to reduce ‘consumption spending’ in favour of ‘investment spending’ and a quasi-exclusive focus on economic growth rather than development. COSATU was critical of the NDP’s stances on the labour market, which called for the youth wage subsidy, flexible labour laws, reducing entry-level wages (the NDP admits that the initial wages in the new jobs to be created will be low), linking wage growth to productivity growth, reducing the cost of doing business and calls for public sector reforms. Supporters of the plan have said that, while imperfect, the NDP nevertheless offers a clear image of where the country should be in 2030, and stressed the NDP’s inclusive character. The NDP has been pushed by the ANC, but nevertheless not much has been done to move it forward, perhaps because of resistance from ‘statist’ Ministers such as Ebrahim Patel and Rob Davies.

An IMF report in late 2013 predicted continued sluggish economic growth and higher current account deficits, leaving the economy exposed to both internal and external shocks. It called for quicker structural reforms to promote competition, trade liberalization, limiting the practice of extending collective bargaining outcomes to firms that did not participate in the bargaining and improved education outcomes.

Labour disputes, Marikana and the fate of COSATU

In August 2012, miners at a platinum mine owned by Lonmin in Marikana (North West province), in the platinum belt centered around Rustenburg, began wildcat strikes demanding a wage increase (tripling their monthly salaries to R12,500 per month)  and denouncing unsafe mining conditions, squalid living conditions and a lack of opportunities. Protests in early August were fairly non-violent, although about 10 people died in various clashes and incidents before August 16. On August 16, a SAPS contingent opened fire on a group of striking miners, killing 34 and wounding at least 78 – the shocking and horrendous incident, the Marikana Massacre, was the single most lethal use of force against civilians committed by the police since the infamous Sharpeville Massacre in 1960. It is unclear what happened: the SAPS said that the miners were armed and refused to disarm, instead attacking police. The SAPS defended itself saying it had tried its best to deescalate the crisis and control the crowd, but the protests turned violent and the strikers attacked police. The protesters were armed, but it is murky whether they attacked/shot first and if the SAPS was indeed only acting in self-defense; there a number of signs indicating a disproportionate police response and that some protesters were brutally and deliberately shot and killed by police instead of being arrested. At the Farlam Commission, appointed by Zuma to investigate Marikana, victims’ families and supporters have decried a police cover-up of its actions while others have dismissed the whole commission as a calculated attempt by the government to whitewash its role.

There was massive outrage when 270 miners were charged with the murder of their 34 comrades killed by SAPS, using an apartheid-era law (which allows for anybody associated with criminal condct by one member of a crowd to be charged, even when not involved in the crime – the NP regime used it to prosecute MK fighters). After major outcry at home and abroad, the NPA ‘provisionally’ dropped the charges three days later.

On September 18, the striking miners reached an agreement to return to work, with a pay raise between 11% and 22% and a one-time bonus of R2,000.

In the background to the violent social conflict in the platinum belt was union rivalry, between the COSATU affiliate National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) – historically the dominant union in mines, and one of COSATU’s largest unions; and the independent Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), a union recognized in 2001 formed by NUM dissidents which had begun organizing in the platinum belt in 2011. The NUM/COSATU has been criticized by workers on the ground for losing touch with the demands and harsh conditions of mineworkers on the ground and of being associated with an increasingly unpopular and discredited government held responsible for the failure of service delivry and high unemployment. The NUM’s leadership is conservative and tame, while COSATU’s broader membership is aging and it struggling to attract younger workers. In Marikana, NUM members broke with their unions to join the strike, while the NUM/COSATU leadership (along with the SACP) opposed the strike and accused AMCU’s members of violence and sided with the SAPS’ reading of the events of the massacre. Early in the strike, before the massacre, NUM leaders allegedly opened fire on a group of NUM dissident members who had joined AMCU. As a result of the strike, AMCU saw its membership numbers explode, from less than 9,500 in 2011 to over 42,000 in 2012 – and probably more, given that company and chamber of mines reports show that AMCU had about 88,000 members in the platinum and gold mines by the end of 2013. In 2013 AMCU was recognized as the majority union, displacing the NUM, at South Africa’s three big platinum producers (Anglo-American, Implats, Lonmin). By the end of 2013, it was reported that AMCU was now expanding to gold mines in Gauteng province – where it now represents about 20% of unionized workers (against 61% for NUM) and is the majority union in three gold mines in the Carletonville area in Gauteng.

The (sometimes violent) battle for union supremacy between AMCU and the NUM in the platinum belt reflects COSATU’s bigger troubles. Although it remains South Africa’s largest union confederation and a crucial mobilizer of support for the ANC, with over 2 million members, COSATU (and the SACP) has lost a good deal of its credibility and legitimacy on the left as it is accused of being more interested by the spoils of power and jealously protecting their advantages rather than caring about workers’ rights and conditions. It is increasingly turning into an aristocratic and bureaucratic ‘labour elite’ and a union of skilled, white-collar government workers and civil servants, leaving an ever-larger number of dissatisfied workers turning to independent and radical unions such as AMCU. COSATU’s leaders have enriched themselves, many have been co-opted into the ANC leadership (Ramaphosa in the past, and now Gwede Mantashe, a former NUM leader) or into plush government jobs. In an increasingly hierarchic organization, COSATU’s shop stewards or shaft stewards have become full-time union bureaucrats who lose touch with the members they are supposed to represent The conditions are similar to those which, in the late 1940s, allowed the Afrikaner nationalists to seize control of the white mine workers’ union from a discredited, corrupt, tame and aristocratic leadership neglectful of their members – with the notable difference that the Christian National Afrikaner unions in the 1940s were conservatives funded by the nationalist petty bourgeoisie, while AMCU is a more radical movement.

COSATU’s decling influence is certainly one of the factors playing informing the political-strategic internal conflicts in the confederation. The internal warfare certainly has a lot to do with personality clashes and other internal calculations, but can be fairly accurately summarized as a conflict between those who think that COSATU should be more independent of the ANC leadership and not be afraid to come out against the ANC, and those who support COSATU’s close alliance with the ANC. COSATU’s secretary-general, Zwelinzima Vavi, gained prominence after 2005 and in the run-up to Polokwane as one of Zuma’s key backers in the conflict against Mbeki. Vavi, critical of corruption and of Mbeki’s policies on Zimbabwe or HIV/AIDS, quickly turned critical of Zuma, beginning with claims that the government was soft on corruption and warning that South Africa was becoming a ‘predatory state’. Those criticisms, which came as early as June 2010, led to the ANC threatening disciplinary action. Vavi continued to criticize ANC policy, notably on issues such as the NDP (which he considers to be neoliberal), corruption, government intervention in the economy, nationalization, land expropriation and redistribution of wealth. Vavi affirmed his right to be critical of ANC policy, but his behaviour clearly irked the ANC leadership and the more pro-ANC sections of COSATU were not as keen on criticizing the ANC. In the turf wars within COSATU, the union’s president, Sdumo Dlamini, opposed Vavi and became identified with a pro-Zuma and pro-ANC tendency within the union confederation. COSATU affiliates such as the NUM, the teacher’s unions (SADTU), the police union, the transport union SATAWU, and the health workers’ union (NEHAWU) have sided with Dlamini and found Vavi too critical of the ANC, while Vavi was backed by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), the other major union in COSATU besides the NUM, which has been critical of the government.

But while Vavi called on COSATU to take heed of what Marikana symbolized for the movement’s future, he has been accused of corruption in relation to the sale of COSATU’s old buildings at half their price. In 2013, Vavi faced a COSATU investigation into this scandal, an investigation which was used by his opponents in the leadership and large unions such as the NUM and SADTU to castigate him and it became clear that they were seeking to oust him, less than a year after Vavi was reelected as COSATU secretary-general despite attempts by pro-Zuma groups to defeat him. In May 2013, Vavi survived an executive commitee vote to remove him but continued the investigations. In July-August 2013, the internal fighting re-intensified as Vavi faced rape charges from a former aide. Vavi admitted that he had sex with her and apologized for the extra-marital affair, but denied charges of rape and claimed that the woman was trying to blackmail him; a fewv days later, she withdrew rape charges. Given the anti-Vavi movement in COSATU, Vavi’s allies suspected that the woman had been ‘planted’ (it was alleged that the NUM boss might have been behind it) and that he was being attacked for ‘standing up for the working-class’. Despite the charges being dropped, Vavi’s opponents opted to charge him with misconduct and bringing the movement into disrepute for having sex with her at the office. In mid-August, Vavi’s opponents managed to get him suspended awaiting a complete investigation. Vavi’s allies, NUMSA and the farm workers’ union (FAWU), were furious, decrying a witch-hunt against Vavi because he was a revolutionary socialist critical of Dlamini’s pro-ANC leadership and pressuring Dlamini to convene a special congress. In November, it was announced that a special congress would be held, but Dlamini’s clan has been delaying it until a report on Vavi’s corruption case (in relation to the sale of buildings) comes out.

The COSATU crisis got worse in December 2013, at a NUMSA congress. NUMSA, which presents itself as ‘revolutionary, socialist, anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist’, is the largest pro-Vavi and Zuma-critical affiliate in COSATU, which has been locked in a protracted conflict with the pro-ANC majority in COSATU. At its special congress, NUMSA took the decision that it would not support or campaign for the ANC in 2014, arguing that neither the ANC or SACP represented the working-class and that the ANC government was following neoliberal policies and failed to create ‘decent work’ as had been promised at Polokwane. It also took steps which confirm that NUMSA is seeking both to expand its reach (into the mining sector, to take on its top rival, the NUM) and to create a united front-embryo of a future left-wing political party to run against the ANC in future elections.

Vavi was charged by COSATU with serious misconduct, on various cases relating to the irregular hire, employment and supervision of the female employee he had sex with, as well as his use of Twitter to attack COSATU ‘comrades’. In April, the High Court in Johannesburg ruled Vavi’s suspension to be invalid. ANC Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa allegedly mediated a deal, shortly afterwards, to reinstate Vavi and keep NUMSA within COSATU – but all indicates it’s very much a temporary deal, given that Vavi’s opponents are still plotting to remove him while NUMSA is increasingly more anti-ANC and anti-COSATU.

The Malema dilemma

Zuma faced trouble from another prominent supporter at Polokwane – Julius Malema, the fiery former leader of the ANC Youth League (ANCYL). Traditionally the radical and more leftist faction within the ANC coalition, the ANCYL was – like COSATU and the SACP – drawn to Zuma in the hopes that he would shift away from Mbeki’s neoliberal policies, towards left-wing ‘pro-poor’ and ‘labour-friendly’ policies. As expounded above, there has been no such shift under the Zuma administration, creating dissatisfaction with Zuma’s radical erstwhile allies in the ANCYL. Adding to ideological factors, the ANCYL’s president, Malema, who is now 33, was an ambitious politician who clearly did not intend to play second-fiddle to Zuma within the ANC. Malema drew widespread controversy, at home and abroad, for his fiery rhetoric and his foul-mouthed tirades against his opponents (or opponents of his allies). When Malema supported Zuma, he famously said that he was ready to kill for Zuma and during the Zuma rape trial, he said that his accuser must have had a ‘nice time’ because she stayed for breakfast (a comment which earned him a conviction for hate speech). He called the leading opposition party’s leader a ‘racist’ and ‘cockroach’. In 2010, Malema drew controversy for a visit to Zimbabwe where he met with ZANU-PF officials and criticized the opposition MDC, a tirade against a BBC journalist who accused Malema of hypocrisy for lashing out at the MDC for having offices in the upscale Johannesburg suburb of Sandton when Malema himself lived in Sandton, and insensitive comments about white South Africans. Zuma was irked by Malema’s visit to Zimbabwer, which came as Pretoria was trying to broker an agreement between the two rival parties. Malema sung the highly controversial ‘shoot the Boer’ song at several political rallies, earning him a rebuke from the courts, which found the song ‘unconstitutional and unlawful’ (for inciting violence against whites) and banned him from singing the song. Nevertheless, Malema openly flouted the ruling. In May 2010, Malema survived an ANC disciplinary hearing for ‘bringing the organization into disrepute’; he narrowly escaped suspension by apologizing, pledging to take anger management classes and taking a fine (R10,000).

Malema and the ANCYL publicly called for the nationalization of mines and land expropriation without compensation, causing troubles for the ANC government in its dealings with investors. Although the ANC quickly moved to say that it was not government policy, the ANC was nevertheless compelled to give in to the powerful ANCYL by calling an ‘investigation’ into the question of nationalization in 2010. In 2011, Malema continued undermining Zuma’s authority in the ANC and was a source of embarrassment for the ANC, which often found itself doing damage control after an outburst by Malema. For example, Malema criticized Zuma’s controversial association with the Indian Gupta brothers, charging that they were ‘colonizing’ the country. The ANC leadership, especially Zuma, became increasingly annoyed and worried by Malema’s unruly behaviour. In August 2011, Malema’s declaration that he wanted to set up a ‘command team’ in Botswana to unite the opposition to the Botswana government was the straw which broke the camel’s back. The ANC charged Malema with bringing the organization into disrepute and sowing divisions. In November 2011, Malema was found guilty and suspended from the party for five years. In April 2012, Malema was expelled from the ANC.

Malema’s expulsion didn’t end the Malema dilemma for the ANC, it merely displaced it. Malema strongly supported the striking miners at Marikana in August 2012, and was extremely critical of the government’s behaviour during the crisis. He encouraged workers to continue their strike, and used the social crisis which followed Marikana as a platform for jabs against Zuma. In doing so, Malema aptly seized on an opening on the left – the SACP, which is hardly communist by this point, effectively sided with the government (against the strikers) in the aftermath of Marikana while most of COSATU was either too busy fighting their own internal squabbles or utterly discredited by the NUM’s rout at Marikana to actually do anything. Malema’s calls for ‘economic freedom in our lifetime’ struck a chord with the discontented.

Malema is not controversial only because of his provocative statements – there’s been a lot of questions about how a young guy, born and raised in poverty, managed to become so rich – designer clothes, luxury cars, an unfinished (now auctioned off) home in Johannesburg’s affluent northern suburbs. In 2012, a report by the Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, found that Malema (his trust) benefited from a fraudulent tender in his home province of Limpopo. A firm, in which Malema’s family trust is one of two shareholders, fraudulently obtained a government tender (by allegedly making false claims about its experience, qualifications and tax status) from the provincial government and Malema’s family trust benefited improperly by means of the payment of dividends or kickbacks by the firm. He was charged on 16 counts of money laundering, amounting to R4.58 million, on September 26 2013 by a court in Polokwane (Limpopo) and released on bail. The NPA’s argument is that Malema received and accepted the proceeds of crime, and that he should have known that he was benefiting from unlawful activities. According to Madonsela’s report, Malema is a ‘tenderpreneur’ – a well-connected individual who benefits improperly from government tenders. In April 2013, Malema’s trial was postponed to June. It has since been postponed to September 2014. Malema’s lawyers argued that the NPA ‘fabricated’ evidence against Malema in the case, while Malema has repeatedly vowed to fight the charges or that he is the victim of political persecution by the ANC.

Malema is also fighting tax evasion charges, with the revenue service saying that he owes R16 million in unpaid taxes. The asset forfeiture unit seized a farm owned by Malema and his unfinished mansion in Sandown, Johannesburg. In February 2014, a court placed him under provisional sequestration.


The endless corruption scandals, the weak economy, the strikes which had paralyzed the economy, the Marikana Massacre, Zuma’s weakness as a leader, the Malema dilemma, alliance divisions, local squabbles, personality clashes and the ANC’s recent Polokwane-induced tendency to air its dirty laundry in public all meant that Zuma would likely face a strong challenge to his hold on the ANC’s leadership at the party’s regular elective conference, in Mangaung (Bloemfontein) in December 2012. ANC leadership conferences from 1949 (when Mandela and his allies’ radical ANCYL faction toppled the moderate and bourgeois old guard) and 2008 were decided behind closed doors, and the choice for president was merely confirmed unanimously at the conference. For example, in the run-up to the 2002 conference, Mbeki’s security minister in 2001 had released a controversial report alleging a ‘plot’ against Mbeki by his rivals Matthews Phosa, Ramaphosa and Sexwale; as a result, Mbeki was reelected unopposed.

In the run-up to Mangaung, a vaguely defined and extremely heterogeneous grouping of ‘pro-change’ (anti-Zuma) malcontents rallied around Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, a mild-mannered and fairly respectable party stalwart although fairly risk-averse and cautious. The pro-change faction included the bulk of the Gauteng ANC, led by culture minister and former Premier Paul Mashatile (2008-2009); the Limpopo ANC, led by Premier Cassel Mathale, an ally of Julius Malema; and ambitious ANC senior politicians such as Tokyo Sexwale and Matthews Phosa (two Mbeki rivals who had backed Zuma at Polokwane, after failing to launch their own presidential bids). The ANCYL, first under Malema and then under a rebellious leadership which originally defended Malema (and refused to replace him) opposed Zuma, but acting ANCYL boss Ronald Lamola and Malema had a very public and foul-mouthed falling out in November 2012, after Lamola ordered the ANCYL to stop defending Malema in his corruption trial and rumours that Lamola was engaged in back-doors negotiations with Zuma’s faction. Other provinces were divided on the issue: in the North West, Premier Thandi Modise and the ANC provincial secretary backed Motlanthe while ANC chairperson Supra Mahumapelo firmly backed Zuma; in the Free State, Zuma ally and Premier Ace Magashule, a powerful political operator in the province, faced dissent from a pro-change minority; in KZN, the province largely remained loyal to native son Jacob Zuma and his ally Premier Zweli Mkhize, but axed SAPS chief Bheki Cele unsuccessfully tried to mobilize anti-Zuma opinion. In the Free State, Zuma opponents tried to take the pro-Zuma leadership to court over irregularities in the provincial delegate selection process; only days before the conference opened, the Constitutional Court ruled the Free State’s provincial elective conference invalid. In a confusing last-minute situation, Zuma’s allies nevertheless managed to allow the province’s largely pro-Zuma delegates to vote. The Eastern Cape, Northern Cape and Western Cape were also divided, but party branches in the first two provinces eventually broke heavily for Zuma while the WC went to Motlanthe.

Zuma received the support of a majority of party branches – the single largest ANC local branch in eThekwini (Durban) metro and the Mpumalanga ANC (with Premier David Mabuza), but also from strong minorities in pro-Motlanthe provinces (such as Gauteng, where some factions backed Zuma and Premier Nomvula Mokonyane was said to be supporting Zuma), the majority of a divided COSATU (with Sdumo Dlamini, who was elected to the ANC NEC), Blade Nzimande and the co-opted SACP, police minister Nathi Mthethwa, education minister Angie Motshekga (and her husband, the ANC chief whip), and the MK Veterans associations, who had been promoted to higher ranks in party hierarchy and benefited from a generous donation from the Gupta brothers. Zuma also attracted the support of former opponents, including one-time Malema ally and suspended ANCYL treasurer Pule Mabe.

In a lot of nomination battles, like in the Free State, there were widespread allegations of vote-rigging and ghost delegates.

Kgalema Motlanthe accepted the nominations he received for various offices, including ANC President, and at the conference he went all in by announcing that he would only stand for ANC President and would not concurrently stand for reelection as ANC Deputy President. Zuma was reelected with 75.1% against 24.9% of the vote for Motlanthe in the presidential race.

In the race for ANC Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, the trade unionist-turned-businessman, was elected with the backing of Zuma’s slate. He won 76.4% against 11.9% for Matthews Phosa (supported by the ANCYL) and 11.7% for Tokyo Sexwale, the two candidates standing for the pro-Motlanthe faction. Ramaphosa return to high-level politics with the number two spot in the ANC was rather controversial, with concerns over potential conflicts of interest but also questions about his behaviour at Marikana (he’s a shareholder in Lonmin, which owns the mine at Marikana). Emails obtained by the Farlam commission on Marikana showed Ramaphosa, the day before the massacre, urging on the police minister to intervene and describing the miners as ‘dastardly criminal’. The anti-Zuma forces on the left, notably the ANCYL, were predictably livid about this. Ramaphosa, who became very rich by entering the private sector, also carries the baggage of being one of the big ‘BEE fat cats’ – black ANC leaders who benefited from the elite pact of 1994 and got rich with BEE deals. Ramaphosa’s selection by the Zuma camp to be number 2 in the ANC was perceived as a positive signal given to business who had been worried by the ANC’s talk of nationalization, fast-track land reform, secrecy bills and taxes. It also created major buzz about Ramaphosa being next-in-line for the ANC and South Africa’s presidency in 2017 and 2019 respectively.

The conference also saw a confirmation of the government’s moderate economic policies, ruling out nationalization (in favour of ‘increasing state ownership in strategic sectors if necessary’) and land expropriation without compensation. It reaffirmed a inflation-targeting monetary policy, orthodox fiscal policies, promised to take on corruption and adopted the NDP as ANC policy. Ramaphosa, who had been deputy chair of the National Planning Commission, was expected to become the leader on the implementation of the NDP, with the political retirement of Trevor Manuel.

Zuma’s supporters swept the four other executive positions – Baleka Mbete was reelected as National Chairperson with 76.2% against 23.8% for Thandi Modise, Gwede Mantashe was reelected as Secretary-General with 77.2% against 22.8% for former ANCYL president and sports minister Fikile Mbalula, Jessie Duarte was elected as Deputy Secretary-General unopposed and KZN Premier Zweli Mkhize succeeded Matthews Phosa as Treasurer General with 75.7% against 24.3% for Paul Mashatile.

Zuma owed his victory to his team’s superior organization and coherence, in contrast with the divided pro-change camp. Zuma counted on strong support from key cabinet ministers, several provincial strongmen, minorities in pro-change provinces and his team was active in the run-up to the conference spreading messages that the pro-change team was ill disciplined and ‘un-ANC’. In contrast, Motlanthe himself largely lacked enthusiasm and willingness to campaign for the leadership (but at the same time, Ramaphosa barely campaigned for his new spot as ANC Deputy President).

In March 2013, after Mangaung, the ANC NEC disbanded the ANCYL’s NEC and the Limpopo ANC’s provincial executive. Limpopo, under Premier Cassel Mathale (a one-time Malema ally), had opposed Zuma’s reelection at Mangaung; Mathale was removed from office in July 2013 and replaced by uncontroversial Stan Mathabatha (Dickson Masemola, a Zuma ally who as MEC for education presided over the textbook debacle, was skipped over). Both decisions were seen as ‘purges’ directed against the anti-Zuma factions in the ANC. In January, the ANCYL leadership had pledged to toe the line but there had been strong pressure from Zuma and his allies in the ANC leadership to take tough actions against the ANCYL, which had backed Motlanthe at Mangaung.


The last stretch of Zuma’s first term in office has been hurt by Nkandlagate, one of the biggest corruption scandals in South Africa since the arms deal. Nkandla, as noted above, is Zuma’s traditional homestead in his native rural KZN, a house which he started building thanks to arms deal kickbacks. The scandal broke in November 2011 as the Mail & Guardian reported on the construction of underground bunkers at Nkandla, by a contractor which employs Zuma’s niece and at the cost of the state. The weekly newspaper claimed that the state was paying for lavish upgrades at Nkandla, with new living quarters, a clinic, gymnasium , parking, a helipad, a playground and new houses for security guard and visitors. In 2009, the newspaper had already reported about government-paid upgrades to the presidential homestead. In November 2012, the scandal broke again when Zuma addressed Parliament on Nkandla for the first time, claiming that his family had paid for the construction. The Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, launched a probe into the emerging scandal in late 2012. The ANC’s initial response into the scandal was uncoordinated and jumbled.

In January 2013, the ‘security cluster’ of ministers involved in Nkandlagate, led by Minister of Public Works Thulas Nxesi, released a classified report which recognized the state had spent, altogether, over R200 million on security upgrades at Nkandla and admitted irregularities in the choice of service providers, but the report defended the necessity for ‘security upgrades’ and – most importantly – cleared Zuma of any wrongdoing. The Department of Public Works took the blame for ‘systemic weaknesses’ (‘inadequate management capacity and poor financial controls’) in the department. The full report was finally released in December 2013.

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s investigation into Nkandla clearly panicked the ruling party. In November 2013, the ‘security cluster’ ministers went to court to try to interdict the release of her report, claiming it needed more time to respond to her provisional report and to vet ‘national security breaches’ in the report. Two weeks later, in the face of controversy, they dropped their request. A few days later, Madonsela stated that she would have final say over what the report said and that she would not allow ‘security cluster’ ministers to dictate to her. She regretted having shown the ministers her provisional report in the first place, given that they abused her trust by taking the issue to court. In late November, a controversial leak of the provisional report by the Mail & Guardian‘s investigative journalists said that Madonsela’s report had found that Zuma derived ‘substantial personal benefit’ from the Nkandla upgrades.

Madonsela’s final report was released in March 2014. On the whole, it was a damning report both for the government and for Zuma himself. Implementation of the security measures (which she judged to be necessary) failed to comply with parameters set out in legislation and cabinet directives on the matter. The government ‘failed dismally’ to follow supply chain management prescripts, with the absence of demand management, the lack of open tenders and the employment of Zuma’s principal architect as the government’s ‘principal agent’ (creating a conflicting situation) – all of which resulted in ‘scope creep’ leading to ‘exponential scope and cost escalations’. The scope of the project far exceeded what was required for the President’s security – notably the construction of a visitors’ centre, a new cattle kraal with a chicken run, a swimming pool, an amphitheatre, extensive paving and the relocation of neighbours; these measures, she said, involved ‘unlawful action and constitutes improper conduct and maladministration’. The ministerial task team report had defended even these lavish expenditures as security upgrades, presenting the swimming pool as a ‘fire pool’ and the amphitheatre as a ‘retaining wall’. Madonsela further faulted the government for building these new amenities in the compound, rather than in a location accessible to the local public where it could have benefited the local population of Nkandla. She found that the costs incurred by the state – including for buildings which went beyond what was required for security – was ‘unconscionable, excessive, and caused a misappropriation of public funds’. Madonsela found that Zuma and his family improperly benefited from upgrades (because of ‘substantial value being unduly added to the President’s private property’ and the installation of non-security essential upgrades).

Madonsela’s findings dinged the Department of Public Works for failing to resolve the issue of items earmarked for the owners’ cost transparently. Officials in the Departments of Public Works, Defence and the SAPS ‘failed to acquaint themselves with the authorizing instruments’, acts constituting ‘improper conduct and maladministration’. The employment of Zuma’s principal architect as the government’s principal agent created a major conflict of interest and allowed for ‘scope creep’, cost escalation and poor performance by contractors. Madonsela found that “the President tacitly accepted the implementation of all measures at his residence and has unduly benefited from the enormous capital investment from the non-security installations at his private residence, a reasonable part of the expenditure towards the installations that were not identified as security measures in the list compiled by security experts in pursuit of the security evaluation, should be borne by him and his family”. Zuma should therefore repay the cost of ‘items that can’t be conscionably accepted as security measures’. She did not find Zuma guilty of misleading Parliament in November 2012, however, Zuma failed to ask questions about the ‘scale, cost and affordability’ of Nkandla. His failure to ‘act in protection of state resources’ constitutes a breach of the executive ethics code and amounts to unconstitutional behaviour. Instead of raising red flags about the costs, Zuma instead complained that the upgrades weren’t happening fast enough. Madonsela estimated the total cost of the project at R246 million, far exceeding the costs of security upgrades to former President’s houses in the past, the highest of which was a R32 million project at Mandela’s house.

Her report spoke of ‘administrative deficiencies’ and ‘systemic policy gaps’ which led to the inflation of costs. Her final report did not include substantial changes from the provisional report leaked by the M&G. Her report said that she had resisted countless attempts by the government to interfere in her investigation, to limit its scope or even shut it down. The M&G’s journalists had, at the time, estimated the costs of the non-security essential upgrades at R20 million and that the state had paid Zuma’s team of contractors over R90 million.

The government accepted that Zuma would need to repay the state, but reiterated their view that all measures, including the pool, cattle kraal and additional structures were “necessary for the security of the president”. Zuma himself tried to distance himself from government decision-making, having previously insisted that he had no say in how the government handles his personal security. However, Madonsela’s report and other documents obtained showed that Zuma was consulted on the upgrades on several occasions, may have pressed for his personal architect to be employed by the state, that said architect acted as a go-between Zuma and government officials and that Zuma intervened to press the state to keep contractors of his choosing.

Parties and Issues

African National Congress (ANC)

The ANC is South Africa’s dominant party. Founded in 1912 (as the South African Native National Congress, SANNC), two years before the NP, it is one of the oldest political parties in Africa. One of the ANC’s founders and early leading figure was Sol Plaatje, a widely recognized black intellectual and luminary of early twentieth-century South Africa. From its foundations until the late 1940s, the ANC was a relatively minor player in the opposition to the whites-only regime. It was a predominantly bourgeois middle-class and intellectual moderate movement, which sought to redress the black’s situation through civic means – including appealing to the colonial power, Britain. The SANNC/ANC was only one part of the black movement, one which respected and emphasized imperial ties and looked to Britain to support its claims. However, since the peace of Vereeniging in 1902, Britain was more interested in an ‘elite compromise’ with their former white Afrikaner enemies than with the politically weaker and ineffective black majority.

In 1948, when the NP took power, the ANC’s leadership was ineffectual, passive and inactive although the ANC had by then adopted a stronger set of demands – an end to racial domination and white trusteeship, a common citizenship and political equality. The ANC Youth League (ANCYL) – whose ranks included Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo (among others) – felt that the ANC’s old leaders were too complacent and attached to British ‘gentlemen politics’. In 1949, the younger generation defeated the ANC leadership at the party congress and adopted a markedly more radical and militant attitude against the NP regime including strikes and boycotts. However, until 1961, the ANC’s used peaceful means (civil disobedience) to the protest the regime, organizing boycotts or strikes – often alongside trade unions, Indian and coloured groups or the Communist Party.

The 1952 Defiance Campaign marked the ANC’s emergence as a major political force, but at the same time it also showed the futility of civil disobedience and mass protests in the face of NP intransigence as the state stuck to its policies and the campaign petered out. The Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, the first major incidence of state-sanctioned mass violence, led the ANC to the realization that there was no constitutional, non-violent path to change in South Africa. In 1961, Mandela created Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the ANC’s armed wing. The MK, from foreign bases in sympathetic states (such as Angola and Mozambique after 1976), launched attacks (bombings, assassinations, car bombings) against military, governmental or civilian (white) targets in South Africa.

The South African Communist Party (SACP), refounded in 1953 after the original Communist Party had been banned in 1950, became the ANC’s closest ally in the early 1950s and had a major influence on the ANC’s ideological direction. The SACP had first gained prominence during the Rand Rebellion (1922), when it had supported the labour demands of the white workers but rejected the racist backdrop to them (workers of the world unite and fight for a white South Africa). The SACP’s ideological position was that a ‘native republic’, to be built in cooperation with the black nationalist movements, was a necessary transitional step before the creation of a socialist state in South Africa. In the 1950s, the SACP successfully prodded the ANC towards a non-racial platform, which stipulated that all ethnic groups – including whites – had equal rights to the country, a position which alienated the more radical and nationalist ‘Africanist’ faction of the ANC. In 1955, the Congress of the People – which brought together the ANC, the South African Indian Congress, the white anti-apartheid leftist Congress of Democrats and other organizations – adopted the Freedom Charter, which became the ANC’s purported ideological declaration. The Freedom Charter was a non-racial document which called for democracy (full voting rights for all races), human rights, labour rights but also supported land redistribution and the nationalization of mines and other industries.

The SACP’s influence within the ANC increased during the 1970s as the organization became increasingly dependent (for funding and weapons) on the support of the Soviet Union and other African communist/socialist liberation movements (FRELIMO, MPLA, SWAPO). With the Sino-Soviet split, the ANC/SACP firmly sided with Moscow, and tended to dogmatically follow Moscow’s positions. Nevertheless, the ANC/SACP alliance was never a smooth affair: within the ANC, which had a long tradition of anti-Marxism dating to the 1920s, a substantial number of activists rejected or were reluctant to ally with the SACP.

The classic ANC slogan – “A better life for all” (source: UNISA)

Despite NP propaganda which depicted the ANC as a communist terrorist organization which posed a serious threat to the government of ‘white South Africa’, the ANC in the 1970s and early 1980s was weakened and divided by the imprisonment or exile of many of its most prominent leaders, notably Nelson Mandela. The MK’s armed campaign was foundering, as the state’s repression was taking its toll on the organization. The 1976 Soweto Uprising was a spontaneous, grassroots uprising over which the ANC had no control or say; nevertheless, the ANC successfully exploited the Soweto uprising and the revival of African resistance it brought upon. The ANC gained greater interest in the mass struggle, better re-conciliating it with the MK’s armed struggle, and it slowly built a stronger organization inside of South Africa. The formation of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in the 1980s allowed for a rebirth of ANC militant action inside South Africa, through the mobilization of a large array of local organizations and civil society movements in favour of the ANC’s struggle. During the violence (1985-1994), the ANC was one of the major players in the African resistance; in the context of the breakdown of law and order in South Africa, ANC-linked groups (vigilantes, thugs) committed gross human rights abuses (notably ‘necklacing’), while in the MK’s guerrilla camps, the strains of the armed struggle and exile led to a climate of suspicion and allowed for major human rights abuses (torture, assassinations) in MK camps. Following the legalization of the ANC and SACP in February 1990, the MK ended its armed campaign in August 1990 and the ANC under Nelson Mandela (who replaced Oliver Tambo as ANC President in 1991) played the leading role in the negotiations to end apartheid.

The modern ANC forms the core of the so-called ‘Tripartite alliance’ which currently governs South Africa. This three-party alliance includes the ANC, the SACP and COSATU. The ANC has been the dominant party in South Africa since 1994, always holding a three-fifths majority (and a two-thirds majority, with the ability to amend the constitution freely, between 2004 and 2009). It won 62.7% in 1994, 66.4% in 1999, 69.7% in 2004 and 65.9% in 2009 (the first time that the ANC lost votes). The ANC is also dominant in provincial and local government, governing all but one of South Africa’s nine provinces and the large majority of municipalities.

The ANC must be understood as a factionalized and heterogeneous party rife with factionalism and internal squabbles. In many regards, this goes back to the days of apartheid, when the strains of exile, imprisonment or militant/military action in South Africa caused divisions within the party. Those who had stayed ‘behind’ and led direct actions (violent or nonviolent) against the regime at home chafed at the the autocratic and centralist style of the party’s exiled leadership. Among activists who stayed at home, organizing actions under the auspices of the UDF, there had been a strong tradition of bottom-up organization, open debate and discussion, consultation and consensual decision-making. They often resented the top-down and centralist leadership of the party’s exiled leaderships.

Since 1994, the ANC has had three presidents (and South Africa has had four). Nelson Mandela, the hero and icon of the struggle served as ANC President between 1991 and 1997, when he was succeeded by the Deputy President (of the ANC and South Africa), Thabo Mbeki, an English-educated technocrat who had been one of the ANC’s exiled cadres during apartheid. Under Mbeki’s controversial leadership, the old ANC traditions of open internal debate, consultation and consensual decision-making were lost and replaced by autocratic, top-down leadership in which those who questioned the ANC government’s behaviour or that of its leaders were crushed by the weight of the party machinery. The electoral system of closed-list proportional representation gives more powers to party leaderships, given that they are able to ‘make or break’ any incumbent parliamentarian’s future career by deciding to exclude him/her from the party’s list for the next elections.

Since Mbeki, the leader’s power over the party (and, by consequence, the legislature and executive) has been strengthened. However, this has not changed the factional nature of the ANC. Mbeki made lots of enemies within the ANC during his presidency and his autocratic style allowed diverse factions within the party to organize against him and deny him a third term as ANC President at the party’s 2007 National Conference in Polokwane. Jacob Zuma, who had served as Deputy President of the ANC and South Africa (until 2005), trounced Mbeki and his allies at the 2007 conference. Zuma, who has no formal education and stayed ‘inside’ the country under apartheid, is a more approachable and down-to-earth populist figure the elitist and aloof Mbeki could ever be; but he has proceeded to take control of the party machinery like Mbeki had before him. The pro-Zuma leadership of the ANC recalled Mbeki as President in 2008. In 2012, at the Mangaung National Conference, Zuma and his allies easily defeated Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, the candidate backed by the anti-Zuma factions.

Ideology has played a role in some of the ANC’s recent divisions, most recently at Polokwane in 2007. The ANC’s shift from left-wing (socialist) economics towards neoliberal capitalism after 1994 caused some strains within the governing alliance, as noted above. However, most of the current internal divisions within the ANC are the result of personal animosities. Mbeki had managed to make a lot of enemies and alienate large swathes of the party’s rank-and-file, and even with the strong ideological undertones to the Mbeki-Zuma civil war between 2005 and 2008, much of that civil war was due to personal clashes. This was even more the case in 2012, when opposition to Zuma was united by little else than distaste for Zuma by ambitious politicos who felt sidelined within the party organization. Internal divisions within the modern ANC are a battle for the spoils of power and partaking in the lucrative system of government rather than any ideological or principled battle.

ANC manifesto 2014 (source: ANC

In the absence of a credible and serious challenge to the ANC’s power, the party – which can still claim the mantle of national liberation and the legitimacy stemming from the fight against apartheid – remains the dominant party in South African politics. The party retains very strong support from black voters – almost regardless of tribe, language or ethnicity. The ANC has long been a non-tribal or anti-tribal party, which emphasized black brotherhood or unity above trial ties, although under Mandela and Mbeki, the Xhosa (the second largest black ethnic group in South Africa) dominated much of the ANC. One of the ANC’s major successes in its history has been its ability to transcend tribal or ethnic boundaries within the larger black population – even as the NP tried to play on ethnicity to divide the black population. The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), the strongest black challenger to the ANC, failed to break its own ethnic Zulu boundaries and it has since been progressively crushed by the ANC. Jacob Zuma, who actively marketed himself as the “100% Zulu boy” and enjoys partaking in Zulu tribal customs, destroyed the IFP in KZN in 2009. While the ANC lost support nationally, the party gained nearly 16% in KZN. Outside the former KwaZulu homeland and Umtata (the former capital of Transkei), the ANC usually wins 85 to 95% of black votes. The party has not really needed to actively reach out to Coloured, Indian and white voters given their small(er) demographic weight. It attracted about half of Indian voters in 1999 and 2004. The ANC made inroads with coloured voters in 1999 and 2004; generally polling better with middle-class or rural coloureds. The ANC barely attracts more than 1 or 2% support from white voters.

Similarly, the ANC’s leadership is largely black. The ANC opened its membership to non-blacks in 1969, although the NEC remained off limits to non-blacks until the 1980s. Since 1994, some non-blacks have occupied fairly prominent (and sometimes powerful) positions within cabinet or the ANC leadership. Trevor Manuel, the long-standing finance minister between 1996 and 2009, is Coloured. Essop Pahad, Mbeki’s right-hand man and chief enforcer, was Indian; as was Kader Asmal, a former education minister and ANC MP. Pravin Gordhan, the current finance minister, is also Indian. Derek Hanekom (former agriculture minister, current minister of science and technology), Barbara Hogan (a former health minister) and Andrew Feinstein (a former ANC MP turned ‘rogue’ by denouncing a major scandal in the 1990s) are white.

The ANC entered the 2014 elections facing many challenges. Zuma’s presidency has been controversial and his record is, at best, mediocre. The government and the presidency have been hit by a series of scandals, the most important of which is Nkandlagate; the country’s economy is struggling and unemployment remains a huge challenge which the ANC government has been unsuccessful in tackling adequately; the ANC has run into a number of controversies since 2009, both in forms of scandals and controversial policies or events such as the secrecy bill and Marikana; the ANC’s Tripartite alliance is showing strains, with an utterly discredited SACP being no more than an irrelevant annex of the ANC and a deeply divided COSATU which has found itself struggling for its legitimacy since 2009; Zuma’s leadership in the ANC was confirmed with a huge win at Mangaung but faces back-room divisions within the ANC and his popularity has declined, as evidenced by his booing at Nelson Mandela’s memorial ceremony in December 2013. Some in the ANC blamed the ‘booer war’ against Zuma on rogue anti-Zuma elements in the Gauteng ANC, a party branch which was at the helm of the anti-Zuma movement at Mangaung and which is suspected of still harbouring anti-Zuma sentiments. There were media reports in late January 2014 that even in KZN, Zuma’s stronghold, some regions were allegedly turning against Zuma.

The ANC resolved itself to fighting 2014 with Zuma at the helm, through the influence of pro-Zuma hardliners in the NEC. The ANC’s damage control strategy for Nkandla has been to pretend that Madonsela’s report largely reiterated the findings of the ministerial task team’s 2013 report (despite some substantial differences in findings), to separate the party from the government and the President (to absolve the ANC as a party of any blame), to prevent the issue to be taken up by Parliament (the ANC closed a parliamentary committee on Nkandla and referred it to the next Parliament, citing insufficient time before May 7), to insist that corrective action is already being taken and, as per a Mail & Guardian report in March 2014, to offer up scapegoats as sacrifice.

The ANC’s manifesto seized on the historic nature of the 2014 election and on sympathy for the late Mandela, by trying to convey a ‘good story’ about South Africa since 1994 and playing up the ANC’s (real) achievements in transforming the country since 1994. Its manifesto opens with a memorial picture of ‘Madiba’, and the first sections emphasize ’20 years of freedom and democracy’, listing the ANC’s achievements in democratization, nation-building, reconstruction, gender equality and peace (along with more ‘questionable’ achievements in development, growth and workers’ rights). On every main theme developed in the manifesto, a text box lists the ANC’s achievements on those themes since 1994 and 2009. The ever-useful Africa Check fact-checking website has reported that some of the ANC’s ‘good story’ is based on misleading, cherry-picked or incorrect statistics. In the more substantive portion of the ANC’s manifesto, the promises are, in ANC tradition, deliberately vague and open-ended. However, Zuma nevertheless laid down the line to be followed by clearly stating that the NDP will be adhered to as core ANC policy; to the chagrin of the left, although the pro-Zuma president of COSATU, Sdumo Dlamini, changed course when he announced his support for the manifesto which includes the NDP.

On economic and employment issues, the ANC posited that the expansion of infrastructure and a new industrial policy will create jobs. It promised that the state would buy 75% of its goods and services from local companies, strengthen the state mining company, increase beneficiation for industrialization and mining, work for regional industrialization, invest in infrastructure to create jobs and support mining beneficiation, produce more and cleaner energy (larger power stations, safe nuclear energy, solar and wind power, more hydroelectricity), improve the rail system, expand broadband access to cover 90% of communities by 2020 and expand access to water. To tackle youth unemployment, the ANC proposed to provide job placements and internship schemes for the youth, ‘massively expand’ post-secondary training opportunities and education, ensure youth employment in the public sector and public works and work with the private sector through the youth wage subsidy (while placating COSATU with a promise that no older workers would be displaced as a result). Overall, the ANC promised to create 6 million new jobs in a public works program by 2019, with 80% of them for the youth. On macroeconomic policy, the ANC reiterated the government’s prudent and orthodox policies, claiming that this policy provides the ‘foundation’ for improvements in the lives of all South Africans. The manifesto reiterated the ANC’s commitment to B-BBEE and EE, in the name of promoting equity and workers’ rights.

The ANC admitted that the ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ policy has failed on land reform, and has moved to ‘just and equitable compensation’, but the ANC manifesto on land reform was extremely vague. On housing, the ANC promised one million new ‘housing opportunities’ by 2019 and pledged to expand and accelerate the provision of basic services. The ANC’s platform on education gave little indication of the major problems faced by education, and limited itself to vague promises or policies or the goal of expanding further education and training enrollment. On healthcare, the ANC’s flagship policy is the National Health Insurance (NHI) program of universal, taxpayer-funded healthcare which the ANC originally promised in 2009 (but made little progress on since then) and which has been criticized by some as being an unrealistic goal. In the meantime, the ANC promised to expand free primary healthcare  and improving the quality of public healthcare.

The ANC promised to take on corruption and crime, a commitment which can often ring hollow coming from the ANC. On corruption, the manifesto promised to ban public servants from doing business with the state, a more transparent process to adjudicate tenders and a pledge that any ANC members found guilty by a court will be forced to step down from party or governmental leadership positions. The party pledged to reduce criminality, although it proposed no new policies.

Analysts said that the ANC’s manifesto failed to address the loss of trust in Zuma and the government, and many questioned the sincerity and commitment of the ANC on the matter of corruption given the number of discredited corrupt MPs and leaders being renominated on the ANC’s list.

The ANC list included old names accused of corruption, with disgraced former SAPS commissioner Bheki Cele returning as the top candidate on the regional list in KZN; ex-Malema ally and former ANCYL treasurer Pule Mabe, arrested for fraud, appeared 53rd on the ANC’s national list; former communications minister Dina Pule, found guilty by Parliament of extending spousal benefits to her lover and by Madonsela on other charges, appeared 70th on the national list; and agriculture and fisheries minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson, 37th on the list, had been found guilty by the Public Protector of maladministration in the irregular awarding of a tender to manage the government’s fisheries vessels. Comeback kids also appeared on the list: two former Mbeki cabinet ministers – Thoko Didiza (agriculture, later public works) and Charles Nqakula (safety) were on the list, former Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni came 41st on the national list and former acting president of the ANCYL (when the NEC disbanded its executive in 2013) Ronald Lamola came 175th on the list. Otherwise, however, the list largely included Zuma loyalists, with Zuma and Ramaphosa in the first two places on the national list; with pro-Zuma ministers such as Malusi Gigaba, Jeff Radebe, Grace Pandor and Blade Nzimande all coming in with good positions at the top of the national list. Fikile Mbalula, the sports minister who opposed Zuma, was the exception, placing a strong 6th on the list.

A sign of the ANC’s growing troubles within its own ranks, Ronnie Kasrils, MK’s former intelligence chief and the SACP/ANC intelligence minister from 2004 to 2008, flanked by former Deputy Minister of Health Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, called on voters to ‘vote no’ (spoil their ballots) rather than vote for the ANC. Kasrils warned of the ‘rot’ inside the ANC and fumed at Marikana (a premeditated murder, in his eyes), but said he couldn’t identify with the other parties – criticizing Malema’s EFF for corruption and the opposition DA for its pro-business policies.

Democratic Alliance (DA)

The DA is South Africa’s official opposition. It took its current name in June 2000, but the DA can trace its roots to the white liberal anti-apartheid parties which formed the only parliamentary opposition to the NP’s apartheid policies. The first of these parties was the Progressive Party, whose sole MP between 1961 and 1974, Helen Suzman, was the only voice of dissent within the whites-only Parliament. After Suzman’s Progressive Party merged with Harry Schwarz’s Reform Party to become the Progressive Federal Party (PFP) in 1977, the white liberal movement garnered more support and formed the official opposition between 1977 and 1987. In 1988, following the PFP’s alliance with two NP dissidents (Denis Worall and Wynand Malan), it adopted the name Democratic Party (DP). Throughout its existence, the white liberal movement opposed apartheid policies and supported a negotiated settlement with blacks – some kind of power-sharing or consociational government with a bill of rights, decentralization, an independent judiciary and ‘one man-one vote’. It was also a strong supporter of free market economics, foreshadowing the NP’s later adoption of individualism and free market economics in the 1990s during the transition; one could point out the irony of the end-result of the negotiated ANC-NP settlement as being similar to DP policies, after decades of the NP lashing out at ‘Prog policy’ (PFP/DP power-sharing proposals).

In the first free elections in 1994, the DP performed very poorly with 1.7% of the vote and 7 seats. It had won even less votes than it had in the last whites-only election in 1989, indicating that some of its past supporters had voted for De Klerk’s NP or another party. In 1994, the DP had been unable to move past its apartheid-era support base: affluent liberal English whites. Despite it holding only 7 seats – even less than Constand Viljoen’s Afrikaner conservative FF – it was able to become the most vocal and visible opposition to the young ANC government.

At the same time, the NP, which had won 82 seats in 1994, was clearly disoriented, hesitating between cooperation with the ANC in the government of national unity or cooperation with other parties (such as the DP) to oppose the ANC government. The question divided the party and eventually caused a major internal crisis in the NP. In June 1996, the hardliners (Tertius Delport, Hernus Kriel) and young conservatives (Marthinus van Schalkwyk) successfully pushed the NP out of the coalition government and into the opposition. In 1997, FW de Klerk, a key asset for the NP, resigned and was replaced as NP leader by Van Schalkwyk, a young lightweight. Van Schalkwyk had been able to play on verkrampte fears about the rising influence and power of Roelf Meyer, the NP negotiator in the transition, inside the party after 1994. Meyer had been pushing for major renewal and change in the party, including actively seeking black leaders and changing the party’s name. For Van Schalkwyk, however, change did not go beyond adding ‘New’ in front of the NP’s name in 1998.

In the 1999 election, the NNP ran a confusing and unappealing campaign in which it painted itself as the ‘constructive opposition’ party which opposed the ANC’s failures but at the same time was reluctant to strongly oppose the ANC and insisted that it could deliver to voters by cooperating with the government. In stark contrast, Tony Leon’s DP ran a negative campaign with the slogan ‘Slaan terug’ (fight back). The DP’s platform painted a very bleak image of the ANC’s record in 1999: crumbling moral values and discipline, hundreds of thousands of rapes/murders, millions lost to corruption and 500k jobs lost. The DP targeted the gatvol (upset/angry) vote/‘angry white man’. The NNP hoped that its campaign would hold its 1994 white and Coloured votes and appeal to black voters; it did neither – the party lost three-fourths of its 1994 support, winning only 6.9% and 28 seats. The DP won 9.6% and 38 seats, forming the official opposition to the dominant ANC.

However, by insinuating that black ANC rule equalled chaos, incompetence and a collapsing society; the DP alienated black voters and opened itself to accusations of racism by ANC leaders. By 2000, the DP dropped the very right-wing and gatvol platform, but the accusation of racism stuck.

The DA was born in June 2000 from an alliance between the DP and the NNP, an alliance to “prevent a one-party state”. The DP had already been attracting NP dissidents for some time, and there has been pressure on both parties to cooperate in the white media. In 2000, the NNP chose cooperation with the DP against the ANC, in part to save its head in the Western Cape and keep WC from falling to the ANC. For the DP, cooperation with the NNP allowed the party to focus its energies on the ANC. Merger allowed the new DA to win 22% of the vote in the 2000 local elections and a majority in Cape Town. However, both parties in the DA were suspicious of the other party’s motives. The NNP wanted to rebrand itself and download its debts onto the new party; the DP wanted the NNP’s Coloured voters and the NNP’s old networks and infrastructure. Both Tony Leon and Marthinus van Schalkwyk were using one another to further their own partisan interests. It was a recipe for disaster, which ended with the NNP leaving the DA in November 2001. The NNP had come to the belated realization that it was not fit to be in opposition and, after that point; Van Schalkwyk pursued a policy of rapprochement with the ANC. However, some Nats opposed van Schalkwyk’s strategy and opted to stay in the DA – among them Gerald Morkel, the Premier of the WC who became Mayor of Cape Town after the NNP quit the DA. Tertius Delport (the hardliner), Sheila Camerer (an Anglo verligte) and Kraai van Niekerk (former NP agriculture minister) all joined the DA.

To disentangle the NNP from the DA, the NNP and DA teamed up with the ANC to pass a highly controversial ‘floor-crossing legislation’ which would allow legislators (elected by party-list PR) to cross the floor to join another party, provided they brought with them 10% of their caucus (a rule which meant that ANC defectors could not do so given the ANC’s gigantic caucus, but which allowed individual MPs in parties with less than 10 MPs to defect – in most cases, to the ANC). This floor crossing legislation was a perversion of South Africa’s party-list PR system, given that legislators are elected on a partisan rather than individual basis. But the legislation was beneficial to the ANC, which was the main benefactor of floor crossing (from the NNP or small parties) – there were so many floor crossers from the DA to the NNP/NNP to the ANC in 2002 that the ANC gained a majority on Cape Town city council and toppled the DA mayor (Morkel).

The brief DP-NNP alliance further destroyed the NNP and allowed the DA to break through the wall and gain a significant share of the NNP’s Coloured voters. In the runup to the 2004 campaign, the DA ran a slightly less ‘angry white man’ campaign, with a tamer slogan (South Africa deserves better) and a more social democratic orientation (supporting a basic income grant and free distribution of ARVs). It won 12.4% and 50 seats, solidifying itself as the main opposition to the ANC (the NNP won 1.7% of the vote after a campaign consisting of kissing the ANC’s posterior profusely) – especially in the WC where it won 27% to the ANC’s 45.3% and the NNP’s 10.9%. In coalition with the NNP, the ANC was finally able to take the premiership in the WC.

White and Coloured voters by and large did not follow the NNP in merging with the ANC. In the 2006 locals, the DA increased its support to 16% and was able to narrowly reclaim power in Cape Town with a strenuous multi-party coalition led by Helen Zille. In 2007, Tony Leon, the DA’s leader, stepped down and was replaced by Helen Zille. The DA, under Zille, tried to break with Leon’s more confrontational and controversial style and the rebranded itself with a new logo and ‘multi-racial’ identity. In 2009, the DA won 16.7% and 67 seats and did particularly well in the WC where it increased its support by 24.4% to 51.5%. Helen Zille became Premier of the WC. In the 2011 local elections, the DA won 24% of the vote – a record high for a single opposition party since 1994.

Helen Zille, a white woman, is a former anti-apartheid activist who was a political journalist for the liberal Rand Daily Mail in the 1970s. She authored a major article in which she established that the death in prison of Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko was not due to a hunger strike as NP minister Jimmy Kruger had announced; an inquiry later found the cause of Biko’s death to be brain damage due to a head injury. After resigning from the paper after its owner, the Oppenheimer’s Anglo American asked it tone down the anti-NP rhetoric, Zille was active in white anti-apartheid movements (Black Sash movement, End Conscription Campaign).

The DA’s ideology is fairly hard to pin down, given that it has often supported an eclectic mix of liberal and social democratic policies. It has been described both as centre-right and centre-left, the truth probably lies in the middle somewhere (or maybe closer to the centre-right). DA voters place crime and corruption as their top concerns, almost the reverse order as ANC voters who traditionally cite unemployment, social policies or other economic issues as their main concerns. The DA’s former leader, Tony Leon, controversially supported reintroducing the death penalty to deal with crime. Today, the DA’s platform does not make mention of it, instead talking about hiring more police officers (the DA wants up to 250,000 SAPS members) and various other vague things including a mix of rehabilitation and tougher sentencing laws.

The general orientation of the DA’s current economic and social policy is liberal (classical liberal, in the European sense) and generally right-of-centre. The DA’s platform says that their policies will “seek to give citizens control over their own lives, and not allow the state to dictate the course of their daily lives or the direction of their ambitions” and “expand choice, not contract it”. This is a clearly liberal-individualist direction in line with the party and its predecessors’ classical liberalism. At the same time, however, the platform also stresses that the state should not neglect those without the resources to “direct their own lives” – a slightly more social liberal stance. In practice, the DA’s economic and fiscal policy does not differ all that much from the ANC’s economic and fiscal policies since 1994. The main difference is that the ANC has retained an interventionist and social democratic approach, while the DA has criticized excessive state intervention and says that the state should ‘facilitate’ and not ‘direct’ the economy.

In practice, however, the DA has tended to place emphasis on efficient ‘service delivery’ (one of the key failures of the ANC), change or searing criticism of ANC corruption and the erosion of the powers of independent institutions or parliament.

The DA does not have the shake off the ‘party of apartheid’ label, but the ANC has not hesitated to use the race card to counter the DA and keep blacks from ever voting from the DA. The ANC has often denounced the DA as a racist party, brushed off criticism of its record as the racist rantings of bitter whites and blamed shortcomings in its own actions on the damaging legacy of apartheid. In the days of the whites-only democracy, playing on latent racism in the white electorate was often a rather lucrative path for the parties. Since 1994, playing up on anti-racism and reminding black voters of apartheid has been quite lucrative for the ANC and damaging for any opposition party such as the DA.

The DA has struggled to shake off the ‘white party’ label which has stuck to it throughout its history. Since 2004, the DA has been trying to woo black voters to its fold. But it has discovered that consolidating its minority base while trying to win black votes at the same time is a very daunting challenge in modern South Africa. The two electorates which the DA is trying to bridge are on different pages. Black voters are cautiously optimistic about the future, and despite their disillusion with the promise of liberation, they are still ready to give the ANC another chance. And certainly almost no blacks long for the days before 1994. Black voters have also been instinctively suspicious of very harsh and negative criticism of the ANC’s record coming from a party labelled as the ‘whites’ party’. On the other hand, whites (but also Coloureds and Indians) are very likely to be pessimistic about the country’s future, lamenting corruption, a weak economy and high criminality. With these voters, the DA’s focus on crime and corruption has struck a chord, while not as many black voters or ANC supporters care all that much about such issues. Between the white voters it has and the black voters it wants, there are two different social realities. Most whites lead a Western middle-class life unencumbered by making ends meet, finding food to feed their family or having a roof to sleep under. These are everyday problems for many black voters.

To make matters worse, at times, the DA has also done everything it could to deserve its reputation as a white party with its often patent inability to understand the black electorate.

Another factor which explains why the DA has not been able to shake off the ‘white party’ label is because there is some truth to that label. The party’s current leader is a white woman, who is certainly not a racist but whose abrasive personality tends to be off-putting for black voters who would see her as an Afrikaner madam baas. Zille is famously feisty on Twitter, engaging in nasty spats with journalists and critics and often using racially insensitive language (earlier this year, she got into a nasty fight with journalist Carien du Plessis, and insinuated that the journalist wrote left-leaning articles because she is an ashamed white Afrikaner who needs to bend over to win the favour of the black community; she also previously tweeted about ‘education refugees’ from predominantly black Eastern Cape to her province of the WC, and many couldn’t help but be reminded of the NP’s old crass rhetoric on ‘EC blacks invading’ the WC, where blacks are a minority). Zille’s feisty, abrasive behaviour is often a problem for the DA, in that it can often undermine the DA’s message of non-racialism.

Most of the party’s MPs are whites or Coloured. Since 1994, the NP and now the DA have tried to wash off the damaging ‘white party’ label by seeking to recruit black members into the party and eagerly pushing their black members to the forefront in a rather crude attempt to play up its multi-racial credentials. The ‘white parties’ are often so pleased to have a black figure in the party that the new black member is touted as a talented rising star and rapidly propelled to impressive leadership positions within the party. Being black has certainly helped the political careers of many black DA politicians. However, given these parties’ heavily white or Coloured membership base, the rapid accession of some black members embittered certain whites who wanted to make sure that the blacks didn’t get too powerful.

The black members whom the NP recruited in the 1990s all tended to be political opportunists (who decamped to the ANC at the first opportunity) or nobodies who turned out to be crooks. In recent years, the DA has had a bit more luck at recruiting black members to the party. The party’s parliamentary leader in the last Parliament (the leader of the opposition), Lindiwe Mazibuko, is a 34-year old woman from KZN who defeated DA veteran Athol Trollip (an Anglo white) to become parliamentary leader in 2011. Unlike past black recruits who turned out to be disastrous embarrassments, Lindiwe Mazibuko has proven to be a very strong performer in the National Assembly. She is not the only black figure actively pushed to the forefront by the DA. The DA’s national spokesperson, Mmusi Maimane (a 32-year old black man from Soweto) rose quickly within the party, becoming one of its top national figures a bit over a year after having been the DA’s mayoral candidate in Johannesburg in 2011.

Vote DA campaign poster (from left to right: Patricia de Lille, ex-ID mayor of Cape Town; Helen Zille, DA leader and Premier of the WC; Lindiwe Mazibuko, DA parliamentary leader)

The DA’s recent vacillations on the EE Amendment Bill, passed in Parliament late last year, show how the DA is struggling to overcome its contradictions on racial policy and how race continues to divide the DA caucus. In November 2013, the DA originally voted in favour of the EE Amendment Bill, a vote which sparked major internal debate within the DA with former leader Tony Leon and former DA stalwart Gareth van Onselen strongly criticizing the DA and forcing Zille to take responsibility, claiming the DA had made a mistake and blaming it on committee members being ‘inadequately prepared’. Under Zille’s orders, the DA backtracked and voted against the bill in the final reading at the end of November.

However, the DA’s bungled handling of the EE bill set off a major debate on affirmative action within the DA. The DA’s policy on affirmative action is ‘equal opportunities’, a vague notion which is often unappealing to black voters; in 1998, Leon had famously called the EE bill ‘a pernicious piece of social engineering’. A group of black MPs and MPLs within the DA, the so-called black caucus, have been pushing the DA to change its policy on race, away from the much-criticized nonracialism of the conservative old guard and the ambiguity of the DA’s slogans. Lindiwe Mazibuko allegedly supported a shift to new policies on affirmative action – in an interview with the M&G, she said that ‘inequality is racialized’ and that they needed to accept that South Africa isn’t a non-racial society yet and gave her vision of EE as, with candidates of equal qualifications competing for one job, choosing the black candidate over the white candidate. Mazibuko downplayed any internal divisions on the issues, although she conceded that there had been debate (but not on racial lines, she claimed), but many felt that Zille undermined her position by announcing the DA’s backtracking on the EE bill. Mmusi Maimane, said to be Zille’s new black favourite, did not take a clear position on the issue.

The DA wins the bulk of its support from non-blacks: whites, Coloureds and Indians. Since 1999, the DA has been able to consolidate white support to the point where it now enjoys near-unanimous support with white voters (around 85-95% in 2011), the only challenge on this front coming from the ever-smaller conservative VF+. The DA’s ability to win almost every white voter – English and Afrikaners alike – makes sense in the current context, but it remains a fairly remarkable achievement given how the linguistic cleavage had played a key role in the whites-only elections up until the very last one (in 1989). It has broken out of the PFP’s traditional base with urban/suburban affluent English liberals and attracted almost all whites, regardless of language, class or even ideology.

The DA has also fortified its hold on Coloured voters since 2000-2001. In 1994, a solid majority of Coloured voters voted for De Klerk’s NP, something which often appears contradictory given the NP’s past as the party which had oppressed Coloureds and forcibly relocated many of them to slums. But at the same time, the Coloureds in the Cape Province had been treated considerably better than blacks by the apartheid government, with job reservation for Coloureds in most of the Cape Province. Many Coloureds, who spoke Afrikaans as their mother tongue and had historically been more integrated with ‘white South Africa’ than blacks, also resented the ANC’s attempts to lump them together with the black majority – there exists a long history of mutual distrust between the two racial groups. The saying emerged that the Coloureds were “too black under apartheid, too white after apartheid.” As the right-wing DP ate into the NP’s white vote bank, the coloureds became the NNP’s last solid electorate. However, the short-lived alliance with the NNP did allow the DA to finally breakthrough with Coloured voters, though it came in stages. In 2004, the ANC evidently performed well with Coloured voters, even in the WC. Many Coloured voters were also attracted to the Independent Democrats (ID), a new anti-corruption party led by former PAC MP Patricia de Lille, a prominent whistle-blower into corruption cases. The IDs won 1.7% nationally in 2004, taking over 7% in the WC and Northern Cape. By 2009, however, the DA started eating into the ID’s Coloured electorate in Cape Town and the WC. In 2010, the IDs bowed to the pressure of bipolarization in South African politics and merged with the DA. Their emblematic leader, Patricia de Lille, became the DA mayor of Cape Town in 2011. In the 2011 local elections, the DA won roughly 70-85% of the urban coloured vote in Cape Town, and performed well with rural Coloured voters in the WC but also the NC and Eastern Cape. The DA also wins a majority of the Indian vote, particularly outside Durban. The ANC does retain substantial support with Indian voters.

According to the DA’s analysis, the party took around 5-6% of the black vote in the 2011 local elections. Even in 2011, the party performed very poorly (1-2% on average) in the densely populated impoverished black townships – even black townships in Cape Town. Its black support must come from new middle-class blacks, many of whom live in increasingly multi-racial neighborhoods – such as Johannesburg’s upscale northern suburbs which now have a fairly substantial black minority. The DA claims that 20% of its voters are black, making it the most ‘diverse party in South Africa.’

On January 28 2014, the DA announced that Mamphela Ramphele, the leader of Agang SA, would be the DA’s presidential candidate. Mamphela Ramphele was a prominent anti-apartheid activist, as a member of the Black Consciousness Movement, where she met the movement’s famous and iconic leader, Steve Biko. Ramphele was one of Biko’s lovers and the couple had two kids together. After 1994, Ramphele, by now a prominent academic and researcher, became one of the four Managing Directors at the World Bank (in 2000). Ramphele returned to South African politics in 2013, with the creation of Agang (which means ‘build’ or ‘let us build’ in Northern Sotho) as a political party in February 2013. Agang positioned itself against corruption and for political reform, but from the outset, Agang was criticized as being very much of an empty suit based on vague feel-good platitudes and with little substantive policy of its own. Nevertheless, there was significant media buzz and interest about Agang, which did peter out rather quickly. The Agang-DA merger/alliance was played up by Zille and the DA as a move towards non-racial politics and remove ‘the race card’ from politics. But what Ramphele announced as ‘visionary leadership’ soon turned out to be a massive disaster.

No sooner had the news come out that members in both the DA and Agang began airing their misgivings. Agang and Ramphele’s handling of the announcement was horrible, with a statement denying an alliance with the DA being contradicted within hours by the announcement of a merger/alliance. Agang members said that they had not been consulted on the issue, and party leaders openly called out Ramphele for failing to talk with them; a lot of members were dismayed that their party was being turned into an annex of the DA without them ever being consulted on the matter. An Agang leader said that the party would still contest the election. In the DA, Ramphele’s rapid arrival and promotion to top ranks in the party rankled the party’s aspiring leadership. The DA’s young black caucus warned that she would have to compete for leadership spots like any other members, while others expressed worries that Ramphele would dump them.

Just five days after the announcement, the deal was off. Zille said that Ramphele had reneged on her agreement and was very critical of her behaviour. Ramphele was displeased with how the DA, in her eyes, jumped the gun in announcing the merger and talking of her DA membership; she later said people were trapped in race-based politics. The ANC was all giddy, with the weird marriage of inconvenience seemingly confirming Gwede Mantashe’s comment that Ramphele’s alliance with the DA was a ‘rent-a-black’ affair from the DA. Ramphele’s credibility took a major hit from the weird affair, and many questions were left unanswered – why the DA and Agang rush into announcing a decision, without considering pretty important details? It led to allegations that the botched marriage was forced on the DA and Agang by mysterious funders (the provenance of party funding is always a mysterious issue in South Africa).

Agang SA fought the election with Ramphele and a vague manifesto of platitudes, with words such as ‘hope, dignity and freedom’ and appeals to ‘change’ and a ‘united South Africa’. The party’s platform criticized BEE for creating inequalities, called on the government to transfer half the land it owns to satisfy property development, talked of ‘meaningful land reform’ by transferring state-owned land and promoting the use of modern technologies, improving education through stricter standards for students and teachers, encouraging entrepreneurship by cutting red tape, creating jobs by emphasizing skills training and vocational education and cracking down on corruption with a minimum sentence of 15 years for corruption.

The DA’s manifesto revolved around the twin clarion calls of ‘together for change’ and ‘together for jobs’ – respectively aimed at reducing corruption and creating jobs, the two main aims of the DA’s 2014 campaign. The DA said it could save R30 billion annually by preventing public servants from doing business with the state, banning anybody convicted of corruption, fraud, theft and violent crime from doing business with the state and stopping ministers from abusing public money. The DA also promised to strengthen Parliament, by introducing a mixed electoral system and restoring Parliament’s independence.

DA poster in isiZulu

Fighting corruption, the DA claimed, would allow for the creation of 6 million ‘real’ jobs and another 7 million public works job opportunities. The DA’s economic policies were a mixed bag, reflecting the DA’s liberal values mixed with more interventionist measures. The DA’s measures included the roll-out of a youth wage subsidy; apprenticeship and internship programs; a reform in labour laws to reduce the power of ‘big unions’ but also ‘big business’ and ‘democratize labour relations’; support for small businesses by reducing red tape and making it easier for them to win government contracts; keeping corporate and individual tax rates low; counteracting anticompetitive behaviour; ‘exploring privatization’; investing 10% of the GDP in infrastructure; investing in R&D and encouraging trade. On affirmative action, the DA’s policy reflected continued ambiguity on the issue: it supports BEE that ‘creates jobs, not just billionnaires’, opposes racial quotas (but support black advancement by ‘extending opportunities’), supports incentives rather than punitive measures for EE, reducing the EE/BEE regulatory burden on small businesses and mining and envisions BEE/EE as transitional measures. The DA is similarly vague on land reform; its manifesto talks in length about it but ultimately offers little clarification as to the DA’s stance. The manifesto supported land reform but opposed the government’s policies, instead advancing ‘effective land reform’ (likely collaborative reform models, such as farm equity schemes) and more training for new landowners.

On education, the DA proposed to hire and train 15,000 new teachers, better manage schools, provide schools with more resources, focusing on accountability and increase financial aid for students to R16 billion per year. The DA was noncommittal on the ANC’s NHI scheme for universal healthcare, but stated that universal healthcare would only be realized through effective public-private partnerships. The DA supports the social grants system, seeing it as a means to help people out of poverty.

The DA manifesto took a tough line on criminality – it proposed to expand the police force on the streets to 250,000, reinstate specific police units to target specific crimes, establish a judicial commission to look into police brutality, give the SAPS all the tools they need, strengthen community policing, make better use of technology and employ more detectives.

The DA’s campaign also focused on their ‘good story to tell’ – the manifesto includes a whole slew of factoids, under the heading ‘the DA delivers’, to showcase the DA’s performance in government in the WC and Cape Town. The WC, South Africa’s most developed and affluent province alongside Gauteng, has indeed been found by independent audits to be the best-managed province in the country – on that front, a lot of the DA’s claims that it is a competent manager are founded; however, the DA also seems to be taking credit for the WC’s structural advantages over other provinces on a lot of socioeconomic indicators and claiming credit for things which the DA did not deliver by its own governance or did not deliver on its own.

Helen Zille led the DA’s national list (and the WC provincial list), followed by parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko in third place. Former NPA prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach, who was accused of fraud and corruption (soliciting a loan from the complainant in two cases she was investigating) and suspended from the NPA, was 33rd on the DA national list. The DA’s rising star and national spokesperson Mmusi Maimane was the DA’s top candidate for the provincial elections in Gauteng, where the DA hoped to topple the ANC’s provincial government, and also placed third on the regional list for Parliament in Gauteng.

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF)

EFF is a new left-wing party founded by expelled ANCYL leader Julius Malema. As explained above, Malema, a fiery and radical populist, was expelled from the ANC in 2012 after he turned into a harsh critic of Zuma’s leadership. Following his expulsion, Malema became even more vocal in his criticism of Zuma and used the Marikana massacre and its aftermath (in August 2012) as a platform from which to publicize his radical platform of nationalization and land expropriation without compensation. Malema announced the creation of his new party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in July 2013 and launched EFF at a kick-off event at Marikana in October 2013.

Malema is an extremely polarizing leader. On the one hand, Malema has a strong and loyal band of young followers, predominantly unemployed black youths in urban areas (townships) and, since 2012, miners in the platinum belt around Rustenburg and Marikana. For poor, young blacks, the ANC holds increasingly little appeal: they are those who suffer the brunt of the unemployment crisis in South Africa, the poor service delivery, live with the deficient education and public healthcare system, witness the corruption of ANC officials – all the while they are unlikely to have lingering sympathy or high regard for the ANC as the ‘party of liberation’. They see him as a bold and refreshing radical alternative, which challenges an increasingly discredited and unpopular ANC government and the perceived dominance of a neoliberal capitalist economic agenda. Malema is also a powerful public speaker; a ‘rabble-rousing orator’ for the Mail & Guardian, which contrasts with Zuma (a notoriously terrible public speaker, at least in English) and the unremarkable Zille, Mazibuko and Ramphele.

On the other hand, Malema is strongly disliked by much of the local and foreign media and South Africa’s moderate political establishment, either because he threatens their power (ANC) or because they see him as a opportunist demagogue exploiting the real concerns of the poor and dis-empowered for his own personal gain. Mamphela Ramphele even went as far as likening him to Hitler and Mussolini, warning that he was an embryonic form of fascism. As explained above, Malema is not only controversial because of his big mouth and penchant from provocative, oftentimes controversial and racially insensitive, language. There are real concerns about how a the son of poor black parents from Limpopo got so rich and bought his lavish lifestyle; Malema is awaiting trial on charges of money laundering on a government tender in Limpopo and is fighting charges of tax evasion by the revenue service. Both supporters and opponents have drawn comparisons between Malema’s EFF and Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF – for his supporters, this is a positive link, as Mugabe is fairly well regarded by some Africans as an anti-imperialist ‘revolutionary’ leader who did not fall into ‘neoliberal capitalism’ like the ANC did; for his detractors, it’s obviously a negative link because of Mugabe’s association with Zimbabwe’s post-2000 economic collapse, authoritarian regime and the highly contentious expropriation of white farmers.

Malema has retained his penchant from provocation, although he has toned down the raw ad hominem attacks on his political opponents with slightly more sophisticated or less derogatory language. He has tried, at times, to appear conciliatory with whites – saying that whites are welcome to join EFF and the fight for land redistribution and nationalization, that nobody will be ‘pushed into the ocean’ (the old apartheid image of oorstroming), that whites are ‘brothers’ who must simply ‘share’ with the original owners of Africa and mustn’t be ‘greedy brothers’ and expressing ‘disappointment’ at racist placards at EFF rallies (with slogans such as ‘honeymoon is over for whites’). EFF has some white members. At the same time, he still plays on racial tensions himself; he claimed the tax charges against him were due to ‘Indians in bed with Afrikaners’, warning that whites’ safety was in the hands of the black majority or that ‘failure to share’ would mean that they’d be ‘forced to share’. Malema focused much of his bile for Zuma and the ANC – with snappy statements about the ANC government being worse than apartheid, ‘the black Boers’ (after Cyril Ramaphosa warned that if the ANC didn’t win, ‘the Boers’ would return), calling on Zuma to resign over Nkandla (this from the man who said he was prepared to kill/die for Zuma).

EFF was not the first anti-capitalist, far-left radical party to be formed. Several small socialist and far-left Africanist parties with platforms very similar to that of the EFF have existed for years, but cooperation between these groups and the EFF has been difficult. In October 2013, the small far-left Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) – the party formed by the DSM, an old Trotskyist party, refused an alliance with Malema after EFF demanded that WASP dissolves itself. Malema praised, at times, the left-wing anti-Zuma secretary-general of COSATU Zwelinzima Vavi and the major COSATU affiliate NUMSA, which announced in December 2013 that it would not campaign for the ANC in 2014. There were rumours, expressed by the ANC’s Tito Mboweni in a Twitter spat with Vavi in January 2014, that there were talks to form an EFF/NUMSA coalition with Vavi and Malema at the helm, which Vavi and Malema both denied. There was strong suspicion of Malema and the EFF on the left, which feared that the EFF would come from scrap and try to co-opt them and their groundwork. EFF is also not a working-class movement and has weak ties with the unions, although it became uncritical of AMCU in hopes of gaining their support. On the other hand, Malema has had better ties with Bantu Holomisa, the leader of the small UDM, and even made up with the IFP’s Mangosuthu Buthelezi (in the past, both Malema and Buthelezi had been very critical of one another).

Malema’s critics have accused him of flip-flopping, not only for his transformation from motormouth Zuma attack dog in 2009 to fiery anti-Zuma campaigner in 2014, but also for his stances on issues. His critics, and a lot of existing social movements, feel that Malema is an opportunist who has stepped into existing social struggles to gain publicity and a platform (which the media is sure to cover), and co-opting their causes. As ‘commander-in-chief’ of the EFF, Malema has embraced progressive causes such as feminism and gay rights, calling on supporters to ‘love gay people’ and to ‘love people with HIV/AIDS’ or recalling Zuma’s rape trial and the infamous Zuma ‘shower comments’, even if Malema was himself convicted by a court after commenting that Zuma’s accuser in the rape trial must have had a ‘nice time’. Although rape is a huge issue in South Africa, few politicians have paid more than lip service to gender issues and feminism.

Malema and his followers became distinctive during the campaign because of their red berets and red tracksuits/jumpsuits.

EFF adopted a radical, extremely ambitious (therefore, in reality, highly unrealistic), anti-capitalist and ‘anti-imperialist’ manifesto most famous for its top two promises: the expropriation of land without compensation to achieve fair redistribution, and the nationalization of mines, banks and other strategic sectors in the economy. Under the EFF’s manifesto, land would be transferred to the state and would abolish foreign land ownership; those who use the land would apply for licenses to use the land. Under an EFF government, nationalization would mean ‘socialized ownership and control of the means of production by the workers’ and that the state must own a minimum of 60% of mines. The EFF promised to use the money generated by nationalization to provide ‘free quality education, healthcare, housing and sanitation’ – education would be free and of high quality from early childhood to post-secondary qualification, the government would create a state pharmaceutical company to produce generics (without regard to intellectual property rights), healthcare would be public and universal and service delivery would be vastly improved. The EFF manifesto promised “massive protected industrial development to create millions of sustainable jobs, including the introduction of minimum wages in order to close the wage gap between the rich and the poor”; it also supported doubling the value of all social grants (old age grants, child support grants, war veterans, disability grant etc); promote youth development by forcing government to employ at least 40% of their workforce aged 18-35 and increasing minimum wages for all sectors (in line with union demands); increasing public servants’ salaries by 50%. The EFF promised to build state/government capacity by abolishing tenders (no outsourcing to the private sector) and fight corruption by imposing a 20-year minimum sentence for all public representatives and public servants convicted of corruption.

The EFF’s manifesto, analysed in a thoughtful piece in the M&G, expressed a vision for a radically different and transformed South Africa, but it’s up for discussion whether or not its promises were/are realistic or if they’re outlandish wet dreams.

The EFF national list was headed by Julius Malema, and most of his colleagues atop the list also came from the ANC or ANCYL. Floyd Shivambu, a former ANCYL colleague of Malema and the EFF ‘commissar’ and chief of staff, placed fourth. The EFF’s candidate for provincial premier in Gauteng was Dali Mpofu, a former longtime ANC member who served as the legal representative for the Marikana miners. As an ANC stalwart, Mpofu had an affair, in 1992, with Winnie Mandela and attracted controversy for ANC bias when he was CEO of the SABC, the public broadcaster often accused (again this year by the DA and EFF) of being biased in favour of the ANC.

Congress of the People (COPE)

COPE was the second largest opposition party in the National Assembly and formed the official opposition in the Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Free State and North West provinces.

COPE’s creation can be traced back to the ANC’s 2007 National Conference in Polokwane, where Mbeki and his loyalists were soundly defeated by Jacob Zuma and his supporters. Polokwane was the culmination of a bitter civil war in the ANC which had begun in earnest in 2005; but Polokwane was not the end of all infighting in the ANC and in government between President Mbeki’s allies and those loyal to his former Deputy President. After Polokwane, Mbeki found himself thrust into a difficult and very precarious situation where he and his troops retained control of the national government (the Mbeki cabinet consisted mostly of his supporters) but their rivals held absolute control over the governing party, making him a lame-duck president who did not control his own party. The power struggle between the new pro-Zuma ANC leadership and incumbent pro-Mbeki incumbents continued, and spilled over to the provinces. In the WC, the pro-Mbeki Premier was recalled by the ANC and replaced by a pro-Zuma opponent.

In September 2008, judge Chris Nicholson dismissed the NPA’s decision to recharge Zuma. In the ruling, the judge alleged that Mbeki had interfered in the court proceedings. The landmark decision triggered a coup against Mbeki. The ANC NEC voted to “recall” Mbeki, forcing him to resign the presidency only 9 days after the court ruling. His resignation was followed by that of his closest allies – right-hand man Essop Pahad, Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, and defense minister Mosiuoa ‘Terror’ Lekota.

Lekota, Mbeki’s loyal defense minister since 1999 and the ANC National Chairperson between 1997 and 2007 publicly criticized the decision to axe Mbeki. Lekota announced in early October 2008 that he was leaving the ANC to create a new party. He was joined a week later by Mbhazima Shilowa, a former COSATU leader and the Premier of Gauteng, who had also backed Mbeki. Lekota and other close allies of the deposed President had denounced Zuma’s close alliance with the party’s populist left and criticized the increasingly racial and tribal character of the ANC under Zuma, who played up his Zulu identity and liked to sing controversial songs such as ‘Shoot the Boer’.

Lekota and Shilowa’s new party, COPE was launched in December 2008. The party purported to be moderate centrist alternative to the ANC, which they saw as being increasingly left-wing and populist. Its vague platform supported macroeconomic stability, job creation, reducing the role and influence of trade unions, community policing and socioeconomic equality – more or less the centrist agenda of Mbeki’s presidency. COPE endorsed the direct election of top officeholders (president, premiers, and mayors) and electoral reform (a dose of FPTP).

Somewhat disingenuously, COPE placed emphasis on democracy and fighting corruption – it decried the undemocratic nature of the NEC’s decision to topple Mbeki and made a big deal of Jacob Zuma’s persistent judicial troubles. Coming from the likes of Lekota or other embittered members of the deposed President’s old inner circle, this was quite rich. As National Chairperson, Lekota had rigorously enforced the party line and party loyalty within the ANC and offered full support to Mbeki’s autocratic leadership and his questionable policy decisions (on HIV/AIDS or Zimbabwe). As defense minister, Lekota had played a big role in covering up the arms deal in Parliament. Many of COPE’s members are tainted by their past as loyal Mbeki stalwarts and their criticism of corruption in the new Zuma-led ANC rang quite hollow. This is not to say, however, that the party has no ‘clean’ figures – Shilowa’s tenure as Premier of Gauteng was rather successful and he flouted Mbeki’s AIDS denialism.

The first signs of internal disunity in the new party came up in the run-up to the 2009 elections. COPE chose Mvume Dandala, a former Methodist bishop from the EC as its presidential candidate, apparently over Lekota’s opposition. Nonetheless, COPE was rather successful in the 2009 election, considering how new it was. It won 7.4% and 30 seats, and managed to win seats in all 9 provincial legislatures (even becoming the second largest party in 4 of them). Its support was spread rather evenly throughout the country, with stronger support in the Eastern Cape and Northern Cape. Most of its votes came from predominantly black areas – especially more middle-class black areas – but it likely won some Coloured support, particularly in Cape Town or the NC.

COPE’s leaders, on the losing end of the power struggle at Polokwane, agreed that they hated Zuma – but they soon found that they agreed on little else. The party more or less split before the 2011 local elections, with the Shilowa faction deciding that it would not contest the elections. The Lekota faction of COPE won only 2% of the vote. Lekota later expelled Shilowa from the party, citing an internal investigation which had found Shilowa guilty of mismanaging parliamentary funds. Shilowa opposed the expulsion, denying any wrongdoing, and took the matter to court (he lost). In October 2013, a court declared Lekota to be the rightful leader of the party.

The DA and other opposition parties had originally welcomed the creation of COPE and the DA hoped that COPE would siphon votes away from the ANC, and allow for the formation of DA-COPE coalitions (in those places where the ANC dropped below 50%). This was the DA’s objective, for example, in the 2011 local elections. While a few DA-COPE coalitions managed to wrestle control of some local councils away from the ANC, COPE’s utter weakness in 2011 meant that not few such coalitions actually materialized.

Since 2010-2011, COPE haemorrhaged support and leaders rapidly, crippled by the infighting. Like a few parties before it, COPE originally excited observers who were readily writing grand tales of the ANC’s impending demise; but like those parties before it, COPE has turned out to be a flash in the pan, originally causing great excitement before rapidly falling back to obscurity.

Shilowa’s supporters were purged from COPE before the elections, with Shilowa himself moving to support Bantu Holomisa’s United Democratic Movement (UDM). No less than 19 COPE MPs and MPLs defected to the ANC. Victorious in the leadership battle, Lekota, standing as COPE’s presidential candidate, tried to give the party a new start and was publicly upbeat about the party’s chances – promising to eat his hat if COPE didn’t improve on its 2009 results.

COPE’s manifesto explicitly reiterated what it had said in 2009 – the need for a ‘better government’ and a ‘government of the people’. For COPE, this meant the direct election of the President, Premiers and mayors, a vague promise for honest leaders and downsizing government. There were a number of pledges for transparent government, accountability and citizen empowerment; and calls for more efficient service delivery through a system to report failures, higher benchmarks and enhancing the budgetary capacities of local municipalities. On economic issues, COPE supported the NDP and talked of making it easier to create small businesses, strengthening agriculture and manufacturing, using un-utilized state-owned land for housing and land reform. With calls for ‘world-class education’, COPE proposed to raise the pass rate for Matric subjects (currently 30%), exclude unions from the appointment and supervision of teachers and paying teachers on basis of performance. COPE’s manifesto supported universal healthcare, improving the quality and affordability of public healthcare and improving accessibility to healthcare in communities by opening some clinics 24/7. To fight crime, COPE emphasized a transparent, depoliticized and accountable police force.

Lekota was COPE’s top candidate, followed by the party’s deputy president, Willie Madisha, a former president of COSATU who was unceremoniously removed by the union for supporting Mbeki at Polokwane.

Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP)

The IFP, a fixture of South African politics since the mid-1970s, has seen its influence diminished considerably since 1994 and especially in recent years. The IFP is a regional (ethnic) party and 90% of its votes in 2009 came from a single province, namely KwaZulu-Natal (KZN)

The IFP was founded by Mangosuthu Buthelezi, a Zulu tribal leader, in 1975. Buthelezi had been a member of the ANCYL in his youth and the IFP initially received the blessing and support of the ANC. However, by the late 1970s and early 1980s, as the situation in South Africa turned even more explosive and the ANC resorted to violence to render the apartheid state ‘ungovernable’, the IFP started clashing with the ANC and collaborating with the white regime. The ANC had long opposed tribalism and ethnicism, warning against the NP regime’s attempts to divide-and-conquer the black majority by fuelling animosities between the various ethno-linguistic groups (Zulus and Xhosas, for example). On the other hand, Buthelezi was a Zulu tribal leader who encouraged attempts to revive the traditional Zulu culture and preached respect for tribal traditions and the Zulu monarchy.

Buthelezi and the IFP are/were, however, complicated and complex. It would be inaccurate to consider Buthelezi (and the IFP) as collaborators of the apartheid regime or as a covert ‘third force’ at the pay of Pretoria; just as it would be inaccurate to consider Buthelezi as an upstanding and uncompromised leader of the liberation struggle. Inkatha had two faces: for its core ethnic Zulu audience, it emphasized Zulu tradition and ethnicity; but it also sold itself as a national liberation movement, claiming that it strove for justice.The reality is more complicated, less black-and-white.

Buthelezi worked within the apartheid framework of homelands, becoming the chief minister of the autonomous KwaZulu homeland in 1976 (he had been the administrator of a Zulu territorial authority since 1970), and KwaZulu became an authoritarian one-party state entirely dominated by the IFP. The ANC accused him of collaborating with the apartheid regime and shunned him. Indeed, by organizing on tribal grounds and endorsing federalism/self-determination for the various ethnic groups, Buthelezi was effectively playing the NP’s game. Yet, Buthelezi wasn’t entirely a ‘useful tool’ in the hands of the NP. He tried to play to both sides – while partaking in the NP’s ‘separate development’ scheme, preaching non-violence, federalism and rejecting the armed struggle and international boycotts; he also rejected ‘independence’ for KwaZulu and gave his backing to various reformist initiatives (Mahlabatini Declaration of Faith with Harry Schwarz in 1974, rejected PW Botha’s president’s council opening, opposed the 1983 constitution, proposed consociational government, opposed homelands and supported a united, federal South Africa).

Buthelezi felt increasingly insecure in the mid-1980s, as violence between the IFP and the ANC in KZN increased dramatically. As a homeland leader, he was effectively dependent on Pretoria for his homeland’s economy and his own personal security (naturally, he was more preoccupied with the latter). Buthelezi received covert, underhanded support from the regime – which wanted to use the IFP as a conservative black ally against the ‘communist terrorist’ ANC. Between 1986 and 1988, at Buthelezi’s request, the SADF Special Forces in the Caprivi Strip trained IFP militias and hitsquads (Operation Marion) and received weapons and backing from the regime or, later, sections of the regime’s Byzantine security structure.

The IFP played a huge role in the ‘black-on-black’ violence in KZN and the urbanized PWV in the transition era, partaking in several bloody massacres of black civilians and ANC sympathizers. The massacre of innocent civilians, ANC supporters, by IFP militias at KwaMakhutha (January 1987) and Boipatong (June 1992) were allegedly the results of conspiracies hatched by the IFP and the regime’s security forces. The IFP and the ANC were locked into a bloody conflict for political control in KZN and the townships/migrant hostels of the PWV (Gauteng).

During the transition process, the IFP and Buthelezi were mainly interested by safeguarding their ethnic and political interests. This involved a rejection of centralized government, and support for a federal regime. At first, the NP and the IFP enjoyed a fairly solid working relationship, as the NP was still trying to extract minority rights concessions from the ANC and still saw the IFP as a conservative black partner (in Botha’s footsteps). However, when Roelf Meyer took over the NP’s negotiating team and the NP signed the Record of Understanding with the ANC in September 1992, relations between the government and the IFP quickly soured. The IFP felt betrayed by the NP and marginalized in the bilateral ANC-NP negotiation channels; the NP had abandoned the IFP in favour of an ‘elite pact’ with the ANC.

The IFP walked out of the 1993 multi-party forum, where the NP and ANC often teamed up to overrule the objections of the other parties. Buthelezi threatened to boycott the 1994 elections – hoping to sabotage the process. During this brief time period, the IFP found common ground with the white right/far-right, particularly the Conservative Party (which also rejected the process), and some homeland leaders (who feared their upcoming loss of power). At the last minute, the ANC agreed to recognize traditional leaders (such as Zulu monarch Goodwill Zwelethini kaBhekuzulu) and made gestures in favour of self-determination/decentralization. The IFP finally decided to partake in the 1994 elections, only days before the vote.

The IFP won 10.5% and 43 seats in 1994. The race was particularly contentious in KZN, the focal point for much of the IFP-ANC violence since the 1980s. Through vote rigging, the IFP was able to win the controversial poll with over 48.5% of the vote in KZN. On the provincial ballot, NP ticket-splitters allowed the IFP to win over 50%. The IFP joined Mandela’s coalition government and Buthelezi served as minister of home affairs, a position he held until the IFP finally quit the government in 2004.

The IFP’s support has been in steep decline since the first election. In 1999, the IFP won a bit over 40% of the vote in KZN, only narrowly retaining the premiership. Nationally, it won 8.6% and 34 seats. In 2004, the IFP won 7% nationally and 28 seats. In KZN, it won only 35% of the vote – over ten points behind the ANC which finally gained the premiership. The 2009 election was an unmitigated disaster for the IFP, winning only 4.6% nationally (18 seats) and 20.5% in KZN.

The IFP has never really had any ideology beyond an increasingly meaningless chauvinistic Zulu nationalism, and its main interest has always been the protection of the traditional Zulu identity and promoting Zulu ethnic interests. It has attempted to reinvent itself into a non-tribal federalist party, supporting ethnic federalism and self-determination for all ethno-linguistic groups. However, this reinvention was only half-hearted and nobody fell for it. The IFP has no discernible coherent platform, ideology, vision or mission and its sole ambitions are winning/maintaining power for itself KZN.

Whatever it has in way of a platform mostly consists of fluff or vague blabber. The IFP is traditionally seen as a conservative party, which supports the free-market and conservative economic policies. Besides that, most of its other positions are populistic in tone. It does seem a bit more coherent on AIDS, preaching a more militant treatment policy while supporting an abstinence-based education campaign. Buthelezi lost two of his children to AIDS.

The party basically revolves around its strongman, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who has ruled over the IFP with an iron hand since 1970s. Buthelezi is a political opportunist who has a long-standing reputation of changing his ‘positions’ willy-nilly and lacking any ideological depth. He is extremely sensitive to criticism of his leadership and has ruthlessly quashed internal criticism. A few years ago, he chased Gavin Woods – one of the IFP’s few respected MPs and a white man – out of the party after Woods had published a scathing attack on Buthelezi’s leadership.

Jacob Zuma is an ethnic Zulu; his two predecessors at the helm of the ANC where Xhosa (the second biggest black ethnic group). Zuma, a very lively and flamboyant leader, has actively played up his own Zulu ethnicity. Zuma is a polygamist (illegal in South Africa but recognized by customary law) and he often partakes in traditional ceremonies, wearing leopard skins or other traditional attire. Politically, Zuma has shifted away from the ANC’s traditional non-tribalism and placed his ethnicity at the core of his new ANC (showing off as a ‘100% Zulu boy’) and preaching respect for elders and traditional (tribal) customs. In doing so, Zuma stole the last thing the IFP had left for itself – Zulu nationalism. In the 2009 election, the ANC made major gains in KZN, recouping some loses in other provinces. In the 2011 local elections, the ANC also made gains in KZN. It is now unquestionably the dominant party in KZN as well.

The IFP has been further weakened since 2011 by the creation of the National Freedom Party (NFP), a new party formed by IFP dissidents and led by the IFP’s former chairperson, Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi. After the 2009 rout, younger IFP cadres and ambitious figures like Magwaza-Msibi clamoured for leadership change. Buthelezi quashed the simmering rebellion and expelled leaders like Magwaza-Msibi. The NFP does not really have any ideology itself, except perhaps being less dogmatic than the IFP. In the 2011 local elections, the IFP won 15.8% in KZN against 10.4% for the NFP (the IFP-NFP total was greater than what the IFP alone had won in 2009). The IFP held an absolute majority on only two local councils after the vote, while the NFP gained control of a single municipality. However, the NFP allied with the ANC (or vice-versa) to isolate the IFP. They formed coalitions in 22 district and local councils. Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi became mayor of the Zululand District Municipality.

The IFP is a regional party. In 2009, 90% of its votes came from a single province (KZN); in previous years it was roughly the same percentage. The only other province where the IFP has attracted non-derisory support is Gauteng, where it won 1.5% in 2009 (and won one seat in the provincial legislature) and 4% in 1994. An urbanized and industrialized region, Gauteng has attracted Zulu migrant workers for a number of years. 20% of the province’s population is Zulu, and 6% of its residents were actually born in KZN; the IFP’s base lies with Zulu migrant workers living in hostels near the townships (almost all precincts won by the IFP in 2009 in Gauteng were hostels).

In KZN, the IFP has been disproportionately strongest in rural areas and the former territory of the KwaZulu homeland, reflecting the IFP’s base with Zulu traditionalists – tribal leaders and their circles, former KwaZulu public servants. In 1999, the IFP is estimated to have received 64% of the vote in the former homeland but only 17% in the rest of the province (against 50% for the ANC). The IFP, for example, has usually been weak at Durban – its peak was 25% on the provincial ballot in 1994. In 2009, the IFP took only 6.8% in eThekwini (Durban). Younger urbanized Zulus usually preferred the ANC’s more militant and non-tribal socialism over the IFP’s traditionalist conservatism. The IFP’s strongest region in KZN is the area around Ulundi, the former capital of the KwaZulu homeland (and capital of KZN until 2004). Even in 2009, the IFP won no less than 83.6% in Ulundi. It also won 81.6% in Nongoma, the base of the traditional Zulu monarchy. The IFP still holds an outright majority in Ulundi’s local council – but it lost Nongoma to a NFP-ANC coalition in 2011.

Almost all IFP voters are Zulus, but naturally not all Zulus are IFP voters. For example, in Mpumalanga, where Zulus make up 25% of the population, the IFP won only 0.5% in 2009. The IFP never gained a foothold or built up any infrastructure in that province. Outside KZN and Gauteng, the party’s support is basically non-existent in other provinces (0.06% in the WC…).

The IFP manifesto focused on service delivery, quality education, tackling corruption, job creation (calling for flexible labour laws, special economic zones in rural areas with low taxes), improving healthcare, land reform (favouring traditional leaders), crime and respecting traditional leaders (who, the IFP claimed, have had their authority eroded since 2014).

The NFP presents itself as a national social democratic party, retaining the Inkatha-influenced emphasis on strong devolved local government. The NFP’s platform focused on improving education (higher Matric pass rate, compulsory and free basic education till the age of 18, free higher education for students meeting entry standards, reducing the scope of student loans), service delivery, land reform (using a moderate approach), healthcare, economic development (aiming to go beyond the narrow view of ‘business opportunity’ in favour of ‘development, supporting protectionist measures), tackling crime, participation of traditional leaders in local governance, social development (with a promise to increase child support grants) and corruption.

Minor parties

United Democratic Movement (UDM)

The UDM is a small party, which first ran in 1999 and has since seen its support declined. It held only 4 seats in the National Assembly.

The UDM was founded in 1997 by Bantu Holomisa and Roelf Meyer. Bantu Holomisa is the former military ruler of the ‘independent’ Transkei homeland. As commander of the homeland’s armed forces, he deposed Prime Minister Stella Sigcau in a coup in 1987 and seized power. Unlike Lucas Mangope in Bophuthatswana or Oupa Gqozo in Ciskei, Holomisa and Transkei enjoyed an uneasy alliance with the ANC and provided the ANC with a safe haven. Even if Holomisa was not quite a puppet for apartheid, he was not really an exemplary leader either: his military junta often executed its opponents without any sort of trial; and corruption flourished under his rule. Holomisa did not oppose Transkei’s reintegration into South Africa in 1994. In fact, he joined the ANC and joined cabinet as a deputy minister. In September 1996, he was unceremoniously expelled from cabinet and the ANC after alleging that Stella Sigcau, who had become Minister of Public Enterprises in Mandela’s cabinet, had received a bribe from a shady casino magnate in the 1980s.

As it happens, another prominent member of a major party was pushed out from his party around the same time: Roelf Meyer. Meyer, the lead NP negotiator during the second half of the transition process, was widely seen as de Klerk’s dauphin within the NP after the 1994 election. Meyer, a young reformist verligte, wanted to transform the NP by changing the party’s name and actively recruiting black members for the party. His rapid ascension within the party worried the party’s hardliners and other ambitious younger members (notably Marthinus van Schalkwyk). The hardliners were able to force the NP out of the national unity cabinet in 1996, and Meyer was eventually forced to leave the NP with some of his lesser-known allies in May 1997.

Holomisa and Meyer created the UDM in September 1997. The party intended to be a non-racial and non-regionalist national alternative to the ANC, so it naturally got a few people excited. In the 1999 elections, the UDM won 3.4% of the vote and 14 seats. Half of the UDM’s support came from the Eastern Cape, in particular the former Transkei homeland. It did win some white and non-Xhosa black support outside the EC as well.

Meyer quit politics in 2000 (and went on to join the ANC in 2006). The party was decimated in the first floor-crossing window in 2003, when it lost 10 of its 14 seats – most of them to the ANC. In the 2004 elections, the UDM saw its support reduced to 2.3% and 9 seats (it lost 3 seats in the 2005 floor-crossing window). In 2009, the UDM won only 0.9% and 4 seats.

The UDM has basically morphed into a regionalist/personalist party which is a powerful actor only around Umtata (now known as Mthatha), Holomisa’s home turf and the former capital of Transkei. In 2009, 61% of its support came from a single province (the Eastern Cape, where it won 4%); most of that support in turn came from King Sabata Dalindyebo Municipality, which includes Umtata and Holomisa’s hometown (Mqanduli). The UDM won 24% of the vote in the municipality in 2009, doing best in rural areas south of Mqanduli where it won over 45-50% in some wards. In 1999, the UDM had won over 50% of the vote in Umtata and 77% in Mqanduli. The UDM’s support reflects tribal support for Holomisa is his native region. In the 1999 election, the UDM took 21% in those parts of the EC which had been part of either Ciskei or Transkei and 4% in the rest of the province; given the low support in the Ciskei, the party’s result in the former Transkei alone was probably much stronger. Outside the EC, the UDM has very weak support. Its best other province was WC, with 0.8%, reflective of the large Xhosa migrant population which lives in Cape Town.

Bantu Holomisa regained a profile in national politics (he’s usually absent from the media outside elections) following the 2012 Marikana massacre, becoming one of the more popular opposition politicians (along with Julius Malema) to speak at miners’ rallies – likely due to the fact that a lot of the miners in the Marikana area are isiXhosa-speakers originally from the EC and Holomisa’s strong advocacy for their 22% wage increase. Holomisa’s rallies, for example, drew far larger crowds than the non-Malema far-left’s much smaller rallies. Holomisa also cozied up with Malema, attending the EFF’s launch in Marikana in October 2013. There was, however, no formal electoral coalition between the UDM and EFF.

The UDM appears vaguely centre-rightish, though its policies usually consists of platitudes and feel-good but rather meaningless principles (job creation, national unity, economic growth). It has often placed considerable emphasis on fighting corruption. This year, the UDM’s manifesto focused heavily on corruption – it was even titled ‘Corruption destroys the gains of our freedom’ – and, to fight corruption, the UDM notably promised reducing political interference in government and independent institutions, introducing courts charged explicitly with tackling corruption and reviewing the tender system. On economic issues, the UDM said its philosophy was ‘government must do more’ – calling for government to create a stable policy environment, promote youth and women empowerment, invest in infrastructure development, help small business development, facilitate access to market, provide tax incentives for businesses to create jobs, protect local industries and do more to promote industrialization. The UDM proposed an ‘economic indaba’ to discuss land and mineral ownership and workers’ conditions. Overall, the UDM’s platform (like that of the EFF) presented a very gloomy view of South Africa’s progress since 1994.

Freedom Front Plus/Vryheidsfront Plus (FF+/VF+)

The VF+ is the only purely ‘white’ party in South Africa. The party aims to defend Afrikaner interests.

The VF+ was founded as the Freedom Front (Vryheidsfront) in 1994, only a month prior to the first free elections. The white right/far-right was hostile to the transition to majority rule, but they were divided in their strategies. More moderate Afrikaner nationalists whose main goal was Afrikaner self-determination and the creation of a sovereign/autonomous volkstaat for Afrikaners were organized under the auspices of the Afrikaner Volksfront (AVF), led by Constand Viljoen, a retired SADF commander. In contrast to Eugène Terre’Blanche’s extremist and arch-racist thugs, the AVF was a more respectable force which had fairly close ties with parts of the security forces. Following the Bophuthatswana disaster just before the 1994 elections, the AVF and Viljoen were convinced that electoral participation was preferable to armed opposition. In return for their participation in the electoral process, the Afrikaner nationalists had received assurances from Mandela and the ANC that Afrikaner self-determination would be considered if there was substantial support for the idea.

The VF won 2.2% and 9 seats in the first elections in 1994. However, the party has since been hurt by the consolidation of the white vote – including the Afrikaner conservative/nationalist vote – behind a single party. By 1999, the party fell to 0.8% and a mere 3 seats. In that election, the party was hurt by competition from the Federal Alliance, a white party led by corrupt business magnate Louis Luyt (2 seats) and the Afrikaner Eenheidsbeweging (1 seat). In 2004, its support increased marginally, to 0.9%, and it gained a single seat. In 2009, it won 0.8% and held its 4 seats.

Viljoen retired in 2001, pushed out because some in the party felt he was cooperating too much with the ANC. The party became the VF+ before the 2004 election when it integrated the remnants of the moribund Conservative Party (which had only run in the 1995/1996 local elections) and the Afrikaner Eenheidsbeweging. Luyt’s party later folded into the VF+ as well.

The current leader of the VF+ is Pieter Mulder, the son of Connie Mulder – the apartheid-era hardline cabinet minister behind the Infogate scandal. His brother, Corné Mulder, is also a VF+ MP.

The party has never attempted to widen its electorate and has instead focused its efforts on promoting Afrikaner interests and white minority rights – including through cooperation with the governing party. Pieter Mulder, for example, is actually a member of cabinet as deputy minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries. In 2008, the VF+ managed to get the Afrikaners recognized by the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO).

The VF+’s original raison-d’etre – the volkstaat – is dead; it was a very unrealistic idea to begin with, and never received much support besides a handful of passionate and dogmatic white Afrikaner nationalists. The VF+ might bring up the volkstaat idea (and even draw a map of it) from time to time, but it too has recognized the futility of the idea and it doesn’t feature much (if at all) in the manifestos. As aforementioned, it now defends white minority rights, being one of the top advocates for white minority rights alongside the Solidarity trade union and the AfriForum, a white civil rights organization tied to Solidarity. Sometimes, defending white minority rights entails Mulder or somebody in his party saying a stupid thing which reeks of the apartheid era. For example, VF+ once got in the news by criticizing a DA municipality’s decision to rename a school which had been named after HF Verwoerd (when everybody else should be asking why things are still named after him in 2014).

VF+’s voters are conservative white Afrikaners. Its support patterns are a bit different from the DA’s support – firstly because basically no non-whites vote for VF+ and because only very, very few white Anglos vote for the VF+. For example, in KZN and the EC, where the whites are mostly Anglo, VF+ won only 0.2% in 2009. Its best provinces were the Free State (1.6%), NW (1.4%) and Gauteng (1.4%). It wins its best results in isolated Afrikaans-speaking white villages/towns in the old Transvaal, Orange Free State, or northern Cape Province – regions where the Conservative Party was strongest in the late 1980s. In 2009, it did particularly well (around 15%) in the white wards in Potchefstroom, a mecca of Afrikaner nationalism and academia in the Transvaal. However, the party’s most famous stronghold is Orania, a small town in the Northern Cape established by Afrikaner nationalists in 1990 to form the ‘embryo’ for a future volkstaat. The Orania movement’s leader, Carel Boshoff, was the son-in-law of HF Verwoerd and the provincial leader of the VF+ until his death in 2011. In the 2009 elections, the VF+ won 87.4% of the vote in Orania.

Defending minority rights, VF+ is highly critical of affirmative action – in its 2014 manifesto, it says that South Africa has gone stale since 1994 notably because of “affirmative action, job-losses as a result of transformation, marginalisation of minorities […] farm murders”. The party, reiterating the old Afrikaner nationalist emphasis on communities and the volk as the necessary element of human existence, laments the lack of ‘freedom to communities’. Unlike other parties, the VF+, fulfilling its role as a niche party, had a manifesto focused heavily on minority rights (specifically Afrikaners), the feared loss of minority rights and cultural diversity (the ANC controversially renamed provinces, cities and public places – most contentiously, changing the city of Pretoria’s name to ‘Tshwane’, creating a lot of controversy). The party proposed the creation of a National Afrikaner Council, which it fails to describe; the protection of Afrikaner settlements such as Orania; a quota-free zone for three Coloured/Afrikaans-majority district municipalities in the NC to be exempted from affirmative action laws; upholding language rights (South Africa has 11 official languages, but English is the overwhelmingly dominant public language in government, business, education, the media and so forth); scrapping racially-based affirmative action and BEE; devolution of powers to provincial and local governments; and using unused state land for redistribution in priority. On other issues, the party is very conservative – it proposed to restrict the right to strike, strongly supports the right to bear arms, the use of private security and criticized the over-regulation of private health schemes. The VF+ calls for a state which ‘maintains Christian values’ and its manifesto was founded on the idea that “believers want to acknowledge the supremacy of the Trinity God and obey Him. In humble recognition of human imperfections, a constitutional dispensation is pursued which builds on this foundation”.

African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP)

The ACDP is a Christian fundamentalist social conservative party. The party, led by Reverend Kenneth Meshoe, was established a bit before the 1994 elections. It peaked at 1.6% and 7 seats in 2004, after winning 0.5% (2 seats) in 1994 and 1.4% (6 seats) in 1999. It lost most of its seats in 2009, taking only 3 seats and 0.8% of the vote.

The ACDP’s platform is based on strict Christian and biblical norms and the party has usually been seen as focusing its energies on moral issues (which are not major issues in South African politics). The ACDP was the only party to vote against South Africa’s very socially progressive constitution in 1996 because it banned discrimination based on sexual orientation (a clause whose wording led to a 2006 court decision which legalized gay marriage) and legalized abortion. The party is opposed to abortion, prostitution and homosexuality. It also promotes an abstinence-only policy and opposes the use of condoms to prevent HIV transmission, although it supports ARVs. The ACDP has dismissed criticism that it is a single-issue party focused solely on cultural/moral issues (where it gets most of its publicity from), and presented a manifesto with proposals on the main issues of jobs, welfare, safety, integrity, education, health, housing and family. On economic issues, the ACDP is clearly on the right, seeking to reduce government intervention in the economy and emphasizing traditional right-wing values/idea (competitive advantage, eliminating wasteful spending, review labour laws to remove obstacles to growth, free trade); but it supports an increased social wage to reduce poverty and the implementation of the NHI. The ACDP’s pet values, listed above, did not even feature prominently in the party’s manifesto in 2014.

Interestingly, the party’s electorate seems fairly multi-racial. The party is strongest in the WC, where it won 1.6% in 2009. It briefly participated in the DA-led municipal coalition in Cape Town between 2006 and 2009.

United Christian Democratic Party (UCDP)

The UCDP is a small regional party founded in 1997. The party’s founder was Lucas Mangope, the president of the ‘independent’ homeland of Bophuthatswana between 1977 and 1994. Mangope was Pretoria’s dream conservative black puppet leader. He was a Tswana ethnic nationalist who defended an ethnically exclusive vision for his homeland, he collaborated actively with the apartheid regime (to the point where the SADF intervened to protect him against a coup) and he was strongly opposed to the ANC. Along with Oupa Gqozo’s Ciskei, he was one of the homeland leaders who resisted reintegration into South Africa and threatened to sabotage the transition process. On this front, Bop and Ciskei found common ground with Buthelezi’s IFP and the white far-right including the KP. However, this alliance of odd bedfellows quickly foundered. Mangope was unable to resist to a general strike in March 1994 and his military soon deserted him, the AVF/AWB intervention ended as an embarrassment for all involved.

Mangope did not participate in the first elections in 1994. He created the UCDP in 1997. It won 0.8% and only 3 seats in 1999, with 78% of its vote coming from the North West province – where it won 9.6% in the provincial elections and formed the small official opposition to the hegemonic ANC. In 2004, the party won 0.75% and held its 3 seats; it also managed to hold on to second in the NW (with 8.5%). In 2009, however, the party fell to 0.4% and won only 2 seats; in the NW province it was surpassed by COPE and the DA, managing fourth place with only 5.3% (2 seats out of 33) in the provincial election.

The UCDP is a right-wing party with fairly conservative positions on economic matters. It also claims to be inspired by conservative Christian principles. Not sure, however, if any actual ideology should be ascribed to the party given how it has functioned as a Mangope’s personal political vehicle and how it plays on some weird kind of homeland/Bophuthatswana nostalgic-nationalism.

Interestingly, however, Mangope was expelled from his own party in 2011 and the party’s leader is now a nobody.

As mentioned above, the UCDP is a more or less regional party. In 2009, 66% of the party’s votes came from a single province, the NW, which includes most of the former Bophuthatswana. The UCDP took 4% in the province in the general election; the only other province where it got more than crumbs was the Northern Cape (1%) – which includes one of the seven old enclaves of the former Bop. The party differs from the two other regional parties – the UDM and the IFP – in two senses: its support does not correlate very closely with the boundaries of the former homeland, and it never gained the IFP or the UDM’s level of support in the former homeland. In 1999, the UCDP got 10% in the homeland and 7% in the NW province outside the homeland. Bop’s makeshift borders had been quite fluid and the Tswana population it was envisioned to be the homeland of continued living on both sides of the border in the present-day NW province. At that point, it won 33% of the vote in Mafikeng, which included the former Bop capital of Mmabatho. The UCDP, which peaked at around 10% in the NW, never got the IFP or even the UDM’s level of support in either Bop or the province as a whole. This is largely because Mangope left office in 1994 with no legitimacy whatsoever (unlike Holomisa, who was not a useless tool like him; or Buthelezi, who was much more effective at gaining actual support than any other puppet leader) and with only limited popular support in the former Bop (Mangope never really enjoyed widespread support, unlike Buthelezi).

Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC)

The PAC is a small far-left party which has been reduced to a one of many also-ran parties in South African politics; but at one time, the PAC was a powerful force and the ANC’s main rival for mass support and mobilization against the apartheid regime.

In the 1950s, the broader anti-apartheid movement was divided into two main factions. On the one hand, the majority of the ANC, influenced by the Communist Party (SACP), endorsed a multiracial society with equal franchise. The Congress of the People and what came out of it – the Freedom Charter (1955) – represented this multiracial/non-racial tradition, with the famous line that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white”. The ‘black’ ANC was only one actor in the Congress of the People, alongside rather influential anti-apartheid white left-wingers (mostly white Communists), Indians and Coloureds. On the other hand, the ‘Africanists’ within the ANC – influenced by Kwame Nkrumah’s pan-Africanist ideology – opposed the ANC-SACP’s multiracialism and the active participation of whites in the struggle. Driven by the view that all white South Africans – and not just the white government – were the oppressors – they saw the presence of whites in the movement as a sign that the ANC had been co-opted by the white ruling class. They recognized that individual whites could play a role in the struggle, but they could not hold leadership in the movement. The Africanists supported African continental unity, represented by the slogan ‘Africa for the Africans’. The PAC’s founder, Robert Subokwe, felt that even anti-apartheid whites could not identify fully with the cause because of their material advantages (therefore, only black Africans could lead the liberation movement), but he said that once oppression was removed, there would be no discrimination against whites on racial grounds. Radicals felt that the whites needed to be expelled from Africa.

The PAC was founded in April 1959 by the ANC’s Africanist faction, led by Robert Subokwe and Potlako Leballo. At the outset, the PAC posed a strong challenge to the ANC for the control of the anti-apartheid movement and the support of the country’s black masses. The PAC, like the ANC, had its own armed movement, the APLA (originally Poqo), which targeted white civilians – especially in the waning days of the apartheid regime. The PAC spearheaded the peaceful anti-pass campaign which led to the Sharpeville massacre in March 1960, when 69 unarmed black civilians were mowed down by the apartheid regime. Following the Sharpeville massacre, Sobukwe was arrested. He was finally released in 1969, but remained under house arrest until his death in 1978.

Sobukwe’s death and the exile of many of the PAC’s major leaders weakened the organization. Infighting between the PAC, its armed wing and the various factions in both erupted after Sobukwe’s death in 1978. Opposition to the SACP’s influence over the ANC had been one of the causes behind the PAC split in 1959, but the PAC itself moved towards Maoism in the 1970s – and the PAC sided with China in the Sino-Soviet split, while the ANC/SACP sided with the USSR. The intense infighting, the lack of any solid leadership and the absence of any real organization weakened the PAC in the 1980s. The PAC’s focus on abstract ‘grand ideas’ and dogmatism also kept the PAC from gaining mass support, unlike the ANC which also focused on local bread-and-butter concerns.

The PAC was unbanned in 1990. The party boycotted the transition process and APLA attacked white civilian targets, the bloodiest of which was the St. James Church bombing in Cape Town (in 1993), which killed 11. The PAC was divided on whether or not it should contest the 1994 election, given its opposition to the negotiated transition and the continuing armed struggle (placed on hold for the election, however). In the end, most of the PAC agreed to contest the poll. The 1994 election was a disaster for the PAC, which won only 1.3% of the vote and a mere 5 seats. The PAC’s radical and racial rhetoric (‘one settler, one bullet’) alienated many black voters who were eager for peace and reconciliation. The party was unable to improve its standing after 1994, in fact it has lost votes in every election since. In 1999, it won 0.8% and 3 seats. In 2004, it won 0.7% and 3 seats. In 2009, weakened by the split of the African’s People Convention, it won only 0.3% and held a single seat. Infighting continues to plague the party – in 2013, the PAC’s NEC expelled its president.

The PAC, once a powerful rival to the ANC, has become an extremely marginal force which poses no real threat to the ANC. The PAC has a far-left program, supporting nationalization and land redistribution. When Malema created the EFF, the PAC complained that Malema was stealing what the PAC stood for, but in March 2014, the PAC attended Malema’s manifesto launched and the PAC’s leader talk of a post-election merger.

Minority Front (MF)

The Minority Front is a small ethnic regional (KZN/Durban) party. The MF claims to represent all ethnic minorities in South Africa, in reality its support stems almost exclusively from the Indian minority in Durban, which has the largest Indian population of any major city in South Africa – making up roughly 18% of the city’s population, forming a large majority in Chatsworth and Phoenix.

The party functioned as a vehicle for its leader, Amichand Rajbansi, until his death in 2011. Rajbansi was an Indian community leader in Durban who was coopted by the NP regime in the 1970s and 1980s and played along with Botha’s tricameral scheme. He formed the National People’s Party (NPP) in 1981, and the NPP competed in the 1984 and 1989 elections for the Indian House of Delegates – elections which were, by and large, boycotted by the Indian population. The NPP won a majority in the 1984 election and Rajbansi served on Botha’s cabinet (minister of Indian affairs) and chaired the ‘Indian cabinet’. However, his rule was controversial. In the late 1980s, he was found guilty of various charges of bribery and glaring misadministration by parliamentary commissions and was subsequently dumped by Botha in 1988. Andrew Feinstein described Rajbansi as a “prominently bewigged gentleman with a charming lack of self-irony.”

The MF was founded in 1994 as a successor to the NP. It won only 0.07% in the first free elections in 1994, but with 1.3% in the provincial election in KZN it did qualify for a seat. Its national support increased to 0.3% in 1999 and 0.35% in 2004, winning one seat in the National Assembly in 1999 and gaining a second one in 2004. In 2009, the party’s support declined to 0.25% and it lost its second seat. The MF is a regional party which does not run in provincial or local elections outside KZN. In the 2009 GE, 89.6% of its votes came from a single province (KZN), where it won 2.05% in the provincial election (2 seats) and 1.1% in the general election. The few votes it won outside KZN came mostly from Indian neighborhoods such as Lenasia in Johannesburg. Its support in KZN provincial ballots has oscillated between 2.9% (1999) and 2% (2009). In 2009 (GE), the MF won 2.5% in eThekwini (Durban) and 3.5% in uMdoni (Scottburgh), located south of Durban and 14% Indian. In the 2011 local elections, the MF won 5.3% in Durban, and won 11 seats including 6 wards. It won 6.5% in uMdoni and one ward. There is increasing overlap between MF and DA support, with the MF losing a number of its voters to the DA. In direct races between the ANC and the DA, the MF’s supporters tend to back the DA by large margins.

Having been a personal vehicle for Rajbansi until 2011, the MF has no real ideology besides vague ethnic nationalism/Indian minority rights. Rajbansi’s widow took the party leadership after his death in 2011. The MF had an extremely short manifesto, mostly made up of a postmortem personality cult for Rajbansi (the ‘Bengal Tiger’, his wife, rest assured, is a ‘tigress’) and extremely empty blabber about minorities (part of which is probably ripped off from Wikipedia explaining what minorities are).

Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO)

AZAPO is a small black far-left party, similar to the PAC. AZAPO is the main political front of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM).

The Black Consciousness Movement was founded by Steve Biko, a black student leader, in the mid-1960s, following the marginalization and weakening of the ANC and PAC following the Sharpeville massacre and the arrest or forced exile of most of the ANC and PAC leadership. Like the Africanists, Biko’s BCM rejected the ANC’s moderate multiracial approach and its focus on extending civil rights to the entire South African population. Biko resented the strong influence of white liberals/left-wingers in the anti-apartheid movement, particularly in the student movement (the NUSAS). He attacked what he saw as traditional white values especially the ‘condescending’ values white liberals and the ‘white monopoly on truth’. The BCM wanted blacks to find their own way out of apartheid, a uniquely ‘African’ way; developing their own identity and institutions to gain psychological strength (because blacks had become alienated from themselves). He charged that whites of perpetuating a ‘super-race image’ through the use of force, which created and reinforced fears. The BCM wanted a unitary state ruled by blacks, with whites living on terms laid down by blacks. Biko disliked white communists and liberals, dismissed the SACP’s Marxist class analysis and felt that liberals had a paternalistic ‘do-gooder’ attitude towards blacks.

The BCM was the catalysing force behind the Soweto uprising in 1976. Steve Biko was arrested in Port Elizabeth in 1977 and murdered by his captors, probably in the back of a pickup truck while he was transferred from Port Elizabeth to Pretoria. Biko’s death weakened the BCM, especially as the ANC regained its leadership of the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s with the organization of various domestic civil society organizations – including some close to the BCM – under the UDF. During the 1980s, AZAPO was a minor force in the liberation movement, clashing with the ANC and taking a far-left stance against imperialism and capitalism

AZAPO did not participate in the first free elections in 1994. In 1999, the party won 0.2% and a single seat. It increased its support to 0.25% in 2004 and fell back to 0.22% in 2009, holding its single seat in both those elections.

AZAPO is a scientific socialist/far-left party. It defines itself as anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist and has focused its campaigns mostly on increasing black economic power. It sees the class struggle as being expressed in racial terms.

African People’s Convention (APC)

The APC is a small black far-left party founded by a split in the PAC in 2007. The party was founded during the third and last floor-crossing period in 2007 by Themba Godi, a PAC MP and the party’s deputy leader. The split must have been the result of a personality clash incomprehensible to outsiders. Indeed, the APC’s ideology is basically the same as the PAC: pan-Africanism, continental unity, socialism.

The APC won 0.2% in the 2009 election, enough for a single seat. Incidentally, it was the smallest party (in terms of votes) to win seats in 2009.

Results and analysis

Turnout was 73.43%, down from 77.3% in the 2009 election. This is the lowest turnout since 1999 (there was no voter registration in 1994, so it’s more difficult to make comparisons), when it stood at 89%. About 1.4% of votes were spoilt, basically unchanged since 2009, although the number increased from about 239,000 to a bit less than 252,000.

However, as I’ll explain later, the turnout data – based on registered voters – can be quite misleading. The results, based on valid votes, were as follows:

ANC 62.15% (-3.75%) winning 249 seats (-15)
DA 22.33% (+4.65%) winning 89 seats (+18)
EFF 6.35% (+6.35%) winning 25 seats (+25)
IFP 2.4% (-2.15%) winning 10 seats (-8)
NFP 1.57% (+1.57%) winning 6 seats (+6)
UDM 1.00% (+0.16%) winning 4 seats (nc)
VF+ 0.9% (+0.07%) winning 4 seats (nc)
COPE 0.67% (-6.75%) winning 3 seats (-27)
ACDP 0.57% (-0.24%) winning 3 seats (nc)
AIC 0.53% (+0.53%) winning 3 seats (+3)
Agang SA 0.28% (+0.28%) winning 2 seats (+2)
PAC 0.21% (-0.07%) winning 1 seat (nc)
APC 0.17% (-0.04%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Al Jama-ah 0.14% (-0.01%) winning 0 seats (nc)
MF 0.12% (-0.12%) winning 0 seats (-1)
UCDP 0.12% (-0.26%) winning 0 seats (-2)
AZAPO 0.11% (-0.11%) winning 0 seats (-1)
All others (below 0.1%) 0.47% winning 0 seats (nc)

The ANC was unsurprisingly reelected, keeping its large majority in the National Assembly with a resounding three-fifths majority (although it once again fell short of the two-thirds majority, which it held between 2004 and 2009, and which would have allowed the ANC to amend the constitution on its own). The ANC remains South Africa’s dominant party, and the 2014 results marked relatively change from the 2009 election, only with another decline for the ANC and an uptick for the opposition.

It often seems as if a lot of Western observers can’t quite comprehend why the ANC remains so popular and dominant – despite a widely-assailed President and a record which is very mediocre at best with very high unemployment, widespread corruption, incompetent ministers, major challenges in education and healthcare, service delivery protests and so forth. That incomprehension often breeds silly analysis on ‘liberation parties’ or downright paternalistic and patronizing ‘analysis’ which seem to insinuate that the ANC’s black voters don’t know what’s good for them and/or that they’re voting against their interests.

The ANC remains a genuinely popular party after 20 years in power, despite many failures which even ANC voters would recognize. The ANC isn’t popular because its voters don’t know what’s good for them; it’s popular because the ANC does retain a positive legacy and record since 1994 which its supporters still embrace. Despite a lot of undeniable failures about the state of South Africa since 1994 and the country has fallen short of the high hopes of 1994, it’s important to remember how far the country has come since those dark days. There have been real and tangible improvements in the livelihood of the black majority – and that’s hardly a subjective viewpoint, because the DA and most opposition parties recognize that. Besides the obvious – that they are now treated as equals and have political rights – millions of black South Africans have received (or are receiving) generous government grants, RDP housing or have gained access to basic necessities (running water, electricity, toilet facilities) which they previously lacked. Perhaps for people who have come to expect such amenities regardless of the party in power that might not seem like much, it certainly is a lot for people who previously lacked access to such amenities/services and faced repression at the hands of a racist regime.

ANC supporters often cite these factors – the major improvements which have taken place in their lives since 1994 – when explaining why they remain loyal to the ANC. That continued loyalty, however, does not stop them from being quite lucid of the challenges faced and the past failures of the ANC. Loyalty to the ANC should not be seen as blind loyalty to the ANC, nor should it be understood as mindless tribal/racial voting (although that likely plays a role too).

As Khaya Dlanga, an ANC-critical columnist who voted ANC, wrote: “The party has made some mistakes but it has got many things right, as proven by the visible and tangible change in many people’s lives.”

The ANC retains its aura as the liberation party, the party of Mandela and other great freedom fighters, and a lot of its supporters remain enormously proud of the ANC and the work that it has done. Cognizant of that fact, the ANC’s campaign this year placed a lot of emphasis on ‘the good story to tell’ and played on Mandela’s legacy. From that legacy, the ANC continues to draw on a base of enthusiastic and upbeat activists who provide the ANC with a tremendous nation-wide grassroots base which always shows its muscle, despite challenges, at election time.

The ANC is a smart party when it comes to elections, and it goes into elections with advantages which the other parties don’t have. Although Jacob Zuma remained the face of the ANC campaign, the ANC’s subliminal message was to ‘vote for the party, not an individual’ – playing on the real popularity of the ANC brand, to avoid excessive association from the more unpopular and somewhat toxic Zuma brand following Nkandlagate and similar scandals. The ANC’s strong result proved that it can still sell itself successfully regardless of who leads it, and the ANC brand is stronger than Zuma. The ANC successfully managed to convince loyal voters to separate Zuma, the government and the ANC. Although the reality isn’t that simple, ANC supporters who feel queasy about the ANC may take solace in the fact that the ANC is far from a monolith or personal machine, and that it has the ability to change – most recently witnessed at Polokwane (for better or worse), most famously in 1949 when a young guard around Mandela orchestrated the removal of AB Xuma, the ANC president accused of being too moderate and apologetic for the times.

For some ANC voters, scandals such as Nkandla may not have been major issues. Zuma said that only ‘bright/clever people’ cared about Nkandla and that it was not an issue, although he still defended himself saying that Madonsela hadn’t found him guilty and that it was unfair that he was being singled out for criticism (besides, he claimed the upgrades were necessary after criminals broke into his house to rape his wife).

The ANC has the strongest electoral machine of any party: a dedicated and committed army of supporters and hardened partisans, a presence throughout the country, a grassroots base in urban and rural black communities (in the townships and the former homelands alike), certainly a hefty war chest larger than that of the opposition and the covert use of state resources in its favour. It doesn’t hurt, for example, that the SABC – which is the main source of news for a lot of voters – is biased in the ANC’s favour or at the very least quite tame in its reporting on the ANC. Patronage remains an important factors, especially in rural areas, with several businesspeople who have made their fortunes on the back of the ANC or party supporters who have drawn on their ties to the party to obtain advantages or access to public services.

In 2009 and again in 2014, the ANC proved that, with its advantages and fairly strong campaign, it could prove skeptics wrong and defy very real challenges to its hegemony. In 2009, the ANC successfully undercut COPE’s appeal to its base and mobilized support for Zuma and the ANC. In 2014, despite threats from the fallout of Nkandla, Marikana, high unemployment and the poor economy, the ANC once again mobilized its support quite well.

For a lot of black voters, there is also a dearth of options – quite ironic given South Africa’s very proportional voting system and the wide choice of parties on the ballot. However, the main opposition, the DA remains perceived – fairly or unfairly – as the ‘white’s party’, and the ANC certainly loves playing on resentments, fears and myths to drum up support. The DA has increased its support, some of it coming from black voters, and under Helen Zille the DA has taken real steps – some of them successful – to change the party and improve its image. More and more, the DA has black members and leaders who aren’t total duds and don’t merely serve as window-dressing. However, the image remains stubborn and the DA often fails at messaging – they bash the ANC too much for their own good, leaving traditional ANC supporters wondering if they were downplaying or denying the ANC’s achievements or looking down on them or attacking them for voting ANC in the past. The DA also has the unfortunate tendency to be incredibly tin-eared or amateurish when it comes to messaging what black voters care about. The DA’s policies on affirmative action, ‘the elephant in the room’ in the words of Christi van der Westhuizen, have been a tough sell to black voters, more attracted by the ANC’s EE/BEE policies than the DA’s vague and unappealing stuff on ‘equal opportunities’, non-racialism or the ‘open opportunity society for all’. Thankfully for them, the DA is making progress on this issue, recognizing that class and race are correlated and that appealing to black voters requires more than lip-service and sloganeering on EE. Yet, the DA still has issues to remedy. Helen Zille is a competent administrator but not a particularly good party leader; her image as a madam baas and her enraged rants on Twitter are liabilities. She also needs to shake off the image (which seems to be rooted in reality) that Zille has a smug view towards black leaders in the DA – picking and choosing her favourites and treating them as her proteges who she expects to be loyal-or-else. It is the kind of attitude which underlines the impression that the DA takes a very simplistic view of race relations and racial dynamics, failing to grasp the complexity of racial relations and dynamics in 21st century South Africa.

As was noted after Nkandla, the opposition parties need to be careful about going after Nkandla and similar scandals. Overdoing it may make the average black voter feel under attack for voting ANC, while making hesitant past ANC voters feel stupid about voting ANC in the past. In the past, some of the opposition’s violent attacks on Zuma inadvertently built sympathy for him.

Julius Malema’s EFF performed relatively well for a new party, winning 6.4% – slightly less than what COPE, another brand-new party born out of the ANC, had won in 2009. But it’s clear that the EFF hasn’t (yet?) had the impact which Malema proclaimed it would – it certainly didn’t take half of the ANC’s votes and/or win over 50% of the vote (as Malema said it would). Malema has a strong and dedicated base of supporters and activists, who give the party a clear visibility on the ground and online, but it’s also clear that Malema has many detractors – and they’re not only white. For a lot of black ANC supporters, Malema and the EFF is seen as too young, too radical and too hotheaded to be taken seriously. Others may be rightly skeptical of Malema’s aggressive left-populism given his own lavish lifestyle and the tender deals he has allegedly cashed in on in Limpopo. The EFF, as the geographical analysis will show and per Malema’s own admission, had trouble breaking through in rural areas. Malema’s message of radical redistributionism and racially-tinged nationalism was more accessible to voters in urban areas, where awareness for the ANC’s failures and scandals is likely highest. For example, and this is an important point which would deserve further investigation, an M&G report in the rural Eastern Cape (EC) found that a lot of voters were unaware of the details of what had gone down at Marikana (and may have been unaware of the details of Nkandla, given the complexity of the case and the question marks surrounding it).

The other parties are unappealing as well. The IFP and now the NFP are both regional and ethnic-based party which little to no appeal outside KZN and specific sectors of the Zulu community. The UDM is not quite as regionally-concentrated but its geography indicates that it has become a Transkei regional party. COPE, which people were so excited about (the Western media does seem to love COPE/Agang-like black-led moderate and liberal parties which they think/hope would appeal to black voters while still not being scary like Malema), has been a remarkable case study into political failure. COPE had potential, but during the 2009 campaign it was already clear that it had lost its initial fire and was marginalized by the ANC and the DA. And despite ending up with a quite good result, it then proceeded to spend five years doing little more (as far as what the public is aware of – that’s basically all that COPE did which got into the news) than bicker internally and cripple the party. As somebody put it, it seems as if COPE didn’t get that being an opposition party means opposing the government rather than itself! The other parties (PAC, ACDP, AZAPO…) on offer are all tiny, anonymous and irrelevant outfits which are often too cranky and crazy to have mass-appeal beyond a small circle of hardened followers.

This long-winded discussion is my attempt to explain why the ANC won 11.4 million votes and remains dominant. But there is an extremely important point, which almost all analysis misses out on, which gives a completely different image of the reality of South African politics than the one commonly understood. Voter registration is voluntary (non-automatic) and, as I understand it, there is no election-day registration and the registration window closes quite a while before the election. This means that, like in the United States, it’s important to look not only at statistics on the basis of registered voters but also on the basis of eligible voters (voting-age population, VAP).

The IEC reported registered voters vs. the VAP in November 2013, before the IEC’s registration drive for the 2014 elections, so only 24.1 million were registered against 25.3 who were registered on election day. The IEC also maintains an updated tally of registered voters.

If we take Statistics SA’s numbers on the VAP (reported by the IEC) in October 2014, there were 31,434,035 South Africans eligible to vote. 25,381,293 registered to vote, or 80.7% of the VAP, and 18,654,457 actually cast ballots on May 7. Turnout as a percentage of the VAP was therefore 59.34%, which is actually up from 59.29% in 2009 and 55.77% in 2004.

The IEC’s November 2013 report on the matter was highly instructive. Only 23% of eligible voters aged 18 and 19 – the ‘born free’ generation which everybody was going on about – were registered to vote, although the registration drive was most successful with these voters given that, only a month before, only 8.8% were registered to vote. As we speak, only 33% of them are registered. About two-thirds of the born free generation, therefore, didn’t even register to vote. Voter registration increased with age, peaking at 105% with those over 80 – indicating that there are probably quite a few dead voters on the lists. Over 95% of those over 50 were registered, and over 85% of those over 30. However, with voters aged 20 to 29, registration was only 54.5% in November 2013 and seems to be roughly at 60.6%, significantly lower than all other age groups.

If the results per party are calculated on the basis of VAP, the image we get of the past 20 years becomes completely different. 1994 is the ANC’s highest ebb, both in terms of raw votes and percentage of the vote (% of VAP) – they won about 12.2 million votes or 53% of the eligible voting population (62.7% of valid votes). Since then, the ANC’s share of the vote has declined in every successive election – 41.7% in 1999, 38.9% in 2004, 38.6% in 2009 and 36.7% in 2014. Their raw vote has decreased in all but one election – 10.6 million in 1999, 10.88 million in 2004, 11.65 million in 2009 and 11.43 million in 2014. When we look at the ‘actual’ results as reported in relation to valid votes, the ANC’s vote share increased in the 1999 (66.4%) and 2004 (69.7%) elections, declining since 2009 (65.9%) to their lowest percentage this year (62.2%). Therefore, although the VAP increased from 23 million in 1994 to 31.4 million in 2014, a 36.3% increase; the ANC’s vote has decreased by 6.5% since 1994. The ANC has not had the support of a ‘majority of voters’ in the last four elections.

The main opposition party’s support has declined from 17.3% of the VAP (NP in 1994) to 13% of the VAP (DA in 2014), although the DA’s result in 2014 – the best result for any opposition party since 1994 – is higher both in terms of percentage and in raw vote to that of the NP in 1994, which held the ‘record’ for strongest opposition performance. The DA won 4.09 million votes in 2014.

Of course, this isn’t to say that if every non-voter (unregistered or registered) did vote, he/she would vote for an opposition party. Furthermore, non-registration and non-voting may not necessarily mean dissatisfaction or disinterest with the political system, it could be ‘positive apathy’ – passive satisfaction for the status-quo; but given the state of South Africa, it is far more likely that those who don’t register to vote are doing so because of dissatisfaction. The point is that, contrary to perceptions, the ANC has suffered a real decline in popularity since 1994 – although it has largely benefited apathy and abstention rather than the opposition parties. It is quite telling that the vast majority of ‘born free’ voters did not vote and a large majority did not even register to vote. A growing share of the adult, especially young adult, population has become alienated from the political system. Young voters – those with the highest levels of apathy towards democracy in South Africa – suffer the brunt of unemployment in South Africa. It is with the ‘born free’ generation, which could vote but largely didn’t in 2014, that the ANC has the least ‘struggle credibility/legacy’ and who have no direct personal memory of apartheid. Of course, youth apathy is far from being uniquely South African, but the phenomenon appears to be particularly pronounced in South Africa. For these voters, especially poor, young blacks, no party holds any appeal, all politicians are corrupt and there is no point in voting.

Unsurprisingly, few – if any – politicians have noted this problem, a worrying trend for a young democracy. Instead, after every election, the ANC engages in the usual self-congratulation and claims that it represents the will of ‘the people’. The EFF admittedly did explicitly target non-registered young voters, but it appears that even Malema’s youthful radicalism and anti-system rhetoric didn’t do much for them.

The ANC comes out of this election with 62.15%, its lowest result  – even as a percentage of valid votes – in any post-apartheid election. Zuma has the dubious honour of being the ANC leader who has seen the ANC’s support fall in three successive elections – 2009, 2011 (locals) and 2014 – although given that the usual reaction to the results in those past three elections has been ‘the ANC did well for itself considering it could have done far worse’, there’s been no introspection (publicly) from the ANC.

The DA is strengthened with 22.3% and 90 seats, the highest result – in terms of raw votes, percentage of valid votes and seat total – for any single opposition party since the fall of apartheid. It beat the previous record, held by the NP in 1994. This is the culmination of the consolidation of bipolar system, with a dominant ANC (but increasingly less so) and a main opposition party coalescing most of the anti-ANC support at the expense of smaller opposition parties. For the DA, it is also the result of a consolidation of the vast majority of the non-black, minority vote around it – the DA commands the support not only of an overwhelming majority of whites, but also the large majority of Coloureds and Indians. The merger of Patricia de Lille’s Independent Democrats (IDs), whose best results came from Coloured regions in the Cape region in 2004 and 2009, has allowed the DA to further consolidate its hold on the Coloured vote. The DA has also made small but significant gains with black voters. In 2009, the DA is reported to have taken only 0.8% of the black vote in the country, an observation borne out by actual analysis of the results at a micro level. This year, the DA has reported that it won 6% of the black vote, like in 2011. According to the DA, 20% of its electorate is black (making it the most ‘racially diverse’ electorate).

The DA successfully held and expanded its majority in the Western Cape, the opposition’s main base since 1994. It has made significant inroads in Gauteng, South Africa’s major economic centre and most populous province. The DA faces, as will be discussed in the conclusion, the challenge of expanding its base to blacks. It has made strong gains with black voters since 2009, but obviously it will never win a national election if it wins in the whereabouts of 6% with black voters. Increasingly, if the DA fails to increase its black support, it will be hitting a ceiling.

The major loser of these elections is undoubtedly the IFP, the old Zulu nationalist party. The IFP won 2.4% of the vote, down from an all-time low of 4.6% in 2009. In KZN, the IFP’s stronghold, it was a bloodbath and embarrassment for the IFP: on the national ballot, the IFP won 10.2% of the vote against 65.3% for the ANC and 13.4% for the DA; on the provincial ballot, the IFP fell into third place, winning 10.9% against 12.8% for the DA and 64.5% for the ANC. The DA becomes the official opposition party in KZN’s provincial legislature, marking the first time that the IFP is neither in government or in the official opposition in the province. In 2009, when the IFP had suffered a brutal loss of 14.4% in its KZN stronghold from the 2004 election, the IFP had won 20.5% (and 22.4% on the provincial ballot). Since 2007, the IFP has been crippled by two major factors. Firstly, under Jacob Zuma, the ANC is no longer ‘Xhosa Nostra’ but rather a Zulu-led party in which KZN and the Zulus have gained significant power thanks to Zuma. Under Zuma, the ANC government has also promoted conservative values – with Zuma emphasizing his Zulu tribal roots on repeated occasions and the government favouring the rights of traditional leaders (notably when it comes to land issues). As a result of the ANC’s new direction under Zuma, the traditional Zulu monarch, King Goodwill Zwelethini, a traditionally ally of Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi and the IFP, has gotten along quite well with the ANC, causing major strains with the IFP. Secondly, the IFP has been hurt by the creation of the NFP, led by former IFP chairwoman (and 2009 KZN Premier candidate) Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi. The NFP won 6.4% in the national election in KZN this year, and 7.3% in the provincial ballot, coming in behind the IFP and its 2011 local election result (10.2%). The NFP is estimated to have taken about half of the IFP vote, notably in the old IFP heartlands of the old KwaZulu homeland.

The IFP’s support has been on a constant downwards trend since 1994 – in provincial elections in KZN, the IFP’s support has declined from 50.3% (1994) to 41.9% (1999), falling behind the ANC in 2004 (36.8%) and seeing the bottom fall out in 2009 (22.4%) as the ANC’s vote in the province jumped nearly 16% (the only province where the ANC’s support increased in 2009, providing a huge cushion for other – often substantial loses – for the ANC outside KZN in 2009). The IFP’s recent troubles owe a lot to Zuma’s leadership of the ANC, but the decline predates the Zuma ANC. It is due to the improvement of the security situation in KZN since 1994, from quasi-war zone in 1994 where several IFP heartlands were totally off-limits to the ANC (resulting in 90%+ support for the IFP), to a politically violent and turbulent (partisan killings and assassinations, between the IFP, ANC and now NFP, remain common in KZN) but generally safer province. The IFP has also lost much of its raison-d’etre since 1994.

Another major loser, of course, was COPE – which was annihilated, collapsing to only 0.7% and 3 seats (it had won 30 in 2009…). That result owes a lot to the fact that COPE spent the good part of the last five years fighting amongst itself. As the geographic analysis will show, COPE’s collapse benefited both the ANC and the DA. In any case, COPE has entered South African political lingo to refer to ephemeral flash-in-the-pan parties – there are already people asking if EFF will ‘be another COPE’. For anybody wondering, COPE leader Mosiuoa Lekota did indeed eat his hat:

The UDM and VF+ were the only existing small parties to see their support increase. The UDM increased its support from the last election for the first time, its support having declined in every election since its first election in 1999, although with 1% of the vote, it is only a marginal gain of 0.2%. The VF+, whose supports has fallen since 2004, remained stable with a very small gain, reaching 0.9% of the vote.

All other existing minor parties suffered loses, further confirmation of the two-party polarization around the ANC and the DA at the top. The two parties which lost their leaders to death or expulsion since 2009 – the MF and the UCDP – both collapsed and lost their seats. Neither party filled any purpose, and the removal of their leaders has killed them off. In Durban, the MF won 2.4% in the provincial elections, down from 4.8% and 6.4% in 2009 and 2004 respectively. The MF’s vote has largely flowed to the DA. In the process, the MF, UCPD and AZAPO fell behind Al Jama-ah, an Islamist party which has fairly substantial support in Muslim Coloured and Asian precincts in the WC and Gauteng.

The ACDP and the PAC saw their support decline as well. The South African left, EFF excluded, performed dismally.

One remarkable failure was that of Mamphela Ramphele’s Agang, which got a lot of people excited at the time (again, mostly because of a weird infatuation with that kind of outfit) but which ended up as a dud. The aborted DA-Agang deal looked extremely bad on Ramphele, who had never consulted on her own party and acted totally unilaterally in a deal which she scuttled herself within days (if not hours). After the botched deal, and Agang’s decision to run alone with Ramphele at its head, the media largely ignored the party and it received very little attention. But Agang’s trouble predated the DA-Agang deal of doom; before the deal, Agang’s finances were already down the drain, the party was allegedly in tatters and its membership was low. Agang entered politics with grand principles and visions, but it failed to target a specific niche clientele – the mystical ‘black middle-class’ which everybody talks about, the voter who doesn’t like the ANC but can’t bring him/herself to vote DA. Its vague platitudes and principles appealed to few voters.

One interesting result came from the African Independent Congress (AIC), which ran in the national elections for the first time (it had ran provincially in the EC in 2009, winning 0.8% and 1 seat). Out of nowhere, surprising everybody, the small party won 0.5% of the vote and 3 seats. The AIC is a small rural, local and conservative party whose pet cause seems to be opposition to the inclusion of Matatiele Local Municipality in the EC rather than KZN, but from its website’s charming introduction, it has recycled itself into gathering signatures to call a referendum opposing the legalization of same-sex marriage (which happened in 2006, so they aren’t up with the times). The AIC won about 13% and 7 seats in the last local elections in Matatiele LM in 2011, and it remains the party’s base. However, its random success nationally did not owe to that – the AIC won only 0.78% in the EC, which is what it won in 2009, and only 3.8% in Matatiele LM. The reason for its success seems to be a perfect storm of ‘coincidences’ – the party was placed right above the ANC on the ballot, it has a very similar name to the ANC and its logo (printed on the ballot) is also green, yellow/gold and black. The ANC and most people believe that people voted AIC by mistake, thinking that they were voting ANC. The AIC naturally denies that possibility, but is at a loss when it comes to explaining how a regional party which nobody knows about managed to get a relatively homogeneous vote distribution across South Africa.

Geographical analysis

Results by Local Municipality in South Africa (source:

Voting patterns in South Africa remain predominantly determined by race. It is hardly surprising. As I explained in this post on race, ethnicity and language in South Africa, race remains a central concept in South African society – residential segregation, although less extreme than under apartheid, remains a reality; class is racialized, with the black majority being significantly poorer than the whites but also Coloureds and Indians, and with relatively little improvements in their share of the national income since 1994; poverty remains similarly conditioned by race in large part, with the overwhelming majority of the poor – and everything which poverty entails – being black, with only a tiny minority of ‘poor whites’ (despite so much ink being wasted on that pet topic of some commentators…); economic control and land ownership remains unequally distributed in favour of the white minority and racial issues remain at the heart of political debate. The ANC retains the support of a vast majority of the black majority – in this election, despite sharp loses in some regions to the EFF and the DA, I would wager that the ANC still won well over 80% of the black vote. The ANC commits only limited efforts to appealing to non-black voters (largely because it has no need to and it is often futile), and when it does talk directly to, say, white voters, it is more to reassure them that nothing bad will happen rather than to convince them to vote for the ANC. Nevertheless, the ANC does retain a small but significant minority of Coloured and Indian support; in the case of the Coloured vote, the ANC must pull a significant amount in rural and homogeneously Coloured regions of the remote Northern Cape.

The vast majority of whites, Coloureds and Indians now support the DA – especially as the VF+ has been severely weakened from its heyday in 1994, and the niche parties for Coloureds (the ID, which didn’t present itself as such but effectively had a heavily Coloured electorate) and Indians (the MF) have kicked the bucket (or, with the ID, merged with the DA). The Coloured vote is an interesting question, which has raised a lot of questions (but little academic analysis of much worth, sadly) and may often appear contradictory to outsiders. In the 1994 election, a majority of Coloureds, especially those in Cape Town and the Western Cape, voted for the NP over the ANC. It is surprising and may appear very contradictory, given that it was the same party which, in the 1950s, had fought a long and extremely contentious fight to remove Coloured voters (a minority who had the franchise) from the voter rolls in the Cape Province.

The Coloured identity is a complicated and ambiguous concept. Traditionally described as a ‘mixed-race’ group, most Coloureds have Khoisan ancestry – related to the lighter-skinned San and Khoi people which inhabited the present-day Cape region when Dutch settlers landed at the Cape – but early intermarriage with Dutch settlers, the assimilation of a section of the colonial black society in the Cape and the importation, by the Dutch, of slaves from the Dutch East Indies created a highly diverse population, with an ambiguous and complicated identity. The vast majority of Coloureds ‘integrated’ European society, adopting a Christian faith (except for the Cape Malays, who remain Muslim) and mostly speaking Afrikaans as their first language (a significant minority speaks English). Until apartheid, because many Coloureds and ‘poor whites’ lived interspersed, which blurred racial lines and allowed many Coloureds to ‘pass for white’ to escape discrimination. Under apartheid, Coloureds were described ‘negatively’ – in opposition to blacks and whites, as people who were neither white nor black; at an individual level, this allowed for significant confusion. Coloured identity has usually been associated with negative connotations – both whites and blacks have sometimes seen them as a ‘leftover’ group lacking a nation; during apartheid, whites associated Colouredness with racial intermarriage and hybridity, and Afrikaner nationalists were embarrassed by the reminder of their past ‘promiscuity’ and ‘moral lapses’ which had created a race of ‘half-breeds’ which was extremely negatively perceived by the racist regime. Some blacks have equally looked down on the Coloureds, given rise to the post-apartheid idea that Coloureds were ‘not white enough’ under apartheid but ‘not black enough’ since 1994.

Given this history, Coloureds’ political demands have oscillated between efforts for assimilation into white society, inspired by Cape liberalism; others took more radical stances, the Black Consciousness Movement had some appeal to Coloureds in the 1970s. Under apartheid, Coloureds, while facing severe discrimination, enjoyed an intermediate status in apartheid society – above the blacks in the racist hierarchy – and in the Coloured Labour Preference Area (CLPA), a region encompassing all of the WC, most of the NC and a section of the EC, Coloureds enjoyed employment preference over blacks and the NP regime strictly enforced influx control in the CLPA to expel ‘illegal’ black migrants to the ‘homelands’.

In 1994, a majority of the Coloured vote went to the NP, allowing the NP to win an absolute majority in the WC. The ANC’s defeat in the WC in 1994 was a major blow to the party, which had seriously expected to win, counting on the legacy of the anti-apartheid struggle in the 1980s, which had enjoyed strong support in Coloured communities in Cape Town. However, the NP managed to win Coloured voters mixing old and new rhetoric. The NP’s FW de Klerk was very popular with Coloured voters (the NP downplayed Hernus Kriel, the verkrampte minister who would become NP Premier of the province), and the ‘new’ NP asked for forgiveness while focusing on minority rights and emphasizing the shared Christian and Afrikaans heritage of the Coloured people. But the NP also ran a thinly veiled and often crass racially divisive, if not racist, campaign, playing on voters’ fears that an ANC government and the ‘black hordes’ – migrants from the Eastern Cape, which had begun flowing into Cape Town after the CLPA was dismantled – would take their homes and jobs, and lead to chaos and destruction. Ironically, as the NP lost the white vote to the DP/DP with the DP’s slaan terug campaign in 1999, the party’s electorate became even more Coloured. In 2004, the NNP’s last election before it folded into the ANC, the NNP’s best results came from Coloured voters – for example, the NNP won about 30% of the vote in the poor Coloured township of Atlantis in Cape Town, but only 10-14% in the predominantly white Afrikaner suburb of Bellville.

The DA reported that it won 6% of the black vote, or about 760,000 votes, contributing 20% of the DA’s vote. This is equal to the DA’s share of the black vote which it reported in 2011, but up from less than 1% in 2009. Ipsos’ profile of the supporters of each party, right before the election, confirmed that blacks made up 20% of the DA’s electorate against 27% for Coloureds, 3% for Indians and 50% for whites. 50% of the DA’s supporters, Ipsos reported, speak Afrikaans as their mother tongue and 32% speak English. In contrast, 96% of ANC supporters and 99% of EFF supporters were black.

Unsurprisingly, Ipsos’ data found that DA voters are far wealthier, far more likely to have a full-time job and older than the broader South African electorate.

Ipsos’ profile also portrayed the EFF electorate: it is a disproportionately male (67%), young (49% are 24 and under) and quasi-homogeneously black (99%) electorate. 45% of the EFF’s electorate is unemployed, and another 20% are students. The results of the election showed that the EFF was the second largest party behind the ANC with black voters, likely ahead of the DA nationally. But the EFF’s appeal was unequal: in some townships, the EFF won in the double-digits and even broke 20% in some areas, reducing the ANC’s sky high levels of support rather significantly in some places. In other townships, for example in the Western Cape or KZN, the EFF, while generally a distant second to the ANC, remained in the single-digits with support at or barely above its national average. In a lot of black rural areas, for example in the densely populated former homelands of the Transkei and Ciskei in the EC, the EFF failed to break through. The EFF generally did best wih Sepedi and Setswana-speakers, while doing quite poorly with isiZulu and isiXhosa-speakers.

The DA also reported that it grew its support with minority communities – from 83.9% to 92.8% of the white vote, from 55.5% to 67.7% of the Coloured vote and from 53.7% to 61% of the Indian vote.

In this election, the ANC suffered major losses in some of South Africa’s largest cities (Metropolitan Municipalities) in Gauteng. Its support fell from 63.3% to 53.6% in Johannesburg, from about 61% to 51% in Tshwane (Pretoria) and from 67.5% to 56.4% in Ekurhuleni (East Rand). In Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth, EC), the ANC won 49.2% compared to 50.1% in 2009. The ANC’s sharp losses in some MMs may spell trouble for the party ahead of the 2016 local elections, in which the DA has a very good chance to gain Nelson Mandela Bay MM and may fancy its chances in both Johannesburg and Pretoria.

You can explore national and provincial results from 2014 and 2009 at all levels, down to the voting district (precinct) level, on this fabulous map. A handy racial, linguistic and income dot map to a micro level is a useful companion.

Provincial election results

EC 70.09% (45) 16.2% (10) 3.48% (2) 0.06% 0.16% 6.16% (4) 0.31% 1.2% (1) 0.33% 0.77% (1)
FS 69.85% (22) 16.23% (5) 8.15% (2) 0.11% 0.11% 0.21% 2.1% (1) 1.63% 0.51%
GP 53.59% (40) 30.78% (23) 10.3% (8) 0.78% (1) 0.47% 0.44% 1.2% (1) 0.49% 0.62% 0.07%
KZN 64.52% (52) 12.76% (10) 1.85% (2) 10.86% (9) 7.31% (6) 0.17% 0.2% 0.16% 0.44% 1.02% (1)
LP 78.6% (39) 6.48% (3) 10.74% (6) 0.08% 0.04% 0.27% 0.69% 0.86% (1) 0.48%
MP 78.23% (24) 10.4% (3) 6.26% (2) 0.26% 0.75% 0.13% 0.82% 0.32% 0.4% 1.15% (1)
NW 67.39% (23)
12.73% (4) 13.21% (5)
0.14% 0.15% 0.88% 1.72% (1) 0.8% 0.53%
NC 64.4% (20) 23.89% (7) 4.96% (2) 0.06% 0.03% 0.09% 1.09% 3.6% (1) 0.57%
WC 32.89% (14) 59.38% (26) 2.11% (1) 0.05% 0.04% 0.48% 0.55% 0.59% 1.02% (1) 0.31%


Gauteng, South Africa’s most populous province – home to the sprawling metropolises of Johannesburg, Pretoria and the Rand area – and economic powerhouse, was one of the most closely disputed provinces. Mmusi Maimane, the DA’s new black hopeful, ran a strong DA campaign to topple the ANC provincial government – the ANC has governed Gauteng since 1994.

Results by precinct (VD) in Johannesburg and the East Rand (source:

The ANC suffered its steepest losses in Gauteng, falling from 64.8% to 54.9% on the national ballot and from 64% to 53.6% in the provincial election. In 1994, the ANC’s previous low in the province, it had won 57.6%. The DA and the EFF both cashed in on the ANC’s bad performance – on the national ballot, the DA won 28.5% (up from 21.3% in 2009 and compared to 23.9% for the NP in 1994, although in 1994 the NP+VF+DP vote stood at over 35%) and the EFF won 10.3%. In the provincial election, likely boosted by ballot splitting in favour of Maimane, the DA won 30.8%. It likely was a major beneficiary of the COPE’s 2009 votes – the party had won 7.8% in the province at the time.

But the ANC’s fairly spectacular fall in Gauteng – which spells trouble for the ANC in 2016 and 2019 – isn’t only the result of the COPE vote likely shifting to the DA, the DA consolidating the non-black vote and winning some black support. The ANC in Gauteng, as explained above, has been wracked by internal tensions and divisions for a number of years, and the provincial party endorsed Motlanthe over Zuma at Mangaung in 2012. The province has been led by independent mavericks for quite some time – first Tokyo Sexwale (Premier from 1994 to 1998), who had/has presidential ambitions; then Mbhazima Shilowa (Premier from 1999 to 2008), who defected to COPE; then Paul Mashatile (Premier from 2008 to 2009), who was unaligned with either Zuma or Mbeki and became an anti-Zuma leader. Mashatile was not retained as Premier by the ANC NEC, which preferred to pick the pro-Zuma Nomvula Mokonyane, but he kept the provincial leadership (defeating Mokonyane in 2010) and a bitter rivalry between the ‘two centres of power’ crippled her administration and led to infighting in the ANC.

Gauteng has long been a magnet for migrant workers, ever since the early days of industrial South Africa, and now attracts a large number of black immigrants from poorer countries in Africa. This has created real challenges for service delivery and employment in the province, which, despite being – with the WC – one of South Africa’s wealthiest provinces, has a high unemployment rate at 30% (expanded). High criminality, joblessness and service delivery failures by incompetent or overburdened governments in Gauteng have led to explosive social tensions, in the form of bloody xenophobic riots and often-violent service delivery protests.

Discontent was locally exacerbated by the ANC’s unpopular e-tolls – the installation of gantries on Gauteng highways to act as an electronically-operated toll road. The e-tolls were more or less unilaterally imposed by the ANC without prior consultation, ostensibly to pay for highway renovation. They faced the opposition of the opposition parties, part of the business community, most motorists and COSATU. The DA’s provincial campaign promised to organize a referendum on e-tolls if it had won.

Voting remain polarized along racial lines to a large extent, but it was not a ‘racial census’ election. The biggest shifts happened in black areas. In Soweto, the ANC had won (on average) over 85% of the vote throughout the large township’s wards in 2009, with the main challenge coming from COPE and, in some voting districts (VDs) from the IFP. The DA won only 1% or so of the vote. This year, the ANC remained dominant, but saw a significant loss of support – down to mid-to-high 70s (a guesstimate from ward results), with no wards registering over 90% of the vote but a fairly substantial number of VDs with the ANC falling below 70%. The EFF and the DA were the beneficiaries of the ANC’s losses, with the EFF generally coming in second behind the ANC with about 10-12% on average and the DA placing third with 4-8% of the vote. The IFP, which won 0.8% in the provincial election – down 0.7% from 2009, but still saving its one seat in the provincial legislature, won a few VDs in Soweto, all of them hostels (for male migrant workers from KZN, the IFP’s traditional base in the PWV). The ANC, however, won its best results in the heavily Zulu neighborhoods of Soweto – in Zola, which is 77% isiZulu-speaking, the ANC won about 84%.

In other townships in Gauteng, the ANC suffered substantial losses as well. In Alexandra, a much poorer township in Joburg, the ANC’s support fell from the 85% range to about 68-72% of the vote. The EFF won about 15-20% support in Alexandra, and even won 40% in a small VD covering a large informal settlement outside the township. In Diepsloot, another poor Joburg (north) township with large informal settlements, the ANC fell from over 85% of the vote in 2009 to 70%, with the EFF winning about 22% of the vote. In two VDs covering a plurality-Sepedi (the main language in Limpopo and Malema’s native tongue) informal settlement, the EFF won about 30%.

Results by precinct (VD) in Tshwane (Pretoria) (source:

The EFF also had very strong support in wealthier black areas – take, for example, the more middle-class parts of Cosmo City, a new 97% black suburb (mostly RDP housing, but with some wealthier areas), the EFF took over 20% and the ANC won only 56-60% of the vote (the DA, with support over 10%, also did well – and Agang got over 1%!). The ANC’s support remained over 70% in the poorer half of Cosmo City.
In some of the new affluent suburbs and gated communities in Midrand – areas such as Noordwyk (which is 62% black) and Vorna Valley (53% black) – the ANC won about 45%, while the DA won about 25% and the EFF did well with roughly 15% or so. These areas are quite racially mixed, with significant Asian and white populations, so the DA vote likely came from minorities but it is certain that the DA won a significant percentage of the black vote.

The DA likely won a significant (double digit) percentage of the black vote in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs; these places are seen as lily white affluent suburbs, as they were under apartheid, but there is a significant black minority. For example, Randburg and Sandton are both around 35% black. The ANC vote in the northern suburbs was lower – significantly so – than the black percentage. Take, for example, the very affluent leafy suburb of Northcliff, which is 22.8% black. The ANC vote was only 10-12%, with the DA winning in the high 70s. In Dainfern, a new affluent suburban subdivision in the northern suburbs of Joburg which is 25% black, the ANC won 17% to the DA’s 75.8%.

The EFF did particularly well in Tembisa, a large 98% black township in Ekurhuleni (East Rand). In the northern half of the township, which is both heavily Sepedi and is largely made up of informal settlements or makeshift houses, the EFF won well over 35% and broke over 40% in some VDs, coming within a handful of votes of the ANC, whose support totally collapsed from over 90% in 2009 to the low 50s. The ANC retained stronger support – in the high 60s to low 70s (down from about 90% in 2009) – in other parts of Tembisa, where the Sepedi language is less predominant. The EFF still did very well, polling over 20% in most wards in Tembisa.

The ANC’s strongest results in Gauteng generally came from predominantly Zulu townships – in Tsakane and Langaville (Ekurhuleni), the ANC won over 80% of the vote was below 10% in most wards. In the large township of Kathelong, which is 37% isiZulu-speaking, the ANC remained in the high 70s-low 80s. The ruling party remained well over 80% in Evaton and Sebokeng.

In the city of Tshwane (Pretoria), the EFF raked in strong support in some townships – in Atteridgeville and Saulsville, both of which are plurality Sepedi-speaking, the EFF won over 20% in all but one ward; the EFF also did quite well in some peripheral townships (Ga-Rankuwa, which is Tswana) and some parts of Mamelodi, winning over 30% in some of the VDs covering the shantytowns.

Racial polarization remained, of course, the order of the day in Gauteng like in every other province. The DA won one local municipality in Gauteng – Midvaal, which is 58.4% black and 38.7% white, and which is also the only municipality in the province to have a DA mayor. In the municipality, the DA won nearly 90% of the vote in the white suburb of Meyerton. In Joburg, Pretoria, the East Rand and the rest of Gauteng, the DA swept the predominantly white and affluent suburbs – Centurion, Waterkloof, Sandton, Randburg, Roodepoort, Benoni, Boksburg, Alberton, Vereeniging and Vanderbijlpark (the significant non-white populations in these formerly exclusive suburbs makes it difficult to estimate what percentage of the white vote the DA received, but the DA generally won 70-85% of the vote in majority-white wards). The VF+ retained a small but not insignificant base of support in Pretoria, winning 2.5% in the metro – taking up to 10% in some lower middle-class white Afrikaner suburbs in northern Pretoria and roughly 4-6% in Centurion, a wealthier Afrikaner suburban town. The DA consolidated its vote in Coloured neighborhoods – for example, in Eldorado Park (85% Coloured) in Joburg, the DA won over 80% of the vote, up from about 55% in 2009 (the IDs had performed well). The ANC retained stronger support with Indian voters, but the DA won the Indian/Asian precincts in Joburg and Pretoria. In Joburg’s Ward 9, a plurality Asian ward covering part of the old Indian township of Lenasia, the DA won 47.5% to the ANC’s 34.3% – with Al Jama-ah, the Islamist party, taking 7.8%.


Results by precinct (VD) in the Durban-Pietermaritzburg area (source:

Formerly one of the provinces where the ANC struggled, KZN is establishing itself as one of the ANC’s main bases in South Africa – not only in terms of the growing influence held by KZN in internal politics in the ANC, but also the contribution of KZN to the ANC’s nationwide support. The ANC won 65.3% of the national vote, with the DA beating the IFP for second place with 13.4% against 10.2%. The NFP received 6.4% of the vote and the EFF failed to breakthrough in KZN, winning only 2%. In the provincial election, the ANC won 64.5% against 12.8% for the DA, 10.9% for the IFP, 7.3% for the NFP, 1.9% for the EFF and 1% for the MF. The ANC’s support is marginally higher than in 2009, when the party had won 64% of the vote on the national ballot in KZN and 63% in the provincial election. The DA also increased its support, from 10% in 2009. In contrast, the IFP’s vote collapsed by 11.5% in the provincial election – although, unlike in 2009, the IFP bled heavily to the new ‘dissident’ NFP. The Minority Front retained a single seat in the provincial legislature, despite losing about half of its support since the last election.

In eThekwini (Durban) metro, the ANC won 65.4% (national vote), down from about 67.7% in 2009. The DA placed second with 23%, with the IFP taking only 3.2% in the province’s largest metro. The MF won 2.4% in the provincial election in Durban metro, down from 4.8% in the last election. The results by ward and VD indicate that the MF’s support in Durban’s Indian suburbs – Chatsworth, Queensburgh and Phoenix – shifted heavily to the DA. In two heavily Indian wards of Chatsworth – wards 70 and 72 (over 90% Indian) – the DA won 74.5% and 76.1% respectively (on the national ballot), against 6.6% and 10.4% for the MF. In the provincial race, the DA won 66.7% and 64.3% respectively, with the MF – which had topped the poll in Chatsworth in the 2009 provincial election – taking 15.6% and 23.6%. In Phoenix, the patterns were similar, with the DA taking 74% of the vote across the two most heavily Indian wards in the national election, and about 65% in the provincial poll. The MF won between 15 to 25% in the provincial election in Phoenix. The ANC received very weak support; hurt by the comments of Indian ANC leader Visvin Reddy who opined that Indians who complained about the ANC should go back to India. Obviously, the DA won the white vote in Durban by huge margins, winning 84.6% in Ward 10, a 78% white which includes the affluent white suburb of Kloof. The DA won over 90% in some VDs in the affluent white suburbs of Kloof, Forest Hills and Hillcrest and won over 85% in the coastal towns of Durban North and Umhlanga.

The ANC won between 85% and 90% of the vote in the densely populated black (Zulu, naturally) townships of Umlazi, Clermont, Inanda and KwaMashu. The ANC narrowly won Ward 39, an often violent area of KwaMashu disputed between the ANC, IFP and NFP. The ANC won 44.2% against 39% for the IFP. In Durban, the IFP’s support is very marginal in most townships, but retains a few isolated outposts of support in hostels for migrant rural workers.

The IFP’s support in KZN is down to the party’s traditional areas of strength – certain rural areas, formerly part of the KwaZulu homeland, where support for Zulu traditionalism as expressed by the IFP remains high. The IFP won Ulundi, the former capital of KwaZulu and a longtime IFP bastion, with 54.1% against 25.5% for the NFP and 17.4% for the ANC. In 2009, the IFP had won 83.6% in Ulundi and it had taken 92.5% there in 2004. The IFP, however, was defeated in Nongoma, the traditional seat of the Zulu monarchy where the IFP had received 81.6% in 2009. The NFP won 38.8% against 30.2% for the IFP; the NFP had already defeated the IFP in Nongoma in the 2011 local elections. The NFP also won Edumbe, an old IFP stronghold on the border with Mpumalanga, winning 44.5% to the ANC’s 39.9%. The ANC, historically a non-factor in the traditionalist heartland, made significant gains in rural KZN in 2009 – evidenced by Jacob Zuma’s native Nkandla, where the ANC surged from 7.9% in 2004 to 51.7% in 2009 and increased its support to 53.9% this year (the IFP won 37.9%). In a lot of municipalities where, 10 years ago, the IFP dominated with large margins, the ANC now wins between 40% and 55% of the vote.

The ANC performed best in the south of the province, in heavily black and poor rural areas which used to be outside of the KwaZulu homeland, or in non-Zulu black areas – in Umzimkhulu, a former exclave of the Xhosa homeland of Transkei, the ANC won 91% of the vote.

Eastern Cape

The Eastern Cape is another ANC citadel, in which the ANC received 70.8% of the vote this year, up from 69.7% in 2009. The DA won 15.9%, up from about 10% of the vote in 2009, while Bantu Holomisa’s UDM placed third with 5.3% (and 6.2% in the provincial election) – up from 4% in 2009. COPE, which had placed second and formed the official opposition to the ANC in 2009, collapsed from 13.3% to only 1.2%. The ANC, UDM and the DA all appear to have benefited from COPE’s collapse.

Results by precinct (VD) in Nelson Mandela Bay MM (Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage) (source:

The ANC draws a very large number of votes from the densely populated rural areas which made up the former Xhosa homelands of the Ciskei and Transkei during apartheid, in the east of the province. Both of these regions remain very heavily populated – just look at the population density map, and notice how easy it is to spot the former limits of these two homelands (and practically all other homelands in the country) by the high density; they are also rural and poor communities, with very high levels of poverty, joblessness and very incomplete access to basic household necessities and amenities (electricity, water etc). In the EC, about 61% of the population live in poverty – the second highest in the country – and unemployment stands at 44% – the highest in the country – under the expanded definition.

In the Transkei, the ANC faces very localized competition from the UDM, but Holomisa’s support is heavily concentrated in King Sabata Dalindyebo Local Municipality – that is to say, the former Transkeian capital of Mthatha and surrounding rural areas and communities. The UDM won 29.5% in the municipality, against 24% in 2009; the ANC received 59.6%, while the DA increased its support from less than 1% to 4.5%. The UDM won, as in 2009, a handful of wards to the south of Mqanduli (Holomisa’s birthplace) and closer to the coast. Although the UDM placed a very distant second to the ANC in a lot of municipalities and wards in the Transkei, the ANC won over 80% – oftentimes over 85%, if not even 90% – in the former homeland. The DA did manage to increase its support from total irrelevance (less than 1%, if not less than 0.5%) in 2009 to the brink of relevancy, with some results over 3-4% in certain municipalities; needless to say, if the DA is actually serious about winning the EC in the future (as it sometimes seems to say), it will need much stronger support. Similarly, in the old Ciskei, the ANC won between 80% and 93% of the vote in almost every single ward in the borders of the former homeland. The EFF generally placed a distant second to the ANC, although it won very weak support in general (3-5%).

The ANC narrowly won Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth-Uitenhage) metro, with 49.2% to the DA’s 40.2% in the national election. The ANC vote fell below 50%, while the DA’s support increased significantly, up from 28.2% in 2009. The DA was likely the beneficiary of most COPE votes from 2009; that party had taken third with 17% five years ago, but COPE collapsed to fourth place with only 1.8% in this election. In a racially polarized contest, the ANC won about 75-85% of the vote in the metro area’s main townships (iBhayi, KwaNobhule, Gqebera, Motherwell), with the EFF taking a distant second with support in the high single digits. COPE had performed well in the townships and even better in some new, slightly ‘middle-class’ black areas; their collapse did increase the ANC’s support somewhat.

The DA held the white vote and consolidated its hold on the Coloured vote, to a point where Coloured areas are nearly electorally indistinguishable from white areas – proving, again, that race definitely trumps income or class as a voting determinant. The DA won over 90% or came close to it in a lot of VDs in the white southern suburbs, but it also took roughly 85% of the vote in Coloured areas in Port Elizabeth and Uitenhage. Back in 2009, while the DA had captured roughly the same proportion of the vote in white areas such as Walmer and Despatch in 2009, the DA’s support in Coloured areas of the metro increased significantly – in 2009, the DA had received between 50% and 65% of the vote in most Coloured-dominated VDs, with strong support for COPE (in the double digits, sometimes over 20%) and the IDs, as well as slightly higher support for the ANC than this year.

The DA won a single local municipality in the EC – Kouga, which is 42.6% Coloured and 38.8% black, with a small white minority (17.6%). The main settlements are Humansdorp, which is heavily Coloured, and the coastal resort town of Jeffrey’s Bay with a mixed white, black and Coloured population. Overall, the DA won 49.9% to the ANC’s 44.2%; in further detail, the DA received just below 90% of the vote  in the affluent white areas of Jeffrey’s Bay (with the VF+ placing a distant second, with about 7-8%) and St. Francis Bay, while it won around 60% of the vote in predominantly Coloured areas – the ANC’s support in rural Coloured areas, outside major urban centres, is significantly higher.

Western Cape

The DA retained control of the Western Cape, the only province not held by the ANC and governed by the DA since 2009. In the national election, the DA won 57.3% against 34% for the ANC and 2.3% for the EFF (at 1.2%, it was also the ACDP’s best province). In the provincial election, the DA won 59.4% against 32.9% for the ANC and 2.1% for the EFF. In both cases, the DA and the ANC both increased their support from the last election, where the DA had won an absolute majority on its own in the provincial legislature with 51.5% of the vote (and 48.8% in the national election), while the ANC won only 31.6%. COPE had placed third with 9.1% on the national ballot in the 2009 election.

The Western Cape stands apart from the rest of South Africa because blacks, at 32.9% of the population, constitute only a minority of the province’s population, which is predominantly Coloured (48.8%) with a significant white minority (15.7%). The unique racial demographics are, you might have guessed, really not foreign to the reasons why the ANC has struggled in the province since 1994. The NP won the 1994 elections in the WC with a margin similar to the 2009 and 2014 margins, but the ANC, thanks to inroads with Coloured voters, won 42% of the vote in 1999 and 46% in 2004. The ANC has since been hurt by a loss of Coloured support, as well as intense and crippling divisions between warring factions in the provincial party (a struggle which does not seem to have been resolved since the days of Polokwane). In 2009, the DA consolidated its Coloured support, winning voters who had formerly voted for the NNP or IDs in 2004, while in the 2011 local elections and again in 2014, the disappearance of the IDs – which received 8% in 2004 and 4.5% in 2009 – allowed the DA to finalize consolidation of its Coloured support.

Results by precinct (VD) in Cape Town, Paarl and Stellenbosch (source:

The DA won 59.3% of the national vote in Cape Town, up from a bit over 50% in 2009, while the ANC’s support remained stable at 32.4%. Cape Town is very racially polarized city, often lacking the racial heterogeneity found in some of Gauteng’s suburbs. Once again, the results of the election painted this picture of a racially divided city: the ANC won a bit over 85% of the vote across the large townships of Khayelitsha, Langa, Gugulethu and the huge informal settlement of Philippi, with the EFF placing a very distant second with about 6-8% and the DA performing poorly with only 1-2% of the vote and third/fourth place. These numbers are similar or slightly up from 2009, thanks to COPE’s elimination and a return of some of their voters to the ANC.

In stark contrast, the DA dominated the white and Coloured areas of the city, to the point where they are more or less electorally indistinguishable. The DA swept the large Coloured township of Mitchell’s Plain with over 85%, breaking 90% in some VDs. The DA won similar amount of the votes in other low-income Coloured townships and neighborhoods such as Elsie’s River, Belhar, Bontheuwel, Bridgetown, Delft (the non-black parts thereof; with a highly striking polarization), Kraaifontein; it received similar or slightly less in some more affluent Coloured neighborhoods in the Southern Suburbs. The main change from 2009 came from the consolidation of the non-ANC vote behind the DA, rather than an actual shift of Coloured voters from the ANC to the DA – the ANC had already polled poorly with Cape Town’s Coloured population in 2009.

Cape Town’s affluent white suburbs tend to be more racially homogeneous than Joburg’s northern suburbs, meaning that the DA vote is even higher. In the very affluent white Anglo Southern Suburbs, the DA won over 90% or came close to it, with Agang performing ‘well’ with about 1-2% of the vote. In the high-end small coastal and oceanview communities on the Cape, the DA won over 90%; it also swept the white upper middle-class suburbs in Durbanville, Bellville, Milnerton and Bloubergstrand.

Outside Cape Town, the patterns were fairly similar. In the white parts of the coastal communities such as Hermanus, Mossel Bay, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, the DA won roughly 90% of the vote. In cities such as Paarl, Stellenbosch, George, Malmesbury, Wellington and Worcester which exhibit a similar racial polarization between affluent white areas, very poor black townships/informal settlements and poor Coloured areas, the patterns were broadly similar – the DA won about 90% of the vote in the white areas, the ANC received a very similar amount in the black areas while the Coloured areas generally gave about 75-85% of the vote to the DA. However, in other towns and rural areas, the predominant Coloured vote split far more equally. In Beaufort West, a town in the Karoo, for example, the DA won only about 40% of the vote in the poorer Coloured neighborhoods (slightly better in the slightly wealthier parts) and ended up tied or behind the ANC.


Limpopo, a vast, very poor and highly geographically and linguistically diverse province in the north of the country, is 97% black and usually the ANC’s strongest province (along with Mpumalanga) in the country – with support since 1994 oscillating between 85% and 90%. With expanded unemployment at 39% and with 64% of the population living in poverty, Limpopo is the country’s poorest province.

This year, the ANC suffered substantial loses in the province – where the local ANC government has been at the heart of both controversy (the textbook debacle) and internal power struggles (the former Premier opposed Zuma and the ANC NEC dumped him and disbanded the provincial executive) – falling to 79% of the vote on the national ballot (and 78.6% in the provincial contest), down from about 85% in 2009. The EFF, whose leader was born and raised in Limpopo and retains a strong footing in the province, placed second with 10.3% of the vote. The DA nevertheless increased its support in the province, from a paltry 3.7% to 6.6%. COPE, which formed the official opposition to the ANC (with all of 7% in 2009…), collapsed to merely 0.8%.

The province of Limpopo is largely rural, with the black population still largely concentrated in densely populated rural and small-town areas corresponding to the former apartheid-era homelands: Lebowa (Sepedi/Northern Sotho), Venda and Gazankulu (Tsonga). Malema himself is a Northern Sotho, Sepedi-speaker from the Polokwane area, specifically the township of Seshego – the former capital of Lebowa. The EFF received about 20% of the vote in Seshego and surrounding areas, and the EFF won in the whereabouts of 15% of the vote in other Sepedi-speaking regions of Limpopo. Overall, the EFF won 16.3% in the municipality of Polokwane, its best result in the province. It brought the ANC’s vote down to about 75-85%. The EFF’s support was weaker in the Venda and Xitsonga-speaking regions of the province, where the ANC’s vote held up better, taking 85-90%.

The EFF also performed very well in Thabazimbi Local Municipality, taking 13.8% of the vote (the UDM won 6.2%), while the ANC’s support took a major hit – falling from 74.3% to only 57.2%. Located in the south of the province, a sparsely populated area outside the former homelands, the area includes a part of the restive platinum belt – and that’s where EFF (and the UDM) did best. In the platinum belt area, the EFF vote ranged between 15% and 20%, peaking at 43% in a hostel located adjacent to a mine while the UDM polled up to 35% in a mining area with Xhosa migrant workers.

The DA’s weak support in the province is largely limited to Afrikaner neighborhoods in the major urban centres and white farms outside the old homelands; the VF+ also has a small base in these rural Afrikaner areas, polling in the double-digits behind the DA in some white precincts. In the white precincts in the cities, the VF+ won about 6%.


Mpumalanga is similar to Limpopo – a heavily black (90.7%), very poor, vast, geographically and linguistically diverse province which has also been one of the ANC’s strongest provinces in the country. In 2009, the ANC had won 85.8% of the vote in the province, its best result in South Africa. That has generally been the range of support for the ANC since 1999. The province’s Premier, David Mabuza, is one of the powerful men in the national ANC – as a loyal ally of Zuma – and a strongman in his province, as a dispenser of patronage who takes his share on government tenders. This year, the ANC’s support fell below 80% for the first time, to 78.8% while the DA’s vote increased from 7.6% to 10%. The EFF won 6.2% of the vote, and a small residents’ association from the municipality of Bushbuckridge won 0.9% – and actually won a seat in the provincial legislature, thanks to their 1.2% on the provincial ballot.

The EFF did best in Emalahleni (9.2%), Thembisile (8.9%) and Dr. JS Moroka municipalities (10.1%), all of them bordering Gauteng and with a significant Sepedi-speaking population in parts. In the urban municipality of Emalahleni, for example, the EFF won over 25% in two precincts a large predominantly Sepedi informal settlement. The ANC won about 90% of the vote in the siSwati (Swazi)-speaking areas, formerly part of the KaNgwane (Swazi) homeland; and roughly 85% of the vote in the isiZulu-speaking areas, largely rural villages and townships scattered throughout the province close to small regional towns. The EFF largely failed to make much of an impact in either areas, winning only 3-4% of the vote.

The DA’s small base in the province remains in the white Afrikaner areas of the urban centres (Emalahleni, Middleburg, Nelspruit) and regional towns (Secunda, Ermelo, Standerton, White River, Lydenburg).

North West

The results in the North West proved highly interesting. With 67.8% of the vote, the ANC’s support fell by over 6% from the last election, while the DA and the EFF more or less tied for second – in the national election, the DA (12.6%, up nearly 4%) narrowly pipped the EFF (12.5%) for second, while in the provincial election, the EFF placed second with 13.2% against 12.6% for the DA. The ANC had fallen below 80% for the first time in the 2009 election (73.8%) and now it falls below 70% for the first time.

Survey of EFF and ANC voters in the platinum belt (source: Mail & Guardian, May 16 2014)

The ANC suffered some of its worst loses in the entire country in the municipality of Rustenburg, where the ANC’s support fell over 16.5% from 73.9% to 57.4%. The ANC’s support also fell by over 10% in neighboring Madibeng, where the ANC took 66.1%. Both of these municipalities form the core of South Africa’s restive platinum belt, the core of internationally-famous labour disputes and violence in the past years – Marikana, the site of the infamous massacre of 34 miners in 2012, is a mining town located in Rustenburg municipality. The EFF won 20.2% of the vote in Rustenburg, its best result in the country. It won 12.8% in Madibeng, 16.2% in Moses Katane (in a remote area outside the platinum belt) and 14.4% in Mafikeng. In Marikana itself, the EFF received about 28% of the vote and the UDM made a strong showing as well, coming in third with results up to 38%. In Ward 31, which covers most of Marikana, the ANC won 38.5% against 29.2% for the EFF and 25.2% for the UDM (as previously noted, Holomisa was popular with the Xhosa migrant workers in the region). The EFF won two wards, with over 50% of the vote, located near a mine; the party also won nearly 30% in other wards in the mining region of Rustenburg. In Wonderkop (Madibeng), a small mining community located next to Marikana, the EFF won 43% of the vote. Throughout the broader mining belt, the EFF’s result did not fall below 12.5% of the vote in any ward (except white ones in Rustenburg proper).

The M&G reported a survey of ANC and EFF voters in the platinum belt. According to the study, the EFF’s supporters were more likely to be male, Xhosa (hence migrant workers), not beneficiaries of social grants and participants in a community and/or workers’ protest. The ANC retained the votes of women, those who receive social grants and those who did not partake in protests. Gender, social grants and participation in a protest seem to be the key determinants in the ANC/EFF split.

Outside the platinum belt, the EFF also made an impact in Mafikeng – specifically in the sprawling townships and informal settlements which surround the city’s core – with results between 13% and high teens. The UCDP, previously a party with a significant presence in the province (even in 2009, it had won in the double digits in the settlements outside Mafikeng, in the former homeland of Bophuthatswana), collapsed to only 0.9% in the province – from a low of 3.9% in 2009 and a high of 7.5% in its first election in 1999. In Mafikeng, the UCDP won 2.7%, down 10.7% from the last election – some of its lost support flowed back to the ANC, allowing the ruling party to increase its support in Mafikeng municipality by 3.2% to 68.3%.

The DA made strong gains in Tlokwe (Potchefstroom), a municipality at the heart of a local political dispute in 2013 which saw the DA briefly take control of the local government when ANC defectors allowed the DA to unseat a corrupt ANC mayor but the ANC regained control in December 2013 after sweeping the seats held by the expelled ANC councillors in by-elections. The ANC’s vote in Tlokwe fell from 56.7% to 52.6% while the DA’s support increased from 24% to 31%. The DA made some gains in the white Afrikaner areas, thanks to a small erosion in the VF+ vote, which stood at over 15% in 2009; made major gains in a Coloured township (Promosa), where it won over 55% (up from 11%) and the ANC suffered some loses to the EFF in the black townships, where the ANC took a bit over 80% and the EFF took over 15% in some precincts.

Free State

The ANC’s support fell by 2.2%, down to 69.7%, in the Free State, falling below 70% for the first time ever. The DA gained about 4.1%, winning 16.2% while the EFF won 7.9%. COPE, the official opposition, lost 9.7% of its vote from 2009 and took only 1.4% in the province. With 1.9% of the vote, the Free State was the VF+’s best province. The province is a heartland for both the ANC and Afrikaner nationalism – the ANC was founded in the Free State in 1912, while the original founder of the NP, JBM Hertzog, hailed from the Orange Free State and the heavily Afrikaner (as far as whites concerned) was a conservative NP stronghold for decades after 1948. For the contemporary ANC, the Free State is the fiefdom of Premier Ace Magashule, a powerful and controversial local strongman who is one of Zuma’s strongest allies. The provincial government has been plagued by service delivery protests and mismanagement. Poverty is estimated at 41% in the Free State, but over 41% of the labour force is unemployed.

Results by precinct (VD) in the Mangaung metro (Bloemfontein) (source:

Voting patterns in the Free State are quite predictable. The ANC receives its highest levels of support in the homogeneously black townships or former homelands – QwaQwa (which is today part of Maluti a Phofung municipality, where the ANC won 80.9%, its best result in the FS) and an exclave of Bophuthatswana located east of Bloemfontein, today in Mangaung metro. The DA made some fairly significant inroads in some black townships across the province, taking between 2% and 6% of the vote, while the EFF also had some good performances in black townships – in Selosesha in the Mangaung metro, the EFF received about 15% of the vote and also won results in the low double digits in other townships across the province. The DA and the VF+’s bases remain, however, in the white Afrikaner neighborhoods of major cities and towns across the province – Bloemfontein, Welkom, Parys, Kroonstad, Sasolburg and Bethlehem. The VF+ received support in the low double digits/low teens in most white Afrikaner neighborhoods in the cities, placing a distant second or third behind the DA.

Northern Cape

The Northern Cape, South Africa’s smallest province in terms of population but a very large and sparsely populated arid province in terms of land area, is an interesting beast. The province’s population is racially divided between blacks and Coloureds. Blacks, who now make up 50.4% of the population, are heavily concentrated in the more populated and mineral-rich eastern end of the province, in cities such as Kimberley and rural areas which formed part of the old homeland of Bophuthatswana. Coloureds make up 40.3% of the population, heavily concentrated in the very sparsely populated and arid stretches of desert in the western half of the province; the division between blacks and Coloureds still reflect the old limits of the CLPA during apartheid. The large Coloured population means that the NC is a likely target for the DA. After all, in 1994, the ANC had won the province with only 49.8% of the vote against 41.9% for the NP, with the NP sweeping the Coloured regions. The ANC has since increased its support (the black population has also increased significantly since 1996, reducing the share of the Coloured population to a minority), to a peak of 68.8% in 2004 and a low of 61.1% in 2009. This year, the ANC’s support increased marginally to 63.9%. The DA received 23.4% in the province, up over 10 points from 2009, when the DA had placed third with only 13.1% while COPE, which did well both in black areas and Coloured regions, won second with 15.9%, its best showing in South Africa. This year, COPE collapsed to 3.3%, while the IDs, which had won 4.7%, shifted to the DA.

The ANC retains very strong support in the black areas of the NC – for example, in John Taolo Gaetsewe District Municipality, which is 84% black, the ANC won 73.2% against 10.6% for the DA and 10% for the EFF. The ANC won about 68% of the vote in Magareng and Phokwane local municipalities, which are both around 80% black, while the DA won 15% and the EFF 10%. In Sol Plaatije municipality, the most populated municipality in the province (Kimberley), the ANC won 61% of the vote (and the municipality is 61% black) against 28.4% for the DA and only 4.9% for the EFF. The ANC took about 80% of the vote in Galeshewe, a 92% black township, while the DA won the white and Coloured suburbs by wide margins.

The ANC has considerable, majority, support in Coloured areas across most of the province. For example, in Nama Khoi municipality, which is 88% Coloured, the ANC won 54.9% against 34.6% for the DA. In Kamiesberg, which is 85% Coloured, the ANC won 66.9% against 26.2% for the DA. In the inland regional centre of Upington, which is heavily Coloured, the ANC won the Coloured areas of the city with about 55% of the vote. Overall, the DA won 101,882 votes in the province – it still falls far short of the nearly 170,000 votes received by the NP in 1994.

The VF+ won 1.3% of the vote, although that still wasn’t enough for a seat in the small provincial legislature. The VF+, as always, won a landslide in the Afrikaner community of Orania, the famous small town created by Afrikaner nationalists (later tied to the VF+) as the embryo for a volkstaat and to preserve the Afrikaans language and culture. The party won 77% of the vote, down from 87% in 2009, against 15% for the DA – the ANC, with 5 votes (1.7%) placed fourth behind the ACDP.


The election was predictable and offers little changes in the short-term situation. President Jacob Zuma was reelected and inaugurated for a second term in office as South Africa’s President, and the ANC retains control of everything it had prior to the election, despite reduced majorities in the National Assembly and some provinces – most significantly Gauteng.

However, the next five years in South African politics are shaping up to be crucial and highly important. Jacob Zuma was reelected, but he is term-limited and will not be able to serve a third term as President of the country after 2019. Term-limited, Zuma may wish to make his mark on the country or ensure his legacy after a difficult first term. Unlike in 2009, Zuma doesn’t owe as much to many people, and it is possible that he will have more leeway in making coherent and decisive policy-decisions which he failed to make in his first term as to not offend anybody. The makeup of his cabinet, which was an ideology-free zone and often incoherent in his first term, was said to be a signal about the direction (if any) that Zuma wishes to take in his second term. The ANC’s manifesto signaled that the party is committed to the NDP, and that the NDP is now non-negotiable despite COSATU’s misgivings about it. On May 25, Zuma announced his cabinet, and it is hard to say if there’s any clear ideological or policy orientation coming out of it. The left received some concessions – Pravin Gordhan, the finance minister, was demoted to Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, being replaced by the Deputy Minister for Finance, Nhlanhla Nene; former NUM man Senzeni Zokwana got Agriculture; Ebrahim Patel retained Economic Development and the SACP’s Blade Nzimande retained Higher Education. The ‘security cluster’ was shuffled after criticisms by Madonsela and the presidency over its handling of Nkandlagate; the police minister Nathi Mthethwa was demoted to Arts and Culture and state security minister Siyabonga Cwele got moved to a new telecommunications superministry. Tito Mboweni, the former Reserve Bank governor, surprised his party when he said that he would not take his seat in Parliament.

The next five years will also be crucial in deciding where South Africa goes from here. Analysts have drawn up various scenarioes, optimistic and pessimistic, about potential paths for the country – scenarios include the ANC reforming itself and taking important decisions which will improve the country’s economy, the ANC becoming even more intolerant and authoritarian, the ANC and the country limping forward with much politicking but little results, the ANC moving to the right with a splinter on the left from NUMSA or even a scenario where the ANC loses the 2024 elections to an opposition party or coalition. Zuma now has the chance to gain control of the Constitutional Court, with the retirement of three judges (including the Deputy Chief Justice, Dikgang Moseneke, who has been critical of the ANC) giving Zuma the opportunity to appoint three new names and likely tilt the top judicial organ in a pro-government and culturally conservative direction. In the past, Zuma and the ANC have made comments critical of the judiciary and its independence, claiming that unelected judges could not change an elected government’s policies. The likely changes to the Court’s composition may either be seen as simply the equivalent of American presidents appointing judges sharing their ideological outlook, or as an attack on the judiciary’s independence. With the Court likely to rule on the secrecy bill and the spy tapes, ANC critics are worried.

In the National Assembly, the ANC has replaced outgoing speaker Max Sisulu, who irked Zuma and the ANC for not being a total tool and allowing debate on the Gupta landing at Waterkloof AFB and creating an ad hoc committee to investigation Madonsela’s report on Nkandla. He was replaced by Baleka Mbete, a Zuma ally and senior ANC stalwart, whose reputation is less than stellar. The ANC expects her to play a ‘gatekeeping’ role in Parliament for the ANC. Mbete was rumoured to be in line to be Second Deputy President, but creating that position would have required a constitutional amendment whic the ANC could not have passed alone.

However, at the same time, Zuma’s last term in office might make him something of a lame-duck, as the ANC’s attention turns to his succession. To begin with, Zuma is not a solid leader and many are those who think that the ANC did well on May 7 despite Zuma. Nkandla will be continue to be an idling engine in the background, dogging the President, although the ANC will probably try to scuttle any meaningful parliamentary or independent inquiry into Nkandlagate like it did with the arms deal. Zuma has other controversies circling over his head – the ‘spy tapes’ (tapes which reveal why the NPA dropped corruption charges against him in 2009, reopening the possibility that Zuma’s decade-old corruption trial may not be over yet), the secrecy bill and so forth. In 2017, the ANC will renew its leadership and executive at its national conference, and Zuma is not expected to seek a third term as the ANC’s President – but it is also clear that he wishes to influence the choice of his successor, who will more likely than not succeed him as President of South Africa after 2019.

Cyril Ramaphosa’s election as the ANC’s Deputy President at Mangaung led to speculation that he was the heir apparent to Zuma, and he has been appointed as Deputy President of South Africa and he will chair the National Planning Commission (he was deputy-chair, but the chair, Trevor Manuel, is retired). However, Ramaphosa did not gain control over government evaluation and monitoring, a role which was instead given to Jeff Radebe, who was moved from justice to Minister in the Presidency. It is far from clear if Ramaphosa remains the ANC’s favourite candidate to succeed Zuma as ANC President in 2017.

There have been reports that the KZN ANC has a secret ‘plan’ to take control of the ANC leadership in 2017, and they are against Ramaphosa as Zuma’s successor. Instead, Zuma’s supporters in the KZN ANC (and, allegedly, Zuma himself – who recently stated that the country is ready for a woman President) would like for Zuma’s ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (the current AU Commission president), the new speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete, ANC treasurer Zweli Mkhize or the new home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba to succeed Zuma in 2017-2019. Ramaphosa has allegedly fallen out of favour with Zuma’s supporters, fearing he is too independent and don’t trust him to defend Zuma from future judicial prosecutions.

Gwede Mantashe, the ANC’s secretary-general and one of the powerful players in the ANC party apparatus, is said to be looking for a promotion come 2017, although it’s unclear if by that he intends to run for ANC President or if he may be instead for ANC Deputy President. Mantashe has drifted away from Zuma, having been very critical of the Gupta landing.

The selection of the new Premiers after the elections also signaled, for some commentators, that Zuma was losing his grip. In Gauteng, incumbent pro-Zuma Premier Nomvula Mokonyane was ultimately removed despite pressure from the Zuma circles in the national party on the provincial party to place her on their shortlist of names (from which the ANC NEC selects one name). Instead, Mokonyane’s rival and ANC provincial secretary David Makhura, who is not a Zuma ally, was selected as Premier of Gauteng. Even in KZN, the retention of new Premier Senzo Mchunu as Premier was seen as a blow to the Zuma circle, who had been pushing for a more trusted ally to take his place.

The DA’s support increased to unprecedented heights in this election, secured its base (despite potential white misgivings over the DA’s equivocation on EE), continue to eat into small parties’ support and it successfully improved its black support from quasi-nil to roughly 6%. However, if the DA fails to make major gains with black voters, it is running up against a wall in the near future and will have no chance of winning power nationally. Right after the election, the DA was rocked by the surprise departure of parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko, who resigned her seat to study at Harvard. Mazibuko had fallen out with Zille after the DA’s internal crisis on the EE bill last November, and it was likely that Mazibuko would be challenged for the parliamentary leadership by Mmusi Maimane, who is seen as Zille’s new black favourite. Mazibuko would likely have lost, but it could have opened a bruising internal battle.

Yet, her departure still created a huge firestorm in the DA after a newspaper leaked that Zille had privately lashed out at Mazibuko – the Sunday Times reported that Zille privately stated that she had ‘made’ Mazibuko and ‘saved’ her several times. Zille denied she had attacked Mazibuko, but in yet another case of DA own goals and tone-deafness, she released a statement in which she said that she had repeatedly taken responsibility for mistakes made in Parliament to protect her and claimed that Mazibuko had put up a ‘Berlin Wall’ between her office and Zille’s. Most damagingly, Zille admitted that she backed Mazibuko for parliamentary leader against the white incumbent, Athol Trollip, only to racially diversify the party. Her statement once again confirmed the ANC’s constant claims that the DA is smug, paternalist (in Cape liberal tradition) and has a ‘rent-a-black’ attitude towards blacks, taking them as yes-men or women or token blacks. It is basically a fact that Zille exerts significant power over the DA caucus in Parliament, effectively imposing her favourites on the still-inexperienced caucus and going after DA MPs if they prove to be too independent from her leadership, as Mazibuko did after the EE debacle. It underlines Zille’s increasing liability as a ‘madam baas’ figure and shows the DA’s major problems with the issue of black leadership.

Mmusi Maimane has confirmed that he will stand for parliamentary leader, and has Zille’s backing. Makashule Gana, another young (30) black MP from the DA’s new ‘black caucus’ (which emerged during the EE debacle as being critical of Zille and the DA’s policies on racial issues), did not stand for the position as the media had speculated. Zille has insisted that the new leader must work with her, warning that it would be a disaster if he didn’t. This seems to indicate that Zille has not really grasped the gist of the last week of debate. Many commentators have said that Zille’s alleged authoritarian personality is increasingly turning her into a liability for the DA, which appears to be increasingly torn apart by factional battles and is insure of how to reconciliate a growing and assertive black membership with the party’s white roots in the Cape liberal tradition of the Progressive Party and the ex-Nats.

Zille is expected to retire within a few years, likely before 2019, opening the door for a black leader for the DA. Maimane is already cited as a potential leadership contender. On the one hand, Maimane is smart, young, likeable, warm and managed well despite his inexperienced. On the other hand, Maimane is still very inexperienced and he often comes off as an empty suit or cheap marketing product (branded as a local Obama). The DA must also review its policies, offering something bold and new which truly breaks from the ANC’s policies repackaged in nicer and less corrupt terms.

Julius Malema is another man to watch. Will the EFF indeed ‘be another COPE’ and join the corpses of other coalition of disaffecteds in South Africa’s political graveyard, or will the EFF survive as a major party and gatvol alternative to the ANC? The opportunity for the EFF is that, come 2019, an even larger share of the electorate will be post-1994 youths who will likely still face huge economic problems (unemployment) and be angry with the ANC. The challenge is that, as noted above, most of these people don’t vote. The other challenge for the EFF is a big one – keeping Malema out of jail. If he does stay out of jail, Malema’s other challenges are to broaden the party’s appeal, gain financial resources (which is done by attracting corporate donations…) and message the party differently. Malema’s angry, anti-Zuma and radical platform and style is still offputting for a lot of people, who view the EFF as too radical and lacking in credibility or realism. A more measured, pragmatic, coherent and realistic message and style would help the party, but it would need to make sure that it doesn’t lose its identity and base in the process of doing so.

Not only will the 2019 election be marked by a new ANC leadership, the potential for a black DA candidate and the Malema question mark, it will also feature a new anti-capitalist and far-left party to be created by NUMSA. Having broken with the ANC in December, NUMSA is serious on creating a political party ‘for the working-class’ with an anti-capitalist, Marxist-Leninist/socialist message. NUMSA has said that it will convene forums to canvass support and identify local issues and partners, and initiating discussions with other left-wing forces such as the EFF as well as unions and civil society organizations. The new party should contest the 2016 local elections. The South African left is a disaster, but a new NUMSA party could be different. NUMSA has the organization, credibility, base, history, gravitas and resources which the parties of the radical left (excluding the EFF, whose place in the traditional left is a hot issue of debate) have lacked. The most optimistic analysts think that the NUMSA party could draw the ANC’s left, while turning the remnants of the ANC into a more centre-right party. NUMSA may replicate the experience of Zimbabwe, where the unions laid the roots of the opposition MDC, which challenges the ZANU-PF; or that of Brazil, where the ruling PT emerged from the union and workers’ movement. Latin America’s left is often cited as a reference by the South African left, including NUMSA.

The 2014 election may merely have confirmed the ANC’s continued dominance of South African politics, but it has set the stage for a more disputed showdown in the 2019 ad 2024 elections. South Africa is entering a critical and momentous period after 20 years of democracy. Which direction and path will the country take? Will the ANC’s dominance be reconsolidated in the future, or will the coalition continue to show more and more cracks and become truly vulnerable to the opposition? Will there emerge a strong challenge to the left of the ANC? Will the opposition DA renew itself and gain support with black voters, allowing it to seriously challenge the ANC in 5 and 10 years, or will it remain forever condemned to being the opposition party backed by the racial minorities? In two years time, some of these questions will be answered with the local elections.

Panama 2014

Presidential and congressional elections were held in Panama on May 4, 2014.

The President of Panama is the head of state and government and is elected by popular vote (FPTP) for a five-year term, and may not hold the office for the two terms immediately following. The outgoing President’s relatives (within the fourth degree of consanguinity or second degree of marital relations) may not be elected. Similar to ‘fusion voting’ in the US, voters may vote for the same presidential candidate under different party lines (the candidate with the highest sum of votes, across all party lines, wins). Like in New York state, the number of votes which a party line won determines whether it keeps its electoral registration or not.

The National Assembly (Asamblea Nacional) is Panama’s unicameral legislature, composed of 71 deputies elected in single or multi-member constituencies, called circuitos electorales. These electoral constituencies are based on Panama’s administrative districts, which are the second-level administrative divisions: each district with a population over 40,000 inhabitants forms a constituency on its own, and each constituency elects one deputy per 30,000 inhabitants and an additional one for every fraction over 10,000. As of today, there are 26 single-member constituencies whose members are elected by FPTP. The remaining 13 constituencies elect between two and seven deputies to the National Assembly, returning a total of 45 deputies. In multi-member constituencies, voters vote for only one candidate on the party’s list. Seats are attributed using an electoral quotient, which is the number of valid votes cast divided by the number of seats to be filled. Party lists which have obtained more votes than the quotient obtain as many seats as they have full quotients. In the case that no party has won more votes than the quotient or there are still seats left to be filled, seats are distributed to parties which have obtained more than half of the quotient (medio cociente); parties which have already won seats with the quotient are not eligible for seats. Finally, if there are any seats left to be filled, they are distributed to candidates with the highest votes.

In this election, voters also elected Panama’s 20 deputies to the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN), 77 mayors, 648 representatives of corregimiento (the third-level administrative divisions below the district) and 7 councillors (elected by the districts of the indigenous comarca of Emberá-Wounaan and the offshore island district of Taboga).


The isthmus of Panama’s strategic location has had a huge influence on the country’s history. When Latin American countries gained independence from Spain in the early nineteenth century, Panama became part of the country which would eventually become known as Colombia. Panama’s golden age had come and gone under Spanish rule, and by the time Panama became a province of Colombia, it was a backwater region isolated from the decision-making centres of mainland Colombia (to this day, there is no road connecting the two countries, broken by the wild and impassable Darién Gap). Nevertheless, Panama’s strategic location as the connecting link between Atlantic and Pacific soon turned attracted the attention of foreign speculators. During the California Gold Rush, the isthmus became an important transit route between the American east coast and the west coast. In 1850, a group of New York financiers obtained an exclusive concession from Colombia to build a railroad through the narrow isthmus, which was completed in 1855. The railway restored Panamanian prosperity (briefly), led to the construction of the city of Colón on the Atlantic and exposed locals to Americans. In 1869, the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in the US reduced passenger and freight traffic.

Ideas for a canal through the isthmus first sprang up under Spanish colonial rule, and throughout the nineteenth century, investors and governments in the US, Britain and France displayed varying levels of interest in a canal. In 1846, the US and Colombia signed a treaty which removed restrictive tariffs, granted free passage to all US citizens over any road or canal which might be constructed, while the US guaranteed the isthmus’ neutrality and Colombian sovereignty. But the first attempt to build a canal was that of France’s Ferdinand de Lesseps, who obtained a concession to build a canal in 1879. Work began in 1880, but the project foundered due to corruption (the scandale de Panama became one of the major political scandals of the French Third Republic), damaging speculation from rivals, financial troubles, tropical diseases and the impracticality of a sea-level canal despite de Lesseps’ obstinacy. In 1889, the company was bankrupt. Nevertheless, the French canal had completed excavation for 2/5 of the future canal and it left behind infrastructure and an Antillean black labour force, part of which would stay and eventually work on the US canal.

As an isolated backwater region of Colombia, there had been separatist conspiracies and movements in Panama for most of the nineteenth century, culminating in five failed secessionist attempts. Yet, Panama was also affected by spillover from the decades-long on-and-off political violence, civil wars, coups, riots and regime changes in Colombia (which affected Panama’s degree of autonomy: a federal state with significant devolved powers from 1863 to 1886, it became part of a very centralized and conservative-minded Colombia after 1886). In 1885, a riot in Panama basically destroyed Colón and Colombia called on US forces to restore order. After Colombia adopted a centralist constitution in 1886, many Panamanians became to support the idea of independence. Between 1899 and 1902, Panama was a major battleground in the Thousand Days’ War between Colombia’s warring Liberal and Conservative factions. Once again, Colombia called on the US to intercede and mediate the signature of an armistice on board an American warship off Panama in 1902. As a backdrop to all this, the US retained interest in building a canal, and an obstacle to this was dropped in 1901 when Britain agreed to the idea of a canal built solely by the US. The difficulty of moving warships from the Caribbean to the Pacific theaters during the Spanish-American War convinced President Theodore Roosevelt of the necessity of a canal.

In January 1903, the US and Colombia signed the Hay-Herrán Treaty under which Colombia conceded a 100-year lease on a canal zone 10km wide in return for fairly small financial compensations to Bogotá. The Colombian Senate unanimously rejected the treaty, a move which led to the formation of a separatist revolutionary movement in Panama which sought to negotiate directly with the US. The US actively encouraged these separatists. Philippe Bunau-Varilla, a French engineer who owned stock in the new French canal company and who had successfully sold the idea of a canal in Panama to the US Congress (which appropriated $40 million to buy land from the French), now provided financial assistance to the Panamanian rebels. In October and November 1903, they staged a successful uprising, while the US used the USS Nashville to impede Colombian troops from landing troops to suppress the uprising. Colombia resented the US’ actions, but was powerless to do anything. In 1921, Colombia finally recognized Panamanian independence in exchange for a financial indemnity from the US.

Within days, the US and other countries recognized Panamanian ‘independence’. Bunau-Varilla, from the Waldorf Astoria in New York (he had not lived in Panama for 17 years) wrote the Panamanian declaration of independence and served as Panama’s negotiator with US Secretary of State John Hay. In the hastily negotiated treaty ratified by Panama (having little choice), the US was granted, in perpetuity, the use, occupation and control of a 16km-wide zone for the construction and operation of a canal (in exchange for $10 million and subsequent annuities). The treaty further allowed the US to extend the Canal Zone if it believed it to be necessary for defensive purposes. The 1903 constitution of Panama gave the US the right to intervene anywhere in Panama to “to reestablish public peace and constitutional order”, in exchange for guaranteeing its independence. Therefore, Panama became a de facto American protectorate. In the Canal Zone, the US interpreted the treaty to mean that it could exercise complete sovereignty. The treaty and the constitution would rankle Panamanian nationalists for decades.

After independence, Panama inherited Colombia’s Liberal and Conservative parties, although these labels had little meaning. The Liberals having been behind the revolutionary movement, they came to dominate politics in Panama until 1932, although it remained an extremely factionalized and fractious array of caudillos. During this era, politics remained the exclusive preserve of a small oligarchy.

The US took control of the canal zone from the French in 1904 and began work on the canal, building on the foundations laid by the French and trying to avoid their mistakes. The US Army Corps of Engineers successfully rid the region of deadly mosquitoes carrying the yellow fever, allowing construction to begin with a workforce of approximately 65,000 men – mostly from the West Indies. The Panama Canal was completed in 1914. The canal has remained an issue at the core of Panamanian politics, and it has had a major impact on the country’s society and political culture. New forms of discrimination and segregation arose, and US presence in Panama began to generate resentment in the country. In the Canal Zone, the US assumed full sovereignty, despite Panama’s opposition. The US naturally retained deep interest and involvement in Panamanian politics, intervening directly – often at the request of the Panamanian government – to restore order, protect American citizens and property, or quash local riots at the government’s request. Disgruntled factions in domestic politics turned to the US to secure their rights.

In 1932, Harmodio Arias Madrid, a mestizo from a poor provincial family who led, alongside his brother Arnulfo Arias Madrid, through a middle-class mestizo nationalist, anti-oligarchy and anti-American movement, was elected President. He instituted relief efforts for the countryside and established the University of Panama, which would become the focal point for middle-class nationalist agitation. His election came at a time when the US were moving to a more conciliatory stance, with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy. In 1933, the US pledged sympathetic consideration of arbitration requests on non-vital economic issues, efforts to protect Panamanian businesses from smuggling cheap goods from the Zone and agreed that US rights in the Zone applied only for the maintenance and operation of the canal. However, the devaluation of the US dollar in 1934 reduced the gold content and meant that the annuities paid to Panama were effectively cut in half.

In 1936, Panama and the US signed the Hull-Alfaro Treaty ended the protectorate status, removing the US’ guarantee of Panamanian independence and its concomitant right to intervention, increasing the annuities and dealt with Panamanian business and commercial complaints (non-canal linked private commercial operations were banned in the Zone, free entry into the Zone for Panamanian goods). The US Senate reluctantly ratified the treaty in 1939.

In 1940, Arnulfo Arias, at the helm of a nationalist mass movement known as Panameñismo, was elected President. Panameñismo opposed American hegemony and wanted to rid Panama of non-Hispanics (Americans but also Anglophone blacks, Chinese, Hindus and Jews). He promulgated a new constitution which centralized powers behind the President and extended the presidential term to six years, but also barred Anglophone blacks from Panamanian citizenship. In October 1941, the National Police – Panama’s only law enforcement/military force at the time – removed him from office, much to the US’ delight. A new constitution adopted by a constituent assembly in 1946 erased Arnulfo Arias’ changes. Arias’ successor, Ricardo de la Guardia, proved a loyal American ally who leased 134 sites to the US for the duration of the war and declared war on the Axis on December 7, 1941. However, after the war, the US sought to hold the bases for an indefinite period, and compelled the Panamanian government to a draft treaty granting a 20-year extension of the leases. However, the National Assembly rejected the treaty in the face of an angry mob and in 1948 the US had evacuated the occupied bases.

Arnulfo ‘lost’ (but really won) the 1948 election, whose winner died in office. Colonel José Antonio Remón, the National Police chief, gained significant power and between 1948 and 1952 he installed and removed several presidents – he even gave the presidency to Arias in November 1949 (who was proclaimed in 1949 to have won the election), until Remón sided with the National Assembly when they removed Arias from office in May 1951. Remón, meanwhile, increased wages and benefits for his forces and transformed the police into a paramilitary force. In 1953, the police was transformed into the National Guard. In 1952, Remón, running for the National Patriotic Coalition (CPN), an hastily assembled coalition of different parties which would become Panama’s party of power until 1960, was elected President. He enriched himself, but also promoted a reformist program. Remón was assassinated in fairly murky conditions in 1955, and his First Vice President (who briefly succeeded him in office) was impeached and jailed (but never tried) for the crime. His impeachment may have been a cover-up to protect Panamanian political families and a US organized crime boss. Remón’s two CPN successors dismantled most of his reforms.

In 1955, Panama signed a treaty with the US which again limited commercial activities in the Zone, the annuity increase and discriminatory wage differentials in the Zone abolished to provide equal wages to all employees regardless of nationality. However, the nationalization of the Suez Canal in Egypt in 1956 led to tensions with the US, which declined to invite Panama to a conference of global maritime powers, proclaimed that Suez could not repeat itself in Panama because the US possessed ‘sovereignty rights’ and clarified that the ‘equal wage’ clause of the treaty didn’t preclude a 25% wage differential for US citizens in the Zone. Between 1958 and 1960, several student protests and riots worried the US that Panamanian mobs might actually force entry into the Zone. The US toughened military presence in the Zone, strengthened security measures and relations with Panama worsened. In 1960, with the CPN having largely disintegrated, a Liberal candidate won free elections. Although he sought to implement a moderate reformist agenda, the National Assembly paid no attention. Once again, Panama and the US negotiated an agreement over contentious labour, social security and wage issues in the Zone and Panama received loans and grants from John F. Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress.

Popular resentment against the US, its policies and citizens boiled over in January 1964, originally due to a dispute over the flying of the Panamanian flag in the Zone (which was raised in 1960, but the US’ staging of the ceremony angered the Panamanian President, and Panamanians were still angry that their flag was one flown at one spot in the Zone). After an agreement to raise the Panamanian flag alongside the US flag at several spots in the Zone, including American high schools, it was now US citizens who protested and American high school students hoisted the US flag alone. In January 1964, over 200 Panamanian students marched into the Zone and the tensions turned into a bloody riot killing 20 people after the Panamanian flag was torn in a clash with US students. Panama’s government took the extraordinary step of severing relations with the US and appealed to the OAS and UN. Tensions and diplomatic deadlock lasted until April 1964, when diplomatic ties were restored. Nevertheless, relations remained strained for almost a year.

In the mid-1960s, Panamanian politics was still tenuously controlled by the oligarchy, while the middle-class – spearheaded by the vocal students – failed to unite with the rural lower-classes, which were generally disconnected from national politics. Political parties were, like elsewhere on the continent, clientelist parties and/or personal machines for a leader (such as the Panameñista Party for Arnulfo Arias). In 1964, Marco Aurelio Robles, the candidate of the moderate ruling Liberal-led coalition, defeated Arias’ nationalist (slightly toned down by now) and anti-oligarchic coalition and an equally nationalist CPN-led coalition. Arias alleged that Robles had rigged the election. Robles’ government faced challenges aggravated by the 1964 riots, and remained dependent on US aid to develop infrastructure projects.

the 1964 riots led to negotiations to draw up a new treaty to replace the increasingly loathed Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty of 1903. Negotiations continued under Liberal President Marco Aurelio Robles, who won (officially) the 1964 election by a thin margin over Arias and his Panameñista Party. Negotiations resulted in a treaty in 1967, but Panama failed to ratify it. The draft treaties would have abolished the ‘in perpetuity’ clause  in favour of an expiration date in 1999, and would have compensated Panama on the basis of tonnage shipped through the canal. However, Panamanian nationalist opinion objected to clauses allowing for continued US military presence in the Zone and the right for the US to deploy troops anywhere in Panama.

In the 1968 election, the ruling Liberal coalition endorsed David Samudio, a middle-class engineer and cabinet minister under Robles. Arnulfo Arias ran again, largely concerned over the validity of the election itself. Charging that Robles was illegally interfering in the election to help Samudio, Arias and another candidate recommended the President’s impeachment. In March 1968, the National Assembly voted for impeachment and declared him deposed. However, Robles, backed by the National Guard, ignored the National Assembly and awaited the Supreme Court’s decision, which later ruled the impeachment proceedings to be unconstitutional. The election went ahead in May 1968, and despite delays in announcing the results, it was finally announced that Arias had won with 54.7% against 41.8% for Samudio. On October 1, Arias took office, his election having been guaranteed by the National Guard’s approval. Upon taking office, he demanded the return of the Canal Zone and reorganized the National Guard. On October 11, the National Guard removed Arias from office. Once again, he did not complete his constitutional term.

A new junta, with civilian and military members, took power and assumed control over the entire territory. The junta arrested several political leaders on trumped-up charges or grounds of subversion, disbanded the National Assembly and political parties, censored the media and closed the University of Panama for several months. Omar Torrijos and Boris Martínez, commander and chief-of-staff of the National Guard respectively, became the real leaders of the country – and within months, Martínez, who promoted radical agrarian reform, was ousted by Torrijos. In 1969, he survived a failed coup attempt by three colonels backed by the two-member governing junta, and promptly exiled the rebellious colonels and installed a civilian puppet president.

After 1971, Torrijos’ authoritarian regime shifted towards the left, although siding with a non-Marxist populist form of leftism rather than Marxism. He became a very popular lead with Panama’s impoverished rural masses, who saw him as ‘one of their own’ rather than a member of the old, predominantly white oligarchy. He regularly met with the rural poor, listened to their problems, created new jobs, opened schools and launched a public works program. Torrijos therefore built an alliance with the rural campesinos, students, the National Guard and a portion of the working-class and the left; this alliance was held together by nationalism, which reduced antagonisms between antagonistic elements, and patronage. In 1972, Torrijos filled a large National Assembly of Municipal Representatives with supporters, and tasked it to confirm his position as head of government and to approve a new constitution, which expanded state powers. Legitimated by the new constitution, Torrijos undertook land reform which aimed to distributed 700,000 ha of land to 61,300 families within 3 years, which had some successes but which ultimately didn’t go as fast and as far as expected.

The government restructured education to focus on vocational and technical training, expanded access to healthcare to workers and their dependent relatives, built hospitals and clinics outside Panama City and undertook an ambitious public works project which built roads in rural areas and expanded urban housing in the cities. Although nationalist and populist, Torrijos did not overly disturb the dominant position of the elite and successfully lured foreign investment. International banking was encouraged to locate in Panama and offshore banking was facilitated. Torrijos’ grand schemes became less ambitious after 1973, when the country was hit by economic stagnation and Torrijos’ alliance eroded by economic problems.

Torrijos’ main achievement came with regards to the Panama Canal. The canal remained of vital importance to both countries: for Panama, the level of traffic and revenue generated by the canal were key in the national economy; for the US, the Zone was of strategic military importance in the Cold War, using it as a key military centre for the whole region. In 1973, the UNSC considered a resolution (vetoed by the US) calling on the US to negotiate a new treaty. In 1974, both governments agreed to basic principles to guide future negotiations, including the recognition of Panamanian sovereignty in the Zone and an expiration date for US control of the canal. However, negotiations under President Gerald Ford in 1975 ended in deadlock, with Panama resenting the US’ demands for continued military presence. The election of Jimmy Carter, who proved more willing to relinquish physical military presence and to provide bilateral aid to Panama for canal operations, broke the deadlock and negotiations resulted in the signature of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties in August-September 1977. The main treaty abrogated the 1903 treaty, the Canal Zone and Panama Canal Company would cease to exist, Panama would assume complete legal jurisdiction over the Zone, Panama granted the US the right to operate, maintain and manage the canal through a joint US-Panamanian agency and Panama would assume full control on December 31 1999. Under a neutrality treaty, the US and Panama would guarantee the canal’s neutrality. The US was allowed to retain military bases and training facilities in Panama until 2000. Despite the agreement, Torrijos spoke for many Panamanians when he expressed reservations about the transition period, the presence of US military bases in Panama during this period and the wording of the neutrality treaty (a later agreement explicitly clarified that the US’ right to act against any threat precluded US intervention in Panamanian affairs). The treaty was ratified by two-thirds of Panamanian voters in October 1977. In 1978, the US Senate ratified the treaties, but amendments and reservations passed by the Senate incensed Panamanian opinion again. The treaties finally came into force in October 1979.

Carter had conditioned the signature of treaties to domestic democratization in Panama, which forced Torrijos to amend the 1972 constitution to legalize political parties, allowed exiled leaders to return and promises for legislative elections in 1980. In 1978, Torrijos also relinquished his titles of head of government and ‘Maximum Leader of the Panamanian Revolution’, but retained actual control as head of the National Guard. Torrijos’ supporters founded the Democratic Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Democrático, PRD), a coalition which aimed to bring together Torrijos’ socially diverse coalition in a kind of patronage and corporatist party of power similar to Mexico’s PRI. In the 1980 election, actual electoral competition only concerned 19 of the National Assembly’s 57 seats (the rest were appointed by the National Assembly of Municipal Representatives, effectively all Torrijos supporters). The PRD won 40% of the vote and 11 of the 19 elected seats, with the Liberals winning 5 and the Christian Democrats winning 2.

The PRD was widely expected to nominate Torrijos as its presidential candidate in the direct presidential elections promised for 1984, but Torrijos was killed in a plane crash in July 1981. His death opened a political vacuum, filled by Colonel Florencio Flores and Torrijos’ handpicked civilian President, Aristides Royo. Royo soon alienated his backers in the National Guard and Torrijos’ clique with his leftist, anti-American nationalist rhetoric, contributing to the breakup of Torrijos’ carefully-assembled coalition of the National Guard and the PRD. In March 1982, Flores retired in favour of General Rubén Dario Paredes, Torrijos’ initial handpicked military successor, and in July 1982, Paredes removed Royo from office. Manuel Noriega, assistant chief of staff for intelligence since 1970, gained in power and standing within the military circles. In late 1982, Noriega became chief of staff of the National Guard. In November 1982, constitutional amendments reduced the president’s term from 6 to 5 years, banned electoral participation by members of the National Guard and provided for the direct election of all legislators. These changes, approved in a 1983 referendum, reduced the National Guard’s powers but it remained clear that they retained as much power as they wished. In August 1983, Paredes retired from the Guard to stand as the PRD’s presidential candidate in 1984. He was succeeded as military boss by Manuel Noriega. However, Noriega declined to support Paredes’ candidacy, which compelled him to effectively withdraw from the race as a serious contender (he was nominated by a small party, but only won 2.5%). Noriega consolidated the National Guard into a formal military, the Panamanian Defense Forces (FDP).

For the 1984 elections, the PRD joined forces with smaller parties on the right and left to nominate Nicolás Ardito Barletta, a little-known US-educated economist. Opposing him was Arnulfo Arias, backed by his Authentic Panameñista Party (PPA), the Christian Democrats (PDC) and the conservative MOLIRENA. The government and the media favoured Ardito Barletta, and election day was marred by serious reports of misconduct, fraud, purged voter lists and vote buying. The vote counting process was extremely slow and opaque, before being stopped altogether when results showed Arias to be leading. The courts rejected the opposition’s challenges and the electoral tribunal proclaimed Barletta’s victory with 47% to 46.7% for Arias. The FDP’s power was comforted; they had already silently deposed the civilian president who had been speaking out for free elections a bit too loud for their tastes.

At any rate, Barletta’s presidency was brief. He sought economic assistance from the IMF to refinance the country’s huge debt, implemented unpopular austerity measures to meet the IMF’s loan conditions and presided over mounting unrest which worried the FDP. His policies and style ran into conflict with traditional politicians dependent on patronage politics, and Noriega finally moved against him in September 1985 by forcing him to resign (unofficially because Barletta wanted to investigate the suspicious death of a critic of the FDP who claimed to have evidence linking Noriega to drug and arms trafficking).

The US opposed Barletta’s ouster and relations with Noriega deteriorated. Noriega had been a CIA asset since 1967, and convinced the US to turn a blind eye to his corruption, money laundering and drug dealing (notably with Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel in Colombia). At home, Noriega faced rising opposition after the new president was forced to continue Barletta’s austerity measures. In the US, there was mounting congressional concern with Noriega’s regime and the first allegations of the Panamanian government’s involvement in narcotrafficking and the murder of the military critic in 1985 were published in the US press. In June 1987, the forced retirement of one of Noriega’s rivals in the FDP led to riots when that dismissed officer alleged that Noriega had been involved in the death of Torrijos and the military critic. Noriega responded by declaring a state of emergency, suspending constitutional rights and instituting censorship, while the opposition organized a general strike to paralyze Panama. While the Catholic Church called for calm and criticized the government, the military responded with heavy-handed actions and tough rhetoric against the protesters. Smaller protests continued for much of 1987, while relations with the US deteriorated further as the government claimed that the US supported the opposition. The US froze economic and military assistance to Panama in the summer of 1987, and in 1988, Noriega was indicted in the US for drug trafficking.

Presidential elections were held in May 1989, featuring a contest between Carlos Duque, a PRD candidate and Noriega ally; and Guillermo Endara, the candidate of a broad opposition alliance including the PPA (Arias had died in August 1988), the MOLIRENA and the PDC. Although the opposition’s parallel counts showed that Endara had won in a landslide, with 71% of the vote, it soon became clear that Noriega had every intention of fabricating the results to proclaim Duque as the winner. Eventually, Noriega annulled the election results and his thugs beat up Endara and his running-mate. The US began preparing for an invasion of Panama, and did so on December 20, after the Panamanian puppet legislature had declared war on the US. President George H.W. Bush, who had previously worked with Noriega when he was CIA Director and Noriega was a CIA asset, cited threats to US citizens in Panama (the FDP had killed a USMC First Lieutenant at a roadblock in Panama City a few days before), defending democracy and human rights, fighting drug trafficking and upholding the 1977 treaties (Bush claimed that Noriega threatened the canal’s neutrality). In a flash invasion, the US quickly neutralized and destroyed Panamanian military targets and resistance within days. Noriega sought refuge at the Vatican’s diplomatic mission, but American psychological pressure forced him to surrender to US forces on January 3, 1990. He was later tried and sentenced to 40 years in jail in the US, he was released early in 2007 for good behaviour.

The US’ military actions had a fairly heavy toll on civilian lives, with estimates ranging between 500 and 3,000 civilian deaths, while the US lost 23 military personnel and 205-314 Panamanian soldiers were killed. The invasion was condemned in a UN resolution and by many Latin American countries.

Guillermo Endara had been sworn in as President of Panama in the Canal Zone on December 20, 1989 by American forces and he became the country’s official president at the end of the invasion. Endara promoted democracy, human rights and civilian rule – a month after he left office in 1994, the National Assembly voted, on Endara’s recommendation, to abolish the country’s military forces. Since then, Panama’s law enforcement forces, the Public Forces, include the police, border security, a presidential protection force and a small naval and aerial security force. Endara’s anti-military coalition soon fell apart, largely due to tensions between Endara’s Arnulfista Party and Vice President Ricardo Arias Calderón’s PDC, the most intransigent party with regards to the military. Arias resigned the vice-presidency in December 1992, and the PDC never regained prominence as an autonomous force in Panamanian politics. Endara’s popularity collapsed over the course of his term, due to the unpopularity of neoliberal reforms he implemented and especially to perceived incompetence and corruption scandals (his wife was accused of reselling food donated by Italy, and when she won the lottery, she chose to keep the money).

In 1994, Ernesto Pérez Balladares (PRD), a former minor Noriega ally, was elected President in a close contest with 33.3% against 29.1% for Arnulfista candidate Mireya Moscoso and 17.1% for Panamanian salsa singer Rubén Blades. Under his presidency, the pace of liberal economic reforms – privatizations, deregulation, labour market changes, spending cuts and so forth – were accelerated despite opposition from construction workers and teachers. He controversially rehabilitated a number of former Noriega officials and supporters during his presidency, and he too was hit by corruption allegations (he was forced to admit that he had indeed received campaign contributions from an agent of the Cali Cartel in Colombia, he was investigated after he left office in a number of corruption cases, including allegations that he illegally sold US visas to Chinese immigrants). His unpopularity help explain why voters rejected a 1998 constitutional amendment supported by the President and the PRD to allow Pérez Balladares to seek reelection in 1999.

In 1999, Mireya Moscoso – Arnulfo Arias’ wife, the Arnulfista candidate, was elected President with 44.8% against 37.8% for Martín Torrijos (PRD), the illegitimate son of Omar Torrijos. Moscoso’s party was in the minority to the PRD in the National Assembly (which passed strict spending restraints), restricting her ability to make policy. Instead, she sought to avoid making important decisions, and faced protests when she did make one – firing the head of the social security administration, in an apparent attempt to privatize social security. When she left office in 2004, her government was widely perceived as corrupt, incompetent and ineffectual. Before leaving office, she pardoned Luis Posada Carriles, an anti-Castro Cuban terrorist who had bombed a Cubana flight in 1976 and committed other terrorist acts.

In 2004, Martín Torrijos won his bid for the presidency, winning 47.4% against 30.9% for former president Guillermo Endara, standing for the ‘Solidarity Party’ and 16.4% for the Arnulfista candidate. As President, Torrijos maintained the orthodox ‘Washington Consensus’ economic policies which all presidents since Endara had implemented – he raised pension contributions and the retirement and, in 2007, signed a FTA with the US (finalized in 2011), as he had promised in 2004. But his term was more successful than that of his predecessors, buoyed by solid economic growth until 2009 – peaking at 12% growth in 2007. A lot of that growth came with the launch of a major $5.2 billion canal expansion project, announced by Torrijos in 2006 and ratified by voters in a referendum. The Panama Canal has been working at full capacity and has faced congestion problems for a number of years; additionally, the size of ships which can transit through the canal is constrained by the size of the locks. The project, which formally began in 2007, will notably build a third set of locks to allow more ships – and larger ships – to transit through the canal. The immigration of affluent elite families from Ecuador and Venezuela, ‘fleeing’ the left-wing Correa and Chávez administrations back home, also led to an infusion of capital in Panama, which has established itself as Central America’s main financial centre and proved very resilient in the 2008-2009 economic crisis (growth fell to 4% in 2009 but Panama has escaped recession). Internationally, Torrijos’ administrations improved the country’s diplomatic standing after Moscoso’s whimsical foreign policies. His government, while fairly successful, was unable or unwilling to tackle corruption. In the 2009 campaign, the PRD’s candidate was hit by allegations of illegal campaign financing from a Colombian national who was wanted in the US for extortion, money-laundering and drug-trafficking, and who received protection from the presidential protection force.

However, the PRD was badly divided as it entered the 2009 election. The PRD’s nomination went to Balbina Herrera, Torrijos’ housing minister and a former President of the National Assembly; she defeated Juan Carlos Navarro, the PRD mayor of Panama City. The PRD’s divisions and Herrera’s reputation as a ‘henchwoman of Noriega’ and concerns that she was too far to the left, allowed Ricardo Martinelli, a wealthy supermarket magnate who ran as a centrist independent backed by his Democratic Change (Cambio Democrático, CD) party and the Panameñista Party, to win in a landslide – 60% against only 37.7% for the PRD’s embattled candidate. Guillermo Endara, who would die a few months later, won 2.3%. Martinelli had previously served as president of the Panama Canal Authority under Moscoso’s presidency (the CD, formed in 1998, had been part of her winning coalition in 1999) and ran for president in 2004, winning only 5% of the vote. He had hatched an alliance with the Panameñista Party’s Juan Carlos Varela, who became his Vice President (allegedly the deal was negotiated by the US). Martinelli’s platform mixed anti-political sentiment (the idea of a centrist outsider solving problems), a typically liberal promotion of free enterprise, a tough-on-crime attitude (security was one of the main failures of Torrijos’ government) and some populist promises for the poor. He was not hurt by Herrera’s concerns over Martinelli’s wealth (which she claimed represented $400 million, or 2% of the GDP!) and conflicts of interest.

Martinelli’s coalition, the Alianza por el Cambio, won 42 seats to the PRD coalition’s 27 seats. However, the CD elected only 14 deputies against 22 for the Panameñista Party and 26 for the PRD. That being said, thanks to the defection of venal deputies, the CD now has 36 seats to the PRD’s 17 and the Panameñista Party’s 12.

In office, Martinelli has mixed liberal economic policies with populist measures. He reduced tax rates, simplified tax brackets, cut the corporate tax and worked to improve tax collection; yet tax collection never met the expected and projected goals and the government has been forced to ask for exceptions to legal limits on deficit targets. The government moved aggressively to attract foreign investment, with the stated aim of transforming Panama, already Latin America’s fastest-growing economy and one of the five richest countries in mainland Latin America. Martinelli’s government built on Panama’s low import tariffs by announcing a five-year, $13.6 billion investment plan. In 2011, Martinelli oversaw the finalization of the Panama-US FTA, which was ratified by Congress in October 2011 after Panama had agreed to a tax information sharing system with the US, resolving American concerns about Panama’s banking secrecy laws and tax haven reputation. He also passed populist measures, which have made him popular with voters: a $100-per-month pension for the elderly poor, subsidies for students and an increase in the minimum wage. One of his main infrastructure projects was the Panama City metro, a subway system inaugurated in April 2014.

Economic growth is projected to reach 7% in 2014, down from 8% in 2013 and nearly 11% in 2011-12, still making Panama the fastest-growing economy in Latin America. Unemployment was only 4.5%, when it had stood at nearly 15% in 2001. Despite a strong and growing economy and government dreams of making Panama into a ‘Singapore of Latin America’, income inequality remains a major problem in Panama. The country’s Gini coefficient was 51.9 in 2010, making it the seventh most unequal country in Latin America, just behind Chile and ahead of Mexico. The flashy skyscrapers of booming Panama City (although the city has its own challenges too, with substandard infrastructure) contrast with extreme levels of poverty in Panama’s three indigenous comarcas (self-governing reserves), where over 80% of the population is poor. The poverty rate has declined significantly, from 36.5% in 2007 to 27.6% in 2011.

Martinelli gained a reputation as a ‘bully’ with little tolerance for the opposition or separation of powers. In 2009, a Wikileaks cable from the US embassy revealed that Martinelli had asked for help in the wiretapping of his opponents, and reported his penchant for bullying and blackmail. In office, he moved to make CD the dominant force of the coalition, first moving to encourage prosecutors to investigate former PRD officials while simultaneously inciting PRD MPs to defect in return for pork, committee assignments and patronage. In 2011, the Panameñista Party and Juan Carlos Varela, Martinelli’s estranged VP and foreign minister, left the coalition. Martinelli had been trying to adopt a two-round system for the presidential election and allegedly considered amending the constitution to allow him to run for reelection in 2014. Martinelli is guilty of autocratic penchants, but the cause of many of Panama’s problems are corrupt and inefficient administrations and public institutions; institutional weakness has been a constant in democratic Panama since 1990, and corruption remains widespread (and the corrupt politicians continue to act with impunity).

In September 2012, Varela accused officials in Martinelli’s administration of taking bribes from an Italian company. The scandal involves a close associate of Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s former Prime Minister. Martinelli pugnaciously fought back against all charges, and tried to pack the Supreme Court with allies.

Martinelli’s style and policies also mobilized significant public opposition. The National Front for the Defense of Economic and Social Rights (FRENADESO), made up of teachers and unionized workers, protested the government’s policies and demanded economic fairness. The Panamanian Chamber of Commerce lost confidence in the President’s policies. In 2011, his mishandling of a proposal to change the legal framework regulating the mining in native lands mobilized significant indigenous groups against the government and blocked the Pan-American Highway for a few days. The government scrapped it plans. In October 2012, the government’s aborted plans to state-owned land on which Colón’s free-trade zone is built led to major protests in Colón. Once again, protests forced the government to backtrack. But the protests represented an upswell in popular dissatisfaction with the political system and Panama’s weak institutions.

Candidates and Issues

Panama’s three main parties – the PRD, CD and Panameñista Party – ran autonomously this year.

Unable to run himself, Martinelli and his CD is supporting José Domingo Arias, a former minister of housing between 2011 and 20134. He’s relatively unknown, but at the same time he’s probably seen to be a pliable candidate for Martinelli. Indeed, Arias is widely seen as a proxy candidate for Martinelli, who would exert power behind the scenes. To add to that perception, Arias’ running-mate is Marta Linares de Martinelli, President Martinelli’s wife who has no formal political experience herself. Although Article 193 of the Panamanian constitution fairly clearly bars relatives within ‘the second degree of martial relations’ of the incumbent President from being elected Vice President, the courts, which favour Martinelli, have not blocked her candidacy.

Arias’ platform, like that of Martinelli in 2009, was fairly eclectic. He proposed a Ciudad Mujer program almost identical to that implemented by El Salvador’s left-wing government, they are government service centre for women with specialized services in sexual and reproductive health, support for victims of violence against women and courses to promote economic autonomy. His platform also promised university scholarships, increasing the value of the $100 monthly pension to the elderly poor over 70 to $120 per month and indexing it to the minimum wage, technical training courses to single mothers and the youth, strengthening the fight against criminality, expanding Panama City’s new metro, lowering food prices, building new houses to help families buy their first homes and a very vague promise to create new social programs. His platform stated that he would continue the infrastructure projects started by Martinelli and maintain the subsidies for transportation, gas and electricity.

Arias appeared on the ballot as the candidate of the CD and the small right-wing Nationalist Republican Liberal Movement (MOLIRENA).

The PRD nominated Juan Carlos Navarro, the former mayor of Panama City between 1999 and 2009 who narrowly lost the PRD’s 2009 presidential nomination to Balbina Herrera (but was her running-mate in the election). Navarro is a vocal opponent of Martinelli, and Martinelli really hates him with a passion.

Navarro’s platform talked of the unacceptability of poverty and inequality in Panama, but his platform was not all that left-wing. Indeed, it is mostly a grocery list of various projects and policies, but hardly anything indicates a major change with the economic policies of the current and past governments. Some of Navarro’s promises included plans against extreme poverty and malnutrition, a new agricultural policy to help farmers and consumers, vague pablum about security, a preventive health program, policies to help poor people buy medicine and access clean water, new infrastructure projects, 100,000 new or improved houses, creating jobs for the youth (Latin America’s famous ‘nini’ – people between 16 and 29 who do not study or have a job) with the private sector and tax incentives and increased pensions. Navarro was critical of Martinelli’s record on the country’s public debt, which has increased significantly under his administration, and the perception of corruption in public work contracts.

Vice President Juan Carlos Varela, a sworn opponent of the government, ran for the Panameñista Party. His platform struck a fairly anti-establishment and anti-political tone (Varela says he’s no professional politician but an entrepreneur who knows how to create jobs and obtain results), with the usual clichéd promise of ‘working above parties’ to ‘solve problems’. Overall, though, his platform is hardly different on the whole from the broad economic framework in place since 1990. It is rather ambitious (but probably too ambitious), with promises of reducing poverty (with plans for 100% access to clean water and 0% of latrines/unimproved toilets), improving access to healthcare, emergency price controls to reduce food prices, job creation, bilingual ‘first world’ education, building 150,000 new houses and a plan for safer towns with more job opportunities. He also talked of a constituent assembly, but made no promise of actually adopting a new constitution.

Varela appeared on the ballot as the candidate of the Panameñista Party and the Popular Party (PP), the old PDC which is now a very minor party.

The ideological differences between the top three candidates were very thin, and all three pledged to maintain Martinelli’s popular social programs, public works projects and the neoliberal economic framework. Martinelli/Arias’ two opponents instead presented themselves as more transparent and democratic candidates than the outgoing President.

Genaro López, the former lead of the construction workers union – one of Panama’s largest and most vocally left-wing unions, ran for the new Broad Front for Democracy (Frente Amplio por la Democracia, FAD). The left-wing FAD proposed ‘economic democracy’ – opposition to neoliberalism, ‘political democracy’ and patriotism.


President (96.8% reporting)

Juan Carlos Varela (Panameñista-PP) 39.11%
José Domingo Arias (CD-MOLIRENA) 31.45%
Juan Carlos Navarro (PRD) 28.07%
Juan Jované (Ind) 0.59%
Genaro López (FAD) 0.58%
Esteban Rodríguez (Ind) 0.11%
Gerardo Barroso (Ind) 0.09%

National Assembly (90.9% reporting, unofficial projection for all seats)

CD 42.49% winning 28 seats (proj. 28)
MOLIRENA 1.28% winning 1 seat (proj. 1)
Unidos por Más Cambios 43.77% winning 29 seats (proj. 29)
PRD 33.84% winning 22 seats (proj. 26)
Panameñista 17.87% winning 11 seats (proj. 14)
PP 2% winning 1 seat (proj. 1)
El Pueblo Primero 19.86% winning 12 seats (proj. 14)
Independents 2.3% winning 1 seat (proj. 1)
FAD 0.23% winning 0 seats

Vice President Juan Carlos Varela was elected to the presidency, a somewhat surprising twist of events in one of Panama’s most closely fought elections since 1990 with a genuine, open-ended 3-way contest for the top job. Most polls had showed either Arias or Navarro placing first, with a narrow edge to the former on advantage, although in most cases all three candidates were within the margin of error. On preliminary results, Varela won about 39% of the vote against 31.5% for Arias, his closest opponent. The PRD’s Juan Carlos Navarro, a major contender, placed a solid but ultimately quite disappointing distant third with 28% of the vote. None of the other four candidates registered on the map. It is a major defeat for the pollsters, none of which had predicted that Varela would win (and only one poll showed him in second place). Pollsters, although their methodologies are often concealed and are unregulated by the electoral tribunal, had been fairly successful in past elections. One pollster has suggested that there was a significant swing in public opinion in the final days of the campaign, during a poll black-out period.

Varela’s victory and Arias’ defeat is a major blow for Martinelli, who had been counting on his protege and his wife’s victory to continue influencing politics from behind the scenes. However, since the US invasion, no incumbent party has managed to win reelection – in every presidential election, the president’s party was defeated. Martinelli, however, was significantly more popular than most of his predecessors, except Torrijos (who was fairly popular when he left office in 2009), with approval ratings in the 60% range. However, there were serious concerns in Panama about corruption and authoritarianism in the outgoing government (two issues which Varela, who as a VP estranged from his original running-mate at the top of the ticket in 2009, seized on in this campaign) and public discontent about inequality and the high cost of living. Varela, much like Navarro, promised to keep Martinelli’s popular policies and projects (pensions for the poor, the new metro in Panama City, public works) while campaigning strongly against corruption and the President’s ‘bully’ and autocratic personality. Panamanian analysts have suggested that voters were left unconvinced by Navarro’s fairly tame and conciliatory campaign, in contrast to Varela’s tough, aggressive anti-incumbent campaign. Former PRD president Perez Balladares claimed that Varela benefited from a ‘protest vote’/’punishment vote’ against the government.

That thesis is certainly confirmed, at least in part, by the results of the legislative vote. On preliminary results, the CD-led coalition won 43.9% of the legislative vote against 33.8% for the PRD and only 19.8% for Varela’s Panameñista coalition. The new President will find himself lacking a majority in the National Assembly, with his coalition holding only 14 seats (projected) against 29 seats for the CD-led coalition and 26 for the PRD. Varela has so far said that he would work with the opposition parties and ‘respect’ the distribution of seats, rather than try to convince opposition deputies to convince to his party like Martinelli had successfully done since 2009 (when his party, the CD, only held the third-most seats when the legislature convened).

There was also a very close race for mayor of Panama City. The Panameñista candidate, José Blandón, narrowly won with 35.7% – with 92% reporting. The PRD’s candidate, Jose Fabrega, won 34.4% while incumbent CD mayor Roxana Méndez won third with 29.2%. It appears that the PRD has performed fairly well, compared to its poor presidential showing, in the local elections.

Varela assumes the presidency with no majority in the National Assembly, and a rather ambitious grocery list of promises to fulfill. Although his election does not signal a major shift in the country’s direction or the broader policy framework, of the three candidates, Varela perhaps had the more ‘ambitious’ platform and thus faces the challenges of living up to them. Although Panama’s economy remains in fairly good shapes, there are signs that trouble may lay ahead. On the one hand, heavy borrowing has significantly increased the country’s debt under Martinelli’s presidency. The economic growth of the past years has been unequal, sparking discontent in rural areas but also in the better-endowed cities of Panama City and Colón.

Macedonia 2014

Note to readers: May will be an extremely busy month for elections – Panama, South Africa, India, the EU, Ukraine, Colombia, Belgium and other local/regional elections. Due to time constraints, not all elections will be covered or will be covered with less details. The Guide to the South African Election will not be completed before the RSA election, although it will be completed in the coming months. I welcome guest posts on any of these upcoming elections. Please bare with me as I will try to cover as much as I can, and forgive me for not covering all elections.

Parliamentary and presidential (runoff) elections were held in the Republic of Macedonia on April 27, 2014. Macedonia is a parliamentary republic with the Prime Minister as head of government. The unicameral Assembly (Македонско Собрание) has 123 seats, with 120 members elected by proportional representation (d’Hondt) in six 20-member electoral units and an additional three members elected by Macedonian citizens living abroad, in three overseas constituencies (respectively: the Americas, Europe-Africa and Asia-Oceania). There were 23,782 registered voters abroad (up from about 7200 in 2011, when the three expats seats were created). The Prime Minister is nominated by the President from the largest party(ies) in the Assembly, and the government is responsible to the Assembly which may remove it through a vote of no confidence.

The President is directly elected by voters to serve a five-year term, renewable once, using the two-round system. To win in the first round, a candidate must obtain 50%+1 of the vote of all registered voters; if no candidate is elected, a second round is held two weeks later between the top two candidates, and turnout must be over 40% for the election to be valid. In the first round, held on April 13, the incumbent President won over 50% of the votes cast, but because of low turnout he won only 25.3% of registered voters, forcing a runoff with his closest rival. The President’s role, especially in domestic policy, is largely ceremonial, but the President has more significant powers in foreign policy, by making diplomatic appointments, and as Commander-in-Chief of the military.


The Republic of Macedonia covers part of a region of the southern Balkans which has been disputed between regional powers for hundreds of years. The region of Macedonia includes the territory of the Republic of Macedonia (formerly known as ‘Vardar Macedonia’) but also ‘Pirin Macedonia’ (Blagoevgrad Province) in Bulgaria and Greek Macedonia in Greece; the latter of which is the second most populous region of Greece, with 2.4 million inhabitants, which is also greater than the population of the Republic of Macedonia, with a population just over 2 million. Macedonia takes its name from ancient Macedon, the mythical kingdom which expanded into a regional and later world power between 359 and 336 BC under the rule of Philip II and Alexander the Great. The core of the historic kingdom of Macedon laid in present-day northern Greece, while what is currently the Republic of Macedonia was the peripheral kingdom of Paeonia, later conquered by Macedon. Under Roman rule, however, Macedonia came to refer to a province included much of northern and central Greece but also most of the Republic of Macedonia and parts of Albania. Under late Roman and Byzantine rule, the name Macedonia was given to administrative divisions whose boundaries shifted dramatically, to include most of the Greek Peninsula or Thrace (while, after 1018, the present-day Republic of Macedonia was in the Byzantine theme of Bulgaria, while the theme of Macedonia was centered around Thrace). After the Ottoman conquest, the name Macedonia came to refer to a geographic region rather than an administrative division.

Traditional region of Macedonia and modern state borders (source: Wikipedia)

Under Ottoman rule, which lasted until 1913, Macedonia was a diverse and disputed regions inhabited by Slavs (who likely migrated southwards to the Balkans in the 6th century), Greeks and smaller minorities of Albanians, Turks, Aromanians and Jews (who constituted the majority of the population of the southern Macedonian city of Thessaloniki/Salonica). Today, both the Slavic (Macedonian Slavs and some Bulgarians) and Greek inhabitants of greater Macedonia self-identify as ‘Macedonians’. In the late nineteenth century, with the rise of romantic nationalism, Macedonia, under fledgling Ottoman rule, was a highly disputed battleground between the newly-independent states of Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia with each state claiming Macedonia (or parts thereof) as their one and the inhabitants of Macedonia as legitimately theirs. Most of the Slav population of Vardar and Pirin Macedonia were described as Bulgarian, by Bulgarians themselves but also foreign observers. Indeed, the Slavic population of northern Macedonia spoke Bulgarian (or dialects closely related to it) and most self-identified as Bulgarian, a label which coexisted a nascent sentiment of Macedonian regional (but not national) identity. The Bulgarian Exarchate, created in 1870 as part of a broader ‘Bulgarian national revival’ played a major role in promoting education and nationalist-regionalist sentiments. Simultaneously, the Greek population of southern Macedonia strongly identified with Greek nationalism (the Megali Idea) and were driven by the goal of enosis, or union with Greece. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople and Greek nationalists tried to win the allegiance of non-Greek Macedonians on religious (shared Christian, Orthodox, religion) and historical (the legacy of Macedon) grounds. Serbian nationalism viewed Serbs as the leaders of the Southern Slavs, with the destiny of uniting all Southern Slavs in a single state (Yugoslavia); however, Serbia lacked the tools with which to promote its own version of nationalism in Macedonia and was originally more interested by Bosnia and Kosovo. Later, Serbian propaganda in Macedonia aimed to wean Macedonian Slavs from their identification as Bulgarian (to counteract Bulgarian influence), by promoting the idea that they were ‘Macedonian Slavs’ rather than Bulgarians. A small number of Macedonian Slav intellectuals did develop ideas that Macedonian Slavs formed their own nation, distinct from Bulgaria. Above all, however, identity in the region was still very fluid – definitions of locals as Bulgarian, Serb and so on was rather arbitrary, often based not only on political conviction but also on calculations of personal safety and financial benefits.

The 1878 Treaty of San Stefano granted almost all of Macedonia to a new Bulgarian state, but the 1878 Treaty of Berlin returned all of Macedonia to Ottoman control, leaving the new Bulgarian state with only the northern portion of present-day Bulgaria, without Eastern Rumelia, Macedonia or Thrace. The result was to intensify Bulgarian, Greek and Serbian rivalry over Macedonia, giving rise to the ‘Macedonian Question’. In 1893, what became the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (Vnatrešna Makedonska Revolucionerna Organizacija, VMRO) in 1920 was founded. The VMRO’s members largely identified as ethnic Bulgarians, but the aims of the VMRO remained fairly murky for most of its existence; it originally supported autonomy for Macedonia and Thrace within the Ottoman Empire, but members were divided between the goal of unification with Bulgaria or the creation of a Balkan Federation in which Macedonia and Thrace would be equal members (federalism was generally supported by socialists in the VMRO, who envisioned a Balkan Socialist Federation). Generally, however, the aims of political autonomy did not imply secession from Bulgarian identity, although the VMRO later opened its doors to all ethnic groups in Macedonia and it was not controlled by the Bulgarian government. The VMRO quickly became a guerrilla/terrorist organization, and in 1903, despite internal disagreements, the VMRO staged the Ilinden-Preobrazhenie Uprising against the Ottoman Empire, which was violently and bloodily crushed by the Ottomans. Following the failure of the 1903 uprising, the VMRO became increasingly divided between left-wing federalists and the right (favouring annexation by Bulgaria), and VMRO members clashed among one another almost as often as they fought Greek and Serbian guerrilla groups in Macedonia.

Turkey was defeated by the Balkan League alliance of Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro in the First Balkan War (1912-1913), sealing the loss of almost all of the Ottoman Empire’s European territories. However, the First Balkan War left the contentious issue of Macedonia unresolved, with the territory now occupied by the Balkan League states. Unsatisfied by the outcome, Bulgaria attacked its former allies, joined by Romania and Turkey, in the Second Balkan War (1913). Defeated, the territory of Macedonia was now partitioned between Greece (southern Macedonia) and Serbia (the bulk of the present-day Republic/’South Serbia’) with only a small portion to Bulgaria. Under Greek and Serbian rule, Macedonia was forcibly ‘Hellenized’ or ‘Serbianized’, with the use of the Bulgarian language banned and the local population either resettled or assimilated. In Vardar Macedonia, however, pro-Bulgarian and anti-Serb sentiments remained widespread, and Bulgarian troops were welcomed and supported by the VMRO when they occupied Serbian Macedonia between 1915 and 1918. In the Treaty of Neuilly, Bulgaria lost Macedonia and other territories to its neighbors.

During the interwar years, the VMRO carried out terrorist and guerrilla attacks in Yugoslavian and Greek territory, and their original solid back-base (called ‘a state within the state’) in Pirin Macedonia (Bulgaria) made it a destabilizing element in interwar Bulgarian domestic politics. In 1923, for example, the VMRO assassinated Bulgarian Prime Minister Aleksandar Stamboliyski, who favoured reconciliation with Yugolsavia and Greece. At the same time, the Comintern tried to use the Macedonian issue as a weapon to destabilize the Balkan monarchies. In 1924, the Comintern voted in favour of an independent and autonomous unified Macedonia in a Balkan Socialist Federation. In 1934, the Comintern published a resolution recognizing a distinct Macedonian national identity. Attempts at cooperation between communists and the VMRO fell through, although the left-wing minority in the VMRO founded the VMRO (United) in 1925. The VMRO remained internally divided, with fratricidal killings and assassination of rival leaders being common through the interwar period.

During World War II, Axis-allied Bulgaria occupied and annexed much of Yugoslav Macedonia, Greek Thrace and parts of Greek Macedonia. Initially welcomed by much of the local Slavic population and supported by the VMRO, resentment against Bulgaria grew. Macedonian communists originally refused to link up with the Yugoslav communist partisans and allied with Bulgarian communists, but after Bulgarian and Macedonian communists advocated for armed resistance after the German invasion of the USSR, local communist partisan units were formed in Macedonia. Some VMRO members, such as Ivan Mihailov, collaborated with Bulgaria and later Nazi Germany.

After the war, Tito’s Yugoslavia regained the territory of the present-day Republic of Macedonia. In 1943, the communists had recognized the ‘Macedonian nation’ as a separate entity and, at war’s end, Macedonia was proclaimed as a Socialist Republic within the Yugoslavian federation. Between 1945 and the Tito-Stalin split in 1948, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria (supported by the Greek communists, defeated in the Greek Civil War) maintained friendly ties, envisioned to form a Balkan Socialist Federation and Bulgaria recognized a distinct Macedonian identity. However, the split between Belgrade and Moscow altered the situation dramatically. The Yugoslavian government now actively (and successfully, in the end) promoted the construction of a Macedonian identity, both as a means to counteract Bulgaria and to reduce Serbian influence and power within Yugoslavia. Under communist rule in Macedonia, the authorities codified a standard Macedonian language (it is most closely related to Bulgarian), encouraged the development of a national culture, reinterpreted history (notably by appropriating ancient and Bulgarian figures as symbols of Macedonian nationalism), established an independent Macedonian Orthodox Church. However, Macedonian nationalists (separatists), former VMRO (United) members and VMRO members who had collaborated with Bulgaria were the target of state repression. The Bulgarian government reversed its earlier position and denied the existence of a Macedonian identity.

With the fall of communism, Macedonia, still a republic of Yugoslavia, held free elections in November 1990. The ruling League of Communists, which would transform itself into the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (Socijaldemokratski sojuz na Makedonija, SDSM) in early 1991, won 31 seats against 38 for the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity (Vnatrešna makedonska revolucionerna organizacija – Demokratska partija za makedonsko nacionalno edinstvo, VMRO-DPMNE), a new right-wing Macedonian nationalist party which appropriated the VMRO’s tradition in its name. The VMRO-DPMNE, although it won the most seats, refused to form a coalition with the ethnically Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (17 seats), which instead joined a coalition with the SDSM. In September 1991, 96% of voters voted in favour of the independence of the ‘Republic of Macedonia’ and the country’s independence was officially declared on September 25, 1991. Macedonia was the only country of the former Yugoslavia whose independence was not resisted by Yugoslav forces. Although the most radical Serbian irredentists claim Macedonia as part of ‘Greater Serbia’, Belgrade had more pressing concerns in 1991 than Macedonia.

The SDSM was reelected in 1994, with the VMRO-DPMNE boycotting the second round of voting. Branko Crvenkovski formed a new government with the Party for Democratic Prosperity. In 1998, the VMRO-DPMNE won the elections and, under Ljubčo Georgievski, formed a government with an Albanian party.

The Republic of Macedonia’s application to join the UN was blocked by Greece, which contested the country’s name, flag and constitution. The Greek Foreign Ministry justifies its position by claiming that the Republic of Macedonia promotes irredentist territorial ambitions over Greek territory through the “counterfeiting of history and usurpation of Greece’s national and historical heritage.” Greece considers the ‘Macedonian nation’ to be an “artificial and spurious notion, which was cultivated systematically through the falsification of history and the exploitation of ancient Macedonia purely for reasons of political expediency.” Greece considers the culture and heritage of ancient Macedon to belong to the ‘Hellenic nation’ and forming an inseparable part of Greek culture; the 2.4 million residents of Greek Macedonia consider themselves to be descendants of the ancient Macedonians, while considering the Slavic inhabitants of Macedonia to be more recent settlers who arrived 1,000 years after the Macedonian empire. Greece also claims that the Macedonian government has territorial ambitions over Greek Macedonia, ambitions which Athens claimed were first expressed by Tito in 1944. There is a small Slavic minority in Greece, which is denied or severely downplayed by Greece and inflated by Macedonia.

The current Macedonian constitution explicitly states that the country has no territorial pretensions towards any neighboring states, although an article of the constitution states that “The Republic cares for the status and rights of those persons belonging to the Macedonian people in neighboring countries (…) assists their cultural development and promotes links with them. In the exercise of this concern the Republic will not interfere in the sovereign rights of other states or in their internal affairs.” (Article 49). Greece and critics of the Macedonian government claim that Macedonia still unofficially supports irredentist visions of a ‘United Macedonia’ including Pirin Macedonia and ‘Aegean Macedonia’, by promoting such views in school curriculum or through thinly-veiled endorsements of organizations or groups espousing such views (the VMRO-DPMNE, now the ruling party, originally supported a ‘United Macedonia’).

In 1993, after Greece (and, thanks to Greek lobbying, the European Community) had blocked Macedonia’s UN application Skopje and Athens reluctantly agreed to a provisional compromise which allowed Macedonia to join the UN as “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” (FYROM), which remains the name under which the UN recognizes Macedonia. Greece, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Australia (among others) recognize Macedonia as FYROM, while the US, Russia, China, Japan, Canada, Bulgaria, Serbia and most UN member states recognize the country as the Republic of Macedonia.

Despite the provisional compromise, dogmatic nationalist agitation ran high on both sides of the naming dispute in the subsequent years. In 1995, Greece and Macedonia agreed to an interim accord. Macedonia agreed to remove allegedly irredentist clauses from its constitution and remove the Vergina Sun (a symbol used in ancient Greece and Macedon which has become a national/regional symbol for both Greek and Slavic Macedonians) from its flag. In exchange, Greece pledged to allow Macedonia to join any international organization under the name FYROM. Since 1995, both sides have accused one another of breaking the Interim Accord.

Negotiations over the naming dispute have continued, under UN auspices, since 1995 but they have reached a stalemate. Greece currently wants a compound name with a geographic qualifier (Upper Macedonia, Northern Macedonia etc) for use by all parties (it had previously objected to any name including ‘Macedonia); Macedonia, while trying to depict Athens as the ‘irrational’ and intransigent party in the dispute, effectively rejects a name with a geographic qualifier (such as ‘Upper Macedonia’, although it may accept something clunky like ‘Upper Republic of Macedonia’). Talks have reached a stalemate, with both sides rather intransigent in their stances and increasingly resorting to nationalist provocation. In April 2008, Greece vetoed Macedonia’s bid to join NATO, a veto reiterated at successive NATO summits (officially, an invitation will be extended to Macedonia only once the naming dispute is resolved in a mutually acceptable manner). In 2011, the ICJ ruled in favour of Skopje’s argument that Greece’s veto on Macedonia’s NATO invitation represented a breach of the 1995 agreement, but it refused to instruct Greece to refrain from similar behaviour in the future.

Ethnic map of Macedonia, 2002 (source: Wikipedia)

The Republic of Macedonia has a significant ethnic Albanian minority, which numbered about 509,000 (or 25% of the population) at the last census in 2002. Ethnic relations, especially in comparison to those in other ex-Yugoslav republics, were relatively good. Nevertheless, Macedonians were reluctant to grant extensive minority rights to the Albanians (such as recognizing Albanian as a second official language). In 1999, ethnic relations worsened with the Kosovo conflict, which forced thousands of Albanian refugees to flee to Macedonia. Macedonians worried of an ‘Albanian invasion’ or a spillover of the Kosovo conflict.

In January 2001, a group calling itself the National Liberation Army (Ushtria Çlirimtare Kombëtare, UÇK), founded and led by former KLA commander Ali Ahmeti, attacked a police station near the majority-Albanian city of Tetovo in western Macedonia. The UÇK reappeared in March 2001 in the mountains surrounding Tetovo, mounting a low-scale insurgency. The conflict escalated when the government ordered a counter-attack on the UÇK’s positions. In July 2001, a ceasefire agreement was reached and, in August 2001, both parties signed the Ohrid Framework Agreement. According to the Ohrid agreement, the Albanian language received certain rights throughout the country while, in all municipalities where a language other than Macedonian is spoken by more than 20%, it is recognized as a second official language. In Parliament, laws related to linguistic/cultural issues, local government, constitutional amendments and the appointment of the Public Attorney (Ombudsman) must be approved by a majority of MPs who claim to belong to ethnic minorities. A majority of these MPs, alongside a majority of all members, also elect three members of the Judicial Council and of the Constitutional Court. In Parliament, MPs were allowed to use Albanian (not explicitly cited as such, but as ‘a language other than Macedonian spoken by over 20% of the population’).

In 2002, the VMRO-DPMNE government was defeated by a coalition led by the SDSM. Crvenkovski returned as Prime Minister, until his election as President in 2004, in coalition with a small liberal party and the Democratic Union for Integration (Bashkimi Demokratik për Integrim/Demokratska unija za integracija, BDI/DUI), a new Albanian party led by former UÇK leader Ali Ahmeti which had won 16 seats (becoming the largest Albanian party). In 2006, the VMRO-DPMNE, led by former finance minister Nikola Gruevski, won the elections and formed a coalition with two small parties and the smaller Albanian party, the Democratic Party of Albanians (Partia Demokratike Shqiptare/Demokratska Partija na Albancite, PDSH/DPA). The BDI was angry that it had been excluded from government, in a move which it claimed disrespected the will of Albanian voters. The DUI boycotted Parliament in 2007, and successfully pushed the VMRO-DPMNE to hold snap elections in June 2008. The ruling coalition led by Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE was reelected with an expanded majority, taking 63 seats against 27 for the SDSM-led opposition, 18 seats for the DUI and 11 for the DPA. After the election, Gruevski changed his Albanian partner to the DUI.

After the SDSM had boycotted Parliament for months after the police raided the building of a private TV channel critical of Gruevski (and later arrested it’s tycoon owner), ostensibly for tax fraud, the government took the SDSM by surprise by giving in to its demand for snap elections. The government was reelected in 2011, with the VMRO-DPMNE coalition taking 56 seats against 42 for the SDSM coalition, 15 for the BDI and 8 for the PDSH. The BDI’s leader, Ali Ahmeti, had been hurt by allegations that he had been an informer for Yugoslavian intelligence.

Parties and issues

The VMRO-DPMNE has become the dominant party in Macedonian politics since winning power in 2006. It was reelected with comfortable majorities in both 2008 and 2011, it gained the presidency in 2009 (with Gjorge Ivanov, a quiet sycophant of the Prime Minister) and it won the local elections in 2013. Gruevski himself, born in 1970, is a young politician who was largely known as a technocratic finance minister under the first VMRO-DPMNE government (1998-2002), when he deregulated the economy, created a VAT and a flat tax. Since then, he has successfully transformed himself into a formidable politician and a popular nationalist and populist leader.

Macedonia hasn’t performed very well since 2006. Although growth is now back to a solid 3% per year, the country was in recession in 2012 and the official unemployment rate is one of the highest in the world, at 30% (although that’s better than what it was in 2005: 37%). The government nevertheless plays on the low inflation rate, the low public debt (35.5% of GDP) and populist policies it has adopted (5% increase in wages and pensions, subsidies for agriculture) and promotion of foreign investment. The VMRO-DPMNE supports EU and NATO membership, but NATO membership remains deadlocked and EU accession talks are stalled. In 2001, Macedonia signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU and it was granted candidate status in December 2005. Since 2009, the European Commission has recommended that accession negotiations be launched, but every time, the Council of the European Union decided against due to Greece’s veto. In 2012, Bulgaria, which has difficult relations with Skopje due to disputes over conflicting views over the two countries’ shared history and the ethnic distinctiveness of Macedonia, also vetoed accession talks. Greece conditions membership to a resolution of the name dispute. In 2014, the European Parliament voted in favour of beginning accession negotiations, but it remains to be seen if the Council of the European Union will agree with the EP’s opinion.

Since 2008, the Macedonian government has promoted a more aggressive brand of Macedonian nationalism. The existence of a ‘Macedonian nation’ is a highly contentious issue; both Greece and Bulgaria deny the existence of a distinct ‘Macedonian nation’, while a handful of Serb nationalists still claim Macedonia as part of Greater Serbia. In reality, the Macedonian nation is no more or less of an artificial construct than any other national identity. Since the communist era, the governments in Skopje have controversially laid claim to historic figures as ‘symbols’ of Macedonian nationalism. Since independence, for example, the government – especially under the VMRO-DPMNE – have tried to appropriate the historic VMRO and its leaders as icons of Macedonian nationalism, distinct from Bulgarian nationalism. The VMRO-DPMNE claims descent from the VMRO, although no such links exist and the party is merely using the VMRO’s name for symbolic purposes. VMRO leaders and heroes such as Gotse Delchev, Dame Gruev and Yane Sandanski are mentioned in Macedonia’s national anthems and considered to be national heroes by Macedonia (but also by Bulgaria); Delchev, killed in the 1903 uprising, was an internationalist and supporter of a Balkan federation, but saw himself as Bulgarian, as did most other VMRO leaders.

Far more controversial has been the Gruevski’s government so-called ‘antiquisation’ policy, notably as conveyed by the government’s landmark Skopje 2014 architectural project. Launched in 2010 and nearly completed in 2014, the Skopje 2014 is the government’s large-scale plan to massively revamp Skopje, a fairly drab capital destroyed by a 1963 earthquake, in a classical style. The project included the construction of flashy new buildings and landmarks, often in Greek classical style, housing ministries, museums, the national theater and new bridges. Skopje 2014 is also a calculated, deliberative and ideologically-motivated nationalist project, part of a wider government project to lay claim to the legacy of ancient Macedon and claim that the ‘Macedonians’ are descendants of the ancient Macedonians rather than Slavs. This nationalist project serves the purposes of domestic identity-building and nationalist provocation to put pressure on Greece in the naming dispute. In 2011, a massive statue of Alexander the Great (officially ‘Warrior on a Horse’) was inaugurated in downtown Skopje. Another monument, an even larger statue of Philip II of Macedon, is under construction. In January 2012, a triumphal arch – Porta Macedonia – said to commemorate the struggle for independence, with carved reliefs including references to ancient history, was inaugurated and was met by loud protestations from Athens. The government also renamed Skopje’s airport after Alexander the Great, the highway leading to Greece is now known as ‘Alexander of Macedon’. In 2008, Gruevski welcomed a delegation from the Hunza people of northern Pakistan to Skopje; in mythology, the Hunza people claim to be descended from soldiers of Alexander the Great’s army. In 2009, the public television aired a 9-minute long ‘Macedonian Prayer’, a PSA-type message with heavy religious and ultra-nationalist influence: it notably claimed that the Macedonian people were the ‘progenitors of the white race’ as ‘Macedonoids’ (Your mother Earth I have inhabited with three races: the White-Macedonoids, the Yellow-Mongoloids and the Black-Negroids. The rest-all are mulattoes. From you, Macedonians, the descendants of Macedon, I have impregnated the White race and everything began from you, to the Sea of Japan. All White people are your brothers because they carry Macedonian gene.)

The government’s controversial rewriting of history and its Skopje 2014 have been heavily criticized at home and abroad. Greece in particular has been incensed with ‘antiquisation’, because it considers that Alexander the Great and ancient Macedon are part of Hellenic culture. Bulgaria has been critical of the way in which the VMRO-DPMNE has claimed Bulgarian-Macedonian heroes as symbols in the pantheon of Macedonian nationalism. The international community, which had usually sympathized with Macedonia and judged Greece to be the irritant party in the naming dispute, has been disappointed with Macedonia’s government. At home, the opposition SDSM has opposed the Skopje 2014 project, while local academics have decried it as nationalist, historicist kitsch. Ethnic Albanians in Macedonia have also voiced concern with the government’s project, which they viewed as an attempt to ram ‘Macedonism’ down their throats and assimilate them into a constructed Macedonian nation. There were disputes between Albanians and the government over the construction of churches, with Albanians demanding construction of mosques in exchange. To accommodate their concerns, Skopje 2014 included statues of Mother Teresa and Skanderbeg.

The opposition has sounded the alarm over an alleged loss of media freedom. According to Freedom House’s 2013 report (which classifies Macedonia as ‘partly free’), the media faces political pressure and harassment. The most famous episode came in late 2010, when a private opposition TV channel owned by Velija Ramkovski, a business tycoon, was shut down and the owner arrested and subsequently sentenced for tax fraud. The government claimed that the arrest had nothing to do with the TV channel’s anti-government stance, while the opposition claimed that it represented a decline in media freedom under the VMRO-DPMNE government. The EU has criticized the government for the little progress made on issues of judicial independence, impartiality and competence.

President Gjorge Ivanov, elected in 2009, became the first President to seek reelection. Ivanov is fairly popular, although he is a very low-key and compliant ceremonial president who largely bows to Gruevski. Ivanov has been criticized for not taking a major role in foreign policy (although he boasted about having sat close to Obama in DC in 2012, he later admitted that he hadn’t talked to him, although he claimed that Obama winked at him). He has never used his right to block legislation, always toeing the party line. Ivanov’s renomination came as the VMRO-DPMNE refused to nominate a ‘consensus candidate’ like its coalition partner, the DUI, had demanded. The DUI supported no candidate and called on Albanians to boycott the first round of the election. The VMRO-DPMNE, however, acquiesced to the DUI’s request for snap legislative elections. Gruevski announced elections for the Parliament on March 1. However, many said that the dispute between the governing party and the DUI was staged or used as a pretext by the government to hold snap elections, in which it was confident of victory.

The government’s campaign focused on its popular nationalist stance in the naming dispute with Greece, but also on its economic record (emphasizing lower unemployment, low debt) and promised lower VAT in many sectors, no tax increases and tax advantages for businesses which take on new employees.

Defeated in every election since 2006, the opposition SDSM, a moderate and effectively centrist ‘social democratic’ party with liberal stances on minority issues and the naming dispute, has continued to struggle. It has been dogged by poor leadership and low credibility – despite the many issues faced by the country which might hurt the government, the opposition SDSM, which was in power between 2002 and 2006, dealt with the same problems and was unable to fix them. The SDSM has led an energetic and uncompromising opposition to the government, accusing it of authoritarianism and creating a state of fear, but its behaviour was little help to the party’s sagging fortunes. In 2013, the SDSM boycotted Parliament after police had expelled rowdy opposition MPs who had tried to block passage of the 2013 budget. The SDSM’s boycott, protests against the government and threats to boycott the spring 2013 local elections precipitated a major political crisis, which was only resolved by EU mediation. The SDSM was once again defeated in a landslide by the VMRO-DPMNE in last year’s local election, although it gained the downtown Skopje municipality of Skopje-Centar. Late last year, the SDSM mayor of Strumica, Zoran Zaev, replaced Crvenkovski as party leader. The party’s presidential candidate was university professor Stevo Pendarovski.

The opposition accuses the government of having made the country dependent on foreign loans, increasing inequalities and disrespecting the rule of law. Gruevski called the opposition’s promises unreasonable, accusing them of either lying or being ignorant. Zaev has tried to pin corruption scandals on governing politicians, notably allegations of 1.5 million bribe to Gruevski for expediting the sale of a Macedonian bank to a Serbian businessman in 2003-4.

The two main Albanian parties, the DUI and the DPA, do not appear to be divided by ideological differences. The DUI, founded by former guerrilla leader Ali Ahmeti, was originally a more radical party whose platform focused on the full implementation of the 2001 Ohrid Agreement, but it has been a government partner since 2008. The DPA has accused the DUI of backtracking on its tough stance in favour of minority rights and of being increasingly marginalized in Gruevski’s government. After the 2011 election, the DUI obtained the EU integration but also the defense portfolio, and to respond to the DPA’s criticisms that it hadn’t been doing enough for Albanian rights, the DUI took various symbolic steps – in 2012, the defense minister laid a wreath on a monument honouring Albanian guerrillas in the 2001 conflict, and the DUI unsuccessfully opposed a government bill to extend social benefits to members of the Macedonian armed forces in the 2001 conflict. The DUI has sometimes been uneasy with the government, pressing it to resolve the name dispute to facilitate EU and NATO membership.

The DPA, traditionally the more moderate party and the VMRO-DPMNE’s Albanian partner, has been in opposition since 2008. While the DUI was angry at having been excluded from Gruevski’s government in 2006, the DPA became increasingly angry at what it correctly perceived as the VMRO-DPMNE’s aims to dump it in favour of the DUI, which it did after the 2008 election. Led by Menduh Thaçi, the DPA has been very critical of both the VMRO-DPMNE and the DUI. It supported a new agreement between Macedonians and Albanians, with the creation of a bicameral legislature and a new administrative map of the country. The DPA, unlike the DUI, did not boycott the first round of the presidential election, nominating Iljaz Halimi.

Other Albanian parties include the National Democratic Revival (NDP/RDK), a party founded in 2011 which took 2 seats in that year’s legislative election. It is the local branch of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), Kosovo’s right-wing opposition party.

The Citizen Option for Macedonia (Grajanska Optsiya za Makedoniya, GROM) is a new party founded in 2013 by Stevco Jakimovski, the mayor of Karpos, who quit the SDSM after opposing the party’s plans to boycott the local elections. The GROM is a vaguely centrist party, which claims to be open to all ethnic groups.


President (first round, April 13)

Turnout was 48.86%, therefore no candidate was elected in the first round even if Ivanov won over 50%.

Gjorge Ivanov (VMRO-DPMNE) 51.69%
Stevo Pendarovski (SDSM) 37.51%
Iljaz Halimi (DPA) 4.48%
Zoran Popovski (GROM) 3.61%

President (second round)

Turnout was 54.36%, validating the election.

Gjorge Ivanov (VMRO-DPMNE) 55.28%
Stevo Pendarovski (SDSM) 41.14%


Turnout was 62.96%.

VMRO-DPMNE and allies 42.97% (+3.99%) winning 61 seats (+5)
SDSM and allies 25.34% (-7.44%) winning 34 seats (-8)
DUI 13.71% (+3.47%) winning 19 seats (+4)
DPA 5.92% (+0.02%) winning 7 seats (-1)
GROM 2.82% (+2.82%) winning 1 seat (+1)
NDP 1.59% (-1.08%) winning 1 seat (-1)
VMRO-NP 1.5% (-1.01%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Others 2.78% (-4.13%) winning 0 seats (nc)

Macedonia 2014

The VMRO-DPMNE and President Ivanov were both reelected with comfortable majorities (with a fourth term in office for PM Gruevski), while the opposition SDSM suffered substantial losses in the parliamentary election.

SDSM leader Zoran Zaev immediately alleged serious violations and claimed that the elections had been stolen by the government. The opposition claimed that there was massive vote buying and irregularities on the voter roll. The police and the state electoral commission both said that the election was calm with only minor irregularities reported, while the VMRO-DPMNE claimed that the opposition had concocted reports of irregularities from NGOs as an ‘alibi’ for their poor electoral result and decried the opposition’s decision to ‘negate the will of the country’ and work against national interests.

The opposition and domestic NGOs claimed that they had registered cases of family voting, political propaganda at polling stations, busing of voters and vote buying by the VMRO-DPMNE. In the 2013 local elections, there had also been major concerns over the voter roll, which is suspiciously large, with claims of 30-50 people being registered at the same address. It is also said that the rolls include dead people, people who have emigrated and non-citizens (in 2013, there was a publicized case of ethnic Macedonians from an Albanian village being registered in Skopje-Centar). The OSCE’s reports in 2011 and 2013 said that the ruling party was using state resources for electoral benefit and pressured civil servants to provide ‘lists’ of reliable voters. The media is also biased in favour of the government.

The SDSM has decided that it will refuse to take its seats in the Parliament, and it may call for protests. It wants a technocratic national unity government and new elections..

The OSCE’s report stated that the elections were “efficiently administered” and candidates were free to campaign without obstruction. However, it said that “the campaign of the governing party did not adequately separate its party and state activities” and was concerned of systematic media bias in favour of the government and the ruling party. Some concerns over the voter roll were still expressed, notably with reports of many voters registered at the same address. The voter rolls have 1.78 million registered voters, for a population of 2.06 million. On election day, election observers from the OSCE evaluated the process as good or very good in 96% of their observations. While there were significant problems and issues with the electoral process, and the VMRO-DPMNE merged activities of the party and the state to its electoral advantage, a good chunk of the SDSM’s post-electoral behaviour is likely stemming from their inability to accept responsibility for their defeat.

With 61 seats, the ruling VMRO-DPMNE fell just one seat short of an absolute majority. Gruevski had asked ethnic Macedonian voters to give him 62 seats, so that nobody (read: the DUI) could ‘blackmail’ them. During the campaign, the VMRO-DPMNE played on anti-Albanian and nationalist sentiment, notably attacking the DUI’s ‘illogical demands’ (allegedly extending official use of Albanian throughout Macedonia). The governing party also manipulated fears and cultivated a ‘siege mentality’, describing Macedonia as surrounded by enemies (Albania, Kosovo, Greece and Bulgaria). The VMRO-DPMNE, in government, has managed a very coherent and well-managed communication effort, with government advertising in the media, regular press conferences, ministerial visits, statements promoting implemented projects and successes, tailor-made policies to attract different demographics and populist promises (this year: writing off poorer people’s electricity bills, heating bills and unpaid bank loans). As the OSCE reported, the VMRO-DPMNE was also the beneficiary of the uneven playing field and media bias. In the OSCE observations, 40 hours of paid political advertising on private TV channels were purchased by the VMRO-DPMNE or Ivanov, against only 3.3 hours for the SDSM and their candidate (the GROM and DUI had more advertising time than the SDSM). According to official financial reports, the VMRO-DPMNE reported revenues of $1.18 million and expenditures of $987k, while the SDSM reported revenues of approximately $181,000 and expenditures of $180,600. Ivanov also had a huge financial advantage over Pendarovski (SDSM). Finally, by calling early elections, the VMRO-DPMNE once again took the SDSM unprepared, the opposition party lacking sufficient time to complete its rebranding, and Gruevski was not hurt by the bribery allegations against him.

The DUI had sought to win 25 seats, which would have represented a massive gain of 10 seats from the last election, but they ended up with 19 seats, nevertheless a significant gain of 3.5% and 4 seats. Although both the VMRO-DPMNE and the DUI played to their ethnic bases’ nationalism sentiments in a very ethnically-polarized campaign, the relations between the two parties appear to be fairly good behind the tough nationalist façade and it is very likely that they will continue to form a coalition government.

In the presidential election, VMRO-DPMNE incumbent Gjorge Ivanov was easily reelected with 55.3% against 41.1% for his SDSM opponent, the remaining votes cast being invalid. Turnout in the presidential race was 8.6% lower than in the simultaneous parliamentary election, because the DUI had renewed its call for a boycott in the second round. Officially, the DUI’s boycott of the presidential race was because they felt that no candidate could be a ‘consensual’ president uniting the divided country. In reality, as this article suggests, the DUI boycott was a tool to divert growing Albanian discontent (over the DUI’s extremely mediocre, to say the least, record in government) towards nationalism, and to prevent the SDSM’s Pendarovski from winning on the back of ethnic Albanian support. The article claimed that the DUI and VMRO-DPMNE were accomplices in a game of inter-ethnic and intra-ethnic chauvinism and narrow ethnic parochialism (reminiscent of Malaysia’s BN coalition). Pendarovski, a young political outsider, and the SDSM, which does not resort to nationalist sentiments, could be seen as a threat by Ahmeti and the DUI.

In the 1999 presidential election, Albanian voters had made the difference in favour of the VMRO-DPMNE’s candidate over the SDSM candidate, who had led the first round. In 2004, SDSM candidate Branko Crvenkovski had won his best result in Albanian regions of the country. In 2009, Albanian voters had voted for their own candidates in the first round, but had mostly sat out the runoff, allowing Ivanov to defeat the SDSM in a landslide. A similar scenario repeated itself this year. Although Pendarovski won a few municipalities (almost all of which have an Albanian plurality or majority), turnout was low in these places – 5.3% in Lipkovo, 12.8% in Bogovinje, 18.2% in Arachinovo (where Pendarovski took 72.3%), 19.7% in Vrapchishte and 31.3% in Tetovo. Turnout had been just as low or even lower in the first round. The only Albanian candidate, the DPA’s Iljaz Halimi, won a handful of quasi-homogeneously Albanian towns (despite very low turnout, those who turned out were still Albanians) while Ivanov was able to place first in majority-Albanian towns with a significant Macedonian minority, such as Tetovo (which is 23.2% Macedonian). Turnout was also low, in both rounds, in the two municipalities with a Turkish majority, the one municipality of Skopje with a Roma majority and the one municipality with a Serbian minority.

In the parliamentary elections, turnout was significantly higher in the Albanian regions, although in the quasi-homogeneously Albanian towns, turnout remained significantly below the national average, usually landing in the 40-50% range (it was 49.7% in the 6th constituency, which has an Albanian majority and was won by the DUI). In Albanian towns, the DUI predominated in all municipalities, with the DPA and the small NDP proving to be the only other parties polling a significant amount of votes (although the VMRO-DPMNE did have some support in some towns). In Macedonian towns, the VMRO-DPMNE dominated, with the SDSM topping the poll only in the downtown Skopje municipality of Skopje-Centar. The VMRO-DPMNE had particularly strong results in Macedonian towns bordering Albanian towns. The DUI won the 97% Turkish town of Plasnica with 61% although turnout was 39.9%, while the VMRO-DPMNE won Centar-Zhupa (81% Turkish) with 48% on the back of 29% turnout. On 45% turnout, the VMRO-DPMNE won 58% in Shuto Orizari, which is majority Roma; it narrowly won (with 30.4% against 25.2% for the SDSM and 21.9% for the DUI) the multiethnic (47.3% Macedonian, 28.6% Serbian, 22.9% Albanian) town of Čučer-Sandevo.

The VMRO-DPMNE reelected for another term in office, emerging with a strengthened majority and a badly defeated opposition, it seems unlikely that much will change in Macedonia. A compromise in the naming dispute with Greece appears unlikely, given that both sides have intransigent positions and Gruevski’s government prefers nationalist provocation and rhetoric for electoral purposes. And as long as there is no agreement with Athens, Macedonia’s EU and NATO bids will likely find themselves delayed as well.