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H.E President Cyril Ramaphosa meets with H.E Emmerson Mnangagwa President of the Republic of Zimbabwe on the margins of the 2nd day of the 32nd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of African in Ethiopia. 11/02/2019 Kopano Tlape GCIS

Opinion

ANC death spiral: Reform or die like other liberation movements

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SOUTH Africa’s governing party, the African National Congress (ANC) — Africa’s oldest liberation movement — for the first time since the 1994 democratic elections dropped below 50% in local government polls after suffering heavy losses amid rising social discontent and serious voter apathy. The decline started in 2016. It continued a few days ago.

 And it will get worse unless the ANC quickly reforms and tackles the death spiral it has plunged into. The problem is within the ANC and in the environment. It has to bravely confront both internal and external fundamental issues.

 The 2021 South African municipal elections were held on 1 November to elect councils for all local and metropolitan municipalities across the country. According to the Electoral Commission of South Africa, the ANC national support level dropped from 53.91% in the 2016 elections, when its decline began, to 46.04% this year, their worst-ever performance in a democratic election since the end apartheid in 1994.

 Apart from that, the ANC lost and failed to secure majority control of major metros, including the commercial hub Johannesburg, encompassing the separate Ekurhuleni, Tshwane (which includes the capital Pretoria), Cape Town and Durban.

 There were 66 hung councils. Main opposition Democratic Alliance’s national support also declined from 26.9% to 21.84%. The other key opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, garnered 10.42% of the vote. Out of 213 municipalities, the ANC got 161 municipalities.

The DA secured 13 municipalities, while Inkatha Freedom Party garnered 10. In the eight metros, the DA won Cape Town, the ANC controlled Mangaung and Buffalo City. No party got more than 50% in the other five big cities.

The elections were characterised by apathy. Out of 26.1 million registered voters, only 12.3 million voted. Addressing the nation at the announcement of the results, President Cyril Ramaphosa said a record 325 political parties, nearly 95 000 candidates and over 1 500 independent candidates participated in the elections.

 “This is a sign that multiparty politics is flourishing in South Africa, and that everyone has an equal chance and opportunity to run for public office,” he said.

 Ramaphosa’s remarks are magnanimous and brave in the face of such a bloodbath. Other liberation movement leaders would go berserk and resort to threats of violence and brazen brutality. When the late former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe lost a constitutional referendum in 2000, he declared war on the opposition forces.

From that time until his removal in a coup in 2017, it was violence, brutality and murder against dissenters and the opposition. Of course, Mugabe had done worse before that; killed on a genocidal scale to crush opposition, secure, retain and consolidate power. He was a monstrous brute when it came to seeking and keeping power. The outcome of the elections rang an alarm bell for the ANC at home and across the region.

Although the ANC still controls well over 50% of the country’s parliamentary seats, its decline in two consecutive polls to plunge to unprecedented levels has brought into sharp focus not just its dropping popularity, but most importantly the current state of liberation parties of government in southern Africa. Not only the ANC is trouble in the region. The Botswana Democratic Party won 53% in the last general election in 2019, up from 46.45% in 2014. This shows that the party in power since the country’s independence in 1966 is on the decline as it used to win huge majorities in the past.

 In Namibia, President Hage Geingob was in 2019 re-elected with a massive 31% drop in support; his vote nosedived from 87% in 2014 to 56%, their lowest return for a presidential election candidate in the party’s history. Swapo also retained its majority in the National Assembly, but lost its two-thirds super-majority.

In Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda’s United National Independence Party (Unip) died in 1990. Founded in 1959 under Mainza Chona while Kaunda was in jail. Unip ruled from 1964 to 1991 under Kaunda when it was the sole legal party between 1973 and 1990. At the end of 1990 multi-party democracy was reintroduced, and Unip, which had enjoyed guaranteed victories under the one-party state since 1973, was roundly defeated in the 1991 general elections by the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD).

Kaunda was defeated in the presidential race by MMD candidate Frederick Chiluba, receiving just 24% of the vote, while in the National Assembly elections Unip won 25 seats to the MMD’s 125 in a spectacular collapse of a liberation movement.

This story marks the painful death of a liberation movement. It happened in Malawi and Kenya. It can or will almost certainly happen in South Africa and Zimbabwe. Angola, Mozambique and Tanzania are also not immune.

 The Malawi Congress Party was relegated to the political scrapyard in 1994, and only recovered last year. Zanu PF lost in 2008, but survived. The ANC is now on a death spiral and needs to change before it is too late.

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