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Zuma at the heart of the decline of the ANC
15 August 2016

The results of the 2016 local government election are in and the message is clear: South Africans have had enough of the current political arrangement characterised by unethical and weak leadership. But is the African National Congress (ANC) listening?

Following a four-day meeting of the ANC’s National Executive Committee, it was clear that it may have listened, but there is not much that it can do about it. The ANC Secretary-General announced on Sunday that despite the destructive influence of President Jacob Zuma and his loyalists to the party and the country, he is going nowhere soon.

This was to be expected even before the votes were finalised. At a press briefing at the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) last Friday, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said it remained a worthwhile achievement that the ANC had won the overall majority of votes in this election.

He told journalists: ‘These are real, live South Africans who have demonstrated their confidence in the ANC’. Given this response, it might appear that the ANC are not too bothered by the widespread losses the party has suffered in this year’s local elections.

In the past week, various members of the ANC seemed to avoid taking any responsibility for the situation. Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe placed the blame on black people who ‘do not appreciate the value of voting’. Minister of Sport, Fikile Mbalula, seemed to find solace in the fact that losses were due to ANC supporters not turning up at the polls rather than voting for opposition parties. He tweeted: ‘The white racist political party, DA [Democratic Alliance], must not claim easy victory. The majority of our people did not turn up. Simply check the stats, you will see’.

The ANC has been unable to hold Zuma and his loyalists accountable for their misdeeds
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According to the IEC, as many as 26 million eligible voters registered to vote this year. This is an increase from 23.6 million in the 2011 local election. Turnout on election day, however, saw a marginal increase from 57.64% (13.6 million) in 2011 to 57.97% (15.2 million) in 2016.

In Gauteng – the province with the highest number of registered votes (6.2 million) – approximately 42% (2 610 716) of registered voters did not turn up to vote.

A monograph recently launched by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) titled Do you want my vote? Understanding the factors that influence voting among young South Africans, found that young people could make up a large percentage of those who did not go out and vote.

The monograph outlines the various reasons why young people between the ages of 18 and 24 years may have chosen to abstain from participating in the local government elections. A key finding in the report was that young people are increasingly showing signs of declining partisan attachment to the ruling party, while others would rather opt out of voting altogether – questioning the difference political parties would make in their lives.

The findings also highlight that young people – particularly those between the ages of 18 and 19 years – were more open to changing their political party allegiance to a different political party to that of their parents. It seems however, that the findings could hold true for the older electorate as well. Many eligible voters, particularly in rural and township areas, chose not to vote in this year’s election.

The ANC is increasingly seen by young people as a vehicle for self-enrichment and corruption
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Political parties such as the DA and the Economic Freedom Fighters obtained slightly more votes across the provinces than they had in previous elections. The ANC, however, saw significant losses among its voter base across most urban and rural areas, with a low turnout occurring in many of the party’s traditional strongholds.

While the causes behind the disillusionment of the ANC’s voter base are varied, the poor conduct of President Jacob Zuma was a key factor influencing many young South Africans who decided not to vote, or at least not for the ANC.

Zuma has been at the forefront of a number of political and ethical scandals, including substantially undermining the economy by firing respected Finance Minister Nhlanha Nene. As his faction is dominant in the ANC, the organisation has been unable to hold him and his loyalists accountable for their misdeeds. Consequently, the ANC is increasingly seen by many young people as a vehicle for self-enrichment and corruption.

The ISS monograph found that young participants often referred to scandals by using terms like ‘Guptagate’ and ‘Nkandla’ to illustrate their dissatisfaction with the president specifically and politics more broadly.

The impact of Zuma’s unethical behaviour was starkly brought to the fore when four young women staged a silent protest during his speech announcing the election results. By holding placards that read ‘#10yearslater,’ ‘#Khanga’ and ‘#rememberKhwezi,’ the anti-rape protestors drew attention to the disgraceful conduct by Zuma and his supporters highlighted by his rape trial 10 years ago.

Young voters are frustrated by the ANC’s tolerance of the president’s transgressions
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It is clear that young voters are becoming increasingly frustrated by the ANC’s continued tolerance of the president’s transgressions. But given Zuma and his faction’s desire for power and wealth – irrespective of the damage they are doing to the future of the ANC and the country – there is little chance that the ANC can reform itself. Unless of course, enough of the branches vote for completely new leadership at the next ANC National Conference scheduled for December 2017.

Zuma loyalists have made clear their willingness to act outside of the law and the ANC constitution. This makes it likely that there could be attempts at vote manipulation at next year’s event, so as to keep the current patronage networks in place despite Zuma stepping down as ANC president. Already the Zuma faction has been preparing for the leadership context through influencing the election conferences of the ANC Youth and Women’s League.

During the media briefing at the IEC, Ramaphosa stated that the ANC is ‘a listening organisation’ and will listen to the people, ‘those who have voted overwhelmingly for the ANC and those who did not vote for the ANC’. A shifting electorate, and lack of votes clearly show that the ANC has a lot to do before the 2019 elections if it is to regain voter confidence amongst the electorate.

South Africans have communicated, in no uncertain terms, their dissatisfaction with the president and the continued socio-economic challenges they face. Given the current stalemate, things are likely to get a lot worse for the ANC before they get better.

Lauren Tracey, Researcher, Governance, Crime and Justice Division, ISS Pretoria

Picture: ©Jacqueline Cochrane/ISS

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