South Africa prepares for elections


By Patrick Bond

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa's June 2 national and provincial elections will be won by the African National Congress (ANC) government with two-thirds (or possibly more) of the vote. Nelson Mandela will hand the presidency to his deputy, Thabo Mbeki, already the ANC's official leader.


Even if, as in 1994, the ANC falls just short of 67% — the margin required in parliament to amend the highly compromised 1996 constitution — it will reach that threshold with a close alliance with Chief Mangosuthu “Gatsha” Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP).

Not that the 67% target matters much, because Mbeki has publicly pledged not to change the constitution's constraining clauses that protect property rights, the “independence” of the Reserve Bank, autonomous cultural rights and other features of inherited white privilege.

The IFP was once a sworn enemy of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal province, where tens of thousands of civilians have died or been injured in civil war. Mbeki and his main KwaZulu-Natal lieutenant, ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma, both believe it is preferable to have the IFP inside the tent pissing out than having it outside pissing in.

Buthelezi — found by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to have been closely linked to apartheid atrocities — still runs the IFP single-handedly. The IFP will poll less than the 10% it received in 1994, but will be invited to rejoin Mbeki in a government of (two-party) national unity; Buthelezi will possibly even be offered the position of deputy president.

Whether the IFP will win enough votes to retain control of the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government is unclear.

It is unlikely that the status quo in South Africa will change following the national election. A new party, the United Democratic Movement, led by a populist former ANC maverick, Bantu Holomisa, may break 5% due to alienation with the glacial pace of change in the impoverished Eastern Cape (Holomisa's historic base, where he was leader of the Transkei bantustan).

The two formerly all-white opposition parties, the Democratic Party (traditionally big capital's standard-bearer) and the National Party (the rulers of the apartheid state from 1948 to 1994) now renamed the New National Party (NNP), could also top 5% each, but won't get near the combined 23% they tallied in 1994.

The African Christian Democratic Party, the Freedom Front (the main Afrikaner-rights party) and the Pan Africanist Congress are likely to tally between 1% and 5% each. Two more radical black parties, the Azanian People's Organisation (Azapo) and the Socialist Party of Azania, are not expected to break 1%.

In the provincial elections, except perhaps in one or two of the nine provinces, opposition alliances will not block ANC rule. In Gauteng, home to Johannesburg's industrial heartland and the capital Pretoria, the ANC may poll just under 50%. Similarly, in the Northern Cape the ANC should barely hold its majority.

In the Western Cape, especially Cape Town, important “coloured” (mixed-race) politicians who supported the NNP have defected to the ANC, which may swing the balance. As the wealthiest per capita region, the Western Cape has partially succeeded in attracting investment and white immigrants from other regions — until an urban crime and terror spree moved from the townships into the city centre in recent months.

The most solid ANC provinces — Northern Province, Mpumalanga, Northwest Province, Free State and Eastern Cape — are, ironically, those in which the party has performed worst in terms of delivery and governance. They are also those provinces where, just before the 1994 election, ex-homeland leaders were coopted into the ANC and where huge state bureaucracies had to be absorbed, leaving few resources for progressive state transformation.

Internal bickering and challenges to the authority of the provincial ANC leaders have affected each, as have allegations of massive corruption and administrative incompetence. But the ANC will pick up 80% of the vote in each without much sweat.

An interesting process has been the evolution of African nationalism, which, once an unequivocally progressive force, has been drawn down the slippery slope of international neo-liberalism. Mbeki's main intellectual innovation over the past year or so, the idea of an “African Renaissance”, has faded in the wake of regional problems. Mbeki's defence of the ANC government's record and its vision for the coming five years has not been particularly convincing.

Whether the ANC's official allies — the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party, which as recently as last July publicly berated by Mbeki for straying from the government's neo-liberal economic course — begin to take a stronger stand after the election depends on how urgently activism is rekindled in the wake of the ANC's next election victory. And that depends on perceptions of the ANC's performance in housing, infrastructure, health and education, transport, environment and economic development.

[Patrick Bond is associate professor at the University of the Witwatersrand's Graduate School of Public and Development Management in Johannesburg.]