Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The EFF: no coalitions, no promises ... no future?

There will be minority governments in South Africa's major metros, coalitions that are led by either the African National Congress or the Democratic Alliance, but count the Economic Freedom Fighters out.

That was the message from Commander-in-Chief Julius Malema in a press conference today. He made clear the EFF would not join forces with either major party, but instead constitute the opposition in hung municipalities resulting from the 2016 local elections.
The coming cooperative period in local government, whatever it turns out to be, marks a fundamental change from the past. It will test and develop the professionalism, administrative skills and staying power of South Africa's political parties as never before.
After some well publicised days in conference, the EFF could not join them. In spite of the media billing it as kingmakers, the EFF is not a negotiable democratic party so much as a loosely knit Marxist-Leninist or fascist grouping, the breakaway far left or right of the ANC, depending on how people see and label it.

As a result, its mediocre election results have left it in limbo. Under the leadership of Mr Malema, the EFF has alienated the ANC, the majority party and its president, but has nothing to offer a democratic opposition, the DA, besides serious problems. Its revolutionary programme threatens to wreck government at the local level in the same way it has threatened government at national level, through calculated disruptions of parliament and inflammatory talk of meeting violence with violence.

With President Zuma remaining in office, the scene is set for these methods to resume more widely.

These are admittedly early days. But if the EFF is ever to become a tsunami the signs would be there now. The party apparently does not enjoy the confidence of voters; its manifesto cannot work except through coercion; it has no chance alone of demonstrating a sense of responsibility in government. The question going forward is how, and if, it can manage to hold together during a long period out in the cold.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

South Africa's local elections 2016: more questions than answers

After the 2016 local election results, John Kane-Berman claimed, 'The spell is broken.'* As the country speculated frantically about the makeup of future coalition governments that at least was certain: the charm of the ANC as South Africa's party of liberation will not work its magic in future - if, indeed, it worked in these elections.

The question, however, is whether the mould is broken, a whole generation's ingrained habit of voting ANC that can be handed down for a couple of generations more. We must wait for the results of SA's national elections in 2019 to know the answer to that.

And here are a few of many more questions to ponder before then.

1. The ANC has received not a defeat but a powerful wake-up call. Will the party learn from it as Cyril Ramaphosa was promising at the Independent Electoral Commission yesterday and stage a big comeback, or will it slide further among division and faction fighting? How much will that be affected by continuing to keep President Zuma in office, or starting now, rather than next year, to grasp the nettle of finding a unity successor who will also make a sound president?

2. The DA has received a remarkable boost from the voters. Will DA membership and the party’s future chances accelerate now and build faster than in the past, as more people think about what has happened and see that the change they were told was impossible, is possible? The ANC does not have to rule till Jesus comes again, as prophesied. Voting can change that.

3. The election has been like no other and an outstanding success for SA's young democracy, for due process and law and order. Even if the EFF continues to enjoy the media's support as it has so far, it has not out-performed in these elections. Will a ‘revolutionary’ party have any future in a strengthening constitutional state? Can the EFF change its platform without destroying itself? What are the political consequences of the EFF's fall, if it should happen?

4. Have we seen the end of dozens of tiny parties and a real move in the direction of a two-party democracy: government and opposition?