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Elections 2024: Dismantling the non-racialism, social democratic compact

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Voters casting their votes during the 2024 national and provincial elections in Soshanguve, Gauteng, South Africa. – Picture: Oupa Mokoena / Independent Newspapers

By Ashraf Patel

Elections 2024 has lived up to the expectations of a milestone election. It was that and more.

The IEC, that bastion of independence and competence has also been tested to the limits and seems to have dropped the ball. It did not really do community outreach and crucial voter education, especially on the three-ballot system.

The silent Majority

Let’s begin with stats. Of the registered 27.8 million voters – and with voter turnout of 58.7 percent, 13.5 million voted. 14 million eligible voters (majority youth and rural) chose not to register or participate, suggesting a large-scale disillusion with the current political system, and a general crisis of electoral democracy.

Return of race-based apartheid party political values

The biggest loser at #Elections 2024 is the ‘grand non-racial social compact’ of 1994, with the ANC alliance at the centre of this project.

In this vacuum, ethnic – race based regional parties been the big winners. The great disrupter MK Party, with 14 percent of the vote is virtually the bulk of the ANC’s Zulu voter base. The Patriotic Alliance (PA) has galvanised the grievances of the coloured community vote. Even the DA’s ‘3 percent growth’ is essentially a transfer of votes from the Freedom Front Plus (who went down 3 percent), suggesting that the ‘Steenhuisen factor’ attracted these votes, a reality that Musi Maimane would not have managed to attract. So, South Africa circa 2024 is back to the old raw race-based, ethnic politics – peppered with bouts of populism.

Parties with largesse from big money and corporate interests have failed dismally. RISE Mzanzi, BOSA, Action SA – despite huge coffers and public visibility have failed to attract chunks of voters to their ranks. The role of big money in politics is another feature of #Elections 2024 and one that needs further research and critique.

The EFF’s stagnant growth was mainly due to the MK factor, but to its credit it has shown remarkable maturity and its embracing of non-racialism and reaching out to all communities, as well as having a detailed manifesto (over 240 pages) was a silver lining of this election.

At the end of the day the ANC-led alliance should take responsibility for its weak and chaotic electoral outcome. Being in government for 3 decades it has on balance been generally mediocre in almost all areas of governance. From the state capture years, SOEs underperformance to the hard Covid lockdown, the Covid PPE tenderpreneurship scandals and the mega loadshedding crisis.

The ANC-led alliance has presided over the most neoliberal programme in the past several years, with mega Covid IMF R500 billion loan and its myriad of conditionalities – particularly privatisation and deregulation that has led to mass retrenchments that weakened state capacity and the inability of a majority government to deliver quality services where it mattered most – its core social base.

This has collectively brought about the rise of populism and discontent in our politics – leading to a death knell of the grand social democratic compact. Alliance partners SACP and Cosatu should also take blame for happily riding the gravy train benefits of patronage, without any critical discourse within in ranks and those who questioned this were marginalised.

What a future Government should prioritse

Coalition governments are now a reality and chaotic. The vast philosophical and policy differences of leading parties will make governing chaotic, with trade-offs likely to further erode the public interest and entrench elitist pacts – the very system that has put South Africa in this political-economic-social crisis in the first place.

  1. : The mass disillusion and rise of populism is a result of the failure of substantive economic and social transformation. Key themes of an economic CODESA should cover areas such as land reform/redistribution, energy policy and systems, health insurance, basic income grant, unemployment and skills for the new economy, as well as a competent state especially at local level. A new social transformation compact is required.
  2. With race-based parties now entrenched in the body politic at legislative level, there is need for new social cohesion. Government and civil society partners should convene a Social Cohesion summit, perhaps annually and set up a council to address a myriad of race, gender and other exclusions that have led to the rise in ethnic based populism.

Failure to deal with these would mean that neo-liberal apartheid and race – ethnic Bantustanism – will dominate the state and societal narrative for years to come.

Ashraf Patel is a senior research associate at the Institute for Global Dialogue