The African National Congress’s (ANC) overwhelming majority, nearly 70% of the vote, has predictably been hailed by its leadership and most of the media as a ringing endorsement of its policies. This view has been reinforced by the crushing defeat of the parties of apartheid. The New National Party, reduced from 20% in the first democratic elections in 1994 to just under 7% in 1999, received a humiliating 257 000 votes less than 1%. The party that brutally oppressed the black majority for nearly 50 years has been virtually obliterated and is facing a well deserved extinction.
The bloodstained Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), that collaborated with the apartheid regime in slaughtering over 20 000 black people in the 1980s and early 1990’s, has slipped back from 10% of the national vote in 1994 to just under 7%. More significantly it has lost control of its traditional stronghold, KwaZulu Natal, and will not even be able to put together a ruling majority with its new partner, the Democratic Alliance (DA), despite the failure of the ANC to gain an outright majority in that province. The increased vote for the DA (an offspring of the white liberal former Democratic Party that served as an opposition party under apartheid representing the interests of sections of big business) to 12.3% (1.7% 1994 and 8.5% in 1999) is due mainly to the fact that it benefited from the collapse of the NNP. The NNP support amongst the coloured (mixed race), who are the majority in the Western Cape, and whites collapsed completely after it entered into an alliance with the ANC in its former stronghold.
However, the 10.8 million votes for the ANC do not represent an increase in support for its policies. It benefited from the fact that it is still seen as the party of liberation and that there is no viable alternative. Many voters cast their ballot for the ANC despite their anger and bitterness. With virtually all the opposition parties offering capitalist economic programmes fundamentally the same as the ANC’s, voters had no choice. Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI South Africa) comrades, who sold many copies of their Izwi la Basebenzi election special on election day, reported that numerous voters expressed this sentiment. Many were persuaded that the increases in pensions, child support and disability grants announced in the 2003 year-end budget, however slight, along with the promise of one million jobs in 5 years, and the commencement of the Aids drugs roll-out on April 1st, signalled a recognition of the plight of the poor by the government and the beginning of a change of policies to address poverty and unemployment.
Of far greater significance than the ANC’s majority, is the decline in the numbers who voted both in percentage terms and absolute numbers. A strenuous effort to increase the number of registered voters by the Independent Electoral Commission pushed the number to 20 million. However another 7 million could not be persuaded to register despite incentives such as free identification books, an expansion of registration points, two major registration drives and continued registration at municipal offices. Only 48% of under 25 year olds registered. Of the 20 million registered, only 15 million voted, down from 16 million in 1999 and 19.5 million in 1994. In percentage terms the turnout has gone down from 89% in 1994 and 1999 to 75%. The ANC’s landslide in fact represents only 38% of eligible voters. One pre–election survey revealed that the majority of those who did not register did not want to register.
The ANC’s euphoria masks a growing concern and a genuine surprise that they are getting away with policies that impoverish the majority and enrich a minority. This 70% vote is a poisoned chalice. The smashing of the capitalist opposition parties by the masses has removed all vestiges of the lame excuses the ANC has been putting forward for policies that have led to 8 million unemployed, 57% living in poverty, and 650 dying everyday from HIV/Aids. The ANC is now the main party of the capitalist class. Unlike in 1994, when its vote was massaged downwards to prevent it from registering the two-thirds majority that would empower it to change the constitution, and the hysteria about a two–thirds majority in 1999 (when the ANC miraculously fell short of a two-thirds majority by the exact number of votes for one seat), the markets have taken the 70% majority in their stride. Since the floor-crossing episode in 2000, when parliamentarians were given the opportunity to join other parties and a majority went over to the ANC, it has had a two-thirds majority anyway. The ANC has earned the trust of the capitalist class and the reward of R13 million in donations for its election campaign.
Committed not only to maintaining capitalism, but to creating a black capitalist class through the policy of black economic empowerment, the ANC remains committed to policies that will create further misery for the working class majority. The continued growth of the black capitalist and middle class will accelerate the process of class polarisation. This will fertilise the soil for the development of a mass workers party. Last year already, a survey of Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) affiliates revealed that one third of workers would support the formation of a workers’ party to contest the elections.
The Cosatu leadership, as part of the Tripartite Alliance with the ANC and the South African Communist Party (which received only 4% support in the Cosatu survey), once again campaigned for an ANC vote despite their humiliation by Mbeki and SACP central committee members in his cabinet during the anti-privatisation general strike in 2002. But the Cosatu leadership will not be able to stop workers seeking to form their own party. The resignation of over 6000 members of the Chemical union when they were denied their demand for a referendum on whether Cosatu should remain part of the Tripartite Alliance is a sign of things to come. These workers joined an independent union. This process will repeat itself in future. The DSM’s campaign for a mass workers party on a socialist programme will find an increasing echo in the next period.