“We once more look to the ANC to provide leadership in creating the circumstances for our people to enjoy and exercise the democratic rights for which we all fought so bravely and with so much sacrifice. Let our organisation at all times conduct itself with the dignity in keeping with its proud history. And let the good of our people always remain supreme in all our considerations”
Nelson Mandela’s Message to ANC Election Manifesto Launch on 10 January 2009
On the contrary, it seems South Africans do not feel supreme in all of the African National Congress (ANC)’s considerations anymore. 25 years later after the historical democratization of South Africa, the ANC has always dominated the country’s politics having just won 57.50% of the national vote in the general elections last May 2019. With the Democratic Alliance (DA), the country’s leading opposition party, facing its own political turmoil after its top leader Mmusi Maimaine announced his resignation, it looks like the ANC will continue to dominate the South African politics until the next elections in 2024. However, that is not enough.
In 1994, millions of South Africans queued patiently to cast their first votes in which Mandela came to power. ANC’s electoral fortunes continued to slide in the last three national elections: 2009 (65%), 2014 (62%), and in 2019 (57.50%), falling below 60 percent for the first time in the history. Polls in the provinces also showed that the other opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighter (EFF) led by Julius Malema, a populist, although ranked as 3rd in polls after ANC and DA, had won a slight increase among its supports. Nevertheless, the voter turnout in 2019 was the lowest in the country’s democratic history with just two-thirds of the electorate voting.
What does this mean then? Has the ANC lost the people’s confidence? Maybe. According to Booysen, “The ANC takes pride in being the party of the people. It revels in the repeated popular endorsements that carry it forward. Its relationship with ‘the people’ directly informs the other three faces of ANC Power, in party organization, state and elections. Vulnerabilities here ripple through the other faces.” In fact, it was the ANC who led the South Africa out of apartheid and made it into democracy, for many Africans however, little has changed and the hopes and aspirations they once upon a time became nothing but pipe dreams.
People are disenchanted and frustrated with the ANC, for many Africans, the ANC could not see how the society has evolved and how the issues currently faced by many are already past Apartheid era. There are protests every now and then, against contemporary policies that caused nothing but further polarization in the society, and allegations of political corruptions. Hence, the anger, the growing indifference, and the loss of confidence towards the ANC. Interestingly, the relationship of people to the ANC, are viewed as complex. Despite the issues emanating from the party, many still perceive ANC as the party that brought them liberation.
The polarization existing within the South Africa community furthers as ANC has continuously failed to address economic inequality, labor issues, housing problems, public transportation concerns, inefficient public service delivery and among other issues. Lipset articulated that “inherent in all democratic systems is the constant threat that the group conflicts which are democracy’s lifeblood may solidify to the point where they threaten to disintegrate society.” If the woes and demands of the South African people will constantly be ignored, the possible upshot for the fate of South Africa might, as Somer and McCoy noted, “include gridlock and paralysis, careening and instability, democratic erosion, and democratic collapse.”
Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s previous president was involved in a number of corruption scandals which weakened ANC’s mandate and overshadowed the liberation struggles of the party. The economy feel apart, inequality deepened because of low employment. Taking all of these, his successor, Cyril Ramaphosa tried to salvage what was left of ANC, beginning with replacing Zuma’s cabinet members, undertaking on restoring the country’s economy that slipped in and out of recession by winning back the investors’ confidence as well as approving a judicial inquiry into his predecessor’s alleged offenses. He is also faced with growing disheartenment and dissatisfaction among his constituents, particularly among its youth. The youth do not see the ANC the way their parents once had. What they see is a corrupt and divided ANC.
Do these events imply that Nelson Mandela’s party will eventually lose their grip in power and disintegrate into pieces? Well, as of the moment, the democracy in South Africa is still thriving despite the fact that there was a low voter turnout during the recent elections. However, what should concern the ANC members is the discontentment of South Africans with their democracy.
At 25 years, it is still young, yes. Perhaps, just like any other young people at this age, South Africa is also facing the so-called “quarter-life crisis” in a democratic sense but one has to bear in mind that discontentment might lead to further democratic implications which could lead then to eventual democratic erosion. It is difficult to approach a party that does not listen to its people. Knowing that you could have done something but did not do any is similar with direct commission of an offence.
South Africa’s democracy is currently facing a quarter-life crisis and yes, it is the ANC’s fault.