sa-election-foterThere are a few points that we should consider in the wake of last week’s election.

The first - and most positive - is that the fifth election of our new constitutional dispensation has helped to consolidate and entrench our constitutional democracy. The elections were free and fair and were, on the whole, managed in an exemplary fashion. All those involved - the 18.6 million voters who cast their ballots; the political parties that participated and the IEC - deserve our sincere congratulations.

The second point is that South Africans continue to vote largely along racial lines. Although the DA has succeeded in significantly broadening its base among black South Africans - particularly in Gauteng - there is still no indication that it will soon be able to win sufficient black votes to challenge the ascendancy of the ANC. 

The ANC’s reputation as the party of liberation; its close identification with Nelson Mandela and its record as the provider of social transfers to more than 16 million South Africans - and of jobs and well-being to the rapidly growing black middle class - is a powerful formula for continuing domination. In addition, the ANC’s coalition with COSATU makes it the party of choice for the great majority of South Africa’s 3.6 million trade unionists.

All these factors - together with the ANC’s effective control of the SABC and state communication - are evidently strong enough to sweep away any concerns that may exist regarding the ANC’s poor record in respect of service delivery; its failure to achieve adequate levels of economic growth and job creation; and its defence of the expenditure of R246 million on the President’s private residence.

The ANC’s support has, indeed, shrunk marginally by 3% since 2009. However, most of the losses that it made to the EFF and the DA were, to a large extent offset by its continuing erosion of the IFP’s support base in KwaZulu-Natal and gains it made from COPE. 

Most of the 8% of the electorate who voted for COPE in 2009 did so because of the manner in which President Mbeki had been ousted by Jacob Zuma, COSATU and the SACP. They had few core policy differences with the ANC - and many have now returned to their old political roost.

The DA has reason to celebrate its performance. It has grown its share of the vote by a whopping 37%; and it has consolidated its control of the Western Cape - despite some voters' concerns regarding the DA’s ambivalent approach to employment equity and BBBEE.

Nevertheless, a number of sobering truths remain:

  • South Africa is still a dominant party democracy - with all the dysfunctionalities that this entails. Government will not feel much pressure to improve its performance in genuinely combating corruption. It will continue to erode the capabilities of government departments, the security forces, parastatals, municipalities and provinces by deploying loyal cadres to key posts with little concern for merit, qualifications and experience.
  • The ANC will probably feel that it has a sufficiently strong mandate to continue with the radical implementation of the second phase of the transition. As President Zuma has warned, this will involve the more aggressive implementation of race-based affirmative action, BBBEE and land reform policies.
  • The ANC will - without reference to the electorate - once again hand the SACP about 30% of the seats that it has won. This means that the SACP - without having had to win a single vote - will have about as many seats in Parliament as the DA.
  • Despite the enthusiasm with which the electorate has cast its votes the fact remains that the MPs who come to the new Parliament will not be accountable to the voters - but to their respective party bosses.  
  • There is no reason to suppose that the new Parliament will carry out its supposed role of exercising oversight over the executive any more effectively than its predecessor.  At the end of the day it will be Luthuli House - rather than the ANC’s MPs in Parliament - that will determine the future course of events.

We will once again be confronted with the old conundrum of democratic politics: that permanent minorities will have little or no say in the processes by which they are governed. It is for this reason that our Constitution and the Bill of Rights assume such importance in societies such as our own, because they place clear limitations on the ability of the majority to impose its will on minorities. Without these safeguards there would be little to prevent the situation that Nelson Mandela promised would never happen again that: "Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another …"

The duration 'never' will depend directly on our ability to uphold our Constitution and the Bill of Rights. 

By Dave Steward, Executive Director of the FW de Klerk Foundation

Photo Credit: Darryn van der Walt / Foter /Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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