Elections in South Africa: On the way to normality

Jacob Zuma

AMSTERDAM, May 8, 2014 —  South Africa voted the yesterday, the fifth time since the end of the apartheid regime. After 71.4% of votes counted, the African National Congress (ANC) of President Jacob Zuma leads as expected with 62.6%, down from the 66% at the last elections. Second is the Democratic Alliance of Helen Zille with 22.5%, up from 16.6% in 2009. Third comes the party of the leftist populist Julius Malema. His Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) won 5.2% of the votes.

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The ANC is the clear winner of the election, despite the allegations against Jacob Zuma, widespread corruption in the country, a high crime rate and a myriad of social problems. Any of these reasons would send an incumbent party out of office in any other country. In South Africa, many still vote for the ANC because it was the main force behind the end of apartheid. They are not happy with the state of the party and the country, but the legacy of the ANC carries tremendous weight.

Nevertheless, this election is a big step into normality.

Since the first free election in 1994, the ANC has always received a 2/3 majority of the votes. This time, they will likely miss that mark, albeit by only about 3-4%.

On the other hand, the DA becomes more electable. Despite its roots in the anti-apartheid movement, it has been largely seen as the party of the whites. Since the 2009 elections, they have been running the Western Cape region and have now a track record. They have also made a major effort to diversify their membership and candidates.

Furthermore, voters have shown they are not impressed by the populist leftist movement of Julius Malema. Malema was previously the leader of the youth organization of the ANC until he left after a conflict with the party establishment. He is a leftist populist, trying to gain from old sentiments between races. He hoped to win a significant share of votes with this course. His party got stuck at 5%, and is unlikely to play a major role in the new parliament

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This election is also the first election where the voting population was born in a free country, as the first generation after the end of apartheid has reached voting age. This younger generation is open to alternatives to the ANC. A significant part of them abstained from voting this year, as no party appealed to them. This will open space for new movements in the future. This generation is not willing anymore to vote for the ANC out of gratitude. They judge parties based on their merits and track record.

With the next election, the share of born-free-voters will be significantly higher and will likely lead to a different result.

Change is ahead. The lack of violence that characterized this election raises hope that a second change in South Africa is coming: from a one party government to true democracy, that will go as smoothly as the transition from apartheid to democracy.

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