The Changing Tides of South African National Politics

The African National Congress (ANC), won only 54% of the overall vote in the elections held in South Africa on Wednesday, August 3rd. While in many countries 54% would be seen as a healthy majority, the ANC, the party of Nelson Mandela and the end of apartheid, has never won a vote with less than a 60% majority since 1994. The party making inroads on the ANC’s electorate is the Democratic Alliance (DA). While this election has not upended the status-quo in South Africa, it marks the beginning of what will likely be significant change in the political make up of South African Politics. More voters are likely to look at the DA as a serious contender in politics, due to the ANC’s seeming decline brought on by a changing voting population, economic downturn and political corruption.

The DA started in 1994 with small percentages of the vote and has been the only party to increase that share in every election since. By 2009 the DA was the ruling party in the Western Cape, the most affluent region in South Africa. While associated by many as a party for the rich (read: white), it has been changing its image in the past several years. In 2013 they launched a “Know Your DA” campaign that highlighted the parties connections with the end of apartheid, and now have their first black leader, Mmusi Maimane, who now has a good shot in the 2019 presidential elections. Critical to this success is gaining the support of the new generation of voters born post-apartheid, called “born frees.” It’s still unclear at what rate young voters turned out for this latest election, but with dismal turnout from young voters in 2014 the pressure is on for 2019. Groups like the Independent Electoral Commission tried to engage young voters by increasing registration and supporting the use of the #Ivoted on Twitter. While it is illegal to preform exit polls in South Africa, it is still likely that it was the older voters

who decided the election results this time around. Fierce political loyalty towards the ANC is still quite prevalent. It is common to hear voters report that they will always vote for the ANC, as the party that ended apartheid. Still, many older South Africans in this election cast their first ever vote for the DA instead of the ANC. The combination of the latest charges against President Jacob Zuma (charged with failing to uphold the Constitution after using tax dollars for “security updates” on the presidential palace including a swimming pool and amphitheater) along with the 26.7 percent unemployment rate have pushed many South Africans to look for new solutions and new beginnings for their government. With the ANC still in charge in most of South Africa much will remain the same after this election, but it has set the stage for big changes. 2019 will be a pivotal year for the DA, ANC, and most importantly—the South African people.

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