The 2019 South African general election is a day away, and registered voters will again have the opportunity to put a cross next to a party of their choice (or the plural form in the event of split ballot voting) from the list of alphabet soup options. This article is a relatively laissez faire approach to explaining the various options of note (there are too many to devote a paragraph to each one) that the South African voter faces. Individuals not native or familiar to South Africa, but pay attention to the happenings here, may find it a helpful guide in understanding the political eco-system.
African National Congress (ANC): The ANC is the ruling party in a majority government formed between itself and the South African Communist Party, as well as the Congress of South African Trade Unions. The party has had uninterrupted governance of the Republic since 1994, and controls eight of the nine provinces. The party is decidedly socialist in ideology with a heavy emphasis on big government and getting government involved in literally anything it can. Under the ANC, the size and scope of the state has ballooned astronomically, together with everything from crime and unemployment, to national debt. The party has been a notorious enabler of corruption, with an atrocious track record of dealing with corruption despite repeated promises and numerous leaders and ‘cadres’ (political appointees) being implicated or outright orchestrating it. Supporters typically stay home on voting day rather than vote for another party to voice their displeasure.
Democratic Alliance (DA): The DA is the largest opposition party with approximately 22% of the national vote as of the 2014 general election. It has experienced uninterrupted growth since 1994, and controls one province with a majority. Its history is one of liberal ideology but has since become increasingly diluted with social and popular influences in its latter years. It has a good record of resisting and dealing with corruption, regularly scores highest in annual reports by the Auditor-General, and boasts impressive employment figures despite the abysmally low rates in the remaining provinces. The 2019 election does not bode well for the DA as it has lurched from crisis to crisis in the last few years, alienating the traditional base. In contrast to the ANC, supporters make great efforts to show up to vote, but this tendency may not play out as usual in 2019.
Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF): The EFF is led by former ANC Youth League leaders. Despite championing itself as a corruption fighter in the years following 2014 when it was formed and contested its first election, the party is a magnet of controversy. It exhibits strong totalitarian and tyrannical characteristics with a clearly communist ideology and has proven to be very susceptible to corruption as the VBS Mutual Bank scandal showed. It is also profoundly racist. The party has a cult following, and its leaders have track records of corruption from their days in the ANC. Of whom the leader, Julius Malema, bankrupted the ANC Youth League. While championing the fight of the poor, the leaders flaunt and live very opulent and luxurious lifestyles. The vast majority of members in the National Assembly after 2014, have been exiled from the party.
Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP): The IFP is a Zulu nationalist party and while exhibiting a strong constitutionalist agenda of late, the party has a disappointing history. Post-1994 IFP lead governments were as prone to corruption and incompetence as the ANC, and reliably declined in vote share. 2014 showed a resurgence, but the permanence of this will be tested in 2019.
Congress of the People (COPE): COPE is one of the smaller opposition parties and often forms part of DA coalition governments after municipal and provincial elections. It is a breakaway from the ANC and while promising in the beginning, the party all but imploded due to factionalism and infighting. It is a husk of the vote share it once commanded, fighting for its political survival in 2019, adopting a very constitutionalist approach in its reinvention to try and woo alienated DA and ANC voters alike.
United Democratic Movement (UDM): The UDM is another ANC breakaway opposition party. It is very small, and also commonly forms part of DA coalition governments. The party has gained a poor reputation in the wake of a recent corruption scandal involving the Deputy Mayor of the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, in which it did not act, and later voted with the ANC to return control of the metro to the ANC. It has also endorsed property expropriation without compensation in the National Assembly.
Vryheidsfront Plus (VF+): The VF+ is a small niche party that focuses much of its energy on minority rights, but whose principles apply equally to the nation as a whole. Its voting base is typically Afrikaans and has conservative political values, being a faithful supporter of firearm rights. The party has not tried to appeal to a wider base beyond than what it currently has, and it faithfully fluctuates only slightly come election time, and routinely joins DA coalition governments.
African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP): A true reflection of Christian conservatism, the ACDP is strong on issues such as abortion and firearms, and as a niche party like the VF+, it also fluctuates very little during election time.
Cape Party: I include this party because of its unusual character for SA politics. It has only ever contested Cape Town Metro in local government elections, narrowly missing its first council seats in 2016. It is now contesting the Western Cape province for representation in Parliament’s National Council of Provinces. The party is chiefly a Cape secessionist party in purpose, and despite much ridicule over the years, has managed to grow enough to seriously believe it can contest a provincial ballot. The party’s ideology is decidedly libertarian, and is radically committed to decentralizing government at all levels, with a fondness for the Swiss canton system and direct democracy. It appears to target the DA’s traditional base to woo over, many of whom are looking for a political home. The party remains an exciting one to watch in the counting phase. Unfortunately, the party is very misunderstood and unable to communicate effectively with voters at large.
The are numerous other small parties, many too small to even get beyond the ballot, and others that occupy one or two seats in the National Assembly. Many of these are facing political death in 2019. Of the Pan-Africanist parties, AZAPO for all intents and purposes died in 2014 after twenty years of decline from its already small base.
The Pan African Congress has become irrelevant in recent years due to the persona and presence of the EFF. The National Freedom Party which was a breakaway from the IFP is likely to join AZAPO; the party is plagued by gross incompetence and was unable to contest the 2016 local government elections because the party ‘forgot’ to pay their deposit to the electoral commission. The party manages to only faithfully adhere to its radical anti-firearm stance.
AGANG remains the greatest political embarrassment and abortion post-1994, surpassing even COPE’s notable problems. Its origins are detailed in Helen Zilles auto-biography, and despite being touted as a realistic alternative in 2014, the party crashed and burned spectacularly on voting day, right before collapsing into debt, infighting, chaos, and its leader packed up and left as if she had never been associated with the disaster that it was.