John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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The Upcoming Elections South Africa and the Left

by John Campbell
February 21, 2014

Election officials assist Khulasande Matabese, eighteen, as he registers to cast his ballot in elections scheduled for May 7 in Cape Town's Langa township, February 8, 2014. (Mike Hutchings/Courtesy Reuters) Election officials assist Khulasande Matabese, eighteen, as he registers to cast his ballot in elections scheduled for May 7 in Cape Town's Langa township, February 8, 2014. (Mike Hutchings/Courtesy Reuters)

Stephen Grootes, a political analyst writing in the Daily Maverick, observes that the “chattering classes” in South Africa seem to be fascinated by Julius Malema and his new, left-wing political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Will the party get up to 10 percent of the vote, presumably mostly at the expense of the ruling African National Congress (ANC)? Grootes doubts it, but at present he thinks that it will get more than the 1 percent that he predicted last year.

Does it really matter? Yes and no. Grootes observes that there are two political “numerical points” that matter for the ANC. First, 66.7 percent of the seats in parliament, which the ANC currently holds, allows the party to change the constitution. Second, falling below 50 percent of the seats would mean it loses power. Absent an almost unimaginable earthquake, the latter will not happen. However, it is possible that the ANC will fall below 66.7 percent of seats in parliament.

But, Grootes also observes, how the EFF does could be an indicator of how a genuine, well organized left-wing political party might do in 2019. The metal workers unions, likely to be joined by others, are withdrawing its support for the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and looks toward the establishment of a left-wing alternative. As I have written before, there is no genuine left-wing political alternative in South Africa, save the EFF and its frequently irresponsible leader, Julius Malema. A serious left-wing party could shake up South African politics. How the EFF does in the May 2014 elections could be an indicator of the appetite for a serious left-wing party in 2019.

The EFF’s votes may not all be at the expense of the ANC. Some may come from the numerous small parties. Because it provides a radical alternative, the EFF also might win the votes of township and rural dwellers who have not voted in previous elections.

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