South Africa’s Evolving Democracy: Beyond Elections May 2014

Posted by on Jun 9, 2014

South Africa’s Evolving Democracy: Beyond Elections May 2014

SA national elections on May 7th 2014 marked the 20th anniversary of the country’s constitutional democracy. Whilst the ANC maintained its control over the national government with a 62% majority, it had much to worry when examining the details of voting patterns across the 9 provinces and the major metropolitan centres. Nationally, the ANC lost just over 3% of the votes compared with the previous elections five years ago. The party also maintained control of 8 of the 9 provinces, albeit with a declining majority in every single one of them. More revealing was the fact that the ANC’s majority in the Gauteng Province was reduced to 53% of the votes. This was the shocking revelation for the ANC.

 

The significance of Gauteng is three folds. Firstly, it is SA’s most populated province, it contributes over 1/3 of the country’s GDP and as the country’s only metropolis region, it has by all measures the most informed and diverse population. ANC’s loss of considerable support in Gauteng almost overshadows the party’s continued success nationally. Overall, ANC is shown to have lost much support amongst the middle class in the country.

 

A number of factors have led to this outcome. Most detrimental has been ANC’s own organizational in-fighting and precipitous moral decay. Continuous allegations and revelations of corruptions and misuse of public resources have tarnished the image of the party, and its top leadership. The party leaders at local, provincial and national levels appear oblivious to the damage that their misconduct and abuse of public resources are bound to raise the ire of the citizens. Given the rapid rate of urbanization, and accessibility to real time information amongst the citizens, gone are the days that the political leaders and their administrative stooges, could obfuscate their abuses of power or extraction of public resources. Yet, the ANC leaders over the past five years appeared determined to swim against the tide!

 

Both on the right and on the left of the political spectrum, the ANC found itself under pressure. The emergence of Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), led by the ANC’s previous youth league leader, Julius Malema, was a game-changing phenomenon during the 2014 elections. The EFF is the political voice of nearly 4 million youths in the country. The bitter reality is that ANC’s education policy failures since 1994 have left the youths unemployed, unemployable, marginalized and radicalized. This lethal cocktail compounds the structural and widespread poverty left behind by Aparthied twenty years ago. Although EFF managed to garner only 6% of the votes in the 2014 elections, this understates the party’s inherent appeal and widespread political support. If properly resourced and appropriately structured, the EFF could well increase its actual voter support by a factor of 3 to 4 in the next election cycle. For as long as unemployment rate of over 25% persists, the EFF has a fertile ground for consolidating its power base.

 

From the viewpoint of economic policy, the ANC has made considerable errors of judgment over the past few years. Nearly five years have been squandered in dabbling in contradictory and counter-productive policy positions within the government. Under the rubric of “developmental state’, the government policy has become a great deal more interventionist, at times contradictory, and by extension operationally ineffective. Ministerial involvements in corporate operations, supply chain management, and organizational issues have risen sharply. State-owned enterprises have lost much of their technocratic capabilities and have been reduced to proxy political agencies for supporting crony capitalism and political agendas. Enterprises such as Eskom, the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), and The Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA), amongst others, are much weaker today than a mere five years ago. Ironically, these are the very entities that the proponents of ‘developmental state’ hope to use to deliver large scale multi-year infrastructure programmes.

 

In due course, and resulting from the above, the economic performance of the country has fallen to below 50% of its potential. GDP growth rates have consistently fallen from its height of 5.6% in 2005, to 1.9% (in 2013), and expected to fall further in 2014. While the 2008 global recession may explain some of this growth decline, the reality is that the lion’s share of the blame sits at the door of the government and its ‘developmental state’ approach to growth and social development. Government has shown total inability to remove real and binding infrastructural obstacles to growth. A case in point is its failure to resolve the country’s energy crisis after five years despite the wastage of substantial public resources to this end.

 

A critical consequence of public policy over the past five years has been a significant loss of social trust over the past period. Key stakeholders such as business and labor, government and civil society at large have destroyed substantial social capital. Such losses of social capital have emerged both inter- and intra-stakeholders. Social trust, for example, has fallen to levels last seen pre-1994. This milieu has placed the economy’s growth at serious risk. Ironically, at a time when the Sub-Saharan Africa is gathering growth momentum, and consolidating its developmental process, South Africa finds itself as the laggard of the region.

 

Clearly, both the country and its governing ANC are in need of deep reflection. Economic policy and social development strategies require serious re-examination. The election outcomes indicate a maturing democracy, a rising commitment to the reign of the constitution, but also an outcry for going back to the basics. Governance values and economic growth policies need a total “re-boot” across the public and private sectors.

 

Authored for Exclusive Publication by Business Times Magazine.