ANC WINS SOUTH AFRICAN ELECTION BUT WITH SMALLER MAJORITY
The ruling African National Congress (ANC) won South Africa’s parliamentary elections with 57.5 percent of the vote, the electoral commission said, announcing the official results. The win assured a sixth straight term in power for the ANC. But the result was the worst-ever electoral showing for the party, which has ruled South Africa since the end of apartheid 25 years ago. President Cyril Ramaphosa, who replaced scandal-plagued Jacob Zuma last year, now faces the challenge of regaining public confidence in a party that remains beset with internal divisions and which oversaw a raft of economic crises in the country. In a victory speech in the northern city of Pretoria, Mr Ramaphosa said the election confirmed “freedom and democracy reign” in South Africa. “Our people have given all of the leaders of our country a firm mandate to build a better South Africa for all.” (Aljazeera)
While the ANC once again gained a majority vote (albeit by a smaller margin), the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), won 20.77% of the ballot, down two percent from 2014. The far-left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) showed significant growth (up five percent since 2014, to almost 11 percent of the overall vote), while the right-wing Freedom Front Plus also celebrated a notable jump in support.
Despite a drop in registered voters and some indications of apathy (more than half of eligible voters under the age of 30 did not register for the ballot), voter turnout stood at 65 percent, which was higher than the turnout for some recent elections in the Western world, including those in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Challenges, achievements and influence
The elections took place in a context of multiple grievances with the ANC-led government, which Mr Ramaphosa will now need to address. There is much dissatisfaction with the economy, unemployment rates, crime, service delivery (water, electricity, housing etc.), corruption within government (that is proving slow to root out), the inflammatory issue of land ownership, and widespread inequality that still reflects the racial divides of the apartheid years.
Not all, however, is negative. The Economist, in a recent article by John McDermott, pointed to the progress that has been made in South Africa since the first democratic elections in 1994: “A liberal constitution protects the rights of all citizens, no matter their race. The poor have more of their basic needs met. The share of households without electricity fell from 42% in 1996 to 10% in 2016, while the fraction going hungry has plummeted. [Black South Africans] make up 50% of the country’s middle class, according to recent research. This is much lower than their overall share of the population (80%) but it is a sign of uneven progress. Most South Africans [also] believe that race relations are better today than they were in 1994.”
In the same article, McDermott highlighted the leading role that South Africa plays as part of the African continent: “South Africa is the most industrialised economy in Africa, the continent’s business hub and its most influential actor on the global stage. Yet just as important is its symbolism. If it were to overcome its history of repression and racism, that would offer hope to all countries, in Africa and beyond.”
Cyril Ramaphosa – the man for the season?
The 66-year-old incumbent president had been serving as deputy when he took over the national leadership from Jacob Zuma last year, and before that, as the deputy president of the ANC. He comes from a background in union leadership in the 1980s, where he earned a reputation as a highly skilled negotiator. These skills came in handy when he was appointed as secretary-general of the ANC in the 1990s, and he was a leading figure in talks during the time of transition from apartheid to democracy. His negotiation skills were such that former UK prime minister Tony Blair asked him to assist with the disarmament process following Northern Ireland’s Good Friday agreement in 2000.
Mr Ramaphosa was in the running to take over the presidency from Nelson Mandela in 1999, but when Thabo Mbeki was appointed, Mr Ramaphosa stepped out of the political arena and moved successfully into business. Since returning to politics, he has worked on building relationships with business leaders and has gathered much support from those circles. According to McDermott, many businesspeople see Mr Ramaphosa as “the only person who can reform the country while holding its social fabric together”.
McDermott sums up the challenges now facing Mr Ramaphosa after the elections with the following: “If he truly wants to turn things around he needs to restore the battered institutions while embracing radical reforms to the economy and public services.”
FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
On election day, Verashni Pillay, head of digital content at POWER 98.7, wrote a column expressing her frustration with South Africans’ tendency to focus on the negatives. She wrote: “I had left the voting station with that familiar delight of standing side by side with fellow South Africans of every imaginable difference, united in pulling off what – in this continent and many others places in the world – is STILL a miracle: a free and fair election. One that has set the gold standard for elections across the world. One that did the impossible and brought a bitterly divided country together, at the voting booth. One that has seen, time and again, radically different parties like the EFF and the [Freedom Front Plus] accept the election outcome, even when it wasn’t what they hoped for. And, crucially, an election that has seen the ruling ANC, which has enjoyed monolithic support, concede to crushing defeats. This is a point we cannot appreciate enough.”
Pillay, a Christian, acknowledged that the election was not without some hiccups, and that there are still many challenges facing South Africa. She says, however, that it still important to remember that democratic elections in South Africa, with its history, are something worth celebrating.
Mr Ramaphosa is not South Africa’s saviour, but Christians can rest in knowing that he is part of the Lord’s plans for the country. It is important to lift him up in prayer at this critical time, asking the One who worked miracles in South Africa in 1994 to lead and guide the president for the good of the people, for the wider region, and for His glory.
- For the Lord to guide Mr Ramaphosa as he appoints a new cabinet
- For South African Christians to focus on the positives in the country, rather than getting bogged down by the negative
- For the South African Church to play a leading role in working for the good of the country