Working class rage brings ANC’s three decades long majority to a humiliating end


In a shattering rejection, the ANC, elected in an atmosphere of heady euphoria with an overwhelming 62.7% majority in 1994 to mark the end of white minority rule and apartheid, has been brought to its knees with a humiliating 40.2%. The ANC may have emerged from these elections with the largest share of the vote, but it has suffered a decisive historical defeat thirty years after its triumphant elevation into office. 29th May, 2024, represents the end of an era for Africa’s oldest liberation movement. It is also a political turning point for the country. The ANC’s sense of entitlement as the presumptive party of government is decisively over.

To add insult to injury, the Umkhonto we Sizwe Party (MK) whose stellar, unexpected rise accounted for a significant share of its vote loss, was founded by Zuma – an ANC member-less than six months before the elections. Despite committing the expellable offence of establishing a rival party, a paralysed ANC leadership could not bring itself to axe him. Placing Zuma at the symbolic centre of the ANC’s Ramaphosa-led “renewal” campaign to cleanse itself of corruption, did not just backfire spectacularly. It resulted in the ANC’s massive rejection in Kwa Zula Natal (KZN), pushing it into a dizzying fall from 55.5% in 2019 to third place at 17% in 2024.

MK’s role in the ANC’s loss of its outright majority distracts from a far more significant reality. MK may have risen to become the third biggest party in the national assembly and humiliated the ANC in KZN. It had targeted a two-thirds majority nationally. Yet it fell short of an overall majority in its KZN home base. The KZN voter turnout was lower than in 2019 consistent with the pattern across the country as a whole. The context for MK’s impact nationally is due to the size of the voting population in the country’s second most populous province. MK is a provincial party representing only a fraction of the vote. Its vote was much more against the ANC than for a “party” without structures or a democratically elected leadership whose “manifesto” is made up by Zuma as he goes along spewing thoroughly reactionary anti-working class and anti-democratic policies.

Of SA’s 42.3m eligible voting population, only 27.2m (64%) had been registered. Of those registered, only 16m voted. Voter turnout overall declined to 58.6% from 66.05% in 2019. This means that the current elected political parties represent 38% of the voting population of South Africa.

“The people have spoken” the media and political establishment gushes over the elections. But what have they said? These elections represent firstly an electoral revolt against the ANC for failing expectations on every front: 55% live in poverty; 40+% are unemployed; the housing backlog would take over a hundred years to clear; SA is the world’s most unequal society; gender based violence is amongst the world’s worst; water and electricity infrastructure is collapsing, the health and education system is crippled, corruption pours from government and the private sector’s every pore, crime is at frightening levels and racial tensions re-inflamed.

The oppositions parties’ results, individually and collectively, reflect a failure to convince the electorate that they represent an alternative to the rotten, corrupt ANC. In addition to the largely anti-ANC rather than pro-opposition votes cast by the 58.8% registered voters, many of the registered non-voters and unregistered viewed their action as a withdrawal, albeit passive, of consent to be governed by the opposition too.

A countrywide electoral revolt

The ANC’s electoral rout rolled out, with two exceptions, across the country’s nine provinces. It now has no control in the country’s three economically most important ones. It was crushed to under 20% in the Western Cape. The ANC had never secured an outright majority there since the dawn of democracy. That it had long written off a province with a Coloured (mixed race) majority as a “racist enclave” has, in this context, provided scant consolation.

It suffered a debilitating defeat in the most populous province, Gauteng, the country’s economic heartland and home to the political and commercial capitals, Tshwane and Johannesburg. In arguably the politically most symbolic rebuff, it was pushed from the edge of the cliff it had clung onto at 51% in 2019 to a chastening 34.6%.

It lost its overall majority in the least populous province, the Northern Cape, by a fraction of a percentage. But a miss is as a good as a mile. The Northern Cape result has nonetheless underlined the scale of the ANC’s defeat, retaining control in only five out of the nine provinces. In two of the five it held on by its fingernails.

One analyst summed it up: “It’s a walloping any which way you look at it: down a monstrous 17 percentage points; down 3.6-million votes; down 71 parliamentary seats. That’s the ANC, after winning just 40.2% (reduced to 159 out of the 400 seats in the national assembly) of the national vote in last week’s election — its worst showing ever and the first time it’s lost its absolute majority in parliament.”

Bourgeois analysts and commentators are competing for words, metaphors and analogies to describe the ANC’s electoral carnage: dismal; stunning; seismic; shattering electoral setback; the most crushing election blow in its history; a punishing verdict on a party that brought liberation to the majority of South Africans and that was once expected, in Zuma’s phrase, to govern “until Jesus comes, etc.

Commiserating with the political and economic establishment, Corruption Watch’s David Lewis was moved to quote 20th century playwright Berthold Brecht, poem

After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

Trotsky pointed out that the capitalist class cannot determine the outcome of bourgeois parliamentary elections at will. Their power resides in the fact that any government that accepts the capitalist framework is bound to serve their interests. All the bourgeoisie’s efforts to influence the elections outcome have failed. The government of national unity (GNU) the ANC is attempting to persuade the opposition parties to become a part of, will be compelled to serve these interests collectively just as the ANC has done so on its own till now.

The idea of a GNU is meeting with resistance both from within and outside the ANC. The biggest opposition party, the DA, is in favour subject to negotiations over non-negotiables like the independence of Reserve Bank. One of the smallest, the racist, xenophobic Patriotic Alliance, has wasted no time in putting up its hand to be part of government. Gayton McKenzie cannot resist the temptation to inflate the PA’s paltry vote into appearing as something more substantial and prestigious to resume his career as a bank robber in government. A cabinet post or chairperson of a portfolio committee with a budget of millions to loot in corruption through control of tenders is what he must be hoping for. Many of the other opposition rats and mice are using the opportunity to rub the ANC’s nose into its diminished authority, pointing out that as a 40% party, it cannot dictate to them.

Perspectives confirmed

These developments were foreseeable and were foreseen by the MWP. They confirm our November 2021 statement’s analysis of both the 2019 and 2021 general and local elections respectively.

“The ANC’s precipitous electoral decline was no bolt from a clear blue sky. In the 2016 local government elections, taking place at the height of the Zuma-era ‘state capture’ corruption scandals, the ANC slipped eight percentage points compared to the 2014 national elections, from 62% to 54%. It clung on to a majority of votes cast but lost its majority in the key metros of Johannesburg, Tshwane, Ekurhuleni and Nelson Mandela Bay. We described those elections as, “at an electoral level, … a turning point in the ANC’s post-apartheid history – a point at which the arrow of its political fortunes is now firmly pointing south.” 

The ANC’s slight ‘recovery’ in the 2019 national elections, in which Ramaphosa replaced Zuma, gave the ANC factions some false comfort. Whilst their percentage-share crept back to 57.5%, the result still represented a loss of a further 1.5 million votes compared to 2014. The Gauteng province, the country’s economic and political heartland, was retained by only a whisker.”

That MWPs statement opened with a prediction that is now being borne out by events.

“The 2021 local government elections (LGE21) outcome marks the end of an era. For the first time since 1994 the ANC, the “party of liberation” has crashed below 50%. The working class has punished the ANC in successive elections over the last decade, but never like this before. The quantitative accumulation of working class rejection has, in line with one of the laws of dialectics, transformed the alienation and opposition of the working class towards the ANC into a qualitative one. Their slide to 46% of the votes

cast at a local level, poses starkly, the possibility that South Africa is living under the last ANC-majority government. LGE21 may well be the dress rehearsal for the ANC to lose its outright majority at a national level on the 30th anniversary of democracy in the 2024 general elections.”

Division over coalition partners threaten to re-ignite ANC factional divisions

These election results have produced deep cracks into the foundations of the post-apartheid political dispensation so carefully crafted at the Congress for a Democratic SA (CODESA). The strategic aim of the negotiated settlement was to divert an incipient socialist revolution into the safe waters of a constitutional democracy that transferred the management of capitalism from the white minority apartheid regime to the ANC under majority rule.

The instability we had pointed out would follow these elections has already begun with a serious crisis in the ANC. It is torn by having to choose between different combinations for a coalition government. Big business is exerting relentless pressure on the ANC to include the DA, blackmailing the electorate with threats of the drying up of foreign investment, capital flight, the collapse of the Rand and the economy.

In terms of the constitution, a government must be formed by 14th June. At the time of writing no finality has been reached within the ANC as the pressure from forces within and out the ANC threaten to tear the ANC apart. Big business in SA and international capital are exerting tremendous pressure on the ANC for the inclusion of the DA in a coalition.

Counter pressure is being exerted by ANC members organised as “#Not the DA.” Sections of the divided and disoriented ANC-led Tripartite Alliance partners, the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu), and the SA Communist Party (SACP) are voicing their positions incoherently for and against the DA. Also part of this chorus are the National Union of Metal Workers of SA (Numsa) and the Black Business Council. Their implied or explicit alternatives all have one thing in common: a coalition of predominantly black pro-capitalist parties misleadingly described as “progressive.”

Fearing that these differences could split not just the ANC itself but result in the break-up of the Tripartite Alliance with the SACP and Cosatu into which its own divisions have spilt, it is campaigning for a Government of National Unity (GNU). Behinds the idea of “uniting a fractured nation” through a GNU lies concealed its preparedness to succumb to the pressure of big business and imperialism, on the one hand, placating the demands of the strong anti-DA factions in and outside the ANC.

In the end all these parties will come under pressure from big business and the black capitalist class to set aside their differences and unite the country for the common good in a second edition of the “Government of National Unity GNU).”

Saftu’s Mini Summit – another opportunity to establish a socialist mass workers party

There is a quiet sense of satisfaction in the working class that an arrogant corrupt ANC has been given a deserved comeuppance. Racists, xenophobes and religious bigots opposed to women’s and LGBTQI rights found little taction. The opportunity and necessity for a working class socialist party has never been greater. The MWP therefore warmly welcomes Saftu and the Working Class Summit Steering Committee’s announcement of Mini Summit to convene virtually on Wednesday 12 June 2024.

This further renewed opportunity to unite the working class under a socialist mass workers party must not be squandered again as it has more than once over the last decade. In the MWP’s view, the most important item on the Mini Summit agenda the implementation of the 2018 WCS Declaration to form a mass worker party on a socialist programme.

The most important item on the agenda in the MWP’s view is the implementation of the 2018 WCS Declaration to form a mass worker party on a socialist programme. We therefore welcome all the more the agreement to widen participation in the event to forces beyond those that had been part of it, including the Amcu and the Labour Party.

The capitalist class planned their assault on the working class by themselves without any opposition before the elections. Against the background of the significant rebuff dealt to their main party, the ANC, and their opposition alternatives, they are now in an unprecedented political crisis. Whatever formula they use for the new coalition, Government of National Unity, Minority Government, Multi-Party Coalition, the agenda will be the same: to unite them in common purpose to continue the assault on the working the crisis of their system requires.

The MWP rejects favouring one or the other combination of coalition partners irrespective of
what it may now be called – a GNU. This is a quarrel amongst the political representatives of
the different factions of the capitalist class – the working class’ enemy – over how to

continue to oppress them fooling them with the language of national unity. The idea of Black Pact peddled by the EFF is an attempt to misrepresent the divisions in SA society as racial and not class. Not a single one of these black parties including the EFF stands for the overthrow of capitalism and the socialist transformation of society. The ANC is capitalist government. It is therefore a proposal to replace one capitalist government with another. Trade union leaders supporting this are guilty of a repugnant betrayal of the working class’ non-racial, socialist traditions. A GNU is a call for the unity of the slave and slave master. To that we counterpose working class unity – under a mass workers party on a socialist programme.

Any political party willing to participate in this anti-working class conspiracy is by definition not “progressive”. If it claims to be socialist, it will be committing the cardinal sin of class collaboration that has destroyed countless workers parties worldwide including the credibility of the SACP and Cosatu leaderships.

This term must not be used as a cover to lend ideological and political legitimacy to the exploitation and oppression of the working class – the only mode of existence possible for capitalism. The post World War 2 period of reform is dead.

The socialist mass workers party the WCS must commit to must use struggles for reform as an education to the working class of the necessity for the overthrow of capitalism and the socialist transformation of society in SA, on the African continent and internationally.