With the picture of electoral results beginning to emerge into crisper focus on Thursday night, little wonder that some of South Africa’s smaller parties were demanding a re-run of elections. It is now all but certain that a number of the 2019 elections’ most colourful and divisive characters are out for the count, politically speaking — at least for this election cycle.
Daily Maverick’s Stephen Grootes recently joked that if there was any justice in the universe, the South African Capitalist Party (ZACP) and the Socialist Revolutionary Workers’ Party (SRWP) would end up having to sit next to each other in the parliamentary pews of the National Assembly.
With 68% of voting stations’ ballots counted on Thursday night, that dream was dying a slow death.
It was all but certain that the ZACP would fail to reach the threshold of about 46,000 votes required for one National Assembly seat, while hopes were similarly fading for the union-founded SRWP.
The “purple cow” capitalists were always unlikely to win back their R200,000 electoral deposit, having been launched about six weeks before the elections with no existing political infrastructure to draw from. The ZACP had focused its campaigning on suburban Johannesburg — where the party employed the capitalist masterstroke of paying homeless people to act as human billboards — and Twitter.
ZACP founder Kanthan Pillay put it best himself on Twitter when he described his party’s results, with admirable candour, as “dismal”.
But the Socialist Revolutionary Workers’ Party will have more serious questions to ask of itself after managing only about 5,000 votes more than their capitalist counterparts at the same 10 million vote mark.
After all, the Irvin Jim-led SRWP had the 370,000 members of its founding National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa) body to draw on for votes, and sufficient resources to paper most urban townships with campaign posters.
Two days before the elections, the SRWP also received the endorsement of respected social movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, which announced it would “make a collective tactical vote” for the party. Although Abahlali claims an audited membership base of 55,000 members in KwaZulu-Natal alone, the SRWP’s KZN showing was looking almost as dismal as that in the other provinces.
SRWP had failed to receive the support of the Zwelinzima Vavi-led South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) after Vavi complained that Saftu had been left in the dark about the decision to contest elections.
Nonetheless, SRWP’s poor results will confound analysts who suggested that the party might make a significant electoral debut, given the tenuous relations between the ANC and the unions in recent years.
But the party’s results are reminiscent of that of another former worker-targeted socialist party, the Workers and Socialist Party (Wasp), formed by mineworker unionists in the aftermath of 2012’s Marikana Massacre. Wasp managed just 8,331 votes on the national ballot in 2014.
In both the cases of Wasp and the SRWP, the EFF is probably responsible for eating much of their potential vote — as a radical left party which has been active in lending support to workers on a branch level. An EFF regional co-ordinator in KwaZulu-Natal told Daily Maverick this week that he believed the Fighters’ consistent interventions in labour disputes on behalf of workers had done much to bolster the party vote.
South Africans can also kiss goodbye to the prospect of Black First Land First (BLF) stirring the pot in Parliament, with Andile Mngxitama’s party similarly struggling to reach five digits by the 70% counting mark.
The extent of BLF’s national support was always questionable, given that BLF’s protests and events never seemed to attract more than a handful of supporters. True to form, Mngxitama has already blamed everything but his leadership and policies for the party’s failure: White monopoly capital, his ban from Twitter, the biased media and the IEC.
But other provisional results suggest that the real reason for BLF’s flop at the polls is that South African voters largely rejected extremism on either side of the political spectrum.
BLF’s political antithesis, the right-wing Front Nasionaal launched by Afrikaner activist Dan Roodt before the 2014 polls, looked unlikely to improve on its last electoral showing of just over 5,000 votes.
While parties to the left and right of the centre both surged in 2019 — the EFF and the Freedom Front Plus, specifically — it seems that ultimately there are limits to how far the risk-averse South African electorate is willing to stray from the safe ground of the centre. Both BLF and the Front Nasionaal make the EFF and the Freedom Front Plus seem positively moderate by comparison.
By far the biggest loser of the 2019 polls, though, looks likely to be former SABC tzar Hlaudi Motsoeneng — at least if one balances his pre-election rhetoric with the stark facts of the election results.
Motsoeneng publicly termed himself “the best leader in South Africa”, and repeatedly declared himself “the future president of South Africa” at the helm of his African Content Movement party going into elections.
As late as election day itself, Motsoeneng was still telling the media that he was “confident of victory”.
With just shy of 11 million votes counted, Motsoeneng’s party was sitting on 0.02% of the vote.
Though most people enjoy the narrative of an underdog unexpectedly coming out on top against the odds, it is now improbable that the 2019 general elections will deliver this kind of political story.
But with an unprecedented 48 political parties contesting the polls nationally in 2019, it was always evident that many were chancers and no-hopers opportunistically seeking to capitalise on the political disenchantment of the Zuma years.
What they possibly failed to perceive was that precisely because of the tumultuous past decade, South African voters might be in no mood to cast high-risk votes in what was viewed as a high-stakes election. Never before has the aphorism “Better the devil you know” seemed more applicable.