The African National Congress has been re-elected with 62% of the vote. This represents a marginal decline with the shedding of a few hundred thousand votes in absolute terms and the loss of 3.5%. Given the scandal filled five-year term of president Zuma, not least of all the Marikana massacre and Nkandla-gate, ANC strategists must nevertheless be breathing a sigh of relief. However, this “good story” hides the reality that the ANC has continued to shed significant support. Over ten million eligible voters did not register to vote and a further six million were registered but did not turn out. In other words 16 million did not take part in this election. The corresponding figures in 2004 and 2009 were 12 million and 12.4 million respectively. The ANC is in reality a minority government about to resume office with the votes of just eleven million people, barely 32%.
The ANC did not approach this election with the same complacency displayed in 2004 and 2009. They have belatedly realized that their dominance – particularly among the working class and poor – cannot be taken for granted. The ANC election machine was oiled and put into high gear. Whilst there has been no widespread or outright corruption, that does not mean the ANC has ‘played fair’ in this election campaign. The ANC intentionally conflates their role as a political party and their control of the government social services apparatus. There was a large increase in the budget for food parcels to the poorest in the months running up the election, the recipients of which were of course told it was a gift from the ANC not that it was paid for by taxpayers money. The 12 million in receipt of social grants – pensions, disability payments and childcare – are regularly told that it is paid to them ‘by the ANC’. Even more outrageously, the lie that the hated racist segregation system of apartheid would be brought back should the ANC lose is propagated. The vote for the ANC also reflected the reserves the movement has – especially among an older layer. Many would not have voted for Zuma but for the “party” of liberation which ended apartheid.
Further, the ANC’s patronage network has been deployed to full effect. The state broadcaster SABC pulled two TV commercials by the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) at the last minute on the spurious grounds that they would “incite violence”. At voting stations on election day there were reports that the ANC was distributing free food and t-shirts as a last minute bribe to the poor and desperate. In South Africa, vast sums of money are spent on elections yet there are no rules on the disclosure of party finances. We can safely assume that significant sections of the capitalist class poured vast sums into the ANC’s campaign. The ANC leadership is in reality an executive committee of the new black capitalist class. On the ANC National Executive Committee, over 50% of its members are company directors and a third are directors of more than one company with over 1 in 10 holding five directorships or more. Further, 72% of ANC NEC members own shares, 50% own shares in more than one company and 18% own shares in more than five companies. Fifteen members of the Zuma family are involved in a staggering 134 companies, 83 of which were set up after Jacob Zuma became president. Deputy-president of the ANC, Cyril Ramaphosa has wealth estimated at over R6 billion.
Against this behemoth, the Workers and Socialist Party embraced the enormous challenge of organizing a general election campaign before we had even reached our first anniversary. We are of course disappointed in the low vote, which was below our expectations. We received of a little over 8,000 (0.05%). However, the low vote cannot erase the enormous strides that WASP has taken in its short existence in establishing key points of support among the working class. Our vote may have been low but it represented the most class conscious sections of the workers. We have already received phone calls from mineworker shop stewards and factory workers reassuring the WASP leadership and encouraging them to continue the task of building ‘our’ party.
The scarcity of resources for the campaign was a fundamental problem. The struggle to raise the finances to pay the enormous election deposits meant that we spent over a month without a cent as we launched the second phase of fundraising for election material and a campaign fund. There is no doubt that if we had had the resources to reach more people our vote would have been higher. In addition, early in the year, the media decided on their narrative – this election was a three horse race between the ANC, DA and EFF. WASP was in reality excluded from serious press coverage. The press did not even cover our manifesto launch. However, they covered the launch of the tiny religious ‘Kingdom Governance Movement’ which received less votes than WASP.
But there are other important political factors to take account of. Unfortunately, WASP has not been able to consolidate our position among the mineworkers. Despite the crucial role of the founders of WASP – the Democratic Socialist Movement – in the move of the majority of mineworkers from the treacherous ANC aligned National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) to the previously marginal Association of Mining and Construction Workers (AMCU), the AMCU leadership has done everything to remove our influence among the mineworkers. DSM and WASP members and supporters have been victimized and expelled from the union, frequently leading to the loss of their jobs. The new Workers Association Union (WAU) has attempted to take advantage of demoralization among sections of the mineworkers in what is now a three month long wage strike in the platinum sector. The lie has been spread by the AMCU leadership, disgracefully encouraged by tiny jealous forces on ‘the left’, that WASP is behind this scab union. Thus, combined with the hostility from the AMCU leadership, and the understandable ‘closing of ranks’ by the mineworkers, in the midst of a life and death strike, WASP found it very hard to even campaign on the platinum belt with some comrades even facing death threats.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), after taking the bold and historic decision in December at a special congress not to campaign for the ANC, unfortunately, failed to develop the position into a positive alternative beyond the promise to found a workers’ party by 2016. For months WASP campaigned to persuade the NUMSA leadership not to miss the historic opportunity that the 2014 elections presented for the establishment of a bridgehead for genuine socialism by trying to secure a handful of seats in parliament. We invited NUMSA to take its place in the leadership of WASP, for NUMSA to present its own candidates for WASP’s election lists and pointed out that this would in fact compliment the democratic decisions of NUMSA members at the special national congress. Unfortunately the NUMSA leadership did not take-up our offer.
Nevertheless WASP established an important base among NUMSA members, activists, shop stewards and branch and regional officials in the course of our election campaign. But the lack of a clear call on who to support in this election had an impact on the wider NUMSA membership. Many will have deferred their expectations for a working class alternative until after this election or voted for whatever party seemed best placed to reduce the ANC’s majority. In many cases this will have meant a vote for the EFF, whose advances in this election (see below) will complicate the path towards a mass workers’ party on a socialist program. Even so, if NUMSA acts swiftly and decisively in the coming weeks to raise the banner for a mass workers’ party on a socialist program the initiative can be seized back.
The NUMSA leadership’s position was used by the rest of the South African left as an excuse not to back WASP under the cover of ‘supporting NUMSA’. The Democratic Left Front’s leadership – an academic based middle class group – echoed NUMSA and similarly abstained in giving any clear direction to voters, opting to “support those wanting to spoil their ballot paper, save their ballot for a future mass workers’ party and/or vote for anti-capitalist forces as a first step towards the building of an anti-capitalist electoral platform for the 2016 elections”. This grouplet talks of ‘anti-capitalism’ instead of socialism and ‘platforms’ instead of parties! Even then, this weak position was not fully adhered to and conscious attempts were made by the DLF leadership to block their members supporting or campaigning for WASP. Any criticism of WASP’s vote from these arm-chair ‘socialist leaders’ cannot be taken seriously. Even if they do crow about their self-fulfilled prophecy, it will never detract from the bold and heroic role of those who acted rather than stood aside. However, many DLF members overcame the vacillation of their leaders and campaigned for WASP.
The launching of the ‘Vote “No” Campaign’ in mid-April, unfortunately given backing by Ronnie Kasrils and other respected former struggle veterans who have broken from the ANC, took the confused position on the rest of the left to its logical conclusion. This campaign called on voters to either spoil their ballot paper or vote for a ‘small party’, of which there were plenty in this election. WASP engaged with Ronnie Kasrils and warned the ‘Vote “No” Campaign’ that such a call was confusing and would have no effect beyond a shallow ‘moral victory’ as spoiled ballots in fact magnify the weight of votes cast for the ANC and a blanket call for support for small parties would just scatter the vote. Indeed, the number of spoiled ballots in this election was only 0.01% higher than in 2009 and there will in fact be less ‘small parties’ represented in in the incoming National Assembly.
Finally, WASP had serious competition in the form of the Economic Freedom Fighters. The EFF has done quite well and won over a million votes which will translate into nearly 30 MPs not to mention a similar number of MPLs at provincial level. This left-populist party, standing on a left program of nationalization and land expropriation made an appeal to the youth and the poor. Its leader, Julius Malema, expelled former leader of the ANC’s youth league, was able to take significant sections of the youth league with him, not to mention connections to the new black elite that years inside the ANC provided, giving the EFF the resources necessary to wage an effective campaign. WASP urges EFF members to be open to discuss the EFF’s program, the tasks which face the working class now and to examine the role of the EFF leaders as they enter parliament opening themselves to the relentless pressure of the capitalist class.
Last August there were discussions between WASP and the EFF where we proposed forming an electoral bloc and standing joint lists of candidates in order to unite the anti-ANC vote, a key strategic objective. However, as important as that was, the important differences between WASP and EFF on nationalization, socialism and other issues required that we maintain the right to debate these questions in front of the working class and poor. In the wake of Marikana assisting the working class in achieving political clarity on the tasks necessary for the socialist transformation of society was fundamental. Unfortunately, the EFF rejected our proposal of an electoral block/alliance and demanded the effective liquidation of WASP and closing down of discussion on programmatic and political questions. WASP had no other choice but to stand independently following this response from the EFF leadership.
The EFF has secured an important step forward, but they have not done as well as they had hoped. This was partly the exaggerated expectations EFF leaders sowed among their membership, but it also reflects the skepticism of the working class towards the EFF. NUMSA for example, explicitly rejected the EFF at their December special congress due to their failure to call for workers’ control of nationalized industry and their equivocation on the need for socialism. If WASP and EFF had been able to come to a principled agreement, such an electoral bloc could have acted as a bridge to the working class to unite with the EFF’s forces, at least for the sake of giving the ANC a bloody-nose in the 2014 elections. Unfortunately another lost opportunity in this election.
Though we were unable to fill the vacuum to the left of the ANC, the Workers and Socialist Party reaffirms that we were correct to stand in this election. We have played a pioneering role and laid important foundations for the development of a mass workers’ party on a socialist program. This process will continue and pick up its pace in the next period. We have won crucial points of support for revolutionary socialist ideas among the working class, communities and the youth and will consolidate that position in the wake of the elections. We have always said that WASP is first and foremost a party of struggle, and a step towards building a mass workers’ party. We will now turn our attention to campaigning for a mass workers’ party, the uniting of the service delivery protests and the building of a mighty socialist youth movement.
WASP will engage in debate and solidarity in struggle with NUMSA and other forces to take the next steps towards building a mass workers party on a socialist program in the coming period. The ANC majority in this election is not the end of the process. The new government will face the same social crisis which currently exists. The ANC will be emboldened by its superficial mandate to try and drive through its National Development Plan – rejecting nationalization and emphasizing ‘market solutions’ and deregulation. This means more neo-liberal attacks and class struggle in which WASP will intervene and the necessity to build a mass workers’ party on a socialist program will be ever more clearly posed.