An interesting dynamic about South African elections post 1994, particularly where the ANC is concerned, is that parties go into it not asking whether they’re going to win but rather by what percentage they’ll take the majority. So while the ruling party may not be losing sleep over whether it will remain in power, its greatest fear is in the numbers – as it should be.
As momentum for the election picks up, ‘noise’ from all the parties will get louder. The ANC will be listening to rants and chants, but there are familiar and distinct voices which will stand out. They’ll surely be worried about whether the DA, as the official opposition, will increase its reach and take over Gauteng. While a repeat performance by Cope in the 2009 election is unlikely in 2014, the party will also be keeping tabs on the numbers just to make sure there are no nasty surprises.
And what would the elections be without the ANC going up against someone, it once called its own? The new kids on the block will also create a lot of frustration - particularly the EFF. This time it’s Julius Malema’s turn to prove he has what it takes. No doubt he’ll happily be handed a list of people he can look to for advice on how the story plays out, if indeed history repeats itself. Neither the PAC, UDM nor Cope have been able to win the majority. What they have managed to do though is take away from the ANC.
The PAC holds just one seat in parliament now, the UDM is down to 4 after initially holding 14 in 1999. Of course there’s Cope who were off to a great start in 2009, securing 30 seats. But looking at how the party has disintegrated, it may have been a one hit wonder. The point is, all these are seats which would’ve been the ANC’s, but are not. While taking votes away is noteworthy for these parties, what will set Malema apart is if he has what it takes to keep taking, even beyond the 2014 election.
The ANC can downplay the impact that those who leave Luthuli House have on voters for now. But given future elections with more breakaways, further divisions within the tripartite alliance; before you know it, the ballot paper could be filled with individuals with histories entrenched in the ANC. A coalition of the opposition made up of former cadres - now imagine that, it would be like the ANC going up against itself. It may not be in the 2014 election, and it won’t necessarily be Malema who breaks the stronghold of the ANC, but the power of many ‘Malemas’ isn’t to be underestimated. As the scripture says, “a house divided against itself cannot stand”. For those who leave, or stay; there are lessons to be learnt and in politics, no move is ever too small to be trivialised. Ask those who in 1948 deemed it impossible that South Africa would ever have a black president. I wonder what they’d say now, it’s been 20 years, we’ve had four and counting.