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South African President Jacob Zuma may be in trouble. Last Wednesday’s municipal elections represented the first major challenge to the African National Congress’ reign since it swept to power with the end of minority rule in 1994. This year more than ever, the local elections are seen as a reflection and prediction of the national mood ahead of the general election in 2019.
Zuma is the main focus of attention for previously devoted ANC voters, having stacked up no less than 800 charges of corruption during his time as a politician. But in many ways he is just the tip of the iceberg. His party (which has a majority of 249 out of 400 seats in the National Assembly) continues to rally around him, and voted to save him from impeachment in May, despite the Constitutional Court ruling that he had failed to uphold his constitutional obligations as president. In fact, several of the most senior ministers within the ANC owe Zuma near-contractual loyalty because they were appointed directly by Zuma himself or through inside deals with wealthy business families.
Frustration with the economy also spurred thousands of new voters to go to the ballot box. Unemployment is creeping past 27%, growth is now forecast at just 0.1% for this year, and the nation’s credit rating is at risk of being cut to junk by Standard & Poor in December. Protests and riots over the dearth of service delivery, including water, waste collection and electricity, became so frequent and violent in the months leading up to the election that the pro-government South African Broadcasting Corporation stopped showing footage of them in any of its news bulletins. The rand has strengthened fractionally to equal 0.06 GBP, but this is more to do with Britain’s vote to leave the EU and the new low interest rate of 0.25% than a strengthening of the rand.
A record 200 parties and 61,014 candidates registered to stand at the municipal elections – roughly 65% more parties and 12% more candidates than in 2011. In total, 26 million citizens registered to vote. It is clearly not just the main opposition party Democratic Alliance (DA) and the radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) who are searching for an alternative to Zuma.
The ANC was still able to draw support in many rural areas, particularly in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and Limpopo where loyalty is fierce amongst the older generation. With over 90% of the votes counted at the time of writing, it seems the ANC is likely to claim a slim overall majority when the final results are announced. Importantly, however, the ANC has already lost Port Elizabeth, a humiliating blow as the industrial city on the south coast is officially known as “Nelson Mandela Bay” in tribute to its past as a hotbed of anti-apartheid activism.
The ANC has also lost Zuma’s home ward of Nkandla to the Inkatha Freedom Party, a Zulu nationalist party, which claimed 54% of the vote. Zuma spent US$16 million of taxpayer money refurbishing his now palatial homestead, creating a scandal so widely resented that the word “Nkandla” has almost become synonymous with graft.
It may be that Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane was right when he said “The Democratic Alliance is on the cusp of achieving something incredible and historic” on Tuesday evening. The DA is traditionally seen as the ‘white’ party, but the areas in which it is gaining ground are predominantly black. It holds a narrow lead in Pretoria, while it is level with the ANC in Johannesburg. Final results are expected later today.
Another leadership contest closer to home is proving bizarrely similar to the events unfolding in South Africa. Jeremy Corbyn, like Jacob Zuma, is gallantly refusing to accept his flailing support, and refusing to leave his post despite a 172-40 vote of no confidence against him. Neither leader regards matters of policy as more important that their own plans: on the day Theresa May was crowned Tory Leader, Corbyn missed a Labour party meeting to discuss his own leadership to attend a Cuba Solidarity event instead, while Zuma was too busy to even attend the vote on his own impeachment.
No, Corbyn is not facing 800 corruption charges and lives in a modest inner-city house, but replace “Corbyn” with “Zuma”, and “they” with “the ANC” in this line from George Greenwood’s article on Labour and the parallels are quite stark: “They produce little in the way of policy, and rarely challenge Corbyn on his ideas.” Prominent left-wing economist Thomas Piketty recently announced that he had stepped back from advising the Labour Party, and Julius Malema, who was once head of the ANC Youth League and a friend of Zuma’s, now leads the left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters against him.
Last night during a Labour party hustings, Corbyn denied that he had stated a need for Britain to trigger Article 50 to leave the EU even though footage from June 24th shows him saying “Article 50 has to be invoked now”, which sounds pretty unequivocal. While his supporters are trying to argue there was some other meaning to this sentence, it seems Corbyn is not that far off from the ANC’s shameless bare-faced lying. See these tweets for examples of serious non-linear skewing in the infographics presented by SA Gov News to the public.
— SA Gov News (@SAgovnews) August 5, 2016
— SA Gov News (@SAgovnews) August 4, 2016
Donald Trump is also pursuing deliberate misrepresentation of the facts and denial of the truth as a political tactic, as Rachel Cunliffe and David Waywell point out in their articles for CapX. This week, he seems to have reached peak mania. In a tone somewhere between lampoon and genuine derangement, he equated Hillary Clinton with the devil and called on Russia to bring her down. He has since kicked a mother and baby out of a rally after the baby’s continued crying distracted him from his speech. Ignoring the equally disturbing fact that a mother took her baby to a Trump rally, Trump’s propensity to snap when he is the slightest inconvenienced is alarming in a man who could be Commander in Chief of the largest armed forces and economy in the world.
The Republican party in the US, Labour in the UK, and ANC in South Africa will all have to dig deep if they are to recover from the self-destructive paths their current leaders are determined to take them down.