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Elections in South Africa: On the way to normality

b2ap3_thumbnail_SA-elections.jpgWith the 5th elections after the end of apartheid South Africa is on the way to the next transition: to a democracy with changing majorities.


This week South Africa voted for the 5th time after the end of the apartheid regime 20 years ago. After 91.6% of the votes counted the African National Congress (ANC) of President Jacob Zuma leads as expected with 62.7%, down from the 66% at the last elections. Second is the Democratic Alliance of Helen Zille with 21.9%, up from 16.6% in 2009. Third comes the party of the leftist populist Julius Malema. His Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) got 5.7% of the votes.


The ANC clearly wins this election, despite the allegations against Jacob Zuma, widespread corruption in the country, a high crime rate and lots of social problems. Reasons that would an incumbent party send out of the office in any other country with free elections. But many people still vote for the ANC. They are grateful as the ANC was the main force behind the end of apartheid. They are not happy with the state of the party and the country, but the past of the ANC weights more for them. Nevertheless this election is a big step into normality.


Since the first free election in 1994 the ANC has always received a 2/3 majority of the votes. This time it will likely miss that mark – although the drop is small with a bit more than 3%. On the other hand, the DA becomes more electable. Despite its roots in the anti-apartheid movement it has been largely seen as party of the Whites. Since the 2009 elections they have been running the Western Cape region and have now a track record. Beside that they made big efforts to have more variety amongst their members and candidates. This paid off - with a 5% increase to more than a quarter of all votes it is now a serious opposition party. Just what the country needs.

Furthermore voters have also shown that they are not really impressed by the populist leftist movement of Julius Malema. Malema was earlier the leader of the youth organization of the ANC until he left after a conflict with the party establishment. He is a leftist populist, trying to gain from playing the racial card and making lots of promisses about more benefits. He hoped to win a significant share of votes with this course. His party got stuck at just below 6%, far away from playing a major role in the new parliament


This election was also the first election where people could vote that have been born in a free country. The first generation after the end of apartheid has reached voting age. And they are clearly open for alternatives to the ANC. A significant part of them abstained from voting as no party was appealing to them. That is unfortunate - but it shows that there is room for new parties that offer alternatives. This generation is not willing anymore to vote for the ANC out of gratitude. They judge parties based on their merits and track record. With the next election the share of born-free-voters will be significantly higher and they will make a difference to the results.


Change is ahead. South Africa is on the way to move to a democracy with changing majorities and coalition governments. This will bring a chnage in power at some point. And with this election being in a reassuring way boring and without major incidents there is hope that the second big change in South Africa will go as smooth as the transition from apartheid to democracy.


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