The ANC, COPE and the DA in a rapidly maturing Democratic South Africa

Contrary to popular belief, the ANC is not first and foremost a political party, but rather a liberation movement which has, since 1994, been attempting the near impossible task of transforming itself into a homogenous political party.

The ANC was established in 1912 as the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) to pursue the interests of the oppressed black South African population living under the laws and social constructs that came to be the most formalised racial discrimination in the world: Apartheid.  Between 1912 and 1994, the ANC defined itself around the singular challenge of securing a free and equal South Africa for all South Africans, regardless of their race.

During the 82 years between 1912 and 1994, the ANC gradually transformed from a pressure group into a militant liberation movement.  During those years the organisation utilised every conceivable form of campaigning, protests, passive resistance, international appeals and the like before eventually resorting to armed resistance in the 1980s.

The ANC’s membership comprised everyone willing and interested in a free and equal South Africa; anyone interested in the liberation of non-white South Africans from the injustices of the Apartheid regime.  The membership of the ANC was thus not as one might find in a traditional political party such as the Democratic Alliance – an organisation rooted in liberal politics, and thus comprising largely liberal thinking South Africans – but rather it was diverse in political ideology, ranging from communists to capitalists, all united under the banner of liberation.

When freedom came to South African in 1994, the ANC as a liberation movement achieved the goal which it had worked to secure for over 80 years, and thus began the transition from liberation movement to political party.  Since 1994 the ANC has struggled to unite ideologies within its ranks ranging from peaceful free market capitalism to militant communism, and the recent rift which saw the birth of another political party was the inevitable result. The ANC is rapidly maturing into a more leftist political party and is shedding much of the ideological baggage that its current leadership bloc no longer tolerates.

The split of the ANC spells the death of this liberation movement and sees the birth of one political party and the purification of another.  The ANC will finally have ideological purity, more left leaning than it has been since 1994; and the Congress of the People (COPE) will attract the more centrist and progressive members of the ANC.

These events will go some way to bringing clarity to the voter, letting them know exactly what the ANC is and what it stands for.  The voices of Jacob Zuma and Julius Malema, influenced as they are by their SACP and COSATU alliance partners, will no longer be tempered by moderate or liberal ANC leaders who have attempted to maintain the centrist image of the ANC.

COPE and a resurgent Democratic Alliance (DA) pose a significant threat to ANC dominance in post-independence South Africa.  COPE will appeal to a range of South Africans for a variety reasons from ethnicity, where it is perceived as being Xhosa aligned, to competence where it may be able to lay claim to having attracted more qualified and experienced leaders and politicians from the ANC and other parties.

The DA has a new leader in Helen Zille who is as yet untested in a major election, but if the results of the recent round of by-elections in South Africa are anything to go by (the DA won as many wards as the ANC, 11, followed by COPE with 10), then the DA should have a good showing in the April 2009 poll.  Helen Zille has proven herself able to connect and identify with the average South African and her prominent and effective mayorship of the City of Cape Town has won her many supporters, especially from the Coloured community.

Many prominent South Africans, most notably Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, have expressed their dissatisfaction with the performance of the ANC government, especially with regard to pertinent issues such as the provision of basic services, housing, land reform and crime.  Tutu recently publicly expressed his intention to withhold his vote in the upcoming poll in what has become a clear example to other disenchanted ANC supporters that they can apply pressure on their party without actually voting against it.

In the two polls since 1994, the number of voters turning out for the ANC has dropped by an average of 1.5 million votes.  The ANC, however, managed to increase its winning margin due to the decrease of more than 3 million voters participating in the polls as a whole.  The notable exception to this trend has been the Democratic Alliance who, as the Democratic Party, secured only 1.73% in 1994 but won significant increases at each of the 1999 and 2004 polls.  Nearly six times as many people voted for the DA in 2004 than did for the DP in 1994, resulting in an over 7-fold increase in the percentage vote when compared with 1994.

Table 1: Comparison of Election Results since 1994


ANC Votes


DA Votes

DA %

Total Votes



















The emergence of COPE and its mobilisation of a significant proportion of ANC supporters, atop widespread dissatisfaction with the performance of the ANC, pose a very real threat to the ANC at the upcoming poll.  The Democratic Alliance’s recent by-election successes and increasingly popular leader also hint at the possibility of a significant increase in DA support in April.

Consider a scenario where the Democratic Alliance, with a revitalised brand and Helen Zille at the helm, manage to increase their support to 17.5% of the total vote by consolidating opposition support and winning over a small number of ANC voters; COPE secure 10%, largely from ANC voters but potentially also consolidating the opposition vote; and minority parties such as the IFP, UDM, ID, ACDP, FF+, MF manage to secure 15% (down from around 17% in 2004).

Such a scenario would leave the ANC with 57.5% of the vote and only 230 out of 400 seats in the National Assembly (down from 279 in 2004), revoking the constitutional majority held by the ANC since 2004.  Additionally, were the ANC to lose control of the Western Cape, the Northern Cape and possibly the Eastern Cape, this would result in the upper house of Parliament, the National Council of Provinces, becoming a more useful democratic institution than it is now.  Presently, the ANC controls all 9 provinces and the NCOP effectively rubber-stamps all resolutions sent through the house.

The changes in the South African political landscape since the recall of President Mbeki in late September last year have been numerous and significant.  The recall of the President on the basis of a court judgement that has since been set aside, alienated with finality many ANC supporters from the post-Polokwane leadership of the Party.  The decision created the precedent upon which the National Convention was called and held in Sandton and ultimately, The Congress of the People formed, all within less than 3 months of President Mbeki leaving office.

Democracy in South Africa will be strengthened in three significant regards as a result of these changes, making 2009 the most important year for South Africa since 1994.  First, and most importantly, ANC will find it extremely difficult to maintain more than two-thirds of the vote and will thus lose its constitutional majority.  Second, the emergence of COPE will add another opposition voice to the fray, greatly increasing the number of people who can oppose abuse of power or poor performance by the ANC. Third, the potential is created for COPE and DA to form coalitions to win provinces and municipalities and ultimately work closely together to form a united opposition – with a merger a real possibility within 10 or even 5 years of this election.

The election in April this year provides an opportunity for every South African to make their choice about the direction our democracy takes.  In the 15 years under the stewardship of the ANC the South African Government has failed to realise the potential this country holds to create prosperity for all.  Every South African must be encouraged to make their mark and get out and vote for CHANGE.

Book Review: “The State of Africa – A History of Fifty Years of Independence” by Martin Meredith

The State of Africa - Book Cover
The State of Africa - Book Cover

Martin Meredith’s The State of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence is an unbiased chronological record of failed leadership in post-colonial Africa.  The book tracks the continent’s journey from the euphoria of liberation in the 1950s and 1960s, through the violent darkness of dictators and civil wars until the 1990s when the path to true democracy and good governance began to be cleared.  Meredith’s journey takes the reader from Ghanaian independence and leader Kwame Nkrumah in the late 1950s to South Africa and its second post-apartheid president Thabo Mbeki, and builds a substantial body of evidence of mistakes and abuse which should provide all Africans with examples of how not to lead.

At the height of post-independence euphoria, Africa’s new leaders and their cronies were looting their countries at an unprecedented rate.  A 1964 study of 14 francophone African countries showed that the cost of imported alcoholic beverages outweighed that of fertilizer imports by a factor of six, and imports of luxury cosmetics and perfumes cost twice as much as imports of machine tools.  The ‘platinum life’ lived by so many of Africa’s new elite in the 1960s came at the price of proper economic management and the total neglect of the majority of Africans living in the newly independent states.

By the 1980s, for most African countries, per capita wealth was down to levels of the 1960s; governments were reliant on loans from the IMF and World Bank to finance their debts and feed their people and corruption was so entrenched that deals were struck in the knowledge that amounts were to be budgeted for payoffs.

Nigeria provides a unique example of tremendous potential prosperity, in the form of vast oil reserves, squandered to the detriment of the people of Nigeria.  Hundreds of billions of dollars of oil revenues were channelled to corrupt politicians and businessmen instead of the Nigerian people.  In many cases, tribes or populations have been forcefully removed to make way for pipelines and oil rigs with no compensation for the loss of land or livelihood.  The people of Ogoniland have, since the discovery of oil in their area in 1957, been forced to abandon their land, often without compensation, to make way for oil infrastructure.  The violent backlash and kidnappings which have taken place in the Niger Delta since 1992 are a direct result of grassroots dissatisfaction with corruption and abuse at the hands of those in control of Nigeria’s government.

Most of Africa’s leaders were forcefully ousted from their positions as a result of a groundswell of dissatisfaction with poor economic management, corruption, expedience, nepotism, cronyism and violence.  Political opponents and military officers who inevitably assumed the roles of ousted heads of state promised sweeping changes and economic prosperity but seldom delivered on their promises before reverting to self enrichment and political protectionism.

Meredith skilfully weaves multiple, and often simultaneous, stories of failed states and their corrupt leaders into a seamless and easy to read exposé devoid of unnecessary airs and graces.  This mammoth digest serves not only as a clear and detailed record of the failure of African states and their leaders but also as a resounding warning to Africa’s new leaders to take care of their people.  Meredith also makes it clear to the reader that colonisers can be held accountable for much of African countries’ ills: early abuse at the hands of colonisers and their hasty exits upon liberation wrought havoc in many African states.  Slavery, murder, rape, torture and other human rights violations at the hand of colonisers served only to further motivate liberationists to oust their colonial masters.

Whilst colonisers and their poor treatment of Africans was clearly a contributor to the state of the continent, the book shows also the fierce desire of African nationalists to take power and implement their poorly conceived and untested African socialist ideologies.  The influence of communist powers, most notably the Soviet Union, was central to African socialism and communist support for dictatorial regimes may well be the single most debilitating factor described in the book.

In Africa today we need competent leaders with integrity and passion to deliver economic growth and improve the quality of life of their people.  Meredith shows us that not all of Africa’s leaders were corrupt and greedy when they assumed their roles, but with the notable exception of Botswana’s Seretse Khama, almost all were by the time their rule was ended.  Since independence, Botswana has averaged over 9% economic growth per annum and boasts one of the fastest growth rates in per capita income in the world.  In a few other cases, leaders like Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, while well intentioned, were ideologically and economically irresponsible and pursued expensive large-scale socialist projects which were by and large failures, leaving their countries poorer and less developed than they had been under colonial rule.

African states and leaders have spent more than 50 years building a deserved reputation for backwardness, greed and violence.  The African people all the meanwhile have suffered through wars, famine, poor or nonexistent educational and health systems and little opportunity to break out of their situations.

Closer to home, we’ve frequently heard the fear that “South Africa is going the way of Zimbabwe!”  More accurately, one might say “South Africa is going the way of Africa!” and Meredith’s book leaves no uncertainty as to what the “way of Africa” was, but The State of Africa makes it clear to the reader the overriding consensus that Africa is moving forward and leaving its dark and treacherous history behind it.

South Africa, regardless of the many problems we have to overcome, is unlikely to trace the path of the many failed African independences which came before it.  The African tide is turning and the stories of leadership and development emanating from this continent are gradually changing for the better.

The last decade has shown overwhelmingly that the voices of the African people are being heard and leaders principally good and democratic are coming to the fore, a significant deviation from the greater history of this continent.  Leaders like Zambia’s Levi Mwanawasa, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Mozambique’s Joaqium Chissano and South’s Africa’s Nelson ‘Madiba’ Mandela have broken the mould of Africa’s “big men” who preceded them. Their belief in democracy and economic growth as drivers toward improving the lives of their people signalled a departure from the African nationalists who came before them.

African leaders are being called to account more frequently by more organised opposition and democratic institutions.  Peer review has become a crucial aspect to good governance in the African context and African Peer Review Mechanism is the core machinery used to help African states monitor one another.

At home, even leaders like ANC President Jacob Zuma are subject to democratic institutions and the rule of law.  Recently, suggestions that Thabo Mbeki may have failed to influence the judiciary and ensure the conviction of Mr Zuma are testament to the strength of the pillars of democracy in South Africa.  The recall of the President of such a young democracy and the intervening strict adherence to and ultimate survival of the Constitution are again indications that South Africa’s democracy is more many orders more robust than Africa has experienced in the past.

Our neighbour Zimbabwe provides another very recent of the victory of democracy in the face of the most trying of enemies: Robert Mugabe, President and virtual dictator of Zimbabwe since 1980 was forced to compromise on his previously immovable stance by a groundswell of grassroots democratic activism in the name of the Movement for Democratic Change.  The MDC, led by Morgan Tsvangirai managed to achieve this forced-compromise despite mass intimidation and gross human right violations at the hands of Mugabe and his supporters.

Africa’s renaissance may truly be underway, but it will only be through an in-depth understanding of the mistakes we’ve already made on this continent that we will truly move forward and join the rest of the world in the global conquest against poverty, disease and under-development.  Martin Meredith’s greater contribution to this collective understanding has been significant, but in this single book, he has chronicled the most important mistakes and atrocities made in Africa to date and anybody interested in Africa and the future of this continent should read this book.