South Africa’s democratic heart still beats


South Africa’s democratic heart still beats

MAX DU PREEZ is cautiously optimistic about what the election results hold for our future.


ELECTION 2024 was a good moment for South Africa to look in the mirror.

Hair dishevelled and eyes a bit bloodshot, stress lines around the mouth, but nothing that a hairbrush, a better diet and a good night's rest can't improve.

The big mole on the forehead might even fall off later.

Or maybe a better metaphor is that the nation went to the family doctor for a checkup. Blood pressure a bit high, liver function a slight concern, vision in the left eye not great, but heart and lungs as fit as a horse.

We’re going to be okay. Just don’t unbuckle your seatbelts yet — and make sure your airbags are in working order.

We can be proud of ourselves: we yanked the governing party that has misused us for the last two decades. We, the people, made history on Wednesday.

Founded: 1912. Election won: 1994, 1999, 2004, 2009, 2014, 2019. Election lost: 2024.

Ah, but we must admit that the ANC wouldn’t have ended below 50% if it weren't for Jacob Zuma and his uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) Party.

Thirty years ago, the Zulus and the Boers were our troublesome tribes. Now, it’s just the Zulus — and they're quite a significant problem.

Capexit was a weak joke but Zulexit might not be.

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

But we don’t really need to be ashamed of the Zuma phenomenon. In America, a narcissistic crook with fascist tendencies, who also spends his days in the dock, might even be the next president.

We bickered, gossiped and sometimes argued for months in the social and mainstream media, and there we stood on Wednesday, some of us queueing for six hours to vote. Just like in 1994.

And we talked to each other, even me with my aversion to groups of strangers and my underdeveloped social skills.

At my polling station, a few white Karens and Karels were grumbling about how incompetent the IEC was, but most of us were patient — and determined.

As one guy in the line remarked, “The nice thing is that most South Africans aren’t arseholes.” (Actually, he spoke Afrikaans: “Die lekker ding is die meeste Suid-Afrikaners is nie dose nie.")


The IEC officials at my polling station were friendly but rather disorganised and without any sense of urgency, even though there were still a few hundred people in line by 9pm.

Here’s a view from Nigeria:

The entire election was  a reflection of our national state of affairs: there’s little wrong with the citizens but the state is totally incapable.

We can start doing something about that now.

Back home, I jumped from one TV channel to another, with reporters stationed at different polling stations across the country. Almost every voter who appeared on the screen said enthusiastically: “I’ll stand in line for a long time because I want change, and my vote must help bring it about."

And change is what we’re going to get. Maybe more or different than we hoped?

It’s risky to draw conclusions and point out trends when not all the results are known, but three things seem clear as I write this: a lot more people went to the polls than in the last general election; younger people turned up in their hundreds of thousands for the first time; and there is an unfortunate new trend towards ethnic politics.

The high voter turnout tells me that most South Africans still believe in our democracy and want to be part of it. The paralysis that manifested in the 2019 election may be over. Former ANC voters who were unhappy with their party and stayed away did vote this time, many of them for an opposition party.

Almost anything is better than stagnation.

I have previously told people who lament that so few young people vote that they should be careful what they wish for: the more young people vote, the stronger the Economic Freedom Fighters become.

It seems I was wrong. 

Despite the fiery rhetoric and claims of Julius Malema that the EFF would get two-thirds of the vote, it seems, as I write, that they didn’t grow at all. The middle class and aspiring middle-class young black voters were not exclusively the EFF’s domain after all, and few unemployed people registered or voted.

Most South Africans aren’t arseholes. We don’t like extremists. We don’t like politicians who threaten and smear minority groups. We don’t easily fall for cheap populism. We are wary of politicians who constantly threaten violence. And we don’t want the state to nationalise everything — we know the state will mess it up. We want to own our property ourselves, and most of us (not just our political leaders) dream of being well-off someday.

In any case, Zuma’s MK Party out-EFFed the EFF.

But the trend to vote more ethnically is the mole on our national forehead.

I don’t have any hard numbers in front of me but I would be surprised if fewer than nine out of 10 people who voted for the MK Party speak Zulu. The vast majority of MKP support comes from KZN and southern Mpumalanga, where Zulu speakers dominate. Unlike the ANC, DA and EFF, the MKP is not a national party. It is a one-man party with almost no leadership or structures under Zuma.

Heaven help the people of KZN, where the MKP will now dominate the provincial government. Zuma will probably go to jail next year anyway when his prolonged corruption case is finally concluded. The MKP might not stay intact until the next election.

And then there’s Gayton McKenzie’s Patriotic Alliance, which is clearly doing well, mostly due to its focus on brown voters and xenophobia, and the FF+, which mostly focuses on white Afrikaners.

Now we must sit back and see how the ANC will form a national government. The 20+% expected for the DA will not reduce the risk for the ANC of a coalition with a “too white” party, but a coalition with the EFF and the MKP is equally risky.

I would think some form of national unity government remains the best solution.

I still hope on this Thursday evening that Rise Mzansi, ActionSA and Build One SA will each get a few MPs elected, especially since they had some of the best candidates in the race.

Oh, and I’ll be grateful here in my #whiteprivilege bubble on the Cape Peninsula if the indication that the DA will win the Western Cape turns out to be true. Alan Winde is the best premier in the country.

♦ VWB ♦

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