South Africa’s Elections

The BBC announced the final election results from South Africa. According to its reporting, the ruling African National Congress won 65.9% of the vote, a decisive majority but falling just short of the 2/3 majority needed to amend the country’s constitution. The Democratic Alliance’s second place finish—with 16.66% of the vote—was based on its regional support in the Cape.  The new Congress of the People, formed by breakaway members of the ANC, was never able to establish itself as a real alternative to the ANC as many electoral observers had forecast. Turnout was an impressive 77.3%.  South Africa uses a closed-list proportional representation electoral system, which means that seats in the parliament are distributed to political parties based on the percentage of the popular vote they win.  So the ANC’s 65.9% of the popular vote entitles it to 65.9% of the seats in parliament.

So what does all this mean for South Africa?

Well, most obviously, it means that the ANC will continue to dominate South African politics, as it has since the country overturned apartheid in 1994. Jacob Zuma, the ANC’s leader, will be named president.

But Zuma’s victory raises concerns about increasing ethnic tensions in South Africa. The BBC’s Farouk Chothia asked the question, “Will Zuma bring tribalism to South Africa?” Zuma’s use of race and ethnicity during the campaign (often referred to as tribalism) may have brought tensions in the “rainbow nation”—as Nelson Mandela described South Africa—to the surface. Tensions between blacks and whites, between Afrikaners and English-speakers, between Zulu and Xhosa, appear to be on the rise. Justice Malala, a columnist with the Johannesburg Sunday Times newspaper, commented, “This is exactly the sort of divide-and-rule tactic used by Mbeki to alienate some sections of the country…It implies that there is a hierarchy of South Africanness: that some among us are more patriotic, more African, more deserving, than others.”  New challenges for the rainbow nation.


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