On Tuesday 16 April 2019, the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship was honoured to host an #Elections2019 seminar on: “What and who may have the greatest impact on the 2019 South African Elections?”. The seminar was led by leading South African political scientists, namely, Professor Mcebisi Ndletyana (University of Johannesburg), Professor Somadoda Fikeni (University of South Africa) and Dr Sithembile Mbete (University of Pretoria). It was moderated by senior research fellow at the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship, Professor Tinyiko Maluleke.
First to step up on the plate was one of the University of Pretoria’s most talented young academics, Dr Mbete.
Noting the huge number of parties contesting these elections – 48 in total – Dr Mbete nevertheless highlighted the disruptive potential of a few new parties, at least in some provinces. She mentioned specifically Patricia de Lille’s “Good” party in the Western Cape, Mzwanele Manyi’s African Transformation Party and Irvin Jim’s Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party in the Eastern Cape. Ultimately for Mbete, nothing is likely to have a bigger impact on #Elections2019 than voter turnout. She argued that this is especially so in light of the proportional representation system, which not only calculates votes against the total number of those who turned out but ultimately determines the quality and composition of national and provincial assemblies.
Professor Ndletyana noted the relative strengths of each of the three biggest parties, noting in particular how, the EFF seems to appeal to hopeless, unschooled and unemployable young South Africans. He argued that roughly every South African black family has one or two such a youths. While the EFF may not be able to provide such desperate youth with much that is concrete, they are attracted, argued Ndletyana, to the ability of the EFF to express their anger in a way that disrupts the political establishment. Crucially, Ndletyana suggested that one of the biggest factors in #Elections2019 will be what happens in the generally creative but also treacherous tensions between the popularity of the ‘big’ leader and the popularity of the party – e.g. Ramaphosa and the ANC, Maimane and the DA, Malema and the EFF.
For his part Professor Fikeni highlighted that there is a growing legitimacy crisis for the South African establishment, thanks to the incessant flow of corruption scandals over the past few years. He suggested that there is a real risk that South Africans may be moving into generalised political cynicism which will render most political activities, including elections, meaningless. Fikeni further alluded to the possibility of two parallel national rationalities, living unhappily side by side. The political establishment espouses one type of rationality while the general citizenry, especially the marginalised and the poor, hold onto a different rationality, informed by their own set of circumstances. Fikeni was almost adamant that in the #Elections2019, voters had no real choice on the electoral ballot. His contention is that South African party political loyalties are deeply entrenched so that voters will either vote for their favourite party – regardless of scandal and campaigning by other parties - or simply stay away.
Other factors that arose in conversation was the impact of the youth, and their disillusionment with the political system and their mobility around populist issues. All three panellist agreed that the anger that was rising due to poor service and governance could be instrumental in changing the outcome of this upcoming election. While Professor Fikeni lamented the contemporary youth focus on bring old institutions down without sufficient attention to what would replace it, Dr Mbete indicated that previous generations in their youth had followed the same path of radicalism, and it has always been incumbent on older generations to engage them constructively.
Similarly, the panellist disagreed about the impact of swing voters in #Elections2019 with Professor Fikeni pointing to the unlikelihood of loyal party voters abandoning their parties. Dr Mbete disagreed, arguing that as the South African voter becomes younger; family histories, loyalties and conventions are bound to become less and less relevant.
What a provocative and excellent #Elections2019 seminar!