ANC’s attempt to woo minority voters met with skepticism – Marius Roodt

The idea that the ANC could woo back white and other minority voters to support the party has been met with universal derision, with former ANC MP Melanie Verwoerd arguing that the party’s failures and lack of representation at senior levels are the reasons why minority voters wouldn’t vote for the ANC. While some may argue that the race of a party’s leader or those in leadership positions is important, what they say and the policies they promote are more crucial. To regain lost voters, the ANC must revert to the pragmatic economic policies it followed in the 1990s and abandon controversial policies such as black economic empowerment. Read more below.


How the ANC can get minority voters back

By Marius Roodt

The news that the ANC is looking to woo white and other minority voters back as supporters was met with something approaching universal derision.

Even Melanie Verwoerd, a former ANC MP, pooh-poohed the idea, saying that the various failures of the ANC government, coupled with the lack of minorities in senior positions in the party, meant that white, Coloured, and Indian voters wouldn’t vote for it.

She is partly right in her analysis here. The ANC has lost minority voters because of its policies and governance failures, rather than because there are too few Coloured, Indian, and white South Africans in leadership positions.

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The race of a party’s leader, or of those in leadership positions, is less important than what they say and what policies they promote. Much analysis in the media of the DA and its failings would make you think the primary reason that the DA gets about 20% of the vote, rather than 50%, is because its leader is a white male.

While there may be some voters who would not vote for a party because of the race of its leadership, these voters are probably less common than one would think.

Let’s conduct a little thought experiment. If tomorrow Carl Niehaus became leader of the DA it is likely that the party would experience a complete collapse in support. To be fair to Niehaus, this would probably happen to any party in which he became the leader. The man, with his increasingly unhinged behaviour, has single-handedly helped to destroy any myth that white people are superior.

By the same token, if the ANC suddenly got a white leader tomorrow it is unlikely that its voters would abandon it in droves (unless that white man was Niehaus).

Some people may point to Mmusi Maimane’s stint as DA leader and argue that party’s loss of support between 2014 and 2019 was because at least some DA voters were uncomfortable voting for the party with a black politician at the helm.

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Ham-fisted reaction

In fact, the party lost support because of its ham-fisted reaction to controversies like the Laerskool Schweizer-Reneke ‘racism’ incident and because of what was perceived by some as a growing fondness for racial nationalism in the party.  The DA secured its best overall result in an election in the 2016 local government poll, with Maimane as leader.

Similarly, the DA would probably not see a major boost in its support among coloured voters if it elected a coloured leader – ditto Indian South Africans.

If the ANC wants to woo voters from minority groups the solution is easy. And this solution will also see it stem the growing exodus of black voters that the party is experiencing.

Firstly, the party should return to the relatively pragmatic economic policy that it followed in the 1990s and early part of this century. This saw the country boast a budget surplus, low inflation, and fairly high economic growth. While some of the growth that South Africa had under Thabo Mbeki (as high as 5% in some years) was thanks to the global commodity boom, at the time the country managed to take advantage of it. It is less able to do so now.

While some people will claim that Mbeki’s economic policies did not help poor South Africans, nothing could be further from the truth. Unemployment was on the decline in the Mbeki years and basic services, such as sanitation and electricity, were increasingly rolled out in those years. This progress was halted (and arguably began reversing) after the ANC ‘recalled’ Mbeki in 2008.

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Employment equity

The ANC should however retreat on other policies, which became more prominent under Mbeki, compared to the 1990s. These are ones such as employment equity or black economic empowerment (BEE).

There is little evidence that these policies of racial preferencing have done anything for the majority of black South Africans. We rather saw the benefits – such as they are – going to a small, connected elite. Since the end of apartheid, the only racial group which has seen its levels of inequality grow is the black South African population. They have also seen an increase in unemployment and poverty.

Some will argue that the ANC will lose black voters if it abandons racial preferencing policies. Again, there is little evidence of this. ANC support generally seems to track on metrics such as the economy and delivery of services.  While abandoning BEE, for example, will not be a silver bullet to solve South Africa’s economic problems, the removal of one of the economy’s shackles will go some way to seeing South Africa getting closer to its potential.

If South Africa had a rapidly growing economy, as it did in the Mbeki years, the ANC would almost certainly not now be considering the realistic possibility of finding itself out of power next year, racial preferencing or not.

But even with a major course correction on policy, it is unlikely that the ANC could recover much of the support it has shed over the past decade, no matter the skin colour of the voter.

An increasing number of South Africans are looking for political vehicles other than the ANC, and will not forgive the party easily for the trail of destruction it has left over the past ten years.

*Marius Roodt is currently deputy editor of the Daily Friend and also consults on IRR campaigns. This is his second stint at the Institute, having returned after spells working at the Centre for Development and Enterprise and a Johannesburg-based management consultancy. He has also previously worked as a journalist, an analyst for a number of foreign governments, and spent most of 2005 and 2006 driving a scooter around London. Roodt holds an honours degree from the Rand Afrikaans University (now the University of Johannesburg) and an MA in Political Studies from the University of the Witwatersrand.

This article was first published by Daily Friend and is republished with permission

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