Racialisation rises as polls show record stay-away – Anthea Jeffery

CAPE TOWN — It’s surprising how astute analyses such as this are missed in a media-driven narrative where the ANC is the heroic party of liberation and the contribution of whites to the economy, infrastructure and institutions is gradually airbrushed out of history. Anthea Jeffery, Head of Policy at the Institute of Race Relations, says the rotting fruits of the ANC’s little-recognised commitment to a socialist future are increasingly keeping people away from the polls. Disenchantment with service delivery, lack of jobs and government dysfunction at all levels, are among the biggest drivers of the largest ever stay-away at the polls. She cites figures to illustrate this, the irony being that the well-documented, widespread disenchantment hasn’t hurt ANC prospects much. That’s because the stigmatisation of the DA as a white party that doesn’t care about black people and does nothing to uplift them, has been successful. Voters stay away when no decent alternative appears to exist. Jeffery also debunks two key myths, the first that the ANC single-handedly ended apartheid and the second that land reform is a top voter priority. Take a look at the history and percentages she cites and you might change the tint on your lenses. The large disconnect between the EFF-led/ANC-driven land reforms and what the masses tell opinion pollsters about their real priorities is an eye-opener. Story courtesy of the Daily Friend. – Chris Bateman

A bigger stay-away vote in 2019 the biggest change

By Anthea Jeffery

Most South Africans will persist in expressing their discontent by staying away from the polls so long as they remain uninformed about the governing party’s socialist commitment to national democratic revolution.

In the 2019 election, the combined vote for the ANC and the EFF at national level (68.30%) remained essentially the same as their combined vote (68.50%) in 2014. Similarly, the combined vote for the DA and the Freedom Front Plus (FF+) at national level in 2019 (23.14%) was almost exactly the same as their combined vote (23.13%) in 2014.

Also read: BN Confidential: No Ace, Helen – Ramaphosa really DID pull ANC home

The 2019 results nevertheless reflect increased racial polarisation – a shift towards the trenchantly ‘black’ EFF and the vocally ‘white’ FF+. This polarisation has largely been driven by EFF/ANC rhetoric around ‘stolen’ land and the illegitimacy of the white wealth that supposedly stems solely from such dispossession (rather than from skills, entrepreneurship or innovation).

In this narrative, the white contribution to the development of South Africa’s economy, infrastructure and institutions is airbrushed out of history – and this despite the Constitution’s acknowledgement of all ‘who worked to build and develop our country’.

This, in particular, has helped prompt a shift to the FF+ among many whites concerned about this stigmatisation and where it will end – and no longer convinced that the DA will stand firmly behind the historical record on these key issues.

Dr. Anthea Jeffery is Head of Policy Research at the IRR and author of Patents and Prosperity: Invention + Investment = Growth + Jobs, published this week by the IRR and available on the IRR website.
Dr. Anthea Jeffery

Given that support for the ANC/EFF and the DA/FF+ has stayed remarkably similar over the past five years, the biggest change in the 2019 election was an unexpectedly large increase in the stay-away vote.

Once again, far more people who were eligible to vote stayed away from the polls than voted for the ANC. This pattern goes back to 2004 and has intensified in every poll since then.

In 2004, 12.4 million eligible voters (both registered and unregistered) stayed away, as opposed to the 10.9 million people who voted for the ANC. In 2009, 12.3 million stayed away, while 11.6 million voted for the ANC. In 2014, 12.8 million stayed away, as against the 11.4 million who voted ANC. In 2019, 20.2m such eligible voters stayed away, whereas 10 million people voted for the ANC. In last week’s election, the ANC thus won its 57.5% majority in the National Assembly with the support of only 26.5% of all eligible voters.

Why does the stay-away vote keep rising in this way? IRR polling shows deep disenchantment with the ANC, even among respondents who said they planned to vote ANC (though their final choice might have been to stay away instead). In a February 2019 poll, for example, 67% of such ANC voters were dissatisfied with the ruling party’s performance on economic growth, while 60% and 56%, respectively, were dissatisfied with what the ANC had done to fight corruption and crime. 

Also read: The myth and reality around SA’s low voter turnout

The ANC’s focus on land reform and expropriation without compensation (EWC), which so dominated the party’s narrative for much of 2018, is also fundamentally at odds with voter priorities. In the IRR’s February 2019 poll, ANC voters identified the ‘two top priorities’ for the government as unemployment and the delivery of electricity, water, and other services. By contrast, only 2% saw land reform as a top priority.

These survey results suggest a profound disconnect between what ANC voters want most and what the ANC has either promised (radical land redistribution) or proved able to deliver (enough jobs to counter rising unemployment).

Why then do potential ANC voters not go out and vote for a party (the DA being the most obvious candidate) with a credible record of creating jobs, delivering services, combating corruption, and putting great effort into fighting crime?

Part of the answer lies in persistent propaganda against the DA, which is repeatedly stigmatised (most recently by ANC secretary general Ace Magashule) as a ‘white’ party that will never care about black people or do anything to help them.

Relevant, too, is the persistent ‘halo’ effect around the ANC and its role in the liberation struggle. But its actual contribution was far less than that of other black organisations, for it was the Black Consciousness movement that sparked the 1976 Soweto revolt; Inkatha that broke the grand apartheid scheme by refusing independence for KwaZulu; and the independent (Fosatu) unions that helped bring about the 1979 Wiehahn reforms and deepen the impact of black labour power.

In addition, millions of ordinary black South Africans – those who constantly breached the pass laws in their search for jobs, for instance – had succeeded in making key apartheid legislation unworkable well before the ANC called in 1984 for the country to be made ‘ungovernable’.

The ANC’s constant exaggeration of its role in the struggle masks these realities, helping to build an unwarranted sense of gratitude to the organisation for its supposedly single-handed success in ending apartheid.

ANC propaganda has also masked the true nature of the people’s war it waged from 1984 to 1994. In this period, the ANC’s immediate aim was always – and especially after political liberalisation in 1990 – to weaken or destroy its key black rival, the IFP. Its longer-term aim was to use the hegemony thus gained to implement a national democratic revolution (NDR) intended to take South Africa by incremental steps from a free market system to a socialist and then communist one.

However, ANC propaganda over decades has so blurred and distorted the historical record as to make it very difficult to understand this two-stage struggle: the first for power and the second for a communist future. So long as most people are denied the truth on these vital issues, so long will they persist in expressing their discontent in a way that suits the ANC very well – by staying away from the polls, rather than by voting a more credible party into power.

  • Dr Anthea Jeffery is the Head of Policy Research of the IRR. Jeffery is also the author of People’s War: New Light on the Struggle for South Africa, now available in all good bookstores in abridged and updated form.
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