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ANC Failed”: How Mandela’s Party Lost Its Majority for First Time Since End of Apartheid

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We go to South Africa for an update on how the African National Congress, the party once led by Nelson Mandela, has lost its governing majority for the first time since the end of apartheid in South Africa. The ANC, led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, remains the largest party in the National Assembly. It got just 40% of the vote in last week’s election and won 159 seats in the 400-seat parliament. The liberal Democratic Alliance is the largest opposition party with 87 seats, but the biggest gains were made by the new uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) party led by former President Jacob Zuma, who left the ANC under investigation for corruption. South African activist Trevor Ngwane, chair of the United Front, a coalition of community and labor groups, says a “crisis of everyday life” all but guaranteed the ANC’s setback as the country grapples with high unemployment, corruption, crumbling infrastructure and social services, and deepening inequality. “The ANC failed to fulfill the promises of national liberation. It fell too short of the expectations of the masses, of the working class and the poor,” says Ngwane. We also speak with journalist Louis Freedberg, who says the majority of the population of South Africa is under 30 and sees little hope for the future. “They’ve lost faith in government, and they actually don’t believe that anything will get better,” he says. The ANC must now decide how to build a coalition government for the first time.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report.

We end today’s show in South Africa, where the African National Congress has lost its majority for the first time in 30 years. The ANC, once led by Nelson Mandela, had held outright power since the end of apartheid. In last week’s election, the ANC won just 40% of the vote, obtaining 159 seats in the 400-seat Parliament. This is ANC Secretary-General Fikile Mbalula.

FIKILE MBALULA: While the ANC has won the most votes in this election, the results show a significant decline in the ANC’s support from previous elections. While there are several factors that have contributed to the decline in support, the results send a clear message to the ANC. We wish to assure the people of South Africa that we have heard them. We have heard their concerns, their frustrations and their dissatisfaction.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

PRESIDENT CYRIL RAMAPHOSA: The final announcement of the 2024 national and provincial election results today in many ways represents a victory for our democracy as South Africans. It also represents a victory of our constitutional order, but, more importantly, represents a victory for all the people of South Africa. We have held another successful election that has been free, fair, credible and peaceful.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by two guests in South Africa. In Johannesburg, Trevor Ngwane is with us, Soweto-based activist, chair of the United Front, an umbrella body of community and labor organizations. And in Cape Town, we’re joined by Louis Freedberg, born and raised in South Africa, veteran journalist, who reported on the 1994 elections 30 years ago, when Nelson Mandela was elected president. He also covered the anti-apartheid movement and transition to democracy, where he’s reporting for The Nation.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Trevor Ngwane, let’s begin with you. Can you talk about why you think the ANC lost its majority — certainly has well more a plurality of the votes, but the significance of losing the majority for the first time in 30 years?

TREVOR NGWANE: Yeah. Thank you, Michelle [sic].

Basically, the ANC failed to fulfill the promises of national liberation. It fell too short of the expectations of the masses, of the working class and the poor. Remember, there were great sacrifices made during the struggle against apartheid, but now the victory over apartheid has not yielded the expected results.

Indeed, I would say that there is a crisis of everyday life for ordinary people, especially the poor, the working class. A comfortable life is not ordinary in South Africa. Life is difficult. It’s even dangerous. Transport, there’s not adequate transport. Housing, a lot of homelessness, shacks, shantytowns. The unemployment is above, around about 50%. Skyrocketing food prices, cost of living, crime. You know, we’ve got a problem of gender-based violence, women getting raped, child molestation, domestic violence. So, all the poverty, the unemployment, the inequality is basically leading to a breakdown of the social fabric.

And lastly, Michelle, there’s been a generalized energy crisis, where we have rolling power failures almost on a daily basis, and this affects all classes, including big business. So, everyone is really fed up with the ANC. Everyone feels that the ANC has failed, especially because its top leadership has been mired in corruption, what is called state capture here, where government contracts are given to comrades, to friends, and people are engaged in self-enrichment. The ANC has failed. It deserves what it got.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Louis Freedberg into this conversation. You covered Nelson Mandela being elected president 30 years ago, head of the ANC. Can you talk about the trajectory of the ANC and elaborate on what Trevor has just said?

LOUIS FREEDBERG: Well, everything Trevor Ngwane said was correct. I watched Nelson Mandela vote from a few feet away in April 1994. The ANC was promising a better life for all. That was their slogan, “a better life for all.” We all had great hopes for the ANC, and they failed on so many fronts.

And I think one of the things that’s most upsetting to me when I’ve gone around the country talking to young people, half the country, half of the population, is under 30. And this is the key. This is South Africa’s future. And talking to young people, who are out of work, struggling just to survive, even ones who are in universities, figuring how to pay their fees, how to pay their rent, they’ve lost faith in government. And they actually don’t believe that anything will get better.

And I think that’s a huge challenge for the ANC and whatever coalition is cobbled together. The election last week was just really the first phase, because now the ANC has to form a coalition. It’s never done that before. They’ve been able to rule without having to consult with anybody else. And the big question now is: Who’s going to be in that coalition? Because one of the main reasons the ANC lost so much support was because of defections from the ANC itself. The former corrupt president, Jacob Zuma, formed his own party. A party is just a shell, on paper. He has the majority in — at least the most votes in the KwaZulu-Natal, the second most populous state, province. And how is that going to work? Is he going to be brought back into government? What about the Economic Freedom Front, that has also split off from the ANC? The leader there, Julius Malema, was kicked out of the ANC 10 years ago. So, the two of those parties together would give the ANC more than 50%.

Or are they going to go to the Democratic Alliance, which is a more centrist — some people call it right of center; I call it more liberal, free-market party, but the leadership is dominated by whites, has really not reached into the Black community in South Africa very much — will the ANC form an alliance with the Democratic Alliance, which has been the official opposition, which many people are hoping for?

And then there’s another big question, is whether the current president, Cyril Ramaphosa, will be able to retain his seat after this historic — his position, after this historic, really, setback? I mean, it’s a humiliating result for the ANC. All of this is going to have to play out in the next two weeks. And South Africa is really at — still at a sort of fork in the road. Is it going to go towards a more stable government, or is it going to bring back into the party some of the corrupt elements that they tried to get rid of?

AMY GOODMAN: Trevor Ngwane, let’s end with you. As I watched Cyril Ramaphosa speaking live yesterday, he was actually joking around, cracking jokes, though he went on to say, “This is a sign of a democracy, and we will move forward.” Who are the leaders you are looking to right now in forming that coalition government with the ANC?

TREVOR NGWANE: Well, basically, what Louis was saying. You know, our left here was decimated. And certainly, forming an alliance with the right-leaning Democratic Alliance is not on. So, I think that it is time now for the trade union movement, for the social movements in South Africa to get their act together, to form probably a workers’ party and to make sure that the next coming election, which is in two years — local government elections are important here — at least we have something cobbled together which can actually claim some of the formal political space.

I’m telling you, even the number of people who voted, Amy, it went down. People didn’t feel like there was any party worthy of their vote, of their trust. The ANC undermined all trust in politics, in politicians. Indeed, when Louis talks about the people voting —

AMY GOODMAN: Trevor, we’re going to have to leave it there, but we’re going to continue the conversation and post it online at Trevor Ngwane, Soweto-based activist, head of United Front, and longtime journalist Louis Freedberg. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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COVID-19 Lays Bare South Africa’s Rampant Inequality & Fault Lines of Post-Apartheid Society

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