Monday’s meeting of the ANC’s national working committee will kick-start a sober assessment of the party’s performance in the local government elections and trigger deep reflection on the collapse of its support in coloured and Indian communities.
Blamed by some on recent racist discourse - such as government spokesman Jimmy Manyi’s comments about coloured people being in oversupply in the Western Cape, or ANC Youth League president Julius Malema’s suggestion that whites be treated as criminals for stealing land - it is actually a trend that has been growing for years and has now been thrown into sharp relief.
The results saw the DA scoop up support across the board. The party held on to its traditional white support base and grew it, getting votes from those who previously voted for minority parties such as the Freedom Front Plus and the ACDP. It won votes in coloured and Indian areas and also - to a far lesser degree - in wards where only black African people live.
It was the only party to make gains across the country. The ANC, with a 62 percent majority, grew only in KwaZulu-Natal, losing support overall for the second election in a row.
For DA leader Helen Zille, the outcome endorsed her efforts to shed her party’s image as a refuge for white privilege and clothe it in a coat of rainbow colours - a party promising to deliver for all, offering a political home for all South Africans.
For ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, the results indicate a worrying polarisation along racial lines, with white, coloured and Indian minorities shuffling into the DA camp to create a new laager.
The ANC is the proponent and defender of a non-racial, non-sexist society. But by being defensive, indulging in racial jibes, broadcast mainly by Malema, the ANC opened up a gap Zille was able to drive right through, proving her contestation that the ANC had abandoned the unifying values of Nelson Mandela and become a racial nationalist organisation, no longer a home for all.
That message resonated, reinforced by Zille being able to use the DA’s proven governance track record to shine a glaring light on the ANC’s delivery and corruption-beating failures.
Despite this, people in overwhelming numbers gave the ANC another chance to run their councils, 198 of them, across the country. Even areas seared by service delivery protests - like Ficksburg - came out for the ANC, begging the question whether such divisive electioneering messages were even necessary, when the party’s brand is so deeply entrenched in the hearts and minds of South Africans.
Racist rhetoric and scapegoating are knee-jerk reactions to a much more complex set of issues that will be confronted by the ANC’s leadership when it sits to reflect on its elections performance, and what to do about diminishing coloured and Indian support. How it responds will be the truest test of how far we have come in our 17 years of democracy. - Political Bureau