Elections in South Africa

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South Africa has elected a new government. Even before the elections, they were considered the most significant since the first democratic elections in the country 30 years ago, when Nelson Mandela became president: for the first time, the African National Congress lost its majority in Parliament. What does this mean for the largest movement in the country, the workers? We asked Ighsaan Schroeder, director of our partner organization, the Casual Workers Advice Office in South Africa.

We are calling through to South Africa, to the office of our partner organization, the Casual Workers Advice Office (CWAO). Just now, the Parliament has confirmed Cyril Ramaphosa as the new old president and announced the future coalition government. For the first time in the history of South Africa’s young democracy, the African National Congress (ANC), which has ruled the country with an absolute majority since 1994, will have to share power. This will be with the economically liberal Democratic Alliance (DA).

Ighsaan Schroeder is the director of our partner organization CWAO and, together with his team in Johannesburg, provides organizational and legal advice to temporary and precarious workers. In South Africa, the working class is the largest demographic group. There are over five million informal workers in the country. They have no protection, no social benefits, and rarely fair working conditions as we know them in Europe. Most of them belong to the black population, which, even 30 years after the end of apartheid, has not recovered from state oppression and has hardly benefited from the young democracy in the country.

We ask Ighsaan Schroeder: What impact will the new government configuration have on the working population in South Africa? Is there hope for change, and if so, what must this change look like to counteract the extreme inequality in the country?

«We are facing a difficult time ahead»

The lowest voter turnout since 1994, a historic low of 40% of the vote for the Mandela party ANC, and a first-time coalition government; Ighsaan Schroeder, were these elections a surprise for you?
Ighsaan Schroeder: I am not surprised by the overall result of the elections. As we are in daily contact with the workers, it was not difficult to see their and their communities’ attitudes towards participating in the elections.

And their attitudes towards the parties?
Their attitude towards the ANC was quite clear: the party has disappointed since the transition to democracy in 1994, as inequality in the country is greater today than before. What surprised me a little was that the Democratic Alliance (DA) performed better than expected. One reason for this could be those white, right-wing voters, who would normally vote for the Freedom Front Plus, a far-right party, gave their votes to the DA.

It is widely read that the coalition government of ANC and DA brings new hope and momentum to the country. They talk about a Government of National Unity (GNU).
It is misleading to call it a government of national unity. It is just a coalition between the ANC and the DA really. The declaration of intent, which essentially outlines the idea of a government of national unity and its mode of operation, was signed only by the ANC and the DA. None of the other parties who have joined the Government of National Unity signed the Statement of Intent. They will have two or three seats in parliament but will not be able to determine anything in a significant way. I do not believe that the coalition will work because there will be no material changes in people’s lives. There will not suddenly be higher wages, housing, water, or electricity.

How will this combination affect the working population in the country?
We are facing a difficult time, and I think the extreme inequality in South Africa will increase. None of the parties is progressive, including the ANC. They are all right-wing parties committed to neoliberal policies. Some of them are even very conservative and xenophobic. I see this as a big problem.
Since 1995, the ANC’s labor market policy and the legislation introduced have been problematic. To illustrate: under the ANC government, the spread of precarious forms of work has increased. For example, in recent years, they have introduced more restrictions on the right to strike. The DA is even worse. They want unions to have to deposit a bond before they can strike. Even small organizations. Most of them can not afford that. This is a massive restriction on the right to strike, which is enshrined in the constitution.

South Africa is the country with the most extreme inequality in the world. Many of the old architectural separations—roads, rivers, ‘buffer zones’ of undeveloped land—still exist today in South Africa and illustrate the disparities between the rich and the poor. An example of this is the contrast between the township of Masiphumelele and the affluent residential area of Lake Michelle.

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