World in View: South Africa’s Masses Reject the ANC

June 26, 2024

by Eugene Walker

Thirty years after Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC) first took power, defeating the racist apartheid regime in South Africa, the ANC decisively lost its majority in the parliamentary elections, winning only about 40% of the vote. This was stunning for the organization that had led much of the long struggle against apartheid. How could it happen?


2024 South African general election. Colors represent percentage of vote in an area going to the ANC. Map: 沁水湾, CC BY-SA 4.0

There is no doubt that the ending of formal apartheid was a great freedom leap for South Africa’s large Black majority. To be able to simply breathe, to move with relative freedom within the country, and to have great hopes for the future, characterized the moment three decades ago. But the 30 years that followed have been a bitter disappointment for millions in South Africa.

Recently The New York Times headlined a major article “Has South Africa Truly Defeated Apartheid?” They went through each of the ten points of the Freedom Charter—right to work, education, healthcare, housing, farm land, etc.—showing some advances, but staggering inequality and poverty still remain. The World Bank lists South Africa as the most unequal country in the world, where 10% of the population control 71% of the wealth, while the bottom 60% hold just 7% of assets. Unemployment is well above 40% for Blacks while around 10% for whites, a 35-point gap. There are major shortages of electricity and water. Millions of Blacks still lack decent housing, and live in tin shacks. As well, there has been widespread corruption for decades.

This is what one can expect in development under capitalism—President Cyril Ramaphosa went from an anti-apartheid militant and miners’ union president to becoming a rich businessman before becoming President. However, in truth, as apartheid was being destroyed by revolutionaries, including the South African Communist Party, another road was possible. Because South Africa was the most developed country in sub-Saharan Africa, the possibility for non-capitalist development, an African humanist socialism, was certainly discussed and argued. But both the ANC leadership and the Communist Party chose capitalist “development.” And here we are.

The ANC has now engineered a parliamentary majority through a coalition with the Democratic Alliance, a free-market party. Ramaphosa has been reelected President. This hardly bodes well for South Africa’s masses.

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