Now that voting is underway, I’m going to put my head on the block and make some predictions. The combined opposition vote in the current South African elections will be about 27 per cent, with a reasonably high turnout. Even allowing for spoiled ballots, this will grant the ANC control of more than two thirds of parliamentary seats, enough for them to force changes in the constitution.
The emergence of COPE, an anti-Zuma ANC splinter party, will not be enough to halt this. It is not difficult to see why. In poor areas of the Western Cape, where I am now, ANC support is still strong. Here many people suffered for liberation, unofficially taking the name “ANC” as their organising banner when the leadership was still in exile. The party has never fully recognised the work of these “irregulars,” but what they did still has local resonance and still causes people to mark their ballots for the ANC. Even so, many of the “Cape Coloured” (mixed race) townships are dirt poor and have benefited little from the ANC.
In Gauteng province, where COPE also hoped to attract support, the ANC holds sway as well. Even the Cape Town-based, white-led Democratic Alliance party (DA) will beat COPE in terms of percentage votes gained.
But COPE does have much support that is incipient: this election will not finish the new party. It will become even more the party of the disaffected within the ANC—and Zuma will cause much more disaffection as his own followers eat from the trough of government.
Ultimately this is an election short on ideals but long on self-regard and self-interest. A hammering caused by misrule might be a wake-up call; but that means even more poverty. The problem is that disaffection leads to disillusionment. And disillusionment and cynicism are the worst foundation for any ambitious and truly hopeful society.