Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series on the implications of the African National Congress’ decline for South Africa’s political landscape. Part I examines the factors contributing to the ANC’s decline. Part II will examine the prospects for the opposition Democratic Alliance to become an alternative governing party.
Despite President Jacob Zuma’s claim that the African National Congress (ANC) will rule South Africa “until Jesus comes again,” the party, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, is on an irreversible downward electoral trajectory. Its support fell for the first time in a general election in 2009 and declined again in the 2011 local elections, although, in a measure of the challenge facing its opponents, it still polled greater than 60 percent both times.
Within the movement there is a recognition that the ANC has passed its electoral peak. This sense of a systemic rather than a passing crisis was captured effectively by a series of sharp criticisms of the party made by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and three ANC powerbrokers over the course of September. Tutu denounced the party’s culture of self-enrichment, while contrasting it to the country’s grinding poverty and appalling state of education. He also evoked the deadly Marikana mine shootings in August, with their strong echoes of apartheid-era policing.