Foreign Affairs

The violence and instability of South African politics

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On the 20th June, protesters in Tshwane, South Africa, were outraged when the governing African National Congress announced Angela Thoko Didiza as their mayoral candidate for the upcoming 2016 Pretoria municipal elections. This announcement overruled the choice of regional branches; many of which are backing Kgosientso Ramokgopa, the current mayor, to represent the ANC in the election.

There are two main reasons why Thoko Didiza was selected as the candidate for the Pretoria elections. Firstly, the ANC faced a political rupture by letting Kgosientso Ramokgopa and Mapiti Matsena battle for candidacy. The ANC’s choice of a third candidate ensured a lower risk of division. Secondly, Thoko Didiza is a senior party member for the ANC and the National Executive Committee wants a candidate that can retain the city. Indeed, the Democratic Alliance already have control of Cape Town and, by gaining Pretoria, the party would acquire both judicial power as well as administrative power. An opposition party having influence on parliament, the President and the Cabinet is unheard of. With this power, the DA could potentially shoot down the actions of the President and enact legislation in parliament.

In an interview South Africa’s Daily Sun, an ANC Youth League branch leader, Mandla Matikinya, encouraged rioters to respond to Thoko Didiza’s selection by targeting foreign-owned shops. The question on everybody’s mind is: why is the looting of foreign-owned businesses permitted within South Africa’s political system? The answer to this question is embodied in power hungry local leaders, who initiate protests to expand their influence. Of course, looting businesses allows protesters to line their own pockets in the process; it is a double win for politicians. Locals who either desire a career in politics, or office holders who already have one, frequently arrange for violent protests to either attract public attention or to obtain resources. Protesters act as an army for local powers, and looting businesses keeps the army equipped. This interpretation is becoming increasingly self-evident given the disinclination of the police forces and citizens to help foreign business owners.

In fact, political violence is incorporated in the tight political landscape of South Africa. For example, the murders of two economic freedom fighters in Tembisa recently hit the papers in Johannesburg. Since 1998, 14 people have been murdered in Mpumalanga due to their political beliefs. According to the Institute for Security Studies, the number of political killings in KwaZulu-Natal alone is estimated to be well over 400 since 1994. 

If there are widespread protests during the municipal elections, then the 2019 South African general election could end up being a fatal one. In the 2014 general election, 97 people were arrested for election-related offences; a voting station in Alexandra was temporarily after the ANC were accused of vote-rigging; an ANC supporter was fatally shot by an IFP supporter near a voting station; staff at the Tickeyline voting station were attacked and votes had to be excluded due to the questionable security of the ballots. The credibility of the Electoral Commission of South Africa is significantly lower than it was during the previous election and police forces in South Africa will have to be prepared for any incidents that may arise.

With violence entrenched in the membrane of South African politics, it is unlikely that disputes will be settled peacefully. Violent protests are actively encouraged by politicians who seek to amalgamate political power and economic supremacy, creating a deeply unstable climate. Given that the ANC is now fracturing internally, we may well witness an anarchic period in South Africa’s political history.

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