Recent protests in Cape Town (and an article about those protests in the Mail and Guardian) provide a useful reminder that much of the discontent among South Africans, even those who otherwise would proclaim their fealty to the African National Congress (ANC), comes down to the delivery of services. This phrase is ubiquitous among politically cognizant South Africans and underlies the desires and demands of those who would not consider themselves to be political.
The ANC has known how essential service delivery is — housing and electricity, water and infrastructure, health care and policing and so on — and has promised a great deal. The party has also fallen short on these promises even though it has also delivered a great deal — there has been a seemingly geometric expansion of potable water and electricity and housing to millions even if millions more remain on the outside looking in, even as crime has proven difficult to surmount, even if unemployment has remained intractable.
But it’s the millions who are still awaiting the promises of the so-called miracle of 1994 who decry a lack of textbooks for schools or demand a greater share of the riches from the mines. And it is those millions who may one day shake off their loyalty to the ANC — and make no mistake, their loyalties to the ANC continue to be, for the time being, unshakeable — in favor of parties that promise to close those delivery gaps.
The recent Cape Town protests were aimed at Helen Zille and the Democratic Alliance, a party that has managed to maintain a hold on the Western Cape in part by decrying the shortcomings of the ANC is delivering services and perhaps found itself hoisted on its own rhetorical petard. Indeed the DA too is riven by internal divisions about a host of issues, including affirmative action and the overall tenor of the party.
But other parties are emerging that seem prepared to challenge the official opposition status of the DA and the seeming invincibility of the ANC. The most intriguing, or at least noisiest, of these is Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) which represents a challenge to the ANC from the left, though whether it is merely a quixotic attempt to tilt at windmills (and for Malema to wreak some havoc on the party that turned its back on him) remains to be seen. EFF has gathered at least one high-profile convert in the person of Advocate Dali Mpofu, long-time ANC stalwart whose actions may or may not amount to simple opportunism.
But the EFF may well be a symptom of a disease within the body politic rather than a cure for it. The ANC will continue to struggle to deliver on the promises of 1994 but it is likely to maintain its standing as the top party in the country and to benefit from the loyalty it built up over the course of another far more existential struggle.