by Stef Terblanche

South African election's silly season starts

New parties mushroom as electioneering gets underway


It is that season once more when political parties start preparing for a general election and campaigns get underway. And, as has become the norm, in the year or so leading up to a general election, new political parties are popping up all over the place.

The formation of some political parties is usually just symptomatic of election time with opportunists looking for a slice of the financial action more than anything else. But some of the present crop may be symptomatic of a shift in perceptions and loyalties as well as growing dissatisfaction among voters on various fronts.

However, at this stage, there seems to be a better chance of a large stay away vote capturing growing dissatisfaction rather than any new party. Nonetheless, it is early days and surprises may yet develop.

Agang, created by the respected businesswoman and academic, Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, is most prominent among the newcomers. Although it still has to formally register as a political party, Ramphele is hard at work visiting townships and by all accounts she has been well received in a number of areas.

Agang, however, still lacks members, grassroots organisation and infrastructure that is so vitally important to succeed as a political party. In its current guise it is probably better suited to be a facilitator and possible umbrella for opposition parties wishing to cooperate in the elections. It is an option Ramphele has mentioned in the past.

According to some reports, Ramphele said Agang will be officially launched in June while she is also discussing a possible coalition with the Democratic Alliance (DA) and other unnamed parties.

Agang spokesman John Allen reportedly said 10 000 volunteers had signed up and that the party was in the process of registering with the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).

Another new party that cannot simply be ignored is the Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) born from the labour unrest and strike committees at the time of the tragic events at Marikana last year.

Thousands of mineworkers have abandoned the African National Congress-aligned Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in favour of the independent Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).

WASP seeks to establish itself in and capitalise on the same broader groundswell of dissatisfaction as Amcu. It is backed by an organisation calling itself the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM), with links to the Socialist Party of England and Wales and other socialist parties.

The party’s founders have been addressing mining communities in Gauteng and Limpopo with a call for the nationalisation and 'democratic control' of the mines by mineworkers and their communities as a key message. WASP has already registered with the IEC.

Freedom Day also saw the launch of the South Africa First (SAF) party by expelled former members of the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA). The founders were expelled after involvement in legal action against leaders of this ANC’s military veterans organisation who had been fingered in a forensic report for allegedly helping themselves to R5.4 million in MKMVA funds. 

According to a report auditing firm SizweNtsalubaGobodo named former MKMVA treasurer Dumisani Khoza, former chairperson Deacon Mathe, current treasurer Johannes “Sparks” Motseki and current chairperson Kebby Maphatsoe.

Maphatsoe reportedly bad-mouthed SAF-founder Eddie Mokhoanatse and his cofounders, likening them to the ousted ANC youth leader Julius Malema.

Like Agang, SAF has some plausible ideas and good intentions, but lacks a grassroots organisational structure. A charismatic and influential leader is also absent and it is not known how the new party will be funded. At the time of its launch it had also not yet formally registered itself as a political party.

Speaking at the launch of the party Mokhoanatse, sounding surprisingly like Ramphele, said it would mobilise a broad coalition of civic organisations, act as a kind of power broker and aim to attract people who did not vote in the last election and those involved in service delivery protests.

He said the ANC has failed to deliver and the opposition has failed to provide an alternative. SAF offers a platform for civil society and private citizens to take charge of their future. He also latched on to the popular cause of fighting e-tolls and promised electoral reform.

All of these new parties will find the going to be pretty tough against the formidable and well-established electioneering machinery, funding and organisation of the ANC and the Official Opposition, the DA. They will also have to compete against other better-established parties like the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), the Congress of the People (Cope), and the United Democratic Movement (UDM).

But there may well be some scope to pick up votes of disgruntled South Africans. Escalating service delivery protests, the proliferation of civil society actions and unprotected strikes and labour unrest, amongst  others, have shown, there is much dissatisfaction with the ruling ANC.

And in the most recent municipal by-elections the ANC’s victories in 10 of the 19 contested wards came with reduced majorities, while it also lost three seats to independent candidates. But then again, by-elections are not a good barometer of what may follow in a general election.

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