Two-party system under way in South Africa

Mosiuoa Lekota
With the launch of the new political party Congress of the People, or Cope, in mid-December South Africa is edging closer to a normal political system with two leading political parties, representing a broad “right” and “left”.

The core of the new party is made up of defectors from the ruling party ANC, the African National Congress, with former defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota as party leader. ANC has completely dominated South African politics since the end of apartheid. The only other party, the Democratic Alliance, with a mainly European voter base, has played an insignificant role in party politics and has been completely out-dominated by ANC.

The new party has made a point of not organizing itself along ethnic lines, but has a mix of African, European and Indo-African personalities in its ruling bodies. While disaffection has been growing within ANC for a long time, the break with the ruling party was provoked by the forced resignation of president Thabo Mbeki in September. The new African middle class is clearly disappointed with the rise of Jacob Zuma, a politician accused of corruption and even rape, to the leadership of ANC. The new dominance of South Africa’s communist party and trade unions within ANC is also disturbing for free-market supporters.

There is so far only guesswork on how strong the support for Cope could be in next year’s general election. A pollster, quoted by the UK Guardian, estimates that the party could take as much as 20 percent of ANCs votes. Cope has already participated in a series of local by-elections and took 10 out of 27 seats in elections in the Western Cape Province and the Democratic alliance took 9 seats.

Observers believe that Cope may well take full control of both the Eastern and Western Cape Province, or possibly in coalition with the Democratic Alliance. It is unlikely that the ANC will lose the election, but they will most likely have a substantially reduced majority in parliament.

Nominally the break in the ANC is not ideological, but with a voter base for Cope among the new middle class and South Africans of European and Indian descent, it is likely that the new party will orientate itself to the right of the political spectrum, while ANC, with trade unions and the communist party among its member base, will become a more clear-cut party on the left.

And as an example for the rest of Africa South Africa will now have a two-party system, with competing entities. And that alone is certainly a positive development.

Christian Palme

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