South Africa’s sixth democratic election is here, and is being closely watched by the world. People – especially investors and the business community – want to see whether Cyril Ramaphosa of the ANC can emerge with a decisive victory that will give him room to embark on the reforms needed to reverse South Africa’s nine-year socioeconomic decline under former president Jacob Zuma.
I couldn’t help thinking about the three biggest parties that most of us are expected to vote for – Ramaphosa’s ANC, the Democratic Alliance (DA) led by Mmusi Maimane, and the left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) helmed by Julius Malema.
I have been asking myself a myriad of questions: What do each of these three big parties stand for? What would governance in South Africa look like under each? Are their leaders credible? Can they be trusted to take charge of a challenged country of 56 million people? How have they projected themselves over the last five years? Which party has been least corrupt?
Some questions have been easy to answer, and some not. One thing has become clear to me though: none of these three parties represents the values and principles that I, as a classical liberal, stand for. These relate to a small government, tax cuts, privatisation, pro-growth business deregulation and so much more that upholds and guarantees individual liberty.
Let me lay out a few crucial things that I believe one must consider before voting for one of these three big parties.
I will start with the worst of them all – the EFF. I have previously expressed my fears about the EFF. It unsettles me to see poll results showing this party growing its vote from 6% in 2014 to at least 9% in the upcoming election.
The EFF stands for ideas that have failed in human history. Nationalisations and central planning don’t work. Yet Malema and his followers are determined to bring us reckless policies that – as we speak – are impoverishing the people of Venezuela. These are the same policies that have left Cubans poor and repressed over the past decades.
The EFF seems to condone violence, as seen in its threatening and assaulting of journalists. Interviewed by Eusebius McKaiser on Radio 702 recently, Malema elevated his party’s insanity to a higher level by pronouncing that under its leadership, borders would be dismantled in Africa. Something that would produce chaos and xenophobic attacks – especially in South Africa where we have already seen this troubling trend over the past years.
As I argued in a recent television interview, we don’t need a borderless Africa at this point. Among the many reasons we don’t is due to the vast economic differences between our countries. Most people from poorer sub-Saharan African countries would come to South Africa, where life is relatively better. The result would be chaos and severe strain on public resources.
ANC: The struggle within
Now let’s come to the ruling ANC, which ran South Africa into the ground during Zuma’s presidency. If Ramaphosa, the world’s darling, had not won in Nasrec in December 2017, the party was going to pay a heavy price in this year’s election. It would have been severely punished. It was punished during the 2016 municipal elections because of Zuma’s then scandalous presidency.
To his admirers, Ramaphosa is a reformer who can clean up the ANC and bring economic stability to the country. But can he really do it? That’s the question I have been asking. Will he have enough political power within his party and the largely left-wing ANC alliance to pursue the necessary and unpopular reforms needed to accelerate South Africa’s economic growth and reduce poverty?
In a recent interview with Newzroom Afrika, Ramaphosa underwhelmed – especially when he said it wasn’t him who promised 275 000 jobs a year, but the ANC’s social partners.
I thought it was weird to see the country’s president evading any kind of responsibility on the very crucial matter of job creation.
And it seems there is a lot that happens that he has no idea of, and which shocks him. He could not defend the ANC’s inconsistency on confronting alleged corruption in the party. And the assertion that there will be no job losses when Eskom is in the process of reform will come back to haunt him.
The Economist has endorsed Ramaphosa, calling him “South Africa’s best bet”. I do foresee institutional positive changes under Ramaphosa – the appointment of credible public officials and the crackdown on corruption – though things will be slow even on this front.
What I struggle to see him do is bring significant changes on economic policy. What needs to be done to grow South Africa is unpopular – within the ANC and its left-wing alliance – and the opposite of what came out of the Nasrec policy conference. So there is going to be serious pushback against any reforms that depart from what was agreed upon at Nasrec in 2017. The struggle with the unions will be real. And whether Ramaphosa can win that struggle, remains to be seen. It’s all uncertain to me at this point.
The DA: Least corrupt
Though the DA was originally devoted to classical liberal ideas, ideas very much aligned to my politics, it seems to be slowly veering off these values. Its leaders seem divided on exactly what the DA should stand for. The party needs to work on this after May 8 if it wants to defeat the ANC in 2024.
Ideological confusion aside, in my observation the DA is the least corrupt party compared to the ANC and the EFF. I cannot say that Maimane’s party is pure and perfect on corruption – it is not. But the DA’s corruption is not as rife as it is in the ruling party and the EFF. And we have to take that into consideration when voting.
The DA is in charge of a relatively well-run province – the Western Cape. Its municipalities are also relatively well-run in comparison to places run by the ANC, where mismanagement of public finances is more rife. In my assessment, the DA’s policies would cause much, much less harm to the country if it were to come to power.
So … 1, 2 or 3?
We are in a tough period in our country. The big three parties aren’t perfect, and one is more imperfect than the other two.
Fortunately, we have a stable, functional democracy so we have an opportunity to change things for the better through our vote.
Please don’t stay at home. Go out and vote! Assert your voice in our bourgeoning democracy.
But think carefully about what I have said. The EFF would collapse this country in days, and we would all become destitute within a year. We surely don’t deserve that.
Phumlani M Majozi is a politics and economics analyst, a senior fellow at AfricanLiberty.org, radio talk show host and non-executive director of the Free Market Foundation South Africa.
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