Thursday, April 15, 2004

For the benefit of British Spin and any others who're confused about the state of South African politics, I post the following summary of the main parties:

African National Congress - As the party of Nelson Mandela and, current South African President, Thabo Mbeki, the ANC should need no introduction. They were formed in 1912 in response to the Act of Union which created the modern South African state and which failed to take heed of the interests of blacks. The organisation was virtually moribund for much of the 1930s and 1940s and it was not until the arrival of three fiery members of the ANC youth league in the late 1940s that it really came to national prominence. These three were, of course, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo. Under their influence the ANC was transformed into a genuine mass movement and became a considerable thorn in the side of the apartheid state. By the early 1960s the state had responded by banning the ANC (and a number of other opposition movements) and imprisoning most of the leadership. For the next 20 years the ANC played an ambiguous role in South African politics. Its armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (The Spear of the Nation) carried out various acts of resistance and those of its leaders who'd escaped into exile (including Thabo Mbeki) tried to curry favour with the major international powers esp, but not exclusively, the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, opposition politics was in considerable disarray for much of the period. In 1983, a new internal movement, theUDF was established. This was a grouping of various civic organisations and people's resistance movements established in response to the apartheid state's introduction of a tri-cameral parliament (separate legislative houses for whites, indians and coloureds but with the white parliament being pre-eminent). The UDF was initially non-aligned but, in short order, came to see the ANC as the major vehicle for legitimate opposition to apartheid. Indeed, the UDF ultimately became the internal wing of the ANC and many high ranking members of the ANC achieved their political blooding in the UDF. The ANC was officially unbanned in 1990 (although secret meetings between it and govt and business leaders had been going on since the mid 80s) and after 4 years of negotiations emerged as the most powerful party in South Africa in the 1994 elections.

Democratic Alliance - The DA are the inheritors of the white opposition movement and, as such, are associated with Helen Suzman and, traditionally, with liberal, democratic politics. They were virtually wiped out in the 1994 elections but, after 5 years of strong leadership by the controversial Tony Leon, emerged in 1999 as the official opposition with just less than 10 percent of the vote. They entered into a coalition with the NP in the Western Cape in 1999 and shortly thereafter consummated the coalition by forming a full blown alliance, in the process acquiring their current name (they had been the Democratic Party until then). The alliance with the NP was never easy and was riven by jealousy and bickering between Leon and NP leader Marthinus van Schalwyk. It fell apart at the end of 2001 with the NP leaving the DA and joining in a new coalition with the ANC. The DA itself subsequently formed an electoral pact with the IFP and, since it has repeatedly stated that it is trying to unite the opposition, the prospects for further alliances and pacts seem bright. They are the object of much ANC bile with Thabo Mbeki himself not averse to refering to Leon as, simply, 'the white politician'. They will be hoping to secure more support from black voters in this election thus to slough off their reputation as the party of minority voters.

New National Party - The NNP is the new name for the National Party, the party that implemented apartheid after 1948 and that ruled South Africa, without break, until 1994. Its current leader is Marthinus van Schalkwyk otherwise know, mockingly, by the local press as 'Kortbroek' (short trousers). This to distinguish him from such previous NP big hitters as F W de Klerk, P W Botha and Hendrik Verwoerd. Despite changing its name and entering into an alliance with first the DA and then the ANC, the NNP has experienced a spectacular decline. In 1994 it won 20 percent of the vote, falling to 6 percent in 1999 and probably no more than 2 to 3 percent in the current election. Despite being the traditional party of white Afrikaners the overwhelming majority of its support now seems to come from, ironically, Afrikaans speaking coloureds in the Western Cape, a group that the NP disenfranchised in the 1950s.

Inkatha Freedom Party - Despite a convoluted history, the IFP, and its charismatic leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, are now associated primarily with the Zulu ethnic group. They have ruled the province of Kwa Zulu-Natal since 1994 and, in the face of a failure to extend their support base much beyond that province, will be looking to ensure that they win the majority of the Zulu vote again. They have an uneasy relationship with the ANC (which occasionally spills over into violence) and although Buthelezi currently holds the national Cabinet position of Home Affairs it seems likely that they will not play a role in the next government. They are currently in alliance with the DA and are hoping that this will be enough to ensure that they hold onto Kwa Zulu-Natal.

Freedom Front Plus - A party for, mainly, right wing Afrikaners, the FF+'s principle aim appears to be to secure an independent 'homeland' for Afrikaners. Peculiarly, they recently signed an electoral agreement with the IFP. I have no idea what the 'plus' is all about.

Independent Democrats - The ID's were formed a year ago by fiery ex-PAC member Patricia de Lille. They've been the focus of much attention and controversy relating, in particular, to the extent or otherwise to which they are a genuinely new force in SA politics rather than simply a vehicle for de Lille herself. Their showing in the election will be followed with much interest.

African Christian Democratic Party - Staunchly Christian and therefore opposed to abortion, pornography, homosexuality etc. There has been some speculation that they may do better in this election than previously as black and white social conservatives (who probably number a majority in both cases) seek a new home.

In addition to those described, their are at least 15 or so other parties, most of which will win no more than a few thousand votes and will have no impact on provincial or national politics.

Since 1999, the ANC has been in a power sharing coalition with the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) in the province of Kwa Zulu-Natal and IFP leader Mangosothu Buthlelezi has been the minister for Home Affairs. Despite this, relations between the two parties are poor. After the 1999 elections the ANC also formed a pact with the tiny Minority Front party to give it a two thirds majority (and thus the ability to change the country's constitution). The ANC has also, since 2002, been part of a coalition government in the Western Cape province, this time with the National Party (NP)

South Africa's interim constitution (which was replaced by a final version in 1996) provided for a Government of National Unity. Thus F W de Klerk, leader of the National Party (NP) became a deputy President under the Mandela government and various members of the NP and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) were awarded cabinet positions. The National Party dropped out of the GNU in 1996 but the IFP chose to remain. The ANC's obligation to run a GNU ended in 1999 with the second free election but it nonetheless awarded a couple of cabinet positions to the IFP, most prominently the ministerial position for Home Affairs to IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

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