Thursday, August 11, 2016

South African Communist Party Political Bureau Preliminary Assessment of the 2016 Local Government Elections
The Political Bureau of the South African Communist Party met yesterday, 10 August 2016 to conduct a preliminary assessment of the 3 August local government elections. The assessment was based on, amongst other things, field reports coming in from our structures, and notably the SACP's Red Brigades that have been active over many months campaigning for an ANC victory.

The core lesson that the ANC in particular and its alliance partners in general need to take to heart is that our core constituencies, our historical support base have sent a powerful message. The message is quite clear: don't take us for granted; don't assume that your struggle credentials will forever act as an excuse for arrogance and predatory behaviour in the present; don't marginalise us while being preoccupied with your own internal factional battles, your list processes, your personality and money driven rivalries; don't impose unpopular and discredited candidates on us based on factional calculations about next year's ANC elective conference.

This is the key message that needs to be taken to heart. In response, we need as the ANC-led alliance, to demonstrate in both word and especially in deed that we have heard the message, loud and clear.

Of course, in one sense, the ANC has not "lost" these elections. The 54 percent of the overall vote won by the ANC, more than double that of the nearest opposition party, is a level of support that most progressive political parties can only dream of in elections conducted on the terrain of a monopoly capitalist dominated society. But if the ANC still remains the electoral choice of a majority of the South African electorate, the steady decline in support over recent elections, and now a precipitous decline indicate that, unless serious soul searching and corrective action is undertaken, the decline will continue and likely accelerate.

It is absolutely essential that these corrective actions are themselves undertaken in a sober, unifying and non-sectarian manner. Already there are signs that some in the ANC are bent on doing the exact opposite. Yesterday's front page head-line story in The New Age, for instance, quotes unnamed ANC sources saying that the Gauteng provincial leadership must shoulder the blame for the electoral outcomes. We are aware that in some quarters there are attempts to advocate disbanding the Gauteng ANC provincial leadership.

This plays into a false narrative advanced by many external commentators that the ANC has become a rural party, that urbanised middle strata have deserted the movement. In fact, as any sober reflection on the actual election results will indicate, while percentage ANC support is generally higher in more rural provinces and small towns than in highly urbanised centres like Gauteng, the actual decline in ANC support in these elections has been much greater in more rural provinces like the Free State and the North West.

All leadership collectives, including all ANC provincial leaderships, need to shoulder responsibility, rather than pointing fingers at each other. Likewise, at the national level, it is important that an honest assessment is undertaken. To what extent have national errors affected local electoral behaviour? Is it true that only a black urban intelligentsia is concerned about Nkandla? In answering these questions, once again we need to avoid sectarian positioning, either blindly supporting an individual, or, alternately imagining that the recall of this or that personality on its own will somehow solve all problems. The problems within the ANC in particular are systemic and find expression at all levels, as the horrific local level assassination of ANC and SACP leaders in the run-up to these elections underlines.

It is also critical that the ANC national leadership demonstrates collective unity and strategic discipline. It cannot be that national leaders brazenly undermine resolutions of the ANC's own Integrity Committee, or contradict each other, or allow regions to defy national list committee decisions without any consequences.

There are, indeed, many negative lessons that we need to consider collectively. There are, however, also important positives that we must not lose sight of. In the first place, and contrary to the predictions of many external commentators and opposition parties, the ANC president in his capacity as state president and the ANC secretary general speaking on behalf of our movement, were both gracious in accepting the losses suffered by the ANC. We are not a banana republic and we are not ruled by a dictatorship bent on preserving itself at all cost. The IEC managed the election with great credibility, and our hard-won democratic constitution was upheld.

Another positive, or at least a potential positive, is that the main opposition party, the DA, which ANC's losses was a significant stay-away factor. This was foreshadowed in the voter registration weekends in which the ANC was lack-lustre in registering new voters and particular young voters. But the non-voting behaviour was especially notable on 3 August. In metros like Nelson Mandela Bay and Tshwane the ANC actually won the majority of wards, but the turnout in these wards was low, while in DA supporting wards there was a significant voter turnout. With the proportional representation lists weighted higher than ward lists, this pattern of low turn-out in ANC supporting wards had a significant impact on the eventual outcome in many places.

Those who failed to vote are not necessarily lost forever to the ANC. This applies even to many of those who turned to the DA and perhaps even more to the EFF less out of conviction and more to send a signal of concern and distress to the ANC.

In some of the public commentary we are being told that these elections mark a "maturing" of our democratic system - as if the 60 percent plus majority previously enjoyed by the ANC was due to the immaturity of voters. We are told by free-market liberals, that we have now entered the era of "competitive politics," but what they are really dreaming of is the same kind of uncompetitive order that characterises the so-called "free market" in an era of monopoly capital, where Gillette and Schick compete not on usefulness or price but on branding. Commentators like Alistair Sparks and Peter Bruce dream of a near future in which supposed moderates in the ANC expunge left-radicals and enter into a friendly branding competition for the moderate centre with an emergent DA. This is exactly the kind of institutionalised, centrist political duopoly that is now in deep crisis throughout much of Europe and the United States - witness Brexit, witness the Trump phenomenon, witness the Corbyn and Sanders reality, witness a political formation like the Five Star Movement in Italy led by a comedian which now controls Rome and Turin on a program of anti-political politics, and witness the dangerous turn to xenophobic ultra-right nationalism in many so-called "mature" democracies in Europe.

It is critical that the response of our ANC-led alliance is neither populist demagogy nor a retreat from the imperative of advancing our national democratic programmatic perspectives directed at a fundamental transformation of the highly unequal patterns of wealth and income that are still so deeply marked by race, class, gender and geographical realities.

The PB concluded by thanking all of those who voted for the ANC. We saluted our thousands of SACP activists who campaigned tirelessly for an ANC victory often in the more difficult areas that had become no-go zones for the ANC. We believe that the SACP has emerged even more united, even stronger and our membership numbers have increased through this campaign precisely because we defended the ANC and its values not by hiding difficulties and mistakes, not by closing ranks around a silence on the dangers of corporate capture - but precisely by speaking out boldly about them.

Issued by the SACP Political Bureau

Alex Mashilo, National Spokesperson
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