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The DDP was initiated in 1993 as a partner project of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation of Germany. For the last 20 years it has been a non-partisan non-profit organisation, supporting capacity building on governance and civil society levels to ensure that both are empowered for meaningful participation in South Africa’s social transformation.
SA's shifting political landscape: a conversation with Aubrey Matshiqi
On the 25th of September 2013, DDP invited Aubrey Matshiqi to a public forum to give a lecture entitled “The ground beneath our feet: SA’s shifting political landscape”.
Despite relatively stable results in elections since the dawn of South African democracy, changes in South Africa’s political landscape have emerged in recent years.
Matshiqi stated that we have to be aware that the political space doesn’t solely belong to a political party and that we have to keep in mind that the totality of democratic space is occupied by party political space and non-party political space.
Therefore, the idea of political realignment must be extended to the non-party political space. In this concept, civil society and citizens play a crucial role. It was the ANC in the first years of South African democracy which covered most of the democratic space, now there is a lot of non-party democratic space open to be used by citizens.
Furthermore, when talking about shifts in political landscape it is important to distinguish between shifts taking place at national level, provincial level or at local level and to ask if these shifts are the same everywhere and if we should expect the same outcomes everywhere.
What are we seeing in regard to the party political space and the non-party political space? Is it movement or shifts?
Are there gaps to be exploited in our electoral market? With respect to the new established parties Agang and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the common challenge is that of positioning. As it is not going to be easy for Agang to dislodge the ANC at the centre, Agang seems to be going for the space occupied by COPE and DA and will disturb the balance between ANC and DA. On the other side, the EFF ‘is going for those who have nothing to lose because they have nothing’.
Whether this means that the EFF should be regarded as a formation on the left of our political landscape is another question. Matshiqi also identified that there is a new market on the left of the ANC because very little is happening there at the moment. As some voters say the ANC should consider moving left as it doesn’t consider the conditions of the working class anymore, the challenge for the ANC will be to avoid a situation where those voters stay at home during the next elections. Matshiqi says he is not seeing ANC voters move to other parties, but there is the chance that a significant number of ANC voters might stay at home during the next election in 2014. If the ANC gets less votes than in the 2009 elections there will be an upcoming discussion on the topic when the ANC will lose its majority and after how many elections this will happen.
Therefore, the only question worth debating is whether the ruling party will succeed in reversing the decline of 2009 and in the case it fails, to ask if the trend will continue until it loses power at some point and which factors would precipitate it.
Matshiqi concluded that shifts in the party-political space may be brought about by a combination of internal dynamics in the dominant political formations, such as the Tripartite Alliance, the ANC and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), as well as events such as Marikana and service delivery protests outside the party political space. Here, some options are linked directly to realignment: COSATU may split at the upcoming special national congress and the National Union of Metalworkers in South Africa (NUMSA) will decide in December if they are going to stay in COSATU (if so, the football player association might follow). If NUMSA will leave COSATU it will most probably causes a bigger shift in the political landscape in South Africa and will raise important questions about alignment structures and what is behind these structures. These examples show that a lot of realignment is happening outside of party politics, but it will influence party politics directly.
Even if some citizens could lose faith in political space or even worse in democracy, Matshiqi doesn’t see evidence for this at the moment. There is constant motion but the base will remain where it is, however this can change quickly by a single political event, a series of political events or by generational changes in South Africa.
In the following discussion some participants highlighted that the main political parties lost their connections to the real problems of the people and therefore it is essential to use the non-party political space to create change. This big space outside of party political space has to be used. The question is what role do citizens have to play in this process in the near future?
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