The Politics of Ideology

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The recently ended South African elections saw the African National Congress (ANC) The Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) respectively emerge as the most relevant political movements in that country.


A buoyant DA leader, Hellen Zille, gloated that her party “grew its support amongst black South Africans from 0.8% in 2009 to approximately 6% in 2014” and that the “ANC’s support decreased from 65.9% in 2009 to 62.2% in 2014.”


The EFF placed third in the 2014 general election, securing 6.35% of the vote with 1 169 259 votes.


Interestingly, the DA’s five percent “increase” in black voters did not significantly dent the ANC’s hegemony in South African politics. In fact, if any party was responsible for diminishing the ANC’s two-thirds parliamentary majority prospects in this election, it was the EFF. Why? Simply because the DA has no real political ideology.


What is Ideology?


While political scientists have put forward multiple definitions of ideology, McClosky defines it as “systems of belief that are elaborate, integrated and coherent, that justify the exercise of power, explain and judge historical events, identify political right and wrong, set forth the interconnections (causal and moral) between politics and other spheres of activity.”


Elsewhere, Anson Morse writes simply that ideology “determines the natural attitude of a party towards every public question.” In this light, the ANC’s response to every public question will be moderately anti-colonial and “seeking to redress the wrongs of the past” while an EFF response to a public question is likely to be radical, socialist, pro-poor and anti-elitist. But what of the DA?

While the DA’s manifesto (and consequently their campaign) was rich in anti-Jacob Zuma rhetoric, it was evidently short in explaining in detail the role of the DA in the anti apartheid struggle, and furthermore it lacked a sound explanation of the DA’s position on land reform and Black Economic Empowerment.

In fact, it limited its manifesto’s anti-apartheid rhetoric to sentences like this: “many parties played a role in the struggle against Apartheid, including the predecessor parties of the Democratic Alliance.”

Nevertheless, what does that mean to the ordinary voter? Who are these predecessor parties and what did they contribute to the anti-Apartheid struggle?

While it is true that the predecessor parties of the DA such as the Progressive Reform Party (which consisted mainly of English speaking white liberals) openly opposed Apartheid, its anti-Apartheid credentials are arguably too tiny to entice a tentative black voter who perhaps views the DA as a white elitist organization. It is in this context that I argue that the DA (and other “opposition” parties in the region) needs a coherent ideological position that can counter the ANC and EFF’s anti-colonial pro-poor rhetoric.

One Dr Kwesi Botchwey who wrote on ideology and liberation movements in Southern Africa in the 1970s correctly made the observation that many African “revolutionary” movements lacked ideology and simply sought to overthrow the superstructure, where the superstructure can be defined as the “culture, institutions, political power structures, roles, rituals, and norms” of the political hegemon. South African revolutionary movements that lacked substantive ideological bases (for instance the Pan Africanist Congress of Azanaia) have all but disappeared from the political scene.

It is also true today that most movements which are trying to overthrow the status quo prefer to be called “opposition” instead of “revolutionary” parties.

Yet, while political parties like the DA criticize the ANC as much as they can in the hope that their criticism will loosen the ANC’s hegemony on the black electorate and consequently overthrow that superstructure, the fact that the DA lured a pitiful 5% of the black electorate in the 2014 election (despite president Jacob Zuma’s obvious shortcomings) shows that they are incapable of loosening the ANC’s ideological grip on black South African society.

Think about it; if the DA assumes that their anti-Jacob Zuma centered campaign won them 5% more black voters, what will they do at the next election in 2018 when Cyril Ramaphosa (an internationally respected figure) is at the helm of the ANC?

Furthermore, in 2018 Lindiwe Mazibuko will be a Harvard university graduate, and therefore, technically, she will be better qualified than most of the DA’s leadership. Now, if she decides to contest for the Western Cape Premiership on an ANC or EFF ticket, how many black voters will the DA except to lure then? Or will they try to pull another Agang out of a their political hat? I am of the humble opinion that in 2018 election, the DA will be obliterated primarily because of ideological impotence.

Furthermore, that party simply will not be able to withstand the challenges of a well-respected Cyril Ramaphosa at the helm of the ANC, a resurgent Lindiwe Mazibuko wearing a different political hat, and charismatic populist in the form of Julius Malema, all seeking a significant slice of the Western Cape political pie.



Tau Tawengwa

Executive Director


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