South Africa is closing this year with political parties being launched. Patricia De Lille has launched her GOOD party and Hlaudi Motsoeneng is vowing to form a new political party, to contest 2019 elections. Both these politicians insist that there is space for more political homes for South Africans. While it can be argued that this promotes democracy, will incumbents yield power to the new political parties should they lose support?

In the SADC region, the majority of liberation movements transition and become governing parties, and by the time they approach their third terms, creeping corruption and the lack of service delivery is brought to the fore. The emergence of new political parties not only puts pressure on current governing parties but they force the governing parties to introspect and make the changes necessary to maintain loyalty and retain power. If this was not the case, former President Robert Mugabe would not have been recalled in Zimbabwe following popular pressure, and the South African-  African National Congress (ANC) would not have appointed populist Cyril Ramaphosa, enabling the birth of what has made headlines- Ramaphoria in order to maintain and gather ANC support. Governing parties have been shown to respond to the pressure from opposition parties, acknowledging that unless they do so, they are likely to lose the next elections.

In Zimbabwe, the ZANU-PF, hailed for fighting British rule more than three decades ago, has not lost power and continues today leading and governing the Zimbabwe people even though democratic elections are held. Reflections and reactions post-elections are mostly those articulating unhappiness with the lack of change and sometimes accusations of vote rigging are made. The detrimental effect with the lack of change in Zimbabwe has been that the people’s lives do not change, the economy does not improve and the lack of service delivery continues. The majority want to change in their lives and Zimbabwe claiming that they are a democracy proves to not yield positive outcomes. Due to the people’s voices being unheard and not translated in the poll results, democracy is under strain in Zimbabwe.

In some countries, the demonstrations and the protests against the governing parties have led to deaths and injuries of innocent people. In Angola, the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola has run the country since 1975. Protests and civilian death, as a result, continue making headlines. This clearly shows how democracy is not honored as the people fully express their need for change yet these outcries and protests go unheard and met with violence.

This is also the case in Zambia, where the ruling Patriotic Front under President Edgar Lungu has been criticized for corruption. Lungu now faces a major opposition challenge, and with it, the prospect of violence and allegations of votes rigging.  In Mozambique, Mozambique Liberation Front, FRELIMO is still struggling to find peace with its opposition — more than two decades after the end of the civil war. There has been an outcry over foul play in the elections.  It is becoming more common for political parties to call each other out on rigging. The possibility of rigging is undermining democracy- elections should be transparent and fair. Opposition parties are under siege when it comes to being able to articulate and represent the people’s voices

In South Africa, the African National Congress has won national elections from 1994 to date. The image that the ANC represents the needs of the people is changing as more political parties are capturing the imaginations of South Africans.  The Democratic Alliance boasted a win in several major metropolitan areas in the last municipal elections in 2017. This could indicate that the ANC might not enjoy a majority win in 2019 and may come under pressure from a coalition arrangement with opposition parties coming together.

There are conditions that are required for democracy to be genuine and meaningful. According to the Democracy-Dictatorship measure (DD) contained in a journal used widely in the Political Science curriculum, Principles of Comparative Politics by William Roberts Clark, Matt Golder, Sona Nadenichek Golder:

  • The integrity of politics takes a form of two categories, namely government offices and contestation. Both the Chief Executive Office and Legislative Office must be elected.
  • Contestation requires three elements:
    • (a) Ex ante- this means the results are unknown and that there is an opposition that has a chance of winning elections.
    • (b) Ex post irreversibility this means that the winner of the elections can take office and the results cannot be changed or reversed.
    • (c) repeatability- this is when the election takes place at a known regular interval meeting the two elements of contestation every time.

To conclude, there is great anticipation for the 2019 election in South Africa where political parties will account for the promises they made at previous election rallies and in their manifestos. Will the emergence of new political parties strengthen democracy? With the people of South Africa spoilt for choice, will they make their voices heard? Will forces of power shift or will democracy continue to be under strain with the African National Congress winning elections again?