South Africa’s biggest union has announced it will not be endorsing the ANC in upcoming elections for the first time in the post-apartheid era. It plans to remain neutral.
This is actually really important and (hopefully) positive news for South Africa. Their biggest obstacle to achieving full democracy in the post-apartheid period has been that the ANC party has always held complete control, through a permanent election coalition with the trade-unions and the Communist Party.
This is not because they are autocratic, but rather because they have just mathematically absorbed everyone who might otherwise be running against them. In the first several elections, a unity government coalition led by the ANC even included many of the whites from the apartheid-era ruling party and its successor party.
Today, South Africa’s largest opposition party (Democratic Alliance, mostly former anti-apartheid White activists) is a distant and uncompetitive second, with about 16% of the seats at the national level, compared to the ANC’s nearly two-thirds control. So there’s never really been much pressure outside the ANC to be responsive and accountable.
Introducing genuine competition in South African elections — by ending de facto single-party rule through the splitting of coalitions and perhaps the ANC itself — would be a big step forward toward cleaning up corruption and making South Africa a fully functioning democracy.
Single-party rule, even if popularly elected repeatedly in free elections, is never healthy in the long term for any country.