Campaigning has already begun in South Africa - so who are the hopefuls for 2014?

Next year's election is likely to be the most difficult the governing ANC has fought since it was first elected in 1994.

Campaigning for the election – expected to be called for May next year – is already well under way. It will be the most difficult the ANC has fought since winning power in 1994. The cards would seem stacked against the party.

President Jacob Zuma, who still has allegations of corruption hanging over him dating back to the country’s notorious arms deal, is facing embarrassing revelations concerning his luxury villa in Kwa-Zulu Natal. The threat comes from Thuli Madonsela, the Public Protector – one of several positions established under the constitution to guard the country’s new democracy.

Despite relentless government pressure, Ms Madonsela is insisting on publishing her investigation into the R206 (£13 million) million security upgrade for the complex at Nkandla. So worried is the government about just what the report may contain that they threatened to use apartheid-era legislation to prosecute anyone who published photographs of the complex. Newspaper editors responded by defiantly rejecting the advice.

While Nkandla, and President Zuma’s lack of popular appeal are a concern, the ANC has more pressing worries. Top of its list is the planned introduction of tolls on major roads on 3 December. The idea is universally loathed.  Everyone from small businesses to the Cosatu trade union movement has resisted their introduction. “This is a serious betrayal of workers and their trust,” complained Dumisani Dakile, Cosatu secretary in the Johannesburg area. “We feel that the government is not taking us seriously.”

But the union movement, until recently among the ANC’s most staunch supporters, is badly divided. The Cosatu general secretary, Zwelenzima Vavi, was suspended from his position in August, for an affair with a young woman in the movement’s headquarters, as well as allegations of financial impropriety. The claims are being investigated, but there is a strong suspicion that Vavi’s powerful attacks on corruption inside government may have triggered his downfall. Vavi, who is popular with the union rank and file, believes the attack was politically motivate. “There are people who think that Cosatu must just be a tool that can only be used to catch votes, even if that is not advancing the interest of the workers,” Vavi warns.

The tripartite alliance which links the Cosatu unions with the ANC and the South African Communist Party looks increasingly fragile. Leaders of the metalworkers union, Numsa, are reported to be threatening to leave the alliance and dissuade their members from voting for the ruling party next year. The union’s general secretary, Irvin Jim, has argued in a leaked paper that the time has come to seek an alternative to the ANC.

With his allies threatening to desert him, Jacob Zuma is facing a rising challenge from both left and right. Julius Malema, who led the party’s youth league was expelled from the ANC in April last year. He has re-emerged as ‘Commander-in-Chief’ of a new party, the Economic Freedom Fighters. No-one knows just how many votes Malema will take from his old party, but an internal ANC survey is reported to have warned that he is increasingly popular with young people.

Whether popularity turns into votes is, of course, quite another issue since young South Africans may not register: even if they do they may not turn out to vote. The same cannot be said for the growing black middle class, whose votes are being wooed by all concerned. Agang – the party newly founded by the former World Bank Managing Director, Mamphela Ramphele – is said to be winning some middle class support.

The ANC is dismissive of her chances, but is facing another challenge from the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance. The DA was born out of the liberal, anti-apartheid Progressive Party. Led by Helen Zille, it is attempting to shed its image as a party of white and Coloured (or mixed race) voters. The DA already controls the Western Cape, but is setting its sights on Gauteng – the area around Johannesburg.

The party’s challenge is led by Mmusi Maimane, a personable young politician already being referred to in the press as the ‘Obama of Soweto’. Maimane has borrowed some Obama tactics.  His campaign uses the slogan, “We can win.” DA posters have a stylised drawing of Maimane’s face emblazoned with the word “Believe,” reminiscent of Obama's iconic “Hope” poster in 2008.

Opinion polls suggest that the ANC’s vote could decline by as much as ten per cent. The party will win 56.2 per cent of the votes, down from 65.9% in 2009, Nomura South Africa predicted in August. They suggest the DA share of the poll will rise from 16.7 per cent to 27 per cent percent and predicts a 6 per cent share for Agang and 4 per cent for Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters.

These are – of course – just predictions and much will happen before polling day. President Zuma is an extremely sharp politician and the ANC has deep roots within the black community. The state-broadcaster, the SABC, with its pro-ANC bias, has a unique ability to use radio to reach rural areas that other parties cannot match.

And there is one imponderable, which could change the course of entire election: the fate of Nelson Mandela.  Should he die during the campaign the reaction would be colossal and instantaneous.  All party politics would end to be replaced by a state funeral. There would be universal grief and wall-to-wall coverage across the media. In the anguish at his loss there is little question as to the impact this shattering event would have on popular sentiment. The South African public would turn to the party whose card Mandela carried to his death - the ANC. 

Julius Malema, who was expelled from the ANC in 2012, is proving popular with young voters. Photograph: Getty Images.

Martin Plaut is a fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. With Paul Holden, he is the author of Who Rules South Africa?

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After Article 50 is triggered, what happens next?

Theresa May says Article 50 will be triggered on 29 March. The UK must prepare for years, if not decades, of negotiating. 

Back in June, when Europe woke to the news of Brexit, the response was muted. “When I first emerged from my haze to go to the European Parliament there was a big sign saying ‘We will miss you’, which was sweet,” Labour MEP Seb Dance remembered at a European Parliament event in London. “The German car industry said we don’t want any disruption of trade.”

But according to Dance – best known for holding up a “He’s Lying” sign behind Nigel Farage’s head – the mood has hardened with the passing months.

The UK is seen as demanding. The Prime Minister’s repeated refusal to guarantee EU citizens’ rights is viewed as toxic. The German car manufacturers now say the EU is more important than British trade. “I am afraid that bonhomie has evaporated,” Dance said. 

On Wednesday 29 March the UK will trigger Article 50. Doing so will end our period of national soul-searching and begin the formal process of divorce. So what next?

The European Parliament will have its say

In the EU, just as in the UK, the European Parliament will not be the lead negotiator. But it is nevertheless very powerful, because MEPs can vote on the final Brexit deal, and wield, in effect, a veto.

The Parliament’s chief negotiator is Guy Verhofstadt, a committed European who has previously given Remoaners hope with a plan to offer them EU passports. Expect them to tune in en masse to watch when this idea is revived in April (it’s unlikely to succeed, but MEPs want to discuss the principle). 

After Article 50 is triggered, Dance expects MEPs to draw up a resolution setting out its red lines in the Brexit negotiations, and present this to the European Commission.

The European Commission will spearhead negotiations

Although the Parliament may provide the most drama, it is the European Commission, which manages the day-to-day business of the EU, which will lead negotiations. The EU’s chief negotiator is Michel Barnier. 

Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Jean-Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He has said of the negotiations: “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

This will be a “deal” of two halves

The Brexit divorce is expected to take 16 to 18 months from March (although this is simply guesswork), which could mean Britain officially Brexits at the start of 2019.

But here’s the thing. The divorce is likely to focus on settling up bills and – hopefully – agreeing a transitional arrangement. This is because the real deal that will shape Britain’s future outside the EU is the trade deal. And there’s no deadline on that. 

As Dance put it: “The duration of that trade agreement will exceed the life of the current Parliament, and might exceed the life of the next as well.”

The trade agreement may look a bit like Ceta

The European Parliament has just approved the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) with Canada, a mammoth trade deal which has taken eight years to negotiate. 

One of the main stumbling points in trade deals is agreeing on similar regulatory standards. The UK currently shares regulations with the rest of the UK, so this should speed up the process.

But another obstacle is that national or regional parliaments can vote against a trade deal. In October, the rebellious Belgian region of Wallonia nearly destroyed Ceta. An EU-UK deal would be far more politically sensitive. 

The only way is forward

Lawyers working for the campaign group The People’s Challenge have argued that it will legally be possible for the UK Parliament to revoke Article 50 if the choice is between a terrible deal and no deal at all. 

But other constitutional experts think this is highly unlikely to work – unless a penitent Britain can persuade the rest of the EU to agree to turn back the clock. 

Davor Jancic, who lectures on EU law at Queen Mary University of London, believes Article 50 is irrevocable. 

Jeff King, a professor of law at University College London, is also doubtful, but has this kernel of hope for all the Remainers out there:

“No EU law scholar has suggested that with the agreement of the other 27 member states you cannot allow a member state to withdraw its notice.”

Good luck chanting that at a march. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.