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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Locals without borders: governments are using diasporas to shape the migration crisis

Governments of countries key to the migration crisis are tapping diaspora influence more than ever before.

Last month, on 21 June, thousands of Eritreans descended on Geneva and marched across the city, finally stopping at the Place des Nations in front of the UN. The demonstrators had come from across Europe: Italy, Germany, London, and a young man who looked blankly at my French and English questions before exclaiming “Svenska!” (“Swedish!”).

They were here to denounce a recent report by the UN Human Rights Council condemning widespread violations of basic rights in Eritrea. According to the protesters, the report was based on shoddy research and is biased and politically-motivated: “Stop regime change agendas!” said one banner.

Two days later, a similarly sized group of Eritreans marched in the same direction, for the opposite reason. This contingent, 10,000-strong according to the organisers, wanted to show their backing for the report, which highlights many of the problems that led them to leave the Horn of Africa in the first place. Forced conscription, extrajudicial killings, and official impunity, all pinpointed by the UN inquiry, have driven a mass exodus to the surrounding region and beyond. In 2015 alone, 47,025 Eritreans crossed the Mediterranean to request asylum in Europe.

Two things stood out. First was the sharp polarisation of the Eritrean diaspora community in Europe, which muddies the waters for outsiders trying to make sense of the situation: how can one side say everything is fine while the other claims massive abuses of rights?

Second was the sheer engagement of this diaspora, some of whom may never have set foot in Eritrea. They had come from across Europe, with or without the help of funding, to stand on a rainy square and fight for the narrative of their nation.

As an Irishman abroad, would I have the commitment to jump on a plane for a political protest with no certain outcome? I probably wouldn’t, but then again my country is not just 25 years old and still struggling to define itself on the international stage.

Individual stakes are also much higher for people like Abraham, an Eritrean in Switzerland who told me how he was forced into the army for seven years before managing to escape via Sudan two years ago. With two children still in Asmara, he has significant skin in the game.

As for the naysayers, they are also under certain pressure. Some reports suggest that the government in Asmara exercises extensive power in certain diaspora circles, threatening to cancel the citizenship of those who denounce the regime or refuse to pay 2 per cent income tax each year.

Ultimately, such a situation can only lead to a committed kind of polarisation where pro-government supporters need to publicly demonstrate their backing, and the anti-government kind have nothing left to lose.

But on a more benign level, the idea of states systematically harnessing the power of the diaspora for domestic gains has also been growing elsewhere – including in Ireland. Historically a nation of emigrants, Ireland has seen its diaspora swell even further following the economic downturn: OECD figures estimate that one in six Irish-born people now live abroad.

In an age of networks and soft power, this represents a sizeable demographic, and a well-educated and well-off one to boot. The government has clearly recognized this. In 2009, the first Global Irish Economic Forum was held to tap into the business know-how of expats, and has since taken place biannually.

More importantly, two years ago the first Minister for the Diaspora was appointed, tasked with taking overall charge of engagement efforts: no longer simply cultural ambassadors operating Irish bars abroad, emigrants are economic and political seeds to be cultivated. A referendum is planned next year on whether to grant them the right to vote from abroad in presidential elections.

Elsewhere, in Germany, the 3m-strong Turkish population has attracted renewed interest from the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in recent years. According to a 2014 paper by think tank SWP, Ankara now explicitly designates these Turks abroad as a “diaspora” rather than a scattered group, and adopts clear public diplomacy efforts, channelled through cultural centres, to tap their influence.

This has sometimes rankled in Berlin: although Ankara’s diaspora policy encourages citizens to learn German and integrate into German society, the underlying motivation is one of Turkish self-interest rather than benign assimilation. In a battle for the front-foot, German immigration policy clashes with Turkish emigration policy.

Intra-EU movements, largely unhampered by visa questions, have also become substantial enough to warrant attention. For example, hit hard by the economic downturn and austerity measures, many educated Spaniards and Portuguese have flocked to Northern European cities to seek employment.

London, a melting pot of diasporas from all over the world, is reportedly home to more French people than Bordeaux: together they would make up the sixth largest city in France. As countries continue to rebuild following the financial crisis, forging a connection to the skills and political power of such emigrants is a policy imperative.

And if no other EU country, aside from Ireland, has introduced a dedicated minister for this, the growing economic potentials may spur them to do so.

Diasporas have been around for millennia. Why are governments getting so interested now? And what does it mean for the future of citizenship, nationality, and identity?

Technology is one obvious game-changer. Diasporas not only have more options to keep in touch with their home country, but with so much of daily life now happening on virtual platforms, they also have less reason to integrate in their host society.

It is now almost feasible to ignore the surrounding communities and live quite comfortably in a bubble of media and connections from back home. This then works both ways, with governments increasingly willing to use such communications to maintain links. The “imagined spaces” of nations are morphing into “virtual spaces”, with unpredictable consequences for traditional models of integration.

Marco Funk, a researcher at the EU Institute for Security Studies in Brussels, says that the growing ease of mobility compounds the idea of “people moving from one country to another and staying there” as simply out-of-date.

The coming years, he says, will be marked by patterns of “circular migration”, where citizens hop from one country to another as whim and economic opportunity arise. Governments, especially in an increasingly stagnant Europe, will likely try to beef up links with this mobile generation, especially since it is often pulled from the more educated classes.

Fearing a “brain drain”, yet unable to keep the talent at home, they may foster a more fluid system of “brain exchange”: the diaspora as a mobile resource rather than physical loss.

Of course, none of this will be straightforward, especially at a time when a major fault-line around the world is the future of globalisation and migration. An uptick in nationalist tendencies may mean that diasporas will find themselves (once again) unwilling pawns on a political chessboard, protected or manipulated by governments back home while scapegoated by segments of their host societies.

But one thing is sure: even as walls are rebuilt, diasporas will not disappear, and governments are recognising their power. All politics may remain local, but the local now knows no bounds.