Israel & global Jewry [trends & prospects] Exploring issues related to israel, israeli society & global Jewry
In this article Wayne Sussman analyses data from previous elections in South Africa and discusses whether electioneering strategies used around the Israeli-Palestinian issue translate into actual votes.
AFTER the first democratic elections in 1994, my older brother advised me to not only pay attention to who would become the President and the Deputy President(s), but also to focus on who would be the Minister of Finance, Minister of Home Affairs, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs (now, the Minister of International Relations & Co-operation). Alfred Nzo, the first Minister of Foreign Affairs, was one of those names I would memorise. My brother’s advice was to underscore the importance of the Office of the Foreign Minister, which indeed took on a particular resonance under former president Thabo Mbeki and his vision of an “African Renaissance”.
"... in wards which are either strongly Muslim, or strongly Jewish, very few voters seem to be motivated by Middle Eastern developments."
During the Mbeki-era, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma served two terms as the Foreign Minister, and was ably supported by the energetic Aziz Pahad.
Thabo Mbeki took a strong interest in the Middle East and the role that South Africa could play in mediating the Palestinian-Israeli issue. This included Mbeki hosting a retreat in early 2002 at Spier near Stellenbosch. The retreat included Palestinian and Israeli delegations lead respectively by Saeb Erekat of the Palestinian Authority and Yossi Beilin, leading the contingent from Israel. This was followed-up by South Africa hosting a United Nations Forum of Civil Society in Support of Middle East Peace Process at Arabella in the Western Cape. South Africa’s role as a major regional and international player waned over the Zuma years. President Cyril Ramaphosa has intimated at resurrecting South Africa as a role-player in the Middle East. In addresses to the Jewish community in late 2018, Ramaphosa hinted that South Africa was looking once again to play a mediatory role in the Palestinian-Israeli issue by “bring[ing] all parties together so that we find a solution to a problem that seems intractable in the Middle East". Given the domestic challenges Ramaphosa is facing, this role, however, is unlikely. Especially so if the South African government were to downgrade its embassy in Israel to a liaison office.
"... the Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Lindiwe Sisulu announced that she will be permanently withdrawing the South African ambassador from Tel Aviv."
We are now but a few days away from South Africa’s sixth national elections. There are many debates taking place which are being broadcast on our televisions, national, regional and community radio stations. Important to note is that there has been very little discussion about foreign policy. We have seen parties speak about immigration and borders, but there has been little attention given to the different parties’ visions with regards to our relationship with the United States of America, the European Union, BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and our position on the Middle East. A foreign policy debate was held in Durban, hosted by the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the German Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. I am unaware of any other debate relating to foreign policy
In early April, the Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Lindiwe Sisulu announced that she will be permanently withdrawing the South African ambassador from Tel Aviv. This move, she announced, was in line with the 2018 policy resolution taken at the ANC national conference (and was also in line with similar statements made by President Ramaphosa about a month earlier). The African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), a staunch advocate of Israel, strongly condemned Sisulu’s statement, stating that “neither Cabinet nor Parliament has discussed or sanctioned the nature and extent of any proposed downgrade”. The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) asserted that the stated downgrade was “short-term electioneering” and “regressive diplomacy”. Beyond these statements, there has been little discussion, or use of this development on the campaign trail.
"... despite arguably strong feelings amongst voters on Israel and Palestine, as voting trends suggest, the ANC’s campaigning on the issue has not yielded results at the polls."
Historically, three parties have explicitly electioneered around Israel and Palestine. These include the ANC, Al-Jamah, and the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP). Al-Jamah, which narrowly missed out on a parliamentary seat in 2014, positions itself as a vehicle for Muslims to play an active role in South Africa. For the ANC and Al-Jamah, this electioneering has been predominantly in the Western Cape. With the Western Cape the only province not under ANC control, opposition parties see the ANC’s electioneering on the issue as a “wedge issue”. During Thabo Mbeki’s first term (1999-2004) as president, in the run up to the local government elections, a poster went up around Cape Town, proclaiming “A vote for the DA [Democratic Alliance] is a vote for Israel". The ANC did not confirm or deny that they were responsible for the posters. This was of course before the Whatsapp era-where hastily produced digital campaign pamphlets can be widely disseminated. Peter Marais and the Democratic Alliance would go on to win that election in Cape Town, but the ANC easily won Ward 48; a ward which includes Rylands and Gatesville. Former anti-apartheid activist and Member of Cabinet, Dullah Omar (and his family) hails from this ward. The ward has pockets of religious voters, and middle class voters.
But has electioneering on the Israel and Palestine issue translated into actual votes? I have tracked the results of this ward in all local government elections since 2000. Israel was first used as ‘a wedge issue’ here in 2000, and has been one of the issues campaigned on in local government elections.
However, despite arguably strong feelings amongst voters on Israel and Palestine, as voting trends suggest, the ANC’s campaigning on the issue has not yielded results at the polls.
The data below shows voting shifts in the ward.
* Farieda Omar, Dullah Omar’s wife ran for the ANC in 2005. She did not run again in 2006.
There was a big swing away from the ANC in 2006, and the ANC only just held onto the ward. This changed in 2011 when the DA won a landslide victory in the ward. This was a stunning reversal, when one considers how easily the ANC defended the ward six years earlier. The DA would win by an even higher percentage vote margin in 2016. If Israel and Palestine were front and centre of voters in this ward, it would be hard to explain these electoral results.
"This is not to say that these voters are apathetic on the issue, but rather that domestic issues are of far greater concern when it comes to casting a vote."
The African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) has been a consistent campaigner for Israel in parliament. For Jewish voters who would use a party’s position on Israel as their key decision when making their cross in the voting booth, the ACDP would be a strong consideration. I have looked at the data for the ACDP in Ward 72 which includes Glenhazel, Fairmount, parts of Linksfield and a part of Orange Grove. The party has never received more than 1% of the vote in a local government election. They did however achieve their best performance in the 2014 national elections. If one runs the numbers for Ward 72, you will see that they finally breached the 2% mark, by getting 2.25% of the vote. If one had to remove Orange Grove from the equation – a suburb carried by the DA, but where the ANC does best in the ward, the ACDP’s vote share in the Glenhazel and Linksfield section of the ward rises to 2.8%. If one removes Linksfield and just focuses on Glenhazel and Fairmount, the figures rises to 3.7%. The ACDP did have a modest breakthrough in 2014 but they still finished behind the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) who came third in Ward 72 with 4.2%. This data might suggest that for some voters in Glenhazel and Fairmount, the ACDP’s consistent support for Israel is important; but that it is only true for a small part of the ward. I have used data from various elections to show that in wards which are either strongly Muslim, or strongly Jewish, very few voters seem to be motivated by Middle Eastern developments. This is not to say that these voters are apathetic on the issue, but rather that domestic issues are of far greater concern when it comes to casting a vote. As the trends show, voters, be they in Gatesville or Glenhazel, are far more concerned about the economy, jobs and the safety of their family than foreign policy. These voting trends might explain the notable absence of Israel and Palestine from electioneering in the run-up to the 2019 General Elections. And, only time will tell whether the South African government is, as it says, committed to downgrading its Embassy in Israel, or whether the Minister’s comments were simply electioneering.
Wayne Sussman writes for the Daily Maverick on by-elections. He is known for his deep analysis into by-elections and the larger ramifications of those results. He has done extensive research into the last few national, provincial and local elections.