Framing the Race in South Africa: The Political Origins of Racial-Census Elections

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However, while the number of parties competing in and winning votes has grown, the number of parties winning seats has not changed much at all. There was a big bump in parties winning seats in the National Assembly between and from 7 to 12 , but no significant change since. In the provincial elections, an average of 4. In terms of the effective number of parties, very little has changed: in the national party system, the effective number of seat-winning parties was 2. In the provincial elections, the p.

The low number of parties is not what we would expect for an extreme PR system. Finally, while we might expect the size of ward party systems with their single-seat plurality rules to differ substantially from the size of municipal PR systems, this does not appear to be the case. As Table While the PR component produces slightly more parties, the overall pattern remains one of ANC dominance and low effective number of parties regardless of rules.

Of some note, racial diversity drives the number of parties in both the single-seat district and PR sides of the system Ferree et al. These results once again demonstrate the limits of institutional theories in South Africa. Yet, while many parties win votes, few win more than a handful of seats, and power remains concentrated in the ruling ANC.

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To explain single-party dominance in South Africa, one must look beyond the electoral rules to other features of the social and political context. First, there is the formidable salience of racial cleavages in South Africa and the way in which these cleavages shape perceptions about parties. In the early post-apartheid period, the opposition parties with financial resources, ground organization, and campaign experience had little legitimacy with nonwhite voters, who made up the great majority of the country.

The National Party had built the apartheid state, one of the most racially repressive institutions in the world, and it would take more than the release of Nelson Mandela and legalization of the ANC to reform its image in the black electorate. While DP leaders hoped that this legacy would win the party black votes, it entered the apartheid period relatively unknown. Those black voters who did know it largely discounted its participation in the apartheid struggle. Thus, p. Of some note, this explanation of how social factors impact the party system is distinct from those offered by prior theories, especially the interactive hypothesis.

The interactive hypothesis suggests that large party systems require both permissive rules and significant social diversity. A small effective number of parties in a permissive system might therefore reflect a lack of social diversity. This is clearly not the explanation for South Africa. In addition to its four racial groups, it has thirteen ethnolinguistic groups.

Electoral Systems in Context: South Africa

If social diversity and permissive rules are enough to generate a large party system, then South Africa should have one. Second, the ANC successfully unified most of the anti-apartheid movement under its sweeping umbrella, monopolizing human capital, grassroots structures, and access to finance. Alternative opposition parties with struggle credentials existed during the early post-apartheid years.

Without exception, however, these parties lacked financial, human, and organizational resources Cooper They won slivers of the vote in early elections before fading into obscurity, prevented from capitalizing on their histories by resource constraints and internal squabbles. While they created greater headaches for the ANC, they were regional in nature, conservative, built on the support of only one ethnic group, and lacking in wider legitimacy.

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They too faded away as the ANC cemented its control over state structures. Finally, altogether new parties attempting to build themselves out of whole cloth faced formidable challenges on multiple fronts: acquiring money to run campaigns, building structures at the local level, developing attractive party labels, and finding viable candidates.

The most obvious route to developing a new party may be to splinter away from an old one, but the experience of COPE, which was formed by ANC defectors who hoped to initiate a wave of additional defections, demonstrates the difficulty of following this path Ferree The ruling party has ample means of punishing defectors, banishing them to political obscurity and curtailing their ability to move into lucrative careers in the private sector.

It may ultimately draw more blood from the ruling party, but as of this writing, it is too early to say.

Third, the ANC has used its ability to shape secondary electoral institutions like floor-crossing rules and the public financing of political parties to tilt the playing field p. Floor-crossing legislation in South Africa has followed an arc, from prohibition, to short periods in which it was permitted, back to prohibition.


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The primary effect of this arc of legislation was to cement ANC dominance and establish the DA as the largest opposition party. Party financing laws also favor the largest parties and deter efforts to form new ones, creating status quo bias in the party system. Both points are developed next.

The interim and constitutions prohibited floor crossing at all levels of government; MPs who did defect had to give up their seats. In spite of this convenience, in — the ruling party cooperated with the recently formed DA to amend the constitution to allow floor crossings at all levels of government.

Crossing occurred during specific windows of time determined by the executive. The ANC gained net seats at all levels of government by absorbing MPs from the NNP and other opposition parties during the initial floor-crossing periods. The DA also gained during the initial crossing windows, attracting the remaining representatives of the NNP to become the largest opposition party. The elections of further entrenched these patterns, as did later floor-crossing windows.


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  7. After its contentious national conference at Polokwane in , the party reversed its support of floor crossing and formally abolished it through an amendment of the constitution in January Booysen and Masterson Public financing of political parties provides another institutional resource for the ruling party. The Public Funding of Represented Political Parties Act , 2 1 established a fund to provide parties represented in the National Assembly and provincial legislatures with financial support.

    Parties receive funding proportional to their level of representation. The Independent Electoral Commission administers the fund and has the ability to audit and sanction parties that abuse their use of the money. In , for example, the ANC received over five times as much public financing as the second- and third-largest parties combined Booysen and Masterson , Furthermore, because new parties do not receive funding until they gain representation, they face financial challenges during first campaigns.

    This reduces incentives for politicians to break away from existing funded parties to start new ones. Moreover, leaders of parties, even small ones, may be reluctant to merge with other parties if it means giving up an independent source of financing. As a result, public p. The party has delivered highly desired services to an electorate that previous governments massively underserved and neglected. The ANC also appears to engage in some resource targeting to areas that supported it in the past Kroth, Larcinese, and Wehner In spite of these rules, the ANC has dominated all levels of government, and the effective number of legislative parties in national, provincial, and municipal institutions is far lower than predicted by well-established institutional theories.

    South Africa thus represents a compelling puzzle for institutional theories and illustrates the way in which contextual factors impact the effects of institutions on the party system. Ferree et al. Context may winnow down the number of parties when electoral institutions are permissive. Alternatively, contextual factors may interfere with the strategic behavior necessary to generate coordination and reduce party number in restrictive systems.

    South Africa primarily demonstrates the former effect. Contextual factors drive down the number of parties, concentrating support in one major party in spite of electoral rules that impose few constraints and allow even very small parties to win seats. South Africa may also demonstrate the latter effect in its single-seat municipal ward elections, which appear to violate Duvergerian expectations when racial diversity is high. South Africa thus illustrates two primary avenues through which context can shape outcomes: winnowing and coordination inhibition.

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    The South African case also argues for the importance of a wider range of contextual variables. It is possible, even likely, that the dominance of the ANC will eventually crumble. The standard wisdom on how social diversity affects party systems is captured by the interactive hypothesis, which argues that large party systems require both permissive rules and high social diversity. Clearly, this hypothesis offers little insight into South Africa, which has a small party system in spite of both permissive rules and one of the most diverse societies on the planet.

    It refocuses attention not on the size and distribution of groups, but rather on the intensity of certain cleavages and how they shape the political terrain negotiated by parties. Social diversity may not shape the party system in a direct and linear way more groups, more parties , but the salience of social divisions, specifically race, does clearly matter.

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    Moreover, the South African case points to a fuller set of contextual factors including other types of institutions like floor-crossing legislation and party financing laws. Electoral rules are but one piece in a broad mosaic of rules and institutions that shape party system outcomes. More than anything, the case reveals the ways that dominant parties, once ensconced in power through some fortuitous confluence of factors, fortify their position by manipulating institutions, flows of resources, and perceptions of their opponents to bend the expectations generated by both constitutions and cleavages.

    All tables were prepared by the author specially for this chapter. Amorim Neto, Octavio and Gary W. Find this resource:. Atkinson, Doreen. Barkan, Joel. Sisk and Andrew Reynolds, 57— Booysen, Susan. Defections, Elections and Alliances in South Africa. Booysen, Susan, and Grant Masterson.