Reasons Electorates Drift Away from Revolutionary Groups

The continent’s veteran revolutionary organization faces significant challenges, bearing a resemblance to the fate of similar factions across the continent.

Inaugurated over a hundred years ago, the African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa has witnessed the erosion of its parliamentary dominance for the initial instance in three decades, even though it still holds the status of the most favored party in the nation.

It appears that a sizable contingent of the electorate is no longer instinctively inclined to endorse the party that spearheaded the crusade against the odious apartheid regime simply due to its association with Nelson Mandela.

This reflects the downturn of other political forces that confronted colonial dominion and ascended to govern, only to be beset by graft, nepotism, and a community yearning for reform.

Certain of these ruling revolutionary units in southern Africa have faced allegations of election rigging to maintain authority.

“The desire for change is a natural progression,” observed analyst David Soler Crespo, who has delved into the “gradual decay of revolutionary organizations.”

“The uninterrupted rule of a singular entity for a century through democratic elections is implausible,” he added.

In spite of this, they’ve enforced a firm clutch on the levers of authority and the country’s collective psyche.

As victors of the strife transitioned from guerilla warfare to governmental roles, they asserted themselves as the exclusive guardians of leadership.

They interwove their ideology into the national identity, entangling the organization with the mechanisms of the government.

In Namibia, the rallying slogan “Swapo is the nation, and the nation is Swapo” articulated during its opposition to the apartheid regime of South Africa, still holds a powerful effect.

Nelson Mandela (L) and Kenneth Kaunda (R)Nelson Mandela (L) and Kenneth Kaunda (R)

Zambia’s revered leader Kenneth Kaunda hosted Nelson Mandela in 1990, briefly after the ANC luminary’s liberation, before losing the subsequent year’s election [AFP]

An assessment across the territory reveals that government workers and appointees, particularly in the security sector and government-regulated media, were often ex-guerilla combatants who may have ranked allegiance to the party above the nation.

“The boundaries between the party and the state are indistinguishable. It transcends a mere party: it’s an institutionalized system,” declared Mr Crespo.

Furthermore, the remembrance of freedom struggles is deeply implanted in the region’s heritage, with narratives of resistance echoed around familial gathering spots and state media routinely reminding the populace of their arduously achieved liberty.

Anthems of revolution and battle chants echo through academic institutions and even at athletic events.

For the populace to diverge from the revolutionary faction represents a profound emotional shift. Yet, over time, such transitioning does occur.

“Historical impact no longer sways people at the ballot,” said Namibian sociopolitical researcher Ndumba Kamwanyah, commenting on waning allegiance towards Swapo, in governance since 1990.

Several of these groups originally embraced socialist tenets, which have typically been neglected over time, raising questions about fair benefits among the citizens.

One of the earliest groups in southern Africa to experience this aloofness from its past was Zambia’s United National Independence Party (Unip), which seized control in 1964 as British dominance concluded.

For much of the 1970s and 1980s, it reigned supreme as the sole legitimate party with Kenneth Kaunda at the helm. Nonetheless, unrest surged and the nation saw lethal uprisings in Lusaka and an insurgency attempt in 1990.

The next year, the resurgence of multiparty elections after over two decades witnessed President Kaunda’s defeat to Frederick Chiluba. Unip, once dominant, has now virtually vanished.

Revolutionary forces in Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zimbabwe continue to rule but have all seen a downturn in electoral endorsement and vote percentages during general polls.

Thousands of South West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO) enthusiasts chant anthems of freedom, at a gathering to commemorate Swapo's 22nd commemoration of their guerilla warfare against South Africa's continued rule over Namibia, on August 28, 1988 in Windhoek.Thousands of South West Africa People's Organisation (SWAPO) enthusiasts chant anthems of freedom, at a gathering to commemorate Swapo's 22nd commemoration of their guerilla warfare against South Africa's continued rule over Namibia, on August 28, 1988 in Windhoek.

The enduring influence of the struggle for liberation in Namibia and other regions grips tightly on the citizens [AFP]

In Namibia, the year 2019 signified a pivotal moment for Swapo as it relinquished its supermajority in parliament.

In the presidential contest, Hage Geingob witnessed a stark dip in support, with his proportion of votes sinking from 87% in 2014 to 56%.

The subsequent year, Swapo endured significant defeats in the local and provincial elections.

ProfKamwanyah, who actively supported the organization over three decades prior, expresses immense reverence for the historical achievements of the ruling liberation entity, albeit his disillusionment with the current state of affairs persists.

“The actions of the organization no longer mirror the foundational principles for which individuals sacrificed their lives for our nation,” articulated the scholar from Namibia.

As Namibia approaches its forthcoming general election in November, there is conjecture that it might encounter a situation akin to that of the ANC.

“In my view, Swapo is likely to prevail, yet they might fall short of securing a majority,” Prof Kamwanyah speculated.

Ndiilokelwa Nthengwe, a zealous 26-year-old from Namibia, discusses the generational paradigm shift.

“The values of our cohort are discordant with those of the ruling authorities,” she conveyed to the BBC.

Ms. Nthengwe has been a prominent figure in various civic demonstrations within the nation.

Youth priorities encompass sexual and gender parity, employment opportunities, and enhanced healthcare services, she notes.

“The sole aspiration of the youth is transformation, incessant transformation,” she emphasizes.

South African President Nelson Mandela (C) and his counterparts, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (L) and Namibia's Sam Nujoma (R), shake hands after a joint press conference in Pretoria, 05 March 1999.
The influence of parties once headed by Robert Mugabe (L) in Zimbabwe, Nelson Mandela (C) in South Africa, and Sam Nujoma (R) in Namibia have undergone a decline [AFP]

Albeit Namibia and South Africa are deemed relatively liberal democracies, their leaders in nations like Zimbabwe, Angola, and Mozambique face allegations of stifling dissent to perpetuate their dominance.

Accusations levelled at them include election manipulation, silencing opposition factions, and coercion of voters.

Adriano Nuvunga, the Southern Defenders Observer Mission’s leader, has closely monitored Mozambique’s polling activities for nearly two decades.

“All elections I’ve scrutinized since 1999 were tainted with deceit,” Mr. Nuvunga asserted.

He also observed voter coercion and interference with ballots.

In the 2008 Zimbabwe electoral process, Amnesty International documented unlawful slayings, torment, and maltreatment of dissenting supporters between the two presidential voting rounds. Similar vindications of rigging or bullying of the adversary are frequent in Zimbabwe’s electoral history, regardless of denial by Zanu-PF, the dominating party.

Following Angola’s 2022 election, the streets thronged with protestors decrying alleged vote rigging.

The more the liberation groups remain in control, the more prevalent are the accusations of corruption, favoritism, and overlooking the citizens’ welfare.

Chris Hani, the departed South African anti-apartheid figure, anticipated this, remarking: “My fear is that the emancipators turn into elitists parading in Mercedes Benzes, exploiting the country’s resources to dwell in manors and amass wealth.”

Nonetheless, a former Zimbabwean liberty combatant, preferring anonymity, communicated to the BBC that several movements haven’t had sufficient time to assimilate into the global hegemony.

He alluded to Europe’s long history of absolutist monarchies and their progressive adaptation period.

“Governments emanating from liberation movements are lagging in a design not meant for them,” he averred.

Toppling colonial and minority regimes was arduous, but governance introduces its array of trials.

Leading a rebellion necessitates resolute dedication and unwavering fidelity, whereas steering a nation demands adaptability, collaboration, and harmonizing divergent societal interests.

Certain movements have not quite measured up in this respect. Their days in power may be numbered.

Yet, Mr. Crespo believes that if these parties can recapture the ethos that propelled them to authority, heed the younger generation, and rediscover themselves, they might just retain their grip a little while longer.


A woman observing her smartphone and the illustration BBC News AfricaA woman observing her smartphone and the illustration BBC News Africa

[Getty Images/BBC]

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