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Publication Details

Reference
Barchiesi, Franco (2004) Classes, Multitudes and the Politics of Community Movements in Post-apartheid South Africa. Centre for Civil Society Research Report 20: 1-41.

Summary
The ANC landslide victory in the 2004 South African national elections confirmed and deepened a trend, already apparent in the 1994 and 1999 polls, of almost undisputed political hegemony which, coupled with the poor results of parties on its left, seemed to reflect a widespread popular mandate for socio-economic change. Once again, the support of the unionized working class for the ruling party seemed overwhelmingly enlisted. Furthermore, many commentators have discerned an increasing responsiveness by the ANC towards this constituency in the governmentís greater flexibility in discussing the modalities of implementation of macro-economic strategies and their social impacts. In particular various policy initiatives have been adopted with the stated purpose of infusing social contents and anti-poverty interventions in a macroeconomic policy framework that trade unions allied to the ANC have generally exposed as neoliberal and pro-business. Among these processes are the August, 2003 Growth and Development Summit to discuss policies of job creation and unemployment alleviation, the 2002 report of the Taylor Committee of Enquiry into Comprehensive Social Security which supported an expansion of social safety nets to most vulnerable social groups, and the first, timid acceptance by the government to roll-out anti-HIV treatment after years of denial and minimization of the problem.

However it has also been noticed (McKinley, 2004) that, despite these partial policy steps, the ANCís ability to mobilize unwavering consent from the poorest strata of the population has come under increasing stress. Popular participation in the elections has shown a trend to constant decline, which means that the ANC was voted into power by an actual minority of eligible voters. While various views (Friedman, 2004; Sachs, 2004) refuse to see in this development a sign of explicit disaffection towards the policies of the ANC government, a remarkable coincidence is nonetheless noticeable between areas of electoral abstensionism and apathy on one hand, and low-income, marginalized communities on the other. A cursory analysis of electoral registration and participation data reveals that a decline in voter turnout from 89 to 77 percent between the 1999 and 2004 elections mirrors a decrease in the percentage of eligible voters who registered (75% in 2004). The percentage of those with the right to vote who actually exercised this right dropped from 85% in 1994, to 64% in 1999, to 58% in 2004 (SABC/Markinor, 2004; Talbot, 2004), with the biggest decrease being visible among youth between 18 and 25 years, a section of the population that has grown up in a period of acute employment, uncertainty and a more distant appeal of the discourses and values of national liberation politics.

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