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"Gaza Conflict Reshapes Voter Allegiances in South Africa's Upcoming Elections"

Published February 29, 2024
3 months ago

As the political tides swell ahead of South Africa's general elections, an unexpected undercurrent—the Gaza war—has become a pivotal factor in the decision-making process of the electorate. The stance of the two largest political factions, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and the primary opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has revealed a seismic shift in voter loyalty, emphasizing the substantial impact of foreign policy on domestic electoral outcomes.

Cyril Ramaphosa's tenure as president, fraught with domestic issues ranging from rampant government corruption to energy crises and economic instability, witnessed a remarkable twist with the Gaza war's intrusion into South African politics. This distant conflict has reignited the deeply ingrained divide from the apartheid days between pro-Israeli government positions and the alignment of the anti-apartheid movement with Palestinian resistance, rendering foreign policy a cornerstone of political debate.

The ANC has taken a bold step with its unambiguous pro-Palestine approach, denouncing Israel's actions in Gaza as "genocide," showcasing its commitment to international justice by referring the matter to the ICC and the ICJ. This unflinching standpoint has garnered the ANC newfound support within and beyond South Africa's borders, potentially revitalizing a party that once seemed on the brink of decline.

In stark contrast, the DA's vacillating conduct, veering from initial unwavering support of Israel to a diluted call for "peace" and avoidance of terms such as "genocide," has raised questions about its moral compass and eroded its voter base. As the number of casualties in Gaza surges, the DA's hesitant stance could not stand more apart from the ANC's robust advocacy for Palestinian rights.

Notably, in the Western Cape Province—a traditional stronghold of the DA—the political winds are shifting, hinting at a significant realignment. Voters like Luwayne Pretorius, once dedicated to the DA due to the liberties provided by the ANC, are now reverting their loyalties, influenced by the ANC's staunch opposition to what they perceive as Israeli apartheid and ethnic cleansing.

Experts like Robert Mattes and Na’eem Jeenah recognize that while domestic issues typically dictate South African voting patterns, this election could carve out a new narrative, with Palestine becoming a substantial influencing factor. The DA's stance may push some voters toward smaller parties, enabling the ANC and others, like the Muslim party Al Jama-ah, to capture discontented constituents.

Efforts by the DA to mitigate fallout, such as Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis's initiatives supporting Palestinian soccer matches, have had limited success. A clear testament was the palpable contrast in reception between the president and the mayor at the aforementioned event, highlighting the shifting perceptions among the populace.

This electoral season springs a stark reminder that a party's foreign policy can no longer be relegated to the periphery in voter decision-making, and the ANC's principled stand on Gaza might just outweigh the domestic limitations beleaguering its reign.


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