- Zunami! The 2009 South African Elections
Every national election has a significant impact on society, current policies, and the direction of the country. The fourth national election in South Africa, conducted in 2009, is no different. Yet each election also differs from previous ones in many important ways, especially for a country that has been cultivating and consolidating democratic electoral institutions and practices for less than a generation. The objective of the edited volume Zunami! The 2009 South African Elections is to provide an analysis of this election from the standpoint of the political parties. The word Zunami in the title refers to Jacob Zuma, whose power and influence was likened by a South African labor leader to that of a tsunami: an unstoppable and powerful force of nature that sweeps across the landscape. This book thus seeks to understand the 2009 election in the context of Zuma and his influence on the African National Congress in particular, but also on the country itself.
The first chapter provides the contextual background of the election by highlighting the struggles within the ANC, policy challenges to the dominance of the ANC (over issues of inequality, poverty, and inadequate delivery of social services), and the crucial issue of democratic consolidation in this relatively new democracy. Most of the following chapters, however, do not integrate these themes evenly. Instead, most focus on specific political parties (including the African National Congress, Congress of the People [COPE], and the Democratic Alliance [DA], as well as the smaller parties) in terms of their roles, campaign styles, and electoral successes or failures. These chapters thus analyze the parties' electoral campaigns, candidate selection processes, marketing, image-making, and party manifestos and provide an informative discussion of specific phases of these campaigns. At this level of campaign analysis, this book is an excellent primer of the national election.
Other chapters focus on voting trends, the administration of the electoral system, and the roles of gender and the media in the election. The overarching conclusions from the analysis of the election emphasize several points: (1) while the dominance of the ANC continues, political opposition has solidified around COPE and the DA; (2) voter identification has shown greater fluidity—as demonstrated by an increase in independent voters; and (3) the increased registration of youth voters seems to demonstrate a weakening of racial voting.
The authors pose several important questions as they gaze into the future of South Africa's political landscape. These generally revolve around whether Zuma can become an effective leader of the entire country, the deterioration of social cohesion, the rise of corruption and the attitude of privilege among the ANC elite, and whether the ANC can govern effectively [End Page 195] while faced with on-going economic and social inequalities.
This book is an informative examination of an important and potentially watershed election. It leaves several significant topics unexamined, however. First, the colorful title would suggest a focus on Jacob Zuma. In reality, Zuma does not enter into most of the chapters or the discussion of the election, and readers would have benefited from a chapter on the rise of Zuma as a political leader and his role leading up to the election. Second, while the book presents interesting data on the campaigns and electoral outcomes of the election, there is no theoretical discussion based on the literature of democratic consolidation. A crucial issue concerns how well the 2009 election strengthens democratic values, institutions, and practices. How do the authors perceive the evolution of democratic consolidation in the context of the previous elections? Third, while the authors mention in passing the importance of the youth vote, and more generally the changes in the national demographics since 1994, a separate chapter on demographics and the election would have been interesting. Fourth, most of the chapters examine the electoral outcome from the perspective of individual political parties, although the electoral data could also be interpreted from...