South Africa heads to the polls in 2019 and already two new Christian-based political parties have put their hands up, with more expected to come to the fore before the national ballot takes place.
To date, the Renewed South Africa Party (RSAP) and the African Covenant (ACO) party have registered as political parties and intend contesting in the upcoming national election.
However, South Africans have traditionally not voted along faith lines, even though the majority of South Africans identify as being Christian.
Theo Venter, a political commentator affiliated with the University of North West (UNW) says that globally Christian parties that are formed in countries that have voter bases with largely Christian values have not fared well, and South Africa is no exception.
“Christian parties have found it hard to get a firm grip in politics even in countries where theoretically they should be able to,” he says, saying it has generally been an uphill battle for them.
In South Africa, the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) currently has three seats in Parliament, reflecting 0.57% of votes cast in the previous national election and making them the 9th placed party in the country. At its height it had 7 seats in Parliament after the 1999 elections, making it the 5th biggest party nationally.
The ACDP, the only faith-based political party currently represented in parliament, is aiming high in the 2019 elections, hoping to become the third-biggest party in the country this year.
While Venter points out that an increase in faith-based parties could fracture the faith-based voters base more, according to Reverend Kenneth Meshoe, leader of the ACDP, he is not concerned about new faith-based parties eating into the ACDP’s voters base.
“These parties have unknown, untested leaders,” he says. “There are a number of people who use the word Christian who are not really Christian — their lives do not confirm their claims. We have walked the walks and lived out what we are claiming.”
Meshoe says he anticipates more faith-based parties coming to the fore this year and urges Christians to look at the backgrounds of the people putting themselves forward to be elected before supporting them.
According to Meshoe, the ACDP is seeing a surge in supporters from other political homes, including the African National Congress (ANC) And Democratic Alliance (DA).
“I am amazed at the people who are now coming to us in great numbers. I realised this is God’s time, God is doing something,” says Meshoe. “We will have a Godly government in South Africa. My prayer is that it will be this year. Otherwise SA will collapse — there is nothing to stop South Africa from being like the rest of Africa apart from God’s intervention.”
He says this had led the party to revising its target for the 2019 elections from being the fifth biggest party in the country to third.
“Pastors preached against us from the pulpit,” when the party was first formed, says Meshoe. “We stood for Christ when it was not fashionable and now people realise it can be done. Now we are starting to see that people want to support what is there and has proved itself.
Meshoe points out that the ACDP has Christianity in its name as a democratic organisation, which means it’s values, principles, and roots are in Scripture.
“We are not ashamed to be associated with the Scripture. Accountability, ethics, justice — these are things you find in Scripture. There is no danger of church dogma or doctrine with the ACDP. We understand that Jesus himself gave human beings the right to choose — He never imposed himself on anybody. Because Jesus never imposed himself on anybody no party has the right to impose anything on anybody,” says Meshoe.
With regards to 2019 as election year, Meshoe says that political analysts and scientists agree that there is no liberation movement in Africa that has been in power for less than 20 years due to the loyalty factor. He believes that loyalty is what drove Zimbabweans to vote in support of former President Robert Mugabe for so many years, for example, but that there is a 20-25 year ceiling after which voters generally start looking for options.
“In South Africa the ceiling of loyalty has been broken and the 2019 elections will be a true tester for the South AFrican population’s wishes and attitudes towards the ACDP,” says Meshoe.
The new parties
The Renewed South Africa Party (RSAP) is led by Professor Cornelis Roelofse, and proposes a shift away from a top-heavy governance structure to one that is based largely on district or regional administrations.
Roelofse believes that there is room for faith-based parties to differ on policy and that the Renewed SA model places service delivery at the forefront. He says that where faith-based parties agree on issues they will work together to promote Christian values.
Renewed SA is aiming for representation in a number of provinces after the election as well as some seats in parliament nationally. This will allow the party to grow its base as it is currently largely self-funded by members. The party has already seen support increasing in Limpopo, the Cape, and Gauteng, and plans to mobilise more in KwaZulu-Natal.
Roelofse says he believes many Christians have not been active in politics in the past as their faith was often seen as a private matter, but that the country’s current leadership is seen as untrustworthy, creating the need for a biblical alternative.
The African Covenant (ACO) Party is led by Dr Convy Baloyi and says its aim is to be a righteous movement in politics in South Africa. The party’s core principles are love, truth, and selflessness and it aims to be an alternative to killings and “Sodomite-like behaviour.”
Baloyi believes that the ACO is going to “shock the system” and be the ruling parting in South Africa after the next election, something he believes is “supernaturally possible”.
Baloyi believes that he has a calling to be a righteous leader and that God will not allow South Africa to be governed by the unrighteous beyond the elections. Baloyi says that in the eight months of ACO’s existence it has seen significant support at ground level, notably in the Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, and in the Eastern Cape.