In 1994, retired South Africa Defense Force general and Afrikaner tribal leader Constand Viljoen threw his support behind the move to replace apartheid with non-racial democracy. Had he opted otherwise, South Africa’s history would likely have been different. At the same time, he created a political party, the Freedom Front, to provide a political home for white, conservative Afrikaners in the new, non-racial South Africa. (The party’s name and structure has evolved; it is now called Freedom Front Plus.)
In the 1994 elections, South Africa’s first conducted without racial qualification, the party won 424,555 votes, or 2.2 percent of the vote. In 2014, the party won 165,715 votes, or 0.9 percent of the total votes. Under South Africa’s system of proportional representation, that translated into four seats in parliament. Viljoen’s goal has been achieved: conservative, white Afrikaners have a voice in contemporary South African politics, if very small.
Looking to the May 8 elections, the party rolled-out its election manifesto in early March. Party leader Pieter Groenewald’s speech was mostly in Afrikaans and sounded themes to be found on the white and coloured right. (‘Coloured’ is not a pejorative term in South Africa; coloureds regard themselves as a separate, not mixed, race. They are mostly Afrikaans-speaking, and many are members of the Dutch Reformed Church.)
Among the points Groenewald made:
- Whites (and, presumably, coloureds) are not asking for special treatment. They are asking for equal treatment.
- Minorities are bullied.
- "Affirmative action" and "black economic empowerment" disadvantage whites and coloureds. Neither is any longer necessary because there are now more black university graduates than whites, and black economic empowerment has benefited only a tiny elite.
- He urged party supporters to vote. Under proportional representation, every vote counts.
Groenewald’s criticism of affirmative action and black economic empowerment is shared by many South Africans across the political spectrum. He apparently did not address the persistence of black poverty, white wealth, and the inequality between the two, a persistent blind spot among the Freedom Front and white groups on the right. Instead, he tapped into an Afrikaner sense of grievance—if whites in general have done well in post-apartheid South Africa, English speakers have done better than Afrikaners.
It is difficult to imagine that the Freedom Front Plus will increase its share of the vote in the May elections. However, if it does so, it is likely to be at the expense of the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance, which is the electoral home of most white and coloured South Africans.
Perhaps the real significance of the Freedom Front Plus is that it is a vehicle for a tiny, largely disaffected minority to participate in South Africa’s post-apartheid democracy.