The Upshot of the South African Elections – A Brooding and Divided Landscape

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The Upshot of the South African Elections—A Brooding and Divided Landscape
The Upshot of the South African Elections—A Brooding and Divided Landscape

The ruling African National Congress’ thirty—year grip on power is finally over.

Voting patterns in the just-concluded seventh National Elections since the Transition in 1994 triggered a political earthquake and volatile aftermath. Widespread dissatisfaction with the government saw the once monolithic ANC’s share of the vote plummet precipitously below the magic 50%.

With final results still giving the governing party a 40.18% victory, the stage was set for inevitable horse-trading and intricate negotiations between various blocs constituting centrists, Marxists and ultra-leftists. The political aftershocks of the seismic shift reverberated across the country. Shrill voices seeking a triumph for the “Radical Economic Transformation” (RET) factions are taking advantage of the growing polarization to press their demands for a coalition of the left.

Nevertheless, in a rare show of statesmanship and political maturity, State President Cyril Ramaphosa, reeling from the electoral loss, addressed the nation at the closing ceremony of the Independent Electoral Commission (EEC).

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In remarks that subtly alluded to possible (and unprecedented) cooperation with the Democratic Alliance (DA), Ramaphosa said the final announcement of the 2024 National and Provincial Elections represented a victory for democracy, constitutional order and all the people of South Africa.

“The people have spoken,” he said, which was a bitter pill to swallow after his party’s 17% fall from grace nationally.

Political Landscape Before the Elections

As expected, the 2019 general elections concluded with a triumphant ANC claiming 57.5% of the national vote and constituting the government for the next five years. The DA claimed the next spot, polling 20.77%. Third in line and aspirant “official opposition” were the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Positioning themselves on the extreme left and purporting to represent the “masses,” the EFF is avowedly a Marxist-Leninist party. Seemingly on a trajectory, they polled a significant 10.8% of the 2019 ballot.

Systemic corruption, inept service delivery at the local level, and catastrophic load-shedding, as well as a stagnating economy, rising crime, chronic unemployment and other difficulties ensured a steady bleeding of the ANC. The consequence was a significant increase in the support base of the EFF in the 2021 local government elections. The latter’s trajectory, amidst the growing dissatisfaction with the ruling ANC, looked set to earn them a possible 20% share of the vote in the 2024 national elections.

Despite its solid majority and effective governance of the Western Cape province and being the most inclusive and multiracial party, the DA constantly battles to sell its recipe to the rest of the country. This is mainly due to a historically hostile press and sustained attacks from political opponents.

Fast forward to the 2024 elections, and different political knives were out to rob the DA of its Cape stronghold, forcing the ANC below the 50% mark. To capitalize on the growing anti-ANC sentiment, the DA established a broad alliance of like-minded parties to try to garner 50% of the national vote and constitute a government. The Multi-Party-Conference (MPC) failed miserably in its goal, with only the DA bringing a significant slice to the table.

The resurrection of Jacob Zuma

With the ANC support dwindling and voters seeking a new political home, a dark horse emerged from the past to bedevil the political landscape. Ex-President Jacob Zuma, whose tenure at the helm was marked by endemic corruption, “State Capture,” and the collapse of many State-owned enterprises, threw his hat into the electoral ring. In barely six months and relying on extensive resources, the newly formed “Mkhonto WeSizwe” Party (MK) seized the political high ground in his home province of KZN. MK was the military wing of the ANC during apartheid. The adoption of the MK symbol, which translates as “Spear of the Nation,” was an obvious usurpation of the ANC’s cultural history and tapped into deep-seated emotions.

Nevertheless, Court challenges to deny its adoption were unsuccessful. However, a Constitutional Court challenge ruled that Zuma (due to a past criminal record) was ineligible to take up a seat in Parliament. This newcomer spoilt the party and was a game-changer for the bigger Parties. It upended the IFP/DA’s objective to take control of the province (a likely possibility), forcing the once-dominant ANC into obscurity.

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The perceived “persecution” against Zuma, which exacerbated deep-seated grievances as to how “their man” was unceremoniously bundled out by Ramaphosa in 2017, resulted in a tsunami of votes for the new kid on the block (MK).

Thus, South Africa was introduced to the concept of “revenge” voting. Commentators have also bandied about the politically incorrect reference to “tribalism” as a determining electoral factor. One could, however, more properly speak of “identity” politics playing a large role in the avalanche.

With the May 29 vote, the seemingly exaggerated polls proved correct, and MK scored an impressive 45.35% of the KZN Provincial vote and 14.58% of the national vote. The ANC’s share of the spoils plummeted from a 54.22% (2019) majority to a miserable 16.99% in the recent polls. Even more humiliating was its relegation to the third slot position behind a resurgent Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), which finished at 18.07%.

MK’s showing was the major shock of the 2024 elections.

A Plethora of political parties

Voters had to contend with three ballot papers-two national and one provincial. The latter decided the composition of the nine Provincial Legislatures. No fewer than 52 parties vied for the voter’s attention on the national ballot. Many of these were divided, not by policies but by personalities.

In the end, this muddle resulted in 18 gaining seats in Parliament. Of 41 million eligible voters in the country, 27.69 million had bothered to register, and of those, only 58% turned out to vote. Apathy was the big winner.

The DA marginally increased its share nationwide, polling a respectable 21.81% nationally. At the same time, it once more achieved an absolute majority in the Cape Province, allowing it another five years to showcase its policies. It maintained its 2019 tally at 55.30%, while the ANC lost significant ground, ending with a poor 19.55%.

The ANC’s most precipitous decline was evidenced in Gauteng Province, the country’s economic hub. Its electoral support dwindled from a narrow majority in 2019 to 34.76%, just slightly ahead of the DA’s 27.46%.

Cold comfort

Far from being a great victory for the moral high ground and political savvy, the crushing of the ANC reflects a somber political reality: Both the two main recipients of this decline—MK (14.58%) and the EFF (9.52%), are on the extreme left. An encouraging fact is that the EFF’s national vote decreased from 10.8% in 2019 to 9.52% in 2024.

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It is still disconcerting, though, as the party is wedded to old-fashioned Marxist ideology. These two parties make common cause, and much of the vote, which MK claimed would have gone to the EFF in case of the former’s absence. Their potential for pot-stirring is significant, though mitigated by the necessity of MK to turn around KZN and deliver on its promises.

Doomsday coalition

Much of the DA’s campaign played on the potential disaster awaiting the nation in the event of an ANC/EFF coalition. MK did not feature too heavily in this equation because its projected share was uncertain. The DA played strongly on the disaster awaiting South Africa should the EFF have the chance to push its Marxist platform. While politicking clearly played a large part in this electioneering stance, this “doomsday” scenario would be a threatening reality in a country already suffering economic meltdown, a tarnished international reputation, and investor/business confidence close to zero.

Dare to hope

The knives are already out, with only 14 days to establish some working relationships before Parliament convenes to elect the President.

Already, parties have established “negotiation committees” to explore cooperation. In a country where many refuse to let “race” pass into history, the left routinely classify along racial lines, so MK and the EFF are “black” parties that must “unite” against the DA, which is a “white” Party. The recent election also saw the emergence of some parties appealing to a colored (mixed race) nationalism. Unfortunately, the net result of the electoral process has been an exacerbation of polarisation in the country. Parties espousing market-friendly policies within a vision of a unified South Africa are deemed anti-black and denigrated.

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The immediate scene before the country is thus set within a twisted narrative replete with demands and insults. Consistently ignored is the fact that the DA is the only party that is truly multiracial, embraces workable policies, governs the most successful Province, and garners a huge slice of votes from all population groups.

The stage, too, is set with many “non-negotiables.” MK will not deal with the ANC without the removal of Ramaphosa. The EFF is jumping on a similar bandwagon. MK and EFF will not deal with the DA, and the DA harbors reciprocal sentiments. Smaller parties demand major prizes as “kingmakers.” Even a Government of National Unity (GNU) is finding resonance. The situation appears disheartening and insoluble. The possible permutations are many. South Africans are quite resilient and have pulled themselves out of deep holes at times, so the nation’s hopes and prayers are centered on workable solutions emerging.

The “post-election” hope of most level-headed South Africans is that a dispirited and wounded ANC will reach out to the DA/MPC for some sort of Parliamentary working relationship, if not a formal coalition. The rump-ANC has bled off a massive chunk of its left-wing constituency, allowing for perhaps a more centrist grouping to emerge. Such a scenario is vociferously opposed by ANC factional elements, left political parties, individuals in academia and some media. This scenario, which represents the only real exit from the morass and gives hope for a stable future, is rejected by all these elements.

They inevitably fall back on outdated and inflammatory rhetoric to press their case. “Their case” would be to constitute a grand left coalition, embracing a slew of deadly Communist policies that would drive South Africa into the ground.

In this aftermath of the 2024 elections, the nation is not exactly spoilt for choice, and those charged with the country’s destiny must tread very carefully if it is to emerge on the high road.

Photo Credit: © Faraz –

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