Elections: Historic election in South Africa – ANC threatens to lose power

After 30 years of democracy, the African National Congress could lose its absolute majority for the first time. Many South Africans are disappointed with the government.

A political turning point is looming in South Africa. For the first time since the end of apartheid in 1994, the former liberation movement and current ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), could lose its absolute majority in the parliamentary elections. It would be the end of the one-party government. That is why some are talking about “fateful elections” or a “referendum for the future”.

Projections and polls leave little doubt: It is almost certain that the ANC will fall below the 50 percent mark in this election. Depending on how high the losses will be, there are various coalition scenarios, says Aleix Montana, analyst at the risk consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft.

If the ANC falls just one or two percentage points short of an absolute majority, it could form an alliance with one or two small parties, but in principle retain the political say, said Montana. If the ANC were to fall to 45 percent or less, however, it would have to enter into a coalition with a larger opposition party and thus make political compromises for the first time.

Voters between frustration and mistrust

The ANC has lost a lot of support, particularly in the last 15 years. According to the latest report by the Afrobarometer polling institute, 85 percent of the population are dissatisfied with the direction the country has taken. About half believe that South Africa’s democracy is suffering from “massive problems.” More than 70 percent said they have “no trust at all” or “only a little” trust in the president and parliament.

The reasons are obvious, according to political commentators: Although South Africa remains Africa’s strongest economy, economic growth has stagnated for more than a decade. Unemployment is over 41 percent. Corruption and mismanagement have become synonymous with governance. The result is ailing state-owned enterprises, a collapsing electricity and water supply, and a lack of investment in infrastructure combined with high crime and a dysfunctional criminal justice system. “Democracy may have brought political freedom to South Africa, but economic freedom has fallen by the wayside,” explains Jan Hofmeyer, political analyst at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR).

The ANC’s government record is “catastrophic,” says Gregor Jaecke, the head of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation’s office in South Africa. From 2009 to 2018, former President Jacob Zuma and his government undermined the state through corruption and nepotism. Despite many promises, Zuma’s successor Cyril Ramaphosa was unable to put an end to this. “The state has become the prey of a greedy political elite that has systematically undermined state institutions,” says Jaecke. He warns that South Africa is on the way to becoming a failed state.

Coalition government in sight for the first time

Members of 52 parties are competing for the 400 seats in the national parliament on Wednesday. The nine provincial governments will also be elected. After the results are announced, the new parliament must form a government and appoint a president within 14 days. Although there is a lot at stake, many South Africans want to stay away from the election. Of the 40.1 million eligible voters, 27.4 million, or about 68 percent, have registered.

“Because the loss of trust in the ANC is so great, this is not surprising,” says political analyst Ebrahim Fakir. Young people in particular are very disillusioned with politics and cynical about the government. This makes political alternatives increasingly attractive. According to a nationwide survey by the Brenthurst Foundation, almost 80 percent of South Africans would welcome a coalition government, at least in theory.

Because when the moment comes to make a mark on the ballot paper, many voters, despite all the complaints, find it difficult to turn away from the former party of freedom fighter Nelson Mandela, which fought against the oppression of the black majority by a white minority. Older South Africans in rural areas in particular remain loyal to the ANC. Despite a modest government record, President Ramaphosa is still considered the most popular politician in the country, even if his popularity has fallen in recent months.

Personality cult around Jacob Zuma

The greatest threat to the ANC is posed by the economically liberal Democratic Alliance (DA), which already governs the Western Cape, where the tourist metropolis of Cape Town is located, at the state level, and the Marxist-influenced Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Then there is the unpredictable newcomer to the political landscape, the uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) party, led by former President Zuma, which was founded only six months ago and has not yet drawn up a party programme.

Although Zuma is not allowed to run for parliament – the Constitutional Court excluded him from the election in 2021 due to a conviction – he remains a political figurehead that should not be underestimated and can mobilize masses within a very short period of time. According to forecasts, the MK should receive 10 to 14 percent. This will probably be taken mainly from the ANC, says Montana.

Relevance for Germany and Europe

The election is also important for Germany and Europe. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the country with 61 million inhabitants is the largest and most industrialized economy on a continent that is becoming increasingly important due to its raw material reserves. South Africa is Germany’s largest trading partner in Africa. Around 600 German companies, which employ around 100,000 people, are represented locally.

The mood is “mixed, but not hopeless,” says Jens Papperitz of the German Chamber of Foreign Trade in Southern Africa. No massive instability is expected after the election. However, foreign investors in South Africa generally need “very high levels of resilience and frustration tolerance,” says Papperitz.

In terms of foreign policy, South Africa, a political heavyweight on the continent, has increasingly distanced itself from Western partners. The country maintains close relations with Russia and China. South Africa has also strengthened bilateral relations with Iran, which since the beginning of the year has been part of the BRICS group of important emerging countries together with South Africa, Russia and China. In addition, South Africa has filed a complaint with the International Court of Justice that Israel is violating the Genocide Convention. South Africa is also not prepared to take a stand against Russia over its war of aggression in Ukraine.

“The election result will also determine whether South African foreign policy will continue to be oriented towards Russia and China or whether relations with the West will be intensified,” says Hanns Bühler of the Hanns Seidel Foundation in South Africa. The theory: A strong ANC will probably strengthen the current course, while a weakened ANC under pressure from a coalition partner may again place greater value on Western partners.

dpa

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