Is South Africa turning away from the ANC?

Status: 29.05.2024 06:22 a.m.

Never since the end of apartheid has the ANC in South Africa had to fear for its power as much as before today’s parliamentary elections. Is the former freedom movement now getting its comeuppance for mismanagement and corruption?

“Save South Africa, everything is at stake!” – this is what is written on the posters plastered on street lamps across the country. The election is considered the most important since the end of apartheid, and 2024 is a fateful year for South Africa. The country is facing a historic turning point.

After 30 years of sole rule, the African National Congress (ANC) is facing a devastating defeat. For the first time in the history of democratic South Africa, the ANC, the party of freedom icon Nelson Mandela, could lose its absolute majority.

The former resistance movement has completely damaged its image. People are turning away and accusing the ANC of mismanagement, corruption and government failure. The spirit of optimism that existed 30 years ago has long since evaporated.

A country stands still

Poverty, unemployment, crime – none of the country’s huge problems have shown any noticeable improvement recently. The economy is stagnating. There has been hardly any growth, and that has been the case for years.

More than 40 percent of South Africans are unemployed, and two-thirds of young people are unemployed. Many voters are now hoping for political change and reforms that will lead the country out of its misery.

Citizens are waiting for the state

The buzzword in the election campaign is “service delivery”. This is about what citizens expect from the state in return for their taxes, namely reliable services. For example, that the police provide security, schools function or water comes out of the tap – which is not always the case in the metropolis of Johannesburg and elsewhere.

Because the pipeline networks have holes, storage basins are leaking and pumping stations are failing. The many potholes have also been a huge nuisance for years.

Some are more reminiscent of craters on the moon and can be a real danger in the dark. Many of them have circles painted around them in luminous paint, with the letters “ANC” next to them. This is to warn drivers and at the same time to make it clear to them who they have to thank for their misery.

Everyday problem: power outage

But those who demand “service delivery” in South Africa mean, above all, that there is electricity, always and everywhere. But this has not been the case for years.

Instead, so-called “load shedding” is part of everyday life for private consumers as well as for industry. It sounds harmless but makes life difficult for people.

Because the outdated power plants cannot meet the energy demand, the electricity is repeatedly turned off for hours at a time. No other issue gets people so riled up.

The ruling party ANC is also in the crossfire of criticism here. Nepotism, mismanagement and organised crime have further exacerbated the problems.

Unexpected turn

However, South Africa has been experiencing a real energy miracle since the end of March. Suddenly the electricity is flowing again, and reliably at that. The app of the energy company Eskom, which usually indicates the outages, proudly counts the days on which the country has been spared the usual blackouts.

It has now been more than eight weeks in a row, the last time that happened was over three years ago. People are rubbing their eyes in disbelief and asking themselves: How can this be? Some people suspect that the government is playing tricks behind the scenes so that it can finally spread good news.

Independent energy experts, however, say that the state is finally pushing ahead with maintenance work in power plants and the expansion of renewable energies.

Will there be a coalition?

Although the ANC’s poll results are well below its record results of recent years, it will remain by far the strongest political force this time around. However, a coalition government may be necessary for the first time.

Possible partners for the ANC would be the bourgeois and business-friendly “Democratic Alliance” and the left-populist “Economic Freedom Fighters”. Both options would mean a profound political change of course for the country.

Zuma’s rematch with the ANC

And then there is Jacob Zuma. The former head of state is not allowed to run for office himself, but has shaken up the election campaign with his new party “MK”.

His program is radical. He wants to undermine the constitution, disempower parliament, give tribal leaders more influence, expropriate white landowners, and nationalize important industrial sectors.

Zuma is also seeking revenge against the current ANC leadership, which ousted him from office in 2019 because of his numerous corruption scandals.

What role do the Splinter groups?

Either way, if the ANC does indeed lose its absolute majority, the country will face a difficult process of forming a government, which must be completed within two weeks of the election. In-depth coalition negotiations are hardly possible.

This is especially true as more than 50 parties are competing for the 400 seats in parliament and, unlike in Germany, there is no fixed threshold in South Africa. There are currently 14 parties represented in the National Assembly, eight of which have only one or two seats.

Political scientists assume that the ANC will initially try to stay in power with the help of such splinter groups.

U-turn in the final meters?

But maybe everything will turn out completely differently. Recently, the ANC has recovered slightly in the polls. This is also because it promises new social benefits for the future.

The government has just passed a health care reform that promises all citizens free treatment in hospitals and doctor’s offices.

In addition, the former freedom movement still has a well-oiled election campaign machine and its people have been close to the people throughout the country for decades, even in the most remote regions where there is a lot of poverty and local authorities such as tribal leaders, village leaders or traditional healers still have great influence.

And: Incumbent President Cyril Ramaphosa is by far the most popular politician in the country, with approval ratings well above those of the ANC, which could benefit from the good image of its leading candidate in the election.

It is possible that Mandela’s party will succeed in defending its absolute majority after all – even if it is only just.

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