2019 ELECTIONS : ANALYSIS

A win below 60% is good for Cyril Ramaphosa, actually

By Ferial Haffajee 10 May 2019
Caption
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks during a campaign trail for the ruling party African National Congress (ANC) in Mitchells Plain, Cape Town, South Africa, 03 May 2019. EPA-EFE/NIC BOTHMA

It may be the lowest result yet for the ANC in its history in government, but at a likely 57% win, this is a good outcome for President Cyril Ramaphosa, and a better one for democracy as it ends the identity of South Africa as a single party dominant state.

A 57% win puts South Africa into a post-liberation movement era as the ANC is now a political party in which the link between its performance and its electoral outcomes is growing – this can only be good news.

A win under 60% will ensure that Ramaphosa’s detractors in the party stay in line as there is little wiggle room with its supporters, who have until the past two elections given the party resounding wins of more than 60%. Victories of more than 60% and higher have been read as the psychological barrier of a good win for the ANC, but that culture is now gone.

As politics is normalised and South Africa begins to witness proper electoral contests, Ramaphosa’s reform agenda may, in fact, best be served by the likely victory of about 57% he has secured as head of his party.

It’s what we predicted. We are happy with the result at a 65% turnout,” said the party’s deputy secretary-general, Jessie Duarte, adding that the outcome gave Ramaphosa a mandate for “renewal”.

ANC renewal is governing party speak for the anti-corruption agenda Ramaphosa has pursued since coming into office. He has instituted four judicial commissions of inquiry into the worst manifestations of state capture and he appointed a new national director of public prosecutions, Shamila Batohi, as well as a new commissioner, Edward Kieswetter, at the South African Revenue Service. Both organisations are regarded as having been “captured”.

A win of over 60% for Cyril Ramaphosa would have meant there would be less energy for reform (in the ANC),” reckons Standard Bank political economist Simon Freemantle. He says a win for the ANC in the low fifties would have made it difficult for Ramaphosa to execute his reform mandate but that current levels of support may, in fact, be good.

It keeps the anti-reformists in check and prevents back-sliding into the patronage systems and open corruption that saw the ANC drop to just 54% of total support in the local government election in 2016; at the height of the revelations of state capture by former ANC president Jacob Zuma, the party’s support levels dipped below 50% in opinion polls in 2017. With the spectre of losing power, the party’s reform wing began to act in concert with civil society to push back inside its powerful national executive committee against excesses such as a R1-trillion nuclear deal and against the then growing influence of the Gupta family patronage network.

From an ANC perspective, 60% would have been nice, but 57% is good. It makes a more compelling case for those who say the ANC must change,” said an ANC official. Ramaphosa has also won a bolster against his internal detractors because of voting patterns which reveal that many split their votes to favour the ANC nationally and against the party at provincial level, where service levels are often desultory. This is read as support for Ramaphosa over the party; South Africa has a party-based system and there is no direct election of a president.

In addition, opinion polls have for 15 months shown that the president is far more popular than the party, inverting a pattern under Zuma of the party being more popular than its president. On Thursday, the ANC’s head of the election, Fikile Mbalula, said that if another candidate had led the ANC in the poll, it could have got a dunking to 40% in the national poll.

In research released on Tuesday night, Ipsos said that Ramaphosa received the highest score in a test of how leaders were regarded from research in the field in March and April: he got 6.5 out of 10 while Minister of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma polled 4.2/10, the DA leader got 3.5/10 and EFF president got 3.4/10.

On Friday, ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule sought to downplay Ramaphosa’s role in pulling the ANC out of the doldrums. He told News24 that “Cyril Ramaphosa is not the organisation. Cyril Ramaphosa did not stand in any election. Cyril Ramaphosa is part of the ANC, don’t isolate him from the ANC.” Mbalula shot back at Magashule in an interview with EWN. “Don’t be allergic about Ramaphosa. He is your president.” DM

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