South Africa

2021 ELECTIONS

It’s all over, bar the shouting – and the coalitions – as South Africa stands on the brink of a new era

It’s all over, bar the shouting – and the coalitions – as South Africa stands on the brink of a new era
President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the audience at the announcement of the final results of the 2021 local government elections at the Results Operation Centre in Tshwane, South Africa, on 4 November 2021.(Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Twenty-seven years after South Africa was done dismantling the apartheid regime through a government of national unity, the country could again be on the brink of history.

The increase in hung councils to almost 70 is a confirmation that the 26 that resulted from the 2016 elections signalled the start of a trend and were not just an anomaly.

For example, in Gauteng, South Africa’s economic hub, there is not one municipality or metro where the ANC still has an outright majority. Eight are hung and the other one, Midvaal, is under a strengthened DA government. 

“The manner in which our people spoke [through their vote in the elections] should be indicative of their wish to have us as leaders working together,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Thursday night at the Electoral Commission of South Africa’s (IEC’s) official announcement of the results. 

He urged politicians to grasp the moment, twice repeating his exhortation: “If we are to make this a new and better era, we as leaders must put aside our differences and work together in a spirit of partnership of cooperation, of collaboration and common purpose in the interests of the people of South Africa.”

A record 325 political parties and about 95,000 candidates took part in the elections. 

The significant failings of a number of municipal councils were starkly highlighted in what was a short elections campaign period which followed a devastating Covid-19 lockdown that made the poor even poorer. 

As in 1994, the country is at a moment where the alternative to transitioning to something more equitable and sustainable could be immensely destructive. 

In the life cycle of a liberation movement, the ANC could now be at the stage where it is going into decline, and a different kind of leadership is needed to steer the country. 

At least three opposition parties, ActionSA, the DA and the EFF, have in this past week celebrated achieving their aim of driving the ANC well below 50% countrywide – to just over 46%. 

EFF leader Julius Malema, in a press conference on Thursday afternoon at the national Results Operation Centre, said: “I’m the happiest man, because when we started this mission in 2013, we said that we are going to make sure the ANC is out of power.” 

Explaining how this will happen, he said: “We are eating the elephant piece by piece and its collapsing very fast. Nothing that will change between now and 2024 will make the ANC gain in [the general] elections. 

The announcement of the final results of the 2021 local government elections at the Results Operation Centre, Tshwane, on 4 November 2021. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Police Minister Bheki Cele with Minister of Social Development Lindiwe Zulu at the Results Operations Centre in Tshwane. (Photo: Marianne Merten)

National IEC spokesperson Kate Bapela at the announcement of the final results of the 2021 local government elections at the Results Operation Centre, Tshwane. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Although its performance was nothing as impressive as in the previous elections, the EFF grew by about two percentage points to 10.33% of the national vote, and Malema remarked that, although that isn’t big, the party had been growing with each election – unlike the two large ones, which have been on a downward trajectory. 

The death of the ANC’s power might be somewhat overstated for now, because the ANC is still the biggest party in 161 out of the 257 municipalities, but it’s not nearly as powerful as it was a decade ago. Some say the party did very well in the face of numerous odds, such as a weak start to the campaign, a serious lack of money and benefactors, an inability to pay staff salaries and serious internal divisions. 

The party drove a strong campaign spearheaded by Ramaphosa and other national figures, and it made a particularly strong push in the last few weeks. 

The IEC’s Glen Mashinini on Thursday outlined the difficulties experienced in the organisation of the elections: the Covid-19 pandemic, the truncated time frame, bad weather, power interruptions and logistical glitches. It’s something he said he “deeply” apologises for. 

A number of voters complained about not being able to vote because of glitches during registration weekend and also during online registrations. The new voter management devices were supposed to have been a little smarter than the old zip-zip machines by preventing people from voting twice. 

“It put paid to allegations that there could be double voting,” Mashinini said. 

Meanwhile, Ramaphosa in his speech at the election closing ceremony, said it was a good thing that multiparty politics is flourishing in South Africa, and that “everyone has an equal chance and opportunity to run for public office”. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses the audience at the announcement of the final results for the 2021 local government elections at the Results Operation Centre in Tshwane, South Africa on 4 November 2021. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

He said the number of parties running “enriches us in many ways” and “advances openness and transparency”. 

Ramaphosa will be sitting down with fellow party members at a National Working Committee meeting this weekend to discuss the way forward ahead of coalition talks

It’s likely, too, that the party’s leaders will do some introspection on the ANC’s decline in electoral support and that it will talk about ways to stem it. DM

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