South Africa

ANALYSIS

The ANC will remain in power for many years after 2024 – here’s why

Delegates gather during the nomination session of the top six candidates at the 54th ANC National Conference on 17 December 2017 in Johannesburg, South Africa. | ANC members gather at the Nasrec Expo Centre to begin the voting process for the next ANC president. (Photo: Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Felix Dlangamandla)

It is almost certain that the ANC, in whichever form it emerges after its 2022 conference, will continue to be the dominant party in government, and that the president of the country will come from the ANC.

In the weeks after the local elections much has been said about the significance of the ANC dropping below 50%, and the implications for the national and provincial elections in 2024. For some, it feels as if this will be the end of the ANC and its rule, that what lies on the other side will forever change our politics. But this is unlikely to be the case.  

Instead, it is almost certain that the ANC, in whichever form it emerges after its 2022 conference, will continue to be the dominant party in government, and that the president of the country will come from the ANC. This continuing existence as a driving force in our politics is significant – South Africa’s medium term will still be defined by the ANC.

In the days after the local elections several political leaders suggested that their main motivation for their coalition decisions was the 2024 national polls.

The DA’s John Steenhuisen stated that the party would not go into a coalition anywhere with the ANC, saying: “It’s not the DA’s role to save the ANC.” EFF leader Julius Malema said, in the contest of coalitions, that: “We did not come here to revive the ANC, we came here to bury it.”

ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba repeatedly claims that his main agenda is to remove the ANC from power and he appears to believe that if the ANC is removed in 2024 South Africa will magically change, and become a Denmark almost overnight.

However, several weeks later, a reality-based reflection would suggest that none of this ANC exorcism is likely to happen.

There are certain predictions that can be made at this stage with some confidence.

One is that, unless there is unexpected drama (even more massive revelations of corruption spanning all ANC factions, an unexpected change of leadership or of direction), the ANC is likely to get anything between 45% and 55% of the vote in 2024.

If the ANC gets above 50%, it will govern on its own in national government, with probable nods to the smaller parties, like Patricia de Lille’s Good party.

If the ANC gets anything below that, it is more complicated, but only slightly.

The most likely outcome from that point would be for the ANC to form a coalition with one single party and securely govern in that way.

There are plenty of parties to choose from, particularly if it slips just below 50%. But it would probably prefer to pick a relatively small regional party, again, like the Good party. This would allow it to attract the party’s leadership through giving them Cabinet positions, and it could then safely ignore them for the next five years.

It may be tempting to say it is possible for all of the other political parties, the opposition parties, to form their own coalition. But there is very little evidence that this is possible.

It was only in 2011, 17 years after SA’s first democratic elections, that all of the opposition parties in Parliament suggested they would vote against an ANC bill. It was the Protection of State Information Bill, a piece of legislation so obviously unconstitutional that even then president Jacob Zuma did not sign it into law. In the end, two people in the chamber abstained (while two others from the ANC ensured they were not in the chamber for the vote, defying the party’s three-line whip).

Up until this point at least one opposition party had always appeared to agree with the ANC on every bill passed into law.

Now, in the aftermath of the local elections, there are still no formal coalition agreements to govern administrations in hung councils. In fact, in most of the metros – Tshwane, Nelson Mandela Bay, eThekwini, Ekurhuleni and Joburg – there are no administrations at all, only elected mayors and Speakers.

The failure of the opposition parties to agree to any kind of coalition in the main cities demonstrates how difficult it would be for the main opposition parties to form any kind of governing coalition in national government. And, thus, how unlikely it would be for them to actually remove the ANC from power in national government.

This, probably the most likely scenario of the ANC’s continued dominance, may well have important consequences for our politics now.

If the ANC is resigned to this kind of outcome, if its members and leaders realise that this is the worst-case scenario for them, then it is unlikely that there will be any change of direction.

It means that there is no existential threat/incentive for them to change their ways, or to have a proper process of what the party calls “renewal”.

It may also mean that the familiar patterns of the past few years replicate themselves. Those in the ANC contest for power in the party, whether for positions in the top six national leadership, in the provinces, or in local and provincial government.

And we are likely to see the same outcomes: more division in the ANC, more violent infighting and as a result, less policy direction, and distracted delivery.

But this also means that there is less incentive for the opposition parties to change their directions either.

If they believe they are not going to be in national government after 2024 (unless they believe they are the party that will do a deal with the ANC… such as, perhaps, Good or even the Patriotic Alliance) then their calculations may well be that it is best to focus on their base, thus continuing on their current paths too.

It also means that the period after 2024 would not bring any fundamental change to our politics.

The ANC has shared power before, in fact for much of its time in national government.

At different times leaders from the National Freedom Party, the Freedom Front Plus and Azapo have been appointed deputy ministers by ANC presidents.

All of this also suggests that not much will change after 2024.

However, that may understate what could be a very important process.

If it is the case that our political leaders are battling to form workable coalitions, and there is a significant risk that this could lead to chaos in the national government, then perhaps they may need more time to learn how to do this.

And what could be the most likely outcome going forward – the ANC in coalition with a smaller party, and then perhaps in the future with other smaller parties, and then a bigger party – may avoid some of that chaos.

Instead of a “Big Bang” moment when coalitions enter national government and the ANC exits in one move, it may be that coalitions enter national government more slowly and that the ANC exits national government more gradually. This would also allow more time for the possible creation of parties that attempt to appeal to more than one constituency, to try to form coalitions of constituencies with different interests. In other words, a chance for people to form parties similar to the ANC.

This may be a relatively peaceful, easy and chaos-free outcome that would last for decades.

While this may be disappointing to some, it may be more realistic. For those like Mashaba, who believe that all of our problems would be solved if the ANC were no longer in power, it could show how that is simply not the case.

Given the sheer number of dynamics in our politics, of course, it is impossible to predict the future accurately while so much is changing. But much is also staying the same. DM

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All Comments 26

  • My fear is that you are logistically correct Stephen, which makes the future prospects for this country even more deeply depressing. Another inept, inefficient, unanswerable, controlling, corrupt, cronyistic, untransparent, failure presiding over total and absolute destruction of a sovereign state.

  • So you don’t think a split is likely, Stephen? For as long as they don’t the electorate is stuck with this unforgiving status quo and a barrage of that we love to hate about the ruling party.

    • Depressingly true I fear. The one hope is for the DA to increase its support. Regrettably this won’t happen as long as the leadership of the party is white.

      Zille is 70 years old. Time to go gracefully and enjoy retirement.

      Following the 2019 general election, Mmusi Maimane should not have been kicked out as leader (for the same reason Steenhuisen should have been ditched after the party lost support in the recent elections) and subsequently so discouraged that he resigned from the party; soon followed by Herman Mashaba, Atholl Trollip and others.

      It is a great pity that Mbali Ntuli was not elected federal leader in 2020. Until such time as a black person is elected leader, and given the full support of the party, the DA will continue to shed voters to the FF+. Let those old Nats go, they are dinosaurs, and have no place in a party with liberal values.

      • Exactly! The DA’s old guard are following the Republican playbook and in South Africa that alienates most of you black voters. They need to focus only on issues that’s relevant and important to South African voters instead of waging social media wars against wokeness; playing into the hands of the anti-whiteness brigade. Based on their governance track record they should be running the country but here we are at 20% support 🙁

    • This was not supposed to be a reply to Rory McNamara. It is a comment to Stephen Grootes’ article. Unfortunately DM doesn’t allow deletion or editing of comments, or I’d have deleted it and posted it as a direct comment.

      DAILY MAVERICK please make it possible for the writer to delete and / or edit a comment, and not for the ridiculously short time of a few minutes. For at least 48 hours. The edited comment can be marked “edited”.

      • Gosh, did not even know one could edit a comment, after posting. I make so many errors and often is embarrassed to read my own mistakes after pressing “post”.

  • Very depressing but unfortunately a realistic view of our future. in the meantime the economy collapses to the point of no return. ‘July’ uprisings become the norm. The Rand does a Zimbabwe …..

  • Let’s see how Mayor Phalatse gets on in Jo’burg. I still believe a DA/ASA ‘coalition’ could win in 2024. I think that you are being too pessimistic, Stephen.

  • Thank you, Stephen, for an insightful reflection. No, the ANC won’t split, short of a catastrophic event. The ANC brand is too lucrative for any faction to hive off, and we have seen the medium-term outcome from the COPE split already. It is unlikely any faction will split itself into obscurity in like manner when they have an even balance of power. Of course, it’s not good for citizens to have a distracted ANC and we are unlikely to easily pull out of the current malaise nor does any economic miracle seem likely.
    On the other hand, the DA has been selling the “wonderful Cape metro” fantasy but is unable to put together any meaningful coalition opposition at local level. There’s no indication it could pull it off nationally. Which leaves us all up the creek without a paddle.
    The EFF populists have not faired any better – all bravado without substance. This is probably because their best work is as a spoiler, and that is not the same as being a disrupter. If only.
    More likely is a continuing diversification of votes in national elections, the most tantalising idea Stephen throws out: eating the elephant one piece at a time. But with more pain while we wait.

  • Good article Stephen, although for once I wish it wasn’t good. Many similar points were made yesterday by Oscar van Heerden. Unfortunately he was rip to pieces by commentators. Interesting that none of them has as yet made a comment to your article (at time of writing).

  • Stephen, you clearly believe that the ANC member base cannot, or will not be able to properly assess the character, integrity, honesty of the party, and will thus willy-nilly, take at face value the manifesto and promises of the ANC. Sadly, this may well be the case in the ANC rural heartlands, but the increasing urbanisation of South Africa will play against this. Are you thus saying that the ANC will even further entrench the powers to choose delegates, even further to the advantage of KZN, the Eastern Cape and Limpopo?

    • 100%. Your question is right, but so is Stephen. The rural voters are the the ANC’s support base. And unfortunately, it will remain like that for a very long time despite urbanisation. Rural voters simply can not relate to other parties, except maybe the IFP. Urbanisation is real, but the numbers in rural areas do not drop whatsoever. In Zimbabwe it was exactly the same…education, even basic, voters hated Mugabe, but the rural vote is/was so incredible strong. Anyone that believes that parties like the DA, EFF, and even FF+ are really interested in the areas outside the Metro’s, must simply go and look at the numbers in the last municipal elections. The numbers add up, and with urbanisation, which is very slow due to a lack of jobs, housing, the numbers that come in are not voters, and if they are, it will be what their parents, chiefs, churches, and stone throwers told them what to do

  • Excellent if depressing reading… I tend to agree that it will be a long and protracted slide from power, until the ANC becomes a significant opposition, perhaps representing the majority rural vote?
    There’s not much mention of the future effect of the youth vote, who have largely withdrawn from the democratic process, should they decide to exercise their vote… except if you think of them in the context of the urban vote?
    Unfortunately, I don’t have the luxury of waiting for hell to freeze over to see this transition…

  • I am afraid that Stephen is probably correct in his assessment, mainly because voters in SA have for about 100 years voted with their heart, and not their head! Only hope I feel for SA to emerge from the morass it currently is in would be that with the rapid growth of ‘urbanisation’ more people would use their heads and this combined with a “split” in the ANC to form a DA/”New” ANC alliance might allow us to rebuild the country. The centre of the spectrum is the tendency in world politics despite some ‘hard liners’ in a few country holding sway. People might ‘remember’ or rather be aware of the the Smuts/Hertzog dichotomy in South African politics in the 1920s in the Afrikaner’s fight against British Imperialism, a move I understand very well having an Irish background. Perhaps the same will occur between the two different wings of the ANC – if we are lucky!

    • For the 2nd time in two days I come across a comment by you, both of which are admirable. This one? You’ve nailed it! I agree whole-heartedly. Parties will change colours in the next few years. The ANC and the DA, both of which lost ground, will have to merge, split, or simply evaporate. I believe we are on the verge of a major “revolution”. The pieces just have to fall on the chessboard. Now, for my pint of Guiness!

  • I tend to agree but I believe the ANC will not fall below the 50% required at the next elections anyway because so many people in rural communities will never vote for anybody other than the ANC and the opposition to the ANC is so fragmented that there will be no unified opposition for a long time – certainly not in my lifetime.

  • Some interesting comments by those that have responded to Stephen’s article but I would really like to see some comment from other South Africans. Is DM not being read by South Africans of all races?

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