SA’S POST-2024 ORDER OP-ED (PART ONE)
Who will eat the ANC’s lunch come 2024?
After the January fire in Parliament, we asked how fast the ANC would fall. Seven months later, eyes are turning to the alternatives. In this three-part series, John Matisonn looks at what is needed to turn around more than a decade of implosion.
You can feel it in the air. The pace of political change is quickening and the outlines of a new political dispensation are dimly visible. When the 2024 Cabinet is selected, the age of one-party dominance will likely be over.
In past elections, the ANC has often rallied at the eleventh hour of the campaign to do better than expected. By election day, two of its belated reforms — electricity and digital migration — may be showing benefits reflected in the jobs market and business confidence.
But the continuing corruption, service breakdowns, inadequate policing and other dysfunctions have scarred the party’s image and created a vacuum that others will seek to fill.
Weekend reports in City Press and Rapport show the ANC at a historic low of 37% in a recent poll. The DA, EFF, ActionSA and the party the Rivonia Circle’s Songezo Zibi is likely to form, will all be vying to fill that vacuum.
Read more in Daily Maverick: “ANC’s collapse as South Africa’s majority party is foretold in new poll”
2024 will be a major test of our Constitution and of our democratic society. Can we have peaceful changes of power at national level? Can we restore a sense of security? Can we rebuild our institutions? Can we restore the international standing of the country so wantonly thrown away? And can we reclaim the deeply damaged dream of a non-racial South Africa?
In 2024, a third to a half of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal’s provincial cabinets are expected to come from the opposition. Even in the Northern Cape and the Free State, the ANC may dip a shade below 50%, though it may retain power by incorporating one or two minor parties.
Slowly, however, the torch is being passed.
The last milestone moment in politics was in 2016, when the ANC lost Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay. Among the key drivers then were ANC elders who voiced their disgust at the corruption surrounding then president Jacob Zuma.
This time will be different. Stalwarts like Ahmed Kathrada and Denis Goldberg have since died, and Defend our Democracy, which includes ANC elders like Cheryl Corolus, Frank Chikane and people from the Kathrada Foundation, aims at grassroots work changing values and policies rather than vote-chasing.
But after the 2024 election, only political parties will be at the table.
The Constitutional Court-mandated amendment allowing independents to stand for Parliament is supposed to be passed soon, but is unlikely to make much difference, while Chief Justice Raymond Zondo’s recommendation for a directly elected president will not take off.
A directly elected president would increase the chance of a demagogue answerable to no organisation. The Constitution’s founders rightly recognised the importance of political parties to hold leaders in check. The only solution to bad political parties is to replace them with good political parties.
Real electoral reform can only come after the election, and only if enough parties are ready to end the party list system in favour of some form of accountability for MPs — probably in multi-member constituencies, similar to the recommendations of the Slabbert Commission which were rejected by then president Thabo Mbeki nearly 20 years ago.
We have unnecessarily delayed doing the obvious. Our list system has failed to provide elected politicians who fight effectively in Parliament and government for delivery of services to their communities.
People protest because they feel they are on their own. MPs who join protests are not doing their jobs. They are elected to solve the problems in Parliament, not protest against themselves.
Earlier breakaway parties from the ANC — the UDM and Cope — have two MPs each. Their days as viable parties have probably passed, which is a pity since there are talented, honourable leaders among them. Some may be absorbed into the DA and play a potentially significant role.
The DA’s USP (unique selling point) is that it governs reasonably well, with little corruption. Its focus on local services is taken up by every level of public representative. It gets on local radio and increasingly TV, obsessed with pot-holes, water, electricity, sewage. It has learnt important lessons from the UK about the role of successful pavement politics in building national support, and from successful mayors in the United States.
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Listening to radio call-ins and other anecdotal evidence, it could well advance significantly from its 21.66% last year. City Press reports the latest private poll gives it 27%.
In the Western Cape, people seem more outspokenly DA than I can remember. The rest of the country will be harder going, but that USP may count for a lot.
In Franschhoek, where I live, population movement from Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal has turned local housing into a sellers’ market. People fleeing floods, violence and absent policing are paying the asking price. One estate agent told me he was offered R500,000 more than the asking price last week, minutes after he sold.
According to town officials in places like Hermanus, arrivals from the Eastern Cape as well as neighbouring countries, say they choose the town because their children will get better schooling, even if their parents remain unemployed.
The DA will also benefit at the polls from Ramaphosa’s electricity reforms. Municipalities can now commission new renewable energy plants, and Western Cape towns are leading the way.
Provincial premier Alan Winde and the new Cape Town mayor, Geordin Hill-Lewis, are considered effective. The party could well rise above 25% nationally, breaking the ceiling of its best past performance. It will be hard for any new party to draw near that figure.
A history of organisation, funding, policies, experience and popular local figures is hard to challenge. On the other hand, parts of Cape Town remain among the most dangerous and impoverished in the world as gangsters — unchecked by the national police — continue to rule communities by fear.
Nationally, the DA has not repaired the damage to its image of losing Mmusi Maimane, Herman Mashaba — whatever judgment is made of their political and administrative records — and several other black leaders. Recently, long-time black DA officials leaving the party argue that they feel the DA isn’t working hard to win new black support. Nor has it been able to attract new, high-profile black talent.
Rivonia Circle and ActionSA
Former Business Day editor Songezo Zibi’s Rivonia Circle seems to share many of the DA’s views — both on the ANC and on the way to govern honourably — but Zibi is adamant that he won’t join the DA. His target is the well of non-voters and younger professionals who have been alienated by the ANC’s corruption, incompetence, failure to build the economy and contempt for expertise.
Zibi seems to have the integrity, seriousness and backing to grow significantly. He values expertise and builds discerning relations with university experts.
The fourth party aiming to fill the gap is Herman Mashaba’s ActionSA. It did well in the towns that it contested for the first time last year, but its leadership feuds and departures, and populist reliance on xenophobia, raise questions about its longevity.
The two years before the next election will be bad news for incumbent governments in elections worldwide. Even dextrous ruling parties will likely be thrown out. The international political momentum is running against the ANC.
Global and local conditions point to a further rise in opposition on the streets of South Africa — rising joblessness, inflation, unsolved crimes, unemployment and poverty, extreme weather events and regional instability are likely to hurt the ANC at the polls.
On the evidence of the 2021 municipal results, in 2024 the ANC can expect to poll well below 50% in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal and, if it can’t halt the decline, perhaps even in the Northern Cape and the Free State, where it managed only 50.55% and 50.61% respectively.
If it is only a shade below 50%, it can pick up one or two votes in the provincial chambers by offering a couple of executive positions to small opposition groups, and little will change.
But in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, opposition parties have a shot at real power-sharing. With only 36.06% of Gauteng votes last year, the ANC will almost certainly have to concede up to half its MEC seats, most likely to the DA, unless one of the new parties makes an unexpected breakthrough. The EFF, with 11.89% last time, is too small to solve the ANC’s deficit there.
In KwaZulu-Natal, where the ANC took 41.44% in 2021, joining forces with the Inkatha Freedom Party’s 24.24% could produce as stable a government as that province can expect, given the low-intensity civil war that rages uncontrolled — unless a national agreement dictates a different coalition.
The ANC will become effectively a rural party, in full control of Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West. The non-ANC parties will control the three provincial economic powerhouses of South Africa — the third is the Western Cape, which the DA governs alone — where most of the country’s provincial budgets are spent.
Nationally, the opponents of the ANC have smelled blood. At 45.59% nationally in the 2021 election, the ANC has created a vacuum, and vacuums get filled. Will it be the populists of the EFF and RET, or what might be described as the constitutionalists?
Ready or not, on election night as the returns come in, ANC leaders will rush into frenzied bargaining. There will be an outcome — the ANC will have to choose between the populists and the constitutionalists.
I continue to see the EFF as remaining relatively small, polling in the 10 to 15% range. Many in the ANC caucus may prefer the EFF, but an alliance seems unlikely — bad blood between the EFF and the ANC’s Ramaphosa faction goes back a long way.
That will leave the ANC torn, but predictions of a split may be premature. If the ANC chooses to reject the EFF for one or more other parties, who will leave their salary payments and expenses for the economic wilderness? More likely, an increasingly fractious ANC will remain more or less unified through another five unedifying years.
That situation places responsibility on all of us.
The country will not wait. It will be turbulent. A mild recovery is not good enough. The challenges are much more formidable this time, and the state is infinitely weaker.
It is already evident who will be the likely players. How ready are they first to win votes, second to govern?
We need leaders who understand our country in all its facets, and with the expertise to fix so much that is broken.
Job-creating policies must become more focused and government must listen to hard-won, serious expertise rather than spurning it as the ANC has done.
We need a government that trusts expertise, and we need greater economic literacy in our economic debates rather than Manichean rhetoric of “more state” or “less state”, privatise or nationalise.
Our jobs crisis is a State of Disaster that the promised “social compact” will not solve, while the rhetoric of the debate between state-run and privatise offers few clues to what we want South Africa to look like by the 2029 election — or how it will get us the 8% growth that we need.
Within the SADC region, we are fighting a war in Mozambique and our soldiers are losing their lives. Yet there is no evidence of any long-term strategy for this potentially increasingly serious regional conflict. Nor is there any evidence for what our policy is towards the growing democratic crisis in Eswatini.
How did we get here? What went wrong with the 1994 social compact that prevented us from applying obvious solutions to our problems that have been successful elsewhere? DM
John Matisonn, a former senior official in the United Nations in Afghanistan, returned to South Africa to write “Cyril’s Choices, An Agenda for Reform”. He is executive director of Ideas for Africa (Pty) Ltd.
Next: Re-assessing the 1994 social compact.