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Sweating ballots — coalitions, populism and apathy underpin election trends in 2024

Sweating ballots — coalitions, populism and apathy underpin election trends in 2024
From top left: Panyaza Lesufi (Photo: Gallo Images / OJ Koloti); Veronica Mente, EFF. (Photo: Shelley Christians); Chris Pappas (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla); Patricia de Lille (Photo: Gallo Images / Ziyaad Douglas), Songezo Zibi, (Photo: Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi); Patriotic Alliance members. (Photo: Gallo Images); Roger Jardine. (Photo: Supplied) ANC's electoral committee. (Photo: Leila Dougan); Gayton McKenzie; (Photo: Gallo Images / Netwerk24)

The national and provincial elections are likely to remain in news headlines in 2024, both before and after the event. These are the trends to watch out for – and to guard against.

The beginning of the ANC’s end

At 112 years old in 2024, will the ANC finally reach its zenith? The polls show that after 30 years in power, the liberation movement-turned-political party is no longer hegemonic in its grip over South Africa’s political imagination. The ANC may still get a sufficient number of votes to form the next government, but it will lose its one-party dominance. From there, the path of former liberation movements is clear: They generally don’t bounce back.

Coalition country

The ANC will need a coalition partner with which to govern in 2024. If it gets 48% at the poll, then it only needs the support of a small party to form a government. This is currently the most likely outcome of a median voter turnout. But if its support flatlines more than this, then it could create a government with a surging EFF. An ANC-EFF government will be more populist and radical than a left-of-centre ANC with a more minor partner.

Though some coalitions work well, the Gauteng and Nelson Mandela Bay metros show that new principles are needed to guide them. Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban and Gqeberha are all coalition-led and have been in severe service decline since the local government election in 2021.

A very male election?

Three million more women are registered to vote than men, yet there is only one woman-led representative political party – Patricia de Lille’s Good.

The election will be a predominantly all-male campaign if current trends continue. All the major contesting parties are male-led. The most significant coalition agreement, the Multi-Party Charter (MPC), is a pact of seven male-led parties. The Constitution enshrines gender equality, but as the political landscape becomes more competitive, women are being squeezed out.

Waves of populism

The EFF is surging in support, according to the polls. The party is radical populist, and it is starting a wave of similar politics. With his preacher-like style and strongman approach to politics, Gayton McKenzie’s Patriotic Alliance, which tries and often succeeds in its ethnic appeal to coloured people, is chalking up by-election successes.

The ANC’s premier in Gauteng, Panyaza Lesufi, has gone full populist. He has re-engineered the provincial budget to start his police force lite, created a personal public employment plan and ordered an illegal electricity debt scrapping. He defies the party’s national leadership.  

Populist coalition government for Gauteng?

Despite Lesufi’s best efforts, the ANC’s support in Gauteng has still fallen through the floor. According to the most recent national poll, the party would get about 36% if an election were held tomorrow.

In this small but populous province, an ANC-EFF government is likely, since Lesufi will need the red berets in order to stay in power.

Can a young, white, gay, isiZulu-speaking guy run KwaZulu-Natal?

Chris Pappas is the DA candidate for the KwaZulu-Natal premiership. He is also the popular mayor of uMngeni Local Municipality. The ANC’s governing Taliban faction in the province would rather die than give it up, so it is dragging former president Jacob Zuma from his “sickbed” to campaign.

But the polls show the ANC is doing even worse in KwaZulu-Natal than in Gauteng. Service collapse has finally caught up with the party. In this context, it’s not entirely out of the question for Pappas to wear the chains – but expect a big fight.

Will the no vote take it?

As service levels decline, South Africans show less and less interest in the ballot box. There are 42.6 million eligible voters and only 26.8 million registered voters. Most eligibles who have yet to register are young, revealing that unemployment and a motley political class are not inspiring our next generation to vote.

There is only one more physical registration drive, in February 2024, but online registration remains open.

Professionals put up hands to be president

It is exciting that professionals and people of the calibre of Songezo Zibi (Rise Mzansi) and former banker, director-general and activist Roger Jardine are putting up their hands to lead. They have both looked hard at President Cyril Ramaphosa’s lacklustre tenure and decided they can do better. They are entering the public office arena, and both have exciting followings.

It’s too early to say much about Jardine’s political movement, Change Starts Now, but Zibi’s team of young activists are using a method of organising that eschews old-style political structures to build a movement against the old politics. He could get 7% of the vote at current trends – significant enough to take more than 30 of this team to Parliament. Imagine the change that will be made to the legislature. We should welcome them rather than knock them down.

Securing the election in a mafia era

South Africa has the distinction of doing elections well for 30 years. The Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) is an institution of excellence, and it has developed a method of managing elections that is recognised worldwide.

But since the last national election in 2019, organised crime and State Capture networks have become entrenched. This has made many parts of the country effective no-go zones because construction, logistics and other industry mafia have colonised entire areas.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Elections 2024 Knowledge Base

How will the IEC operate in these areas, and what is being done to secure them to ensure that votes can be made freely and fairly and that politicians do not emerge from, nor can they hire, the mafia? This is not panic-mongering but genuine concern about the confluence of the mafia state and the election of 2024.

In the end, it’s up to you

South Africans can feel powerless in the face of a state that is often a leviathan – all-powerful. Blackouts have made manifest both the hold over and collapse of the state and its implications for our lives. Power cuts are the most significant factor in the ANC vote spiralling down. We can shout on social media and make TikTok videos and write our irritations on Facebook, but the vote is the one time when the voter is on top. Let’s use the moment wisely. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

DM168 front page

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