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2024 ELECTIONS EXPLAINER

Everything you need to know about South Africa Elections 2024 and what happens afterwards

Everything you need to know about South Africa Elections 2024 and what happens afterwards
Illustrative image | A woman casts her vote (Photos: EPA-EFE / Kim Ludbrook | Rawpixel | Lubabalo Lesolle / Gallo Images)

The governing ANC’s January 8th Statement, its declaration of policy priorities, traditionally kicks off South Africa’s political year. In an election year, that statement and its related rah-rah activities, take on additional import, from election manifesto hints to pre-polling PR moments.

So, when are the 2024 elections?

Any time from 9 February to 7 August. Elections must be held within 90 days on either side of the last election, which in 2019 was on 8 May.

It’s up to the President to proclaim the election date. In 2019, that was a two-stage package — first, the announcement by President Cyril Ramaphosa during his State of the Nation Address (Sona) on 7 February 2019, followed by the official proclamation in the Government Gazette on 26 February.

In 2024, Sona is on 8 February and will be keenly watched.

What happens once the elections are proclaimed?

That proclamation closes the voters’ roll, according to section 24 of the Electoral Act as amended. With the last physical voter registration weekend on 3-4 February, the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) would want as many potential voters as possible to show up. Online registration will be possible until the elections are proclaimed.

Once the polling date is formally set, the IEC kicks up a gear or two. This includes publishing an election timetable with dates by which, for example, political parties must submit their lists of public representative candidates, pay deposits and comply with other milestones.

The IEC must prep the election logistics, from compiling the ballot papers — this time a first because of independent candidates — to securing enough election materials, from ballot boxes to pens and power alternatives to ensure the rotational power cuts don’t undermine voting.

Political parties will have to firm up their election diaries. To date, the ANC has worked on a 22 May poll and the DA an 8 May poll. While electioneering rhetoric erupted early in 2023, particularly in parliamentary debates, it’s now on to the campaign trail, from election manifesto launches to schmoozing potential voters.

The Freedom Front Plus and ActionSA were first out of the blocks, releasing their election manifestos in November and December 2023, respectively. The DA has scheduled its manifesto launch for 17 February, the ANC for 24 February, the EFF for 10 February and the IFP for 10 March.

All but the DA’s manifesto launches are in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal — signalling the province’s importance and contestation.

Voting done, what’s next?

The IEC must formally declare the elections within seven days, according to section 17 of the Electoral Act as amended. 

Historically, the commission has done so quicker, in around three days. But 2024 may see a greater number of objections, not only over the debut of independent candidates but also because these are what pundits describe as watershed elections, which could see the governing ANC dipping below 50% and losing outright control.

If the election is not declared within seven days, the Electoral Court may extend this period. Ultimately, failure to declare an election means the President must call another poll to be held within 90 days from the last possible date of declaration, according to section 49(3) of the Constitution.

Once the elections are declared, the focus moves first to Parliament, then the new President, and back to Parliament.

What happens at Parliament?

The National Assembly has 14 days to hold its first sitting, according to section 51(1) of the Constitution. All 400 legislators must be sworn in before the House elects the Speaker, a deputy, and then the President.

This timeframe ups the pressure on politicians if the election result requires coalition agreements; these would have to be put together in two weeks or less. It’s uncharted territory if this timeframe isn’t met. The Constitution does not address a situation where the National Assembly does not meet within 14 days after the declaration of elections. 

The first sitting of the National Assembly is chaired by Chief Justice Raymond Zondo or a judge he chooses. The Chief Justice oversees the MPs’ swearing-in and the election of the Speaker, who in turn oversees the election of the Deputy Speaker before the Chief Justice takes over again for the election of the President.

Who gets nominated would depend like never before on compromise if no political party reaches at least a simple majority. Previously, the ANC, despite its diminishing majority, carried its choices.

A secret ballot will be held if more than one candidate is nominated for Speaker, Deputy Speaker and President.

While, on a few occasions, the post of Speaker was contested, only once before was the presidential election contested. In 2009, Cope fielded Methodist Bishop Mvume Dandala against the ANC’s nomination of Jacob Zuma for President. The Cope MP lost by 277 votes to 47, with the DA abstaining on 6 May 2009, and by month-end had resigned from the national legislature. The point perhaps was to make a political point and uphold what the Constitution allows.

Once elected, the President resigns as an MP, according to section 87 of the Constitution. 

Then, all eyes on the executive…

Once these parliamentary processes are concluded it becomes more fudgy. Nothing in law or the Constitution expressly prescribes the processes of a presidential inauguration and the appointment of the Cabinet and deputy ministers.

But precedence is a guide.

Even while the first post-election processes unfold in Parliament, the Government Communication and Information System, SANDF and others would have started prepping for the President’s inauguration, traditionally held in Tshwane as the seat of executive power.

An inauguration usually is a spectacle with all the bells and whistles. In the backrooms, the final political discussions unfold on Cabinet posts, deputy ministers and other appointments like parliamentary committee chairpersons.

When the ANC had a free hand to fill those posts, the discussions included Luthuli House and, specifically, the ANC secretary-general. The process typically leads to a late-night phone call or an invitation to a meeting for successful ministerial candidates. In the ANC, who is announced for which post reflects the balance of factional power.

Inauguration is followed by the announcement of the Cabinet in what usually is a tight, streamlined process leading back to Parliament. 

In 1999, after the 2 June elections, the House elected Thabo Mbeki as President on 14 June, and he announced his Cabinet a day after his inauguration on 16 June. In 2009, the 22 April poll saw MPs choosing President Jacob Zuma on 6 May. Following his 9 May inauguration, he announced his Cabinet a day later. In 2019, after the 8 May elections, the House on 22 May elected President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was inaugurated on 25 May and announced his Cabinet four days later on 29 May.

Then it’s back to Parliament for Sona 2.0 — and more

The second Sona in an election year is more of a “get down to work” address, regardless of any pomp and ceremony that in 2024 will not be on the parliamentary precinct because the fire-destroyed National Assembly remains under construction. Rebuilding is expected to be completed in late 2025. 

How quickly the political action moves to the national legislature varies. In 1999, Mbeki delivered the post-poll Sona on 25 June, a week after announcing his Cabinet on 17 June. In 2009, Zuma delivered the Sona 2.o on 3 June, three weeks after appointing his Cabinet. In 2019, Ramaphosa delivered his post-poll State of the Nation Address on 20 June, again some three weeks after announcing his Cabinet.

Usually around this time, also announced in Parliament, are the chairpersons of committees, pending a formal election at the first committee meeting, and other parliamentary posts like house chairpersons.

Who is earmarked for what parliamentary post up to now has been the ANC’s choice — and that included dropping opposition MPs from being house chairpersons as had been the tradition in the Mbeki presidency, and ensuring a host of ex-Zuma presidency ministers took control of committees in 2019. 

Depending on the election result, that may not be the case this year, but this will only become clear on the back of the result.

The focus remains on urgent business of Parliament…

First order of the new Parliament — passing the budget, which would have been tabled in late February, as is practice.

Section 10(7) of the Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act is clear: “Parliament must pass, with or without amendments, or reject the Appropriation Bill within four months after the start of the financial year to which it relates.” 

That deadline is the end of July.

The Public Finance Management Act, in section 29(2), makes provision for departments and entities to draw monies of up to 45% of the previous year’s allocations for up to four months into the new financial year, and thereafter 10% every month. So, the government continues to be financed, but the risk of increasing uncertainty rises the longer it takes MPs to get the Budget adopted.

Aside from the Budget, draft legislation must be foremost on MPs’ minds.

At the close of 2023, key legislation remained incomplete — including the Electricity Regulation Amendment Bill to overhaul the electricity sector by establishing a systems operator, the South African National Petroleum Company Bill to give effect to the new Upstream Petroleum Resources Development legislation, and the National Water Resources Infrastructure Agency Bill that seeks to overhaul key aspects of water management. By the December 2023 recess, 57 Bills were before Parliament.

It’s uncertain whether both houses of Parliament could adopt these laws before rising for elections. Taking the 2019 elections as an example, Parliament could be expected to rise in mid-March before Easter — if elections are, as is widely expected, called for May.

The new post-election MPs must decide, in line with parliamentary practice dating back to 2004, what draft legislation to revive for further processing through a resolution of the House.

What about the National Council of Provinces?

As the House representing provinces, the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) depends on the nine provincial legislatures to determine who should serve as its council delegates. Each province has 10 representatives, six permanent delegates and four special delegates, including the premier.

The Constitution in section 61 gives each provincial legislature 30 days from the date the election is declared to determine the members of the province’s delegation. That done, the delegates are sworn in and must elect the NCOP chairperson and two deputies, one of whom serves only one year, so the post can be rotated through the provinces.

So, by when will things political and governance settle down in a new post-poll direction?

Not before late July, if the elections are held in May. 

If elections are held later, it would depend on the progress in passing the Budget — and the hard statutory end-of-July deadline. If it’s passed by mid-June, then MPs can go on electioneering for six weeks with elections in, say, early August. But that would mean fickle weather in most of South Africa, and the potentially negative impact of a winter wracked by rolling blackouts. Not an outlook politicians would cherish.

If elections are held in May, much of the normalisation (if that’s possible) would depend on the pace of declaring the election result, the National Assembly electing the President, the inauguration, the Cabinet announcement and the post-poll Sona. 

But expect the new MPs and their political parties both in and out of government to use the budget vote debates ahead of adoption, and other platforms, for more stump speeches. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Peter Forder says:

    In the old days, whenever Elections were held in South Africa, the Percentage [ % ] Poll was always given as part of the Official Results. It is only once we (the People) get to know how many Voters voted as a % of All Registered Voters that we can assess the General Mood of the Eligible Voters as a whole. In addition, the Percentage [ % ] Registered Voters compared to the Total Population Entitled to Vote (whether Registered or not) would be an additional Useful Indicator of the General Mood of South African Voters as a Whole. Does any one agree with my thinking here? If so, WHO is going to make the IEC incorporate these Statistics into the 2024 Voting Process and beyond?

  • Peter Forder says:

    Does no one understand what it is that I have suggested on 17 January 2024 … regarding % Polling ? I ask because, to date, nobody has commented.

  • RONESHDHAWRAJ says:

    Hi…I think you meant 9 May in your first sentence: ‘So when are elections expected? Any time from 9 February to 7 August’.

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