South Africa


While the ANC is in decline, it still has multiple paths to power

While the ANC is in decline, it still has multiple paths to power
Illustrative image from top left: Good party leader Patricia de Lille. (Photo: Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Edrea du Toit) | Build One South Africa leader Mmusi Maimane. (Photo: Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi) | IFP president Velenkosini Hlabisa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart) | MK party leader Jacob Zuma. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla) | ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Leila Dougan) | DA leader John Steenhuisen. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart) | Rise Mzansi leader Songezo Zibi. (Photo: Gallo Images / OJ Koloti) | Freedom Front Plus leader Dr Pieter Groenewald. (Photo: Gallo Images / Rapport / Elizabeth Sejake) | Patriotic Alliance leader Gayton McKenzie. (Photo: Supplied) | EFF Leader Julius Malema. (Photo: Gallo Images) | ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

The ANC could lose its national majority in the general elections, but South Africa’s largest political party still has a significant range of options for forming a government.

The ANC has been in power for the past 30 years with a comfortable majority. In the 2019 elections, the party received 57% support nationally and gained a majority in all the provinces except for the Western Cape. 

This time around, the political landscape has changed significantly, with many more parties competing for power — a good sign for SA’s democracy, but a pain for the ANC.

The party has been predicted to drop below 50% nationally and also to lose power in Gauteng and KZN.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Elections 2024

Despite this, the ANC head of elections, Mdumiseni Ntuli, maintained that the governing party had not looked at the possibility of coalitions.

“If the ANC goes down we will have to sit down and reflect on … the situation,” he said.

He noted some hurdles the party had to overcome during its campaign.

“The most difficult task was to start the campaign and there were major problems relating to service delivery. As the incumbent, the expectations of people were directed at us.

“We began the campaign when load shedding was worse, the crisis of water provision in parts of our country was very hard. There were major concerns relating to the state of infrastructure, like roads and ports in Durban,” he said.

“Where we are today, there has been a great deal of improvement and progress which is essentially to the advantage of the ANC,” he said.

“You have to understand the context in which President [Cyril] Ramaphosa was elected to lead the sixth administration. He inherited essentially the administration from the former leader, which was in disarray. We had a crisis around the NPA [National Prosecuting Authority], relating to a number of state institutions. Some of the problems are due to what we can say are subjective witnesses within the ANC.

“We also need to look at the state of the economy and the effects of the global pandemic and the July 2021 unrest. I think President Ramaphosa will go down in history as the President who had to face the most difficulties in the first term as the President of the country,” he said.

While opposition parties including the DA, IFP, Freedom Front Plus and others in the Multi-Party Charter (MPC) are aiming to form a national government, there are still multiple scenarios for the ANC to stay in power, depending on the election results.

Scenario 1: The ANC wins 

The ANC polled poorly throughout the campaign season but the party’s position strengthened over time. 

It has been strategic and intentional ahead of the 29 May vote, with Ramaphosa signing key legislation that’s popular with the party’s base and is targeted at helping the disenfranchised, including the controversial National Health Insurance Bill, the National Council on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide Bill, and the National Prosecuting Authority Amendment Bill.

There was no load shedding for at least two months before the elections, which could be one of the main reasons the ANC wins over voters.  

In addition, Ramaphosa caused a row on Sunday after his address to the nation was criticised as an electioneering move, an accusation the party has faced on multiple occasions.

Ntuli said accusations that the ANC had used state power as an electioneering tool were unfair.

“The fact that we have elections does not take away the reality that we have a government over which President Ramaphosa has to preside as head of state. The very same people who are worried are casting aspersions on us for failing to use the democratic state to address issues.

“It is an unfair criticism, because if we do not do anything in an election year, they go around and say we are not doing anything,” he said.

The ANC has a strong support base because of its status as the liberation movement largely credited with negotiating South Africa’s path towards democracy.

The party’s high-profile veterans campaigned for it in the run-up to the polls. Supporters were happy to see former president Thabo Mbeki, former National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete and former Gauteng premier Tokyo Sexwale in their neighbourhoods.

Scenario 2: The ANC partners with smaller parties

If the ANC gets around 47% to 49%, it is most likely that it will work with smaller parties to form a coalition. 

The ANC could use its ties with Al Jama-ah, the Patriotic Alliance (PA) and the Good Party to form a government.

Al Jama-ah leader Ganief Hendricks said his party was willing to do whatever it took to keep the MPC out of power. Hendricks said he would not work with the MPC, which is anchored by the DA, because “white power” cannot again govern the country.

“We will support the ANC, MK and EFF; they are the root in the liberation struggle of South Africa. We will not hesitate to assist them to elect a Speaker; in regards to electing a President, we will put someone forward from our own party,” he said.

Good party secretary-general Brett Herron has said the party would not engage in coalition discussions before the elections. However, the appointment of Good party leader Patricia de Lille as a Cabinet minister for the past five years is telling of where it stands.

Although the African Transformation Movement (ATM) has been working informally with the ANC at the local government level, its leader, Vuyo Zungula, said it would not make sense to collaborate with the party at a national level, especially with Ramaphosa at the helm. 

The ATM led the charge against Ramaphosa in the Phala Phala scandal and it would look like backtracking if the party changed its tune. 

“We need to agree on a programme of action first, we want a coalition which puts the interest of the people first,” Zungula said.

The PA has been clear about its willingness to work with any party unless they share power.

Scenario 3: The ANC partners with the EFF

The ANC and EFF have already worked together at the local government level. In the City of Johannesburg, the parties have teamed up with the likes of the PA and ATM in what seems to be a harmonious relationship. However, in Ekurhuleni they have locked horns publicly on several occasions. 

EFF leader Julius Malema has maintained that his wish is to have his deputy, Floyd Shivambu, appointed as finance minister if the EFF were to get into a coalition with the ANC.

Shivambu is the longest-serving member of Parliament’s standing committee on finance over the past 10 years. He holds an honours degree from Wits University and his dissertation surveyed the differences between the Growth, Employment & Redistribution policy and the Accelerated & Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa.

He also holds master’s degrees in development studies from Wits and the University of London. However, his education will not be enough to convince the ANC to appoint him to this key position.

It’s likely that the ANC will still prefer current finance minister Enoch Godongwana to occupy the position. Making abrupt changes to the Treasury would not be a good idea as SA has to show markets and business that there is stability in the country post-election. 

There is also a lobby within the party, headed by the Veterans’ League leader Snuki Zikalala, which is against the ANC associating itself with the Red Berets. 

During a National Executive Committee meeting in October 2023, the ANC’s head of political education, David Makhura, stated in a document that the EFF was not an acceptable coalition partner at local government level because it was a “proto-fascist party run dictatorially”.

The document said the EFF had no regard for good governance and its antipathy towards ANC leaders stemmed from the self-interest of its own leaders.

Scenario 4: An MPC partner 

While the DA calls itself the anchor tenant in the MPC, there were rumours that it was considering joining forces with the ANC.

Party insiders say under such an agreement, the ANC would probably still govern the country, with the DA choosing to be at the helm in Parliament, in an attempt to keep a close eye on the governing party’s executive.

The dilemma will be the two parties’ policy positions, which are worlds apart. The DA is against the implementation of the National Health Insurance Act and does not believe in Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment, which was one of the ANC’s key tools for redress.

The DA’s flag-burning advert during election campaigning also showed how the two parties lack compatibility. The advert, depicting the national flag burning and then being reassembled, caused a stir, with the ANC being at the forefront of condemning the official opposition. 

DA leader John Steenhuisen seemed to initially imply that the party would be willing to collaborate with the ANC, but recently backtracked from this notion.

The IFP could also be another option for the ANC, if the two parties are able to put their differences aside.

The two parties have a turbulent past which IFP founder was trying to mend before his passing.

The IFP is also a part of the MPC which could scupper the possibility of a partnership with ANC.

IFP leader Velenkosini Hlabisa recently stated that there is no chance of the party working with the ANC. DM

This article was updated at 4.30pm on May 29, 2024, to reflect the IFP option.


Daily Maverick has closed comments on all elections articles for the next two weeks. While we do everything in our power to ensure deliberately false, misleading and hateful commentary does not get published on our site, it’s simply not possible for our small team to have sight of every comment. Given the political dynamics of the moment, we cannot risk malignant actors abusing our platform to manipulate and mislead others. We remain committed to providing you with a platform for dynamic conversation and exchange and trust that you understand our need for circumspection at this sensitive time for our country.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.7% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.3% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.3% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.3%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

MavericKids vol 3

How can a child learn to read if they don't have a book?

81% of South African children aged 10 can't read for meaning. You can help by pre-ordering a copy of MavericKids.

For every copy sold we will donate a copy to Gift of The Givers for children in need of reading support.