South Africa

2024 ELECTIONS

It’s a wrap — ANC down, but not out, as deal-making kicks off

It’s a wrap —  ANC down, but not out, as deal-making kicks off
(From left) The EFF’s Vuyani Phambo, Omphile Maotwe and Floyd Shivhambu and the ANC’s Gwede Mantashe at the IEC Results Operation Centre in Midrand on 1 June 2024.(Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

South Africa’s political landscape has been irrevocably rewritten in the 2024 elections. The ANC tanked to 40.2% nationally — ending a declining but still present grip on power in a historic moment.

Voters issued an unprecedented statement of disapproval in Nelson Mandela’s party that for many in South Africa is linked to bringing freedom and democracy to the country. The 40.2% support reflects a 17 percentage point drop in support compared to the 2019 elections, or three times the polling decline from election to election since 2009.

But in 2024 it wasn’t only a disapproval vote for others when the breakaway ANC party, the uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK) party arrived like a tsunami, it was also disapproval by deciding not to vote in traditional ANC strongholds like Soweto. The 58.5% projected voter turnout indicates that as well as that long queues do not necessarily mean a higher turnout.

The ANC saying, “Askies, we made a mistake. We will do better next time” did not land with voters. And in the confidentiality of the voting booth they marked their ballots.

For years the ANC was linked to State Capture (still several of those named in the Zondo Commission made it on to the election candidate lists), corruption and quality service delivery failures. Stubborn unemployment and the rolling blackouts which have hit households and businesses hard – as have water outages in many parts of the country – have marked ANC governance nationally and in eight out of South Africa’s nine provinces.

Combing through results

ANC, MK party, Marianne Merten, 24 election results wrap

ANC national chairperson Gwede Mantashe keeps an eye on the results board at the IEC’s national results centre in Midrand on 30 May 2024. (Alet Pretorius/ Reuters)

On Saturday, it was a turn to denialism. Combing through results to find oddities not only by the ANC, but also the MK party would delay the official declaration of results. Currently pencilled in for Sunday, 2 June, the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) has a full seven days from the poll to declare results, or 5 June.

Such strategies arise on the back of criticism of the IEC, particularly over the third, regional ballot that featured for the first time, and presiding officers’ often indecisive conduct that lead to lengthy queues. However, political party agents sign off on the result slips at every voting station, and while further checks and audits can find issues, the IEC system is one of high integrity.

But in South Africa’s noisy politics, as electoral dreams or delusions shatter, the result numbers may be an easy target.

The numbers of the 2024 elections mean the ANC must work with others. On Sunday key meetings unfold – from the ANC’s national executive committee, the IFP’s top executive structures and the DA’s federal executive.  

The first decisions will be taken then. It will require sober assessment in favour of the public good of South Africa, rather than political ego posturing.

The DA, which scored 21.6% nationally, slightly up from the 20.7% it scored in 2019, and the IFP, which at 3.9% nationally also clinched a bit more support, would in many eyes present stable governance at national level. It is what South African lobbyists such as organised business have signalled they would support.

Such an arrangement would not even be that tricky at national level. While the IFP and the ANC may pursue a closer cooperation pact, the DA is understood to be open to a supply-and-confidence agreement on points of mutual acceptance. It could see the ANC maintaining dominance in the executive with the opposition taking the legislative sphere like Parliament and provincial legislatures.

Those points of agreement would include endorsing President Cyril Ramaphosa for another five-year term, not bringing no-confidence motions and a determining say in the Budget. Positions in Parliament like committee chairs would also be discussed, according to word on the floor of the IEC national results centre.

Such a confidence-and-supply deal with the ANC, the DA could sell to its voting base, styling it as avoiding the so-called doomsday situation it warned of on the campaign trail.

The IFP may well agree to a closer cooperation agreement, if not quite a coalition. It’s looking at several Cabinet ministers, and maybe the deputy presidency and/or KwaZulu-Natal premiership, according to word making the rounds at the IEC national results centre. 

In the aftermath of such a devastating electoral performance, it is natural that questions are being asked about the future of Ramaphosa. 

However, it is understood the ANC at this stage would be reluctant to recall him from the Union Buildings, given the complex and wide-ranging negotiations that must now unfold – and concluded within the 14 days the Constitution allows from the declaration of the election results. 

Ramaphosa is more popular than the party he leads. And traditional ANC strategy and tactics would mean no action now as everyone is talking about the President’s future – steps would follow once silence returned.

The 2024 elections cemented the ANC’s declining electoral fortunes that in the 2016 municipal poll cost it Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay. In 2024 in KwaZulu-Natal it was slaughter – an unprecedented 37 percentage point plummet from 54% in 2019 to 17% support in 2024.

This province remains tricky – a three way deal that seemed possible with some 83%of the vote declared, no longer is as the results on Saturday noon were just shy of 100%. The KwaZulu-Natal legislature is finely balanced – 40 seats to a coalition of the MK party, which scored 45.9%, the EFF and National Freedom Party (NFP) and 40 seats to a joint front of the IFP, ANC and DA.

The NFP would have to be persuaded to switch sides.

Protest vote

Merten 2024 elections wrap, Zuma, ANC and MK party

Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla, daughter of former president Jacob Zuma and member of the MK party, at the IEC national results centre in Midrand on 30 May 2024. (Alet Pretorius / Reuters

While it would be easy to dismiss the MK party as a chauvinist and ethnic Zulu vote, it would be too simplistic. It scored 14.7% nationally, an estimated 58 seats, on its debut, higher than other ANC splinter parties such as Cope in 2009 and the EFF in 2014.

In many ways, voting MK party is also a protest vote against the ANC and its messy internal and factional manoeuvrings that have preoccupied the governing party. By not dealing with ex-president Jacob Zuma, like expelling him for fronting another political party, the ANC has fanned the phenomenon of Zuma exceptionalism.

The EFF did not benefit from this, but lost around two percentage points support, coming in at 9.4% nationally. The red berets will lose about four or five seats on the parliamentary benches, its first electoral setback in a decade.

But for South African politics, the rise of such populist political parties must be a concern. Zuma, like ex-US president Donald Trump, has commented to undermine courts, the electoral system and more. Both politicians have garnered support, and not just among the political fringes.

The MK party stands not alone; the Patriotic Alliance, which barely made a squib in 2019 at 0.4%, scored 2% in the 2024 elections.

The 2024 elections were effectively wrapped up on Saturday lunch time, pending the official IEC declaration of results and seats. But the politicking around South Africa’s future direction now must unfold. DM

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