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Five possible scenarios on what result the critical 2024 general election will deliver

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Dr Seelan Naidoo is principal associate at Public Ethos Consulting. He holds a master's in Decision-making, Knowledge and Values from Stellenbosch University, and a PhD in Organisation Studies and Cultural Theory from the University of St Gallen. He is an associated researcher of the Centre for Humanities Research at the University of the Western Cape. He writes in his personal capacity.

The 2024 election is an immensely important event which portends a turning point for South Africa. It certainly feels like it will be an acid test for all of us. What the ANC gets will clearly be a determining factor in our national politics.

The forthcoming South African national election, slated for early May 2024, ranks as the most uncertain since 1994. It is also a significant event that will mark the first 30 years of our still young and vibrant democracy.

There is little agreement among pollsters and other commentators about the most probable outcome of the election that is now just seven months away. Of particular interest is the share of the vote that the ANC is likely to garner, with estimates ranging from about 38% to above 50%. What the ANC gets will clearly be a determining factor in our national politics.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Elections 2024

Although several polls have been made public, there has been a dearth of cogent scenario analysis on this landmark election to be found in the public discourse. Polls seek to identify the single most probable outcome based on the propensities of a representative sample of prospective voters.

In contrast, a scenario analysis seeks to identify the full range of plausible outcomes despite their varying probabilities. Because of this, scenarios are more useful when the degree of uncertainty is high.

An analysis of the possible outcomes

In this article, I offer and explore an analysis that comprises five scenarios to map the technically possible outcomes of the 2024 national election on a more objective basis. These scenarios are derived from the range of possible outcomes and are informed by the 2019 national election outcome, and secondarily, by the recent polls on the 2024 election.

The scenarios presented in the table below are based on my construal of the upper and lower limits that are achievable for the major parties. Within these limits, the outcome for each party is then varied in increments to produce the five scenarios. In doing so, it is assumed that votes may be exchanged between the DA-led coalition and the “Other” category, and also between the ANC and the EFF.

Taken together, these scenarios represent the space of possibility for the 2024 election outcomes. It is my contention that there are no other plausible scenarios than the ones depicted below.

2024 election scenarios

Five national election scenarios for 2024. (Table: Supplied)

Each scenario, if it comes to pass, will shape politics at the national level. Some of the ways in which this might happen are discernible now. However, other features will only emerge and become apparent after the election.

The scenarios and their more discernible implications are briefly discussed below. I endeavoured to interpret the scenarios in the most objective and non-aligned manner that I could muster. This helped to identify plausible scenarios, but it also means that my interpretations of them can only be brief and broad.

Scenario 1 — an ANC-led coalition with the EFF

Scenario 1 will be the result of the lowest performance by the ANC and the highest performance by a DA-led coalition, and by the EFF. If we assume that a DA-EFF coalition is a non-starter, then the only way to form a national government in this scenario will be through an ANC-EFF coalition.

A DA-led coalition will not achieve the numbers needed to form a majority coalition.

Scenario 1 implies that the ANC will lose one or more provinces to a DA-led coalition. However, the ANC is still likely to retain its majority in the Ncop. Where this coalition wins provinces, it will govern them tenuously (by slight majorities) amid high political instability and horse-trading.   

One major effect of this scenario would be a continuous policy tussle between the ANC and EFF. Another would be a tussle over executive positions immediately after the election. Although one could imagine that such a coalition could become an enlightened alliance of the Left, the medium-term result is more likely to be an unstable political marriage of convenience.

As has been so evident in our metros, South African coalitions are highly unstable and they coincide with worsening public service delivery.

Scenario 2 — a marginal ANC majority

Scenario 2 will occur if the ANC wins a slight majority (51% to 55%). This would result from a weakening of its 2019 outcome (57%) and from slightly stronger outcomes for a DA-led coalition, and the EFF.

The ANC may also lose a province in this scenario but will retain a clear majority in the Ncop.

The effects of this could be increased policy uncertainty and a less assertive approach by the ANC in parliamentary processes. Political instability will increase; however, the ANC will still be able to pursue its national agenda, albeit at a reduced pace.

Scenario 3 — the ANC retains its current majority

Scenario 3 represents the 2019 outcome. This would result from a straightforward continuation of the status quo ante.

The effect of this will be a consolidation of ANC governance under conditions of legislative, policy and executive stability. Such a consolidation will be more pronounced if the renewal of the ANC continues.

Scenario 4 – A strengthened ANC majority

Contrary to what one might gather from the mainstream media, a strengthened ANC majority is quite plausible. The ANC disposes of many achievements in the public interest and its process of renewal, although it has been slow and chequered, is becoming more evident to non-aligned researchers and commentators.

However, the extent to which black South Africans are persuaded by the renewal of the ANC and its manifesto is the extent to which this scenario is more likely to come about.

The effect of this outcome could be the consolidation by the ANC of a stable policy environment and a more settled and jacked-up public administration. These are conditions in which the ANC can pursue its agenda more assertively.

Opposition politics will not recede in intensity — indeed it is likely to become even more vitriolic.   

Scenario 5 — a firm ANC mandate

Scenario 5, which is deemed unlikely by all accounts, has the ANC weighing in at 62% of the vote to secure a much firmer mandate. What renders this scenario plausible despite its unlikelihood is that the ANC achieved 62% in 2014 and even higher proportions in prior elections.

The effects of this outcome would be similar to those of scenario 4.

Conclusion

The 2024 election is an immensely important event which portends a turning point for South Africa. It certainly feels like it will be an acid test for all of us.

General elections in South Africa since 1994 have and still hold the promise of a shift towards the good. We should not lose sight of the hopefulness and potentiality of this moment.

At the same time, it should be noted that democratic participation has been declining worldwide and public trust in democratic governance has been severely eroded. Although South African voter turnouts in national elections — 66% in 2019 — are high by international standards, they too have been in decline.

The proportion of voters that turn out on the day will have some influence on which scenario comes about. Increased voter turnouts will favour the ANC, EFF, IFP and the smaller parties. On the other hand, reduced voter turnouts will favour the DA and the FF+.     

The overall implication of these scenarios is that the ANC led by Cyril Ramaphosa will not be unseated at the national level. Apart from scenario 1 — which is highly unlikely — the ANC will retain effective national political power in both houses of Parliament and President Ramaphosa will continue into his second term in office.

If I had to make a prediction it would be that the outcome of the 2024 national election will occur somewhere between scenario 3 (in which the ANC obtains 57% of votes) and scenario 4 (60% for the ANC). There is little substantive difference between the political effects of these two scenarios. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Ben Harper says:

    Hahahahahaha

  • Denise Smit says:

    The ANC cadre mouthpiece is advising us to please vote for the ANC. This ANC that is corrupt, where it governs everything has been destroyed. Look at the roads, water provision crisis where we now have no water or waters shedding, a burning broken Gauteng, broken Transnet, broken corrupt ESKOM with load shedding, corrupt broke Denel, mine industry becoming extinct, a school system were matriculants can not read for meaning or write, or do sums, a corrupt broken public health system, municipalities who can not manage their mandate and leave town dysfunctional, a government who encourages people not to pay for electricity, a Parliament burnt to the ground, a minister of Sport that can not manage a anti doping requirement, a State Capture, harbours that are the worst in the world, a deputy minister of Transport who encourages a violent taxi strike, a police minister who shouts at people and has left everybody unsafe, and , and. ……. Denise Smit

  • CHARL DU TOIT says:

    It ties my stomach up in knots just to think about Mr. Naidoo’s analysis. However – he is right. Nothing has changed, or can change in time for the 2024 elections. Mr. Naidoo, I am praying for a miracle though… the ONLY challenge is, if not the ANC, then which party? None of the political parties are interested in the welfare of all South Africans.

  • F B says:

    Mr. Naidoo is a principal associate at public Ethos consulting, yet he leaves out the possibility for a DA-led scenario.

    • PETER BAKER says:

      A DA led government is the only hope for this country to succeed after three decades of ANC grime, corruption, and incompetence. And if the DA doesn’t turn SA around after a couple terms then, as in any good and functional democracy….we vote them out.

      • Jane Crankshaw says:

        Dare I say it….what about a DA/ANC coalition? Not impossible if it’s fairly shared and BEE policies get chucked in the bin. Resigning from BRICS would also help stimulate more investment/ loans and enthusiasm for this coalition to work…..one can dream can’t one?

  • I could not agree more with the sentiments shared by Mr Du Toit. Many parties emerge as an alternative to the ruling party but lacks a cogent strategy to sway voters in their favor. Dr S Naidoo is correct in his predictions and I pray that value- based and ethical leaders within the ANC and any party for that matter, can realize that the time of taking voters f9r granted is over. There is seething anger and resentment on the ground. There has to be severe consequences for those political leaders and governemt officials looting the resources aimed at communities. The wrong elements within the parties must be removed as a matter of urgency in order to restore faith in the right party under the leadership of president Ramaphosa. We see what happens to ethical leaders who take a stand against corrupt activities, they get ambushed and killed. This is not democracy. The leaders of all parties must stand together and speak out against such actions because one day, they would have to jointly coexist as a coalition government. They have to stand for one common cause. Langi

  • Marilyn Brown says:

    The 2024 election will be no business as usual with ANC majority as the usual rural communities will be bribed with T shirts and food parcels and will vote ANC back into power to continue disempowering our beloved country driving it further into chaos and disfunctionality. I hold little hope for the future I am afraid.

  • Greeff Kotzé says:

    Your EFF numbers are high, and your “Other” numbers are low, across all scenarios, in my humble opinion. Did you factor in independent candidates? And demographic shift?

    In addition, the likelihood of scenario 5 coming to pass is more remote than that of scenario 1, by several orders of magnitude. The effect of this is that, to the average reader, it appears that scenario 3 is predicted to be the average/neutral/most likely outcome, which feels off.

    As for the last paragraph, that just sounds completely divorced from reality. Just my gut feeling.

  • District Six says:

    Brilliant insights.
    The ‘best’ outcome would be scenario 1 – because that would result in the lowest ANC/EFF majority. However, the zille/steenhuizen-driven DA would never get 40% in real life. The DA should learn maths: they can’t get a 40% ballot off targetting 7% of the population.

  • Tumi Mothibedi says:

    Scenarios 3 to 5 are more on the unrealistic side if you closely follow all the plausible predictions of late based on the dynamics on the ground. Here is what I term the central scenario at the moment:

    ANC – 45%
    DA – 20%
    EFF – 12%
    IFP – 6%
    ACTIONSA- 5%
    FF+ – 2.5%
    RIZE MZANSI – 2%
    PA – 1.75%
    BOSA- 1.5%
    ACDP – 1%
    OTHERS – 3.25%

  • Gavin P says:

    Anything of a ANC victory over 50% and you can then know that the CIA have interfered in our election like they did in the election in Brazil. One now hears that IEC are using groups linked to George Soros to help run the election. These may well be the same group that got Joe Biden a record 81 million votes in 2020 election. (more than any president in history of USA). He could not fill up a small hall with suppoorters but is the most popular of all presidential candidates. If you really believe that happened in have a farm on Mars inbound like to sell to you. Democracy is under huge threat. The IEC South Africa need to allow for their systems and software to be independently scrutinized for any anomalies.
    The power of the right software with the right algorithm can do amazing things. Is this why CR is so confident?

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