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Intel Brief: South Africa’s elections


 


Date: 21/05/2024


Who’s involved:

  • The African National Congress (ANC), Democratic Alliance (DA), uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MK), Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF)



What happened?

  • On 29/05/2024 elections are scheduled in South Africa. With a turbulent, contested period prior to these elections, it is probable that demonstrations and protests will take place around the election date. 

  • The ruling African National Congress (ANC) might get below 50 per cent of the ballots for the first time since 1994, when Nelson Mandela won the first election after abolishing Apartheid - the system of institutionalized racial segregation that operated in South Africa and present-day Namibia between 1948 and 1990. If this happens, a coalition government could be initiated after three decades of ANC being in power. 

  • ANC’s loss of popularity is mainly due to unprecedented unemployment rates, widespread poverty, a lack of basic services, and corruption scandals. The enduring impact of racism and segregation also still remains evident, with black communities continuing to suffer disproportionately from poverty.

  • Other parties are running on the promise of improving such conditions. The main opposition party, the progressive centrist Democratic Alliance (DA) strives to address unemployment, creating a fair and free climate with opportunities for everyone. The party is expected to gain around 18% of the national vote. Another party contending is the leftist, pan-Africanist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). It describes itself as a radical and militant economic emancipation movement, empowering marginalized communities. They are likely to secure about 11% of the national ballot.

  • Unrest between the ANC and left-wing populist uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MK) overshadows this election. In December 2023, Jacob Zuma, former South African president between 2009-2018 on behalf of ANC,  caused surprise by announcing his support for the newly formed MK Party.  In January 2024, ANC expelled Zuma, whereupon he switched to MK, appearing as the leader and campaigning vigorously. Additionally, ANC sued MK for using the name and logo of its former armed wing. On 22/04/2024, ANC lost that court bid.

  • In March 2024, South Africa's Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) disqualified Zuma, citing the constitution's ban on parliamentary seats for those with prison sentences of 12 months or more. In 2021, Zuma received a 15-month jail sentence - of which served only three due to health reasons - for corruption allegations. This sparked widespread protests, riots, and looting, resulting in over 350 fatalities.

  • On 09/04/2024, the Electoral Court overruled IEC’s decision. The South African Constitutional Court decided on 20/05/2024 to bar Zuma from running for parliament. Despite the ban, the MK will continue to campaign. At the same time, the party is under police investigation for allegedly forging supporters' signatures to register for the national elections. The verdict of this case holds implications for the forthcoming election as well, with potential security concerns.

  • Opinion polls indicate that MK is likely to secure around 14% of the national vote, and over 40% of the provincial vote in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), establishing itself as a significant force in Zuma’s home province. A local source indicates that during the last months, there has been concern about unrest in the province, with people outside the province perceiving the provincial vote in KZN as a tribal issue for Zulus. The recent ban of Zuma may provoke unrest and potential violence. Overall, Zuma’s ban could diminish MK’s election prospects if members joined the party primarily out of loyalty to Zuma. Concurrently, it could turn out positively as MK supporters might garner sympathy and support arguing that the courts are against Zuma and MK. 


Analysis:

  • If the ANC loses its majority, it is likely to lead to a period of unstable coalition government. Considering the opposition is quite fragmented, with circa 70 political parties and 11 independent candidates contesting, the ANC is expected to maintain the largest party in parliament. Yet, a coalition formation seems unavoidable, with its support dwindling rapidly due to issues such as corruption, poverty, pollution and a deteriorating business climate. In recent months, there has been a surge in political violence both within the ANC as well as within other parties, with 10 politically motivated assassinations being recorded in the period January - April 2024. Members are vying for powerful positions granting self-enrichment, including access to local government budgets. Diverse officials and politicians have engaged in corruption practices, resulting in the disappearance of social initiatives and funds intended for the population. An exacerbating issue is the staggering unemployment rate, which is exceeding 32%, one of the highest globally. This dire situation has ensnared millions in poverty, causing intense dissatisfaction  forcing them to depend on social grants for sustenance.

  • Coalition governments are not a typical form of power sharing. Previous coalitions have often been viewed as ineffective, marked by brief alliances that empower political figures and encourage patronage practices. This track record has heightened concerns about the stability of a potential national coalition. According to a local source, coalition formation will be difficult, especially considering the second-largest party, the DA, has campaigned on an anti-ANC mandate. Besides, the ANC might only want to govern with smaller parties they can control. Speculations are currently causing unrest in both politics and society, and this is likely to intensify after the elections.

  • The political shift will have implications throughout the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a region comprising 16 African member states, sparking uncertainty regarding potential changes in South Africa's foreign policy, besides the regional agenda. Relations with key global players like Russia, China, and the United States are likely to undergo review and potential recalibration. South Africa's relationship with Russia dates back decades. Since the onset of the war, South Africa has been cautious about condemning Russia’s invasion, even abstaining from supporting a UN resolution on the issue. ANC members maintain close ties with Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party and the Chinese Communist Party, engaging in "party-to-party diplomacy" and attending fully funded training sessions in Russia and China, alongside joint military (naval) exercises. The elections could prompt a reassessment of the country’s stance in Russia's conflict with Ukraine, and their relations with China and the US. 

  • Another significant factor that could sway voters on 29/05/2024 is the contrasting stances of the ANC and DA regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict. Whereas the DA maintains a neutral stance on the Gaza conflict, the ANC has voiced strong support for Palestine, having filed a genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice. However, their foreign policy last year has been inconsistent, scrutinizing the human rights records of certain countries, while seemingly turning a blind eye to those of others, making the US questioning its bilateral cooperation with South Africa. The result of the elections potentially affects the relationship with Israel.


Conclusion

South Africa faces a pivotal election on 29/05/2024 amid political turbulence and uncertainty. The ANC may lose its majority for the first time since Apartheid, potentially leading to coalition governance, signaling a significant shift in South Africa’s political landscape. Legal battles over Zuma’s parliamentary eligibility have raised security concerns and uncertainty about the election outcome. Additionally, deep-seated issues such as corruption, poverty, and unemployment continue to weigh heavily on the populace, stoking discontent and raising the likelihood of protests both during the elections and their aftermath. The election results will not only shape domestic policies but also hold the potential to impact its foreign relations and regional dynamics.



 

Intel Brief_ South Africa’s elections
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