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Will elections in 2024 see South Africa recalibrate its democratic journey?

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Will elections in 2024 see South Africa recalibrate its democratic journey?

Written by Kim Polley, Managing Partner

As South Africa gears up for the 2024 national elections, the political landscape is not just transforming; it’s revealing deep fissures within the electorate’s trust in traditional powerhouses.
Votes have lost confidence in the African National Congress (ANC) and are struggling to maintain faith in the post-apartheid promise of a united, democratic, and economically vibrant South Africa. President Ramaphosa’s candid admission at a recent rally in KwaZulu-Natal: “We will do better.” starkly highlights the issue, coming against a backdrop where, for the first time since 1994, opinion polls suggest the ANC’s voter support could dip below 50%.

The ANC’s waning dominance reflects the nation’s political fatigue and critically reflects the unresolved socio-economic malaise afflicting South Africa. With an official unemployment rate exceeding 32% and a nation in the throes of an energy crisis, the populace’s disenchantment has found resonance in the rhetoric of opposition entities. The Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) are not just opposition; they are becoming the voice of an alternative narrative, promising jobs, energy solutions, and crime reduction.

Small but significant

The advent of brand new political formations like Songezo Zibi’s Rise Mzansi and uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) party, backed by former President Jacob Zuma, introduces a fascinating twist to the electoral narrative.

Despite the ambiguity around its funding and specific policy propositions, MK party has articulated a broad commitment to uniting Africans for total liberation from colonialism, focusing on land, justice, and radical transformation towards economic freedom. It is positioning itself as a vehicle to challenge the current political status quo with Jacob Zuma as a central figure. Interestingly, if MK’s notable performance in the recent KZN by-elections is anything to go by, some voter bleed from the ANC camp will not be a surprise. And, Zuma’s move to establish and support MK indicates his ongoing influence in South African politics, despite his controversial legacy.

Rise Mzansi’s emergence and accumulation of over 112,000 signatures to secure a spot in all nine provinces for the upcoming elections also speaks volumes about a segment of the electorate seeking fresh alternatives. The party has positioned itself as a critical alternative to the ANC, promising to address the country’s systemic issues head-on and aiming to bring about significant political change. The party’s slogan, “2024 is our 1994,” reflects its ambition to be a turning point in South African politics, reminiscent of the country’s first democratic elections. Rise Mzansi, characterised by a commitment to grassroots democracy and direct voter interaction, signals a broader search for governance models that resonate more closely with the populace’s concerns and aspirations.

While the presence of the two parties in the 2024 election may still be small, the traction gained by these outliers underscores an unmistakable frustration with the status quo and a yearning for innovative policy solutions that transcend traditional political dichotomies. However, the actual extent of their success will ultimately depend on each party’s ability to convert its ambitions and policies into votes come election day.

Convergence or calamity?

An important data point that lays bare the electorate’s evolving preferences is the Ipsos poll from early February 2024, which predicts the ANC’s support to fall below 47% in various voter turnout scenarios. This anticipated decline is not merely statistical; it represents a seismic shift in political allegiances and an appetite for change that could redefine the South African political landscape.

This evolving dynamic suggests a move away from single-party dominance, raising questions about the potential for policy coherence and stability in a coalition-led government. Coalition politics brings with it a spectrum of governance complexities and opportunities. In theory, a coalition government could foster a more inclusive political dialogue and policy-making process, reflecting a broader range of societal needs and aspirations.

The jury is out on whether potential coalition partners could put aside their deep-rooted historical animosities and prejudices to work constructively for the collective benefit. The convergence of diverse political ideologies, egos and priorities would necessitate a delicate balancing act to avoid policy paralysis and ensure stable governance.

As South Africa approaches this electoral watershed on 29 May 2024, the critical question is both who will govern and how governance can be reimagined to better serve the nation’s socio-economic needs. The rise of independent parties and the growing support for coalition governance models suggests an electorate that is not just seeking change, it is also willing to explore uncharted political terrains to achieve it. It remains to be seen how far away from inculcated legacy loyalties South African voters are willing to go to redefine their country’s future.

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