There are so many moving parts to the 2019 elections, creating so much uncertainty, that they promise to be fascinating. They bring both risks and opportunities for the ANC and the major opposition parties, the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).
One certainty is that the ANC will be returned to power by the electorate nationally, albeit with a reduced majority, and the slow march to an eventual outright national loss in future elections is likely to continue, unless there is a dramatic change within the ANC itself.
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s reform agenda gripped South Africa when he took up his seat in the Union Buildings last year but the “Ramaphoria” that took hold continues to be eroded by the machinations within his own party and administration.
Although polls have placed Ramaphosa’s popularity above that of the ANC, it is the party that is contesting the elections, not the individual. His supporters in the governing party are being short-sighted in their belief that his presence alone will usher them back to power in key provinces in the May 8 poll.
Before the ANC lists were released, the party was in a prime position to be returned to power comfortably but the lists are packed with those already rejected by the electorate, because many voters stayed away from the polls in 2016, and this will hit the party hard.
It is not simply the national list of MPs heading to Parliament that is contentious; the provincial lists also contain some hair-raising inclusions.
The result is frustration, even in the party’s own ranks in the provinces.
Unhappy party members in the Free State want to approach the courts to interdict the provincial list before its finalisation by the Independent Electoral Commission next month. They are even talking about splitting their vote in protest — voting for the ANC nationally but spoiling their provincial ballot.
It’s easy to see why. Former Maluti-a-Phofung municipality mayor Vusimusi Tshabalala, dubbed “a gangster mayor” by the province’s press and by the opposition, has not only been included in the list but is also likely to be promoted to the provincial legislature and potentially a post as an MEC — he features high up at number six. Tshabalala, who is close to ANC secretary general and former Free State chairperson Ace Magashule, was voted out of his mayoral office after debilitating protests by community members. The no-confidence vote was supported by the ANC in the council.
There are similar examples in other provinces.
Load-shedding will also have a negative effect, particularly among the middle class, as will the lived experience of the ANC’s base support.
The Gauteng ANC’s own research has shown, although corruption was a factor in the party’s steady decline in support in the 2014 and 2016 elections, poor service delivery was also a key element.
The two provinces where the ANC’s electoral fortunes are in the balance are Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. They have the highest number of registered voters and the party’s support is slipping in both, which will have an impact on its support nationally.
Polling by Ipsos is the most optimistic about the ANC’s electoral chances, placing its support at about 61%. The Institute of Race Relations’ polling is less optimistic, which is mirrored to a certain extent by internal research done by both the
ANC in Gauteng and the DA, which have proved fairly accurate in the past.
The ANC in Gauteng polls its support at 50% in the province. The institute puts it at 47%, with a higher voter turnout. The DA places the ANC’s support at between 55% and 57% in KwaZulu-Natal, a massive decline from 64% in 2014, and the EFF has made surprisingly large inroads there.
The ANC’s ground campaign with Ramaphosa as its face is slowly kicking in and, unless it is sabotaged by the enemy within, its fortunes are likely to improve. But the list process showed that the former president Jacob Zuma faction in the party continues to present the largest risk to his election campaign success.
All the polls show considerable growth for the EFF nationally. It is the only party that has the benefit of not having been in government formally since its inception in 2014.
It has said it is ready to enter government posts after the 2019 polls and is likely to be a key player in coalition deals in risky provinces, such as Gauteng.
Ramaphosa’s continued drive to reform the state and its institutions will be key to ensuring that the country can withstand any shocks following the 2019 results announcement.
Meanwhile, citizens should buckle up. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.