/ 7 June 2024

A critical reflection on post-2024 elections in South Africa 

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The coalitions that will soon take place will determine the course of South Africa for years to come

The meteoric rise of the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party was the biggest change that occurred in the South African 2024 general election: the personality of former president Jacob Zuma brought in over three million votes for it. But the ANC is unlikely to form an alliance with this new party, as there are too many personality clashes. Can the DA and the ANC actually work together? Whatever happens, compromise is key in the coalitions that will take place in the next few weeks.

These and other issues were discussed in a webinar on post-election South Africa, held by Good Governance Africa in partnership with the Mail & Guardian. Moderator Patrick Kulati, CEO of GGA, introduced the event, provided context and gave some background of the panellists. 

Asked what the key take-aways are from the elections, Mondli Makhanya, Editor-in-Chief, City Press, described the election results as “seismic”. He said the ANC was hoping for at least 50%, and it is “fantastic for our democracy that we no longer have one dominant party”. He said that the leader of MK was voted for by more than three million people, but can we dismiss this as mere Zulu nationalism? He congratulated the IEC on its performance in past elections, but said that the glitches it made in this election played into the hands of those who are questioning the legitimacy of the election results. 

Keolebogile Mbebe, Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy, University of Pretoria, said that MK has “thrown a ball at the bowling pins of our expectations”. She said that so many people didn’t vote — voter registration was at 58% — but we have to be careful of the way we interpret this. It is often perceived as apathy, but South Africans are expressing their political agency in other ways, such as protests. 

Makhanya said the dominance of the ANC up till now has meant that people have tended to equate the party with the government. In addition, the opposition has not come up with viable alternatives to date. These are some of the reasons that people don’t vote, but he doesn’t support this no vote option. “The best thing about this election is that the ANC will be held to account now.” 

Ethnic voting and the EFF

A question came from the audience: why are so many South Africans voting along ethnic lines? Mbebe said that it is not necessarily along ethnic lines but perhaps because some parties like the Patriotic Alliance (PA) and the DA are doing more groundwork in the regions where their policies most resonate. She added that many people are opting for other ways to voice their grievances, other than voting in elections. 

For Khaya Koko, Investigative Editor, Mail & Guardian, the biggest take-away from these elections was that Jacob Zuma was bigger than the IFP and the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal; a personality was actually bigger than two established parties. Koko said he was not surprised that the EFF, which is also personality driven, lost support, as he thinks that they already hit their plateau a few years ago. “The EFF will not grow unless it changes its outlook,” said Koko. 

Makhanya said the EFF has lost support because of its disruptive, almost hooligan-ish behaviour. The party invested a lot of energy and resources in KZN, but MK took away all its gains in that province. Mbebe pointed out that the EFF is very active in university spaces, so their support may grow in time.

Koko said the PA has grown over the last decade, as coloured support for the DA waned. Coloureds have been marginalised historically; for instance, there were legitimate grievances about coloured officials being overlooked for promotion in the prison service, and instead blacks were favoured. The immigrant issue is big in the townships and in rural areas (it isn’t in rich mostly white areas), which the PA capitalised on. Makhanya said the PA has done a lot of work on the ground, and at councillor level, so they deserve their nine seats in parliament — which could make them kingmakers. 

Mbebe said we should closely interrogate the dominant narratives in South Africa that we believe unquestioningly, such as “foreigners are taking our jobs” when most of the resources are still in white people’s hands; and what is “a quality life”, and exactly who is diminishing our chances of having one? 

Kulati asked, what should our new coalition government have top of mind going forward? Koko said the days of parliament being a “rubber stamp institution” are over, because there is no outright majority any more. For instance, the Phala Phala investigation may be reopened, as many minority parties want it to be investigated further. 

Makhanya said the power and water issues must definitely be prioritised. Basic living conditions need to be addressed in the townships; the first 10 years of the ANC did change many people’s lives, but now they have gone backwards, in terms of basic services. People, particularly women, need to feel safer walking down the streets, especially in the townships.

The question of accountability is not a simple one, said Mbebe, especially when parties have to answer to their funders, who may be from other countries — in this regard, more transparency about funding may help to have a critical approach as to who parties must be accountable to, and on which terms. 

Questions from the audience

Kulati said we are now in “uncharted territory” in our democracy; the coalitions that form in the next few weeks will impact the course South Africa takes for many years. Several questions then came in from the audience. 

Makhanya said that the idea of an MK-ANC coalition is a fantasy, because the animosity between them runs too deep. MK’s demands are not feasible, so this relationship will be unworkable. An ANC-EFF alliance is more possible, but the track record so far has not been a good one. An ANC-DA alliance is probably the most likely, as they will be able to find common ground, although issues such as the parties’ opposing stances on Israel will need to be ironed out. 

Koko said a provincial coalition in KZN will have to include MK, or there will definitely be violence, which MK has made clear. The 2021 unrest was stirred up in part through voice notes, and these are circulating again, he said. He said MK and the EFF or the IFP will likely align to govern KZN, although the IFP is looking to make a coalition with other parties. “I don’t think there will be any chance of KZN seceding,” said Koko.  

The panellists then discussed where the parties stand on a scale of conservative/right-wing to progressive/left-wing, and Kulati pointed out that there will have to be a lot of compromise on the parties’ stances in order for any coalition to happen. Mbebe said it is a good thing that there is contestation, because nobody’s voice should be silenced. 

She said that the tenets of the Constitution itself should be questioned, and that the urgency of the land issue cannot be separated from the issue of service delivery. Makhanya disagreed, and said the Constitution is sacrosanct, because it protects the rights of many people, especially the poor, and it compels the government to do so. There is a big revisionist movement wanting to change it, but at most, it should only be improved upon. “Poor implementation and bureaucratic inertia has been what has held us back on the land issue, which has been romanticised: most South Africans want to live in an industrial state; they don’t want to farm the land,” said Makhanya.

Mbebe argued back and said the Land Restitution Act states that in order for people to claim land back, they have to prove that they were expelled from it after the 1913 Land Act; but this should be questioned as it erases centuries of dispossession before 1913. The will to farm should not be seen as the only legitimate use of land, and so black people should not be deprived of their right to land on the dubious basis that they would not make legitimate use of it. 

Koko said that many wish for the “African” parties to unite at this point, but the personality clashes among the leaders are too big, and it will cause instability. Even when the ANC and EFF had a chance to change things back in 2016, they could not work together. But many in the ANC do not want to align with the DA for reasons of self-preservation, because the DA wants to prosecute those who are corrupt. The DA will also not work with the PA, according to Western Cape Premier Alan Winde, so there is no chance of them making an alliance.

A question came from the audience about the potential for instability during the coalition talks. Koko said he does not think that this will be the case, but if things do not work out after these talks, there is a good chance that it will occur. 

The media and the election

On the question of media coverage during the election, many felt that the smaller parties did not receive enough, but Koko said that the SABC did in fact cover many of the minority parties. “The media is shrinking, and newsrooms tried to cover what they could. There is a lot of animosity towards reporters because of perceived bias, and sometimes these criticisms are valid.” 

Mbebe said the South Africa media should stop thinking that it is “objective” and be transparent about what politics they are actually advancing. Makhanya said he believes the media tries to reflect the views of the people and protect them. He said many media outlets did try to present the views of the smaller parties. Newsrooms have shrunk, so it was not possible to cover everything adequately; Koko concurred on this point.

Kulati wrapped up proceedings after two hours. 

Final comments

Koko: The country is safe.

Makhanya: We may be in for a sometimes chaotic but interesting five years; it will be difficult, but let’s appreciate this maturing of our democracy.

Mbebe: The Constitution is an unjust imposition on the native people of this land, and any conversation about the elections and the legitimacy of the state is made vacuous without addressing the land question.