Elections in South Africa: will the ANC remain in power?



This will be the seventh general democratic election in the country. They have been held every five years since 1994, when white minority rule ended and the African National Congress (ANC) came to power.

These elections will be crucial. After 30 years of dominating South African politics, the ruling African National Congress will face its toughest elections ever, as most opinion polls predict: the ANC will lose its parliamentary majority for the first time.

The ANC’s reputation, which was once admired (namely during the Nelson Mandela era), has been undermined by record unemployment (32%), widespread poverty, the collapse of some public services and a decade of corruption scandals, and high levels of serious crime (an average of 130 rapes and 80 murders per day in the last three months of 2023).

Several parties are in the election race: the ANC, led by incumbent President Cyril Ramaphosa, the Democratic Alliance (DA), the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), and the uMkhonto we Sizwe Party (MK). But let’s talk about them all in order.

The ANC, ignoring statistics, claims that poverty has fallen, most South Africans live in decent homes, and access to health care has improved. Moreover: the ANC has promised to create millions of new jobs over the next five years to boost investment, support the private sector and end corruption.

At the same time, the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) says «the country is in crisis». The party wants to liberalize the economy as well as launch large-scale privatization. The alliance has promised to create two million new jobs, end blackouts and «halve violent crime».

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the third largest party in parliament, propose radical economic changes to tackle unemployment and inequality. The party argues that the ANC has not corrected the racial economic imbalance of apartheid, and plans to redistribute land to the less well-off (African Robin Hoods). The EFF also wants to nationalize the mines, banks and other key parts of the economy, arguing that the country’s wealth would then be used for the benefit of the people.

Then there is the uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) Party, which takes its name from the former armed wing of the ANC, which adds further unpredictability to the election race. The fact that it is led by 82-year-old former President Zuma, who has been at the center of controversy since December 2023 due to the ambiguity of his candidacy. The party’s program identifies the most (according to the MK leadership) serious problems of the country, including inadequate access to health care and high-quality education, economic inequality, inequitable land distribution and threats to national security. However, it can be predicted with a high degree of probability that this party will not have a tangible impact on the balance of political forces following the election results. The fact is that on May 20, the Constitutional Court of South Africa ruled that former President Jacob Zuma cannot run for parliamentary elections because of his criminal record.

In accordance with Article 86 of the Constitution of South Africa, the deputies of the National Assembly elect the president of the country from among their members. The minimum age for voting, as well as for election to the National Assembly is 18 years old.

Note that South Africans do not vote for the president. In general elections they cast their vote for a party, not for an individual candidate. South African citizens elect 400 members of the National Assembly, who vote for a new head of state within 30 days of the general election. Thus, there are no direct presidential candidates as such, but each party leader heads their national campaign and their portrait will appear on the ballot papers.

Accordingly, the next president will be the leader of the party that can obtain a majority in the National Assembly after the elections.

In 2024, for the first time, independent candidates will participate in the electoral campaign.

But why are the ANC’s prospects so pessimistic?

South African citizens are ready to hold the ANC accountable for the multi-decade corruption, poverty, pollution, high unemployment and deteriorating business climate. A growing number of citizens believe that there are too many migrants in the country, especially from neighboring Zimbabwe. In addition, the economy’s growth rate remains stagnant, and the country narrowly avoided a recession last year.

Kickbacks for government contracts have become enormous, especially during the disastrous reign of Jacob Zuma, who faced many different charges, including allegations of involvement in corrupt deals (he was then a member of the ANC). However, Zuma received a 15-month jail term “for contempt of court” because of his refusal to give evidence to a commission investigating corruption charges. However, he did not stay in prison for long and was released on parole «for health reasons».

Therefore, given the degree of tension in South African society, the chances of a change of political party are increasing as the elections approach. However, it must be recognized that despite the mood in the provinces and the new voting system, it will take a lot of effort to topple the ANC.

Certainly, President Cyril Ramaphosa hopes that the May 29 vote will lead to his re-election. But if the ANC does lose its majority, it will have to join forces with one of the parliamentary parties to form a coalition government, which will complicate decision-making, including in the economic sphere, in one of Africa’s most developed economies.

However, given the recent events, many countries have already decided to insure themselves, and Russia is no exception. The South African Cabinet of Ministers supported PetroSA’s recommendation that Gazprombank Africa become the main investment partner of an oil refinery on the country’s southern coast.

As the saying goes, prepare sleighs in summer, and a favorable geopolitical ally in the run-up to the elections.