The next national elections may be the first in 25 years in which no party wins an outright majority. In his book Who Will Rule in 2019? veteran political journalist Jan-Jan Joubert believes next year could bring a coalition government for South Africa. This is an extract from the book:
Who will rule in 2019?
By Jan-Jan Joubert
Published by Jacana
R245 from Takealot
In the early hours of Friday morning, August 5 2016, battle-axe trade unionist Zwelinzima Vavi claimed his eyes had seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. “Jesus was seen walking in the streets of Nelson Mandela Metro last night – he is back!” tweeted Vavi, giving President Jacob Zuma a taste of his own medicine.
It was two days after the local-government elections and the unimaginable had just happened. The ANC had been unseated from the largest metro government in its Eastern Cape heartland. Several times since 2004, Zuma had said publicly that the ANC would rule “until Jesus comes back”, raising the ire of opposition supporters and many Christians of all political persuasions. But he was wrong.
Not only did the ANC lose Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, by the next evening, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) had confirmed that ANC municipal governments had fallen in two more metros: Johannesburg and Tshwane, and in more than 30 municipal and district councils across the country. In the following weeks and months, South Africans watched in disbelief as coalition politics became a new part of our lives.
To this day, many South Africans believe the ANC is destined to govern. But those who still blindly believe this is a given need to study the cold, hard figures. Nationally, the ANC’s support fell from 62% in the 2014 national election to 53% in the 2016 local-government elections.
Since then, the ruling party has been further wracked by evidence of state capture, leadership disputes and further upheavals, and its position among voters has hardly improved.
Zuma’s resignation and Cyril Ramaphosa’s appointment as president lifted the national mood in early 2018, but many of the issues the ANC has to grapple with remain.
The ANC’s slide since 2016 is also borne out by the numbers. Exactly 118 by-elections took place between the local-government elections on 3 August 2016 and 31 December 2017. The ANC put up candidates in each of these, and registered an average swing against it in these by-elections, countrywide, of 7.4%. An average swing of 7.4% against it in more than 100 by-elections should make any governing party extremely nervous.
While one swallow does not make a summer, it was interesting that the ANC made no dent in DA support in the first two by-elections since Ramaphosa’s ascension to the presidency.
Quite frankly, the ANC may be in trouble in the 2019 elections. Until 2016, South Africa was a perfect example of a one-party dominant state, so how could losing power even have become a possibility for the ANC, let alone the probability it currently is?
The answer to the question how the ANC gambled away arguably the largest moral, political and liberation dividend in the history of the world will be examined in this book – as will the fascinating dynamics of how a non-ideological opposition cooperative agreement came into being since 2016, and its possible impact on election results in 2019.
Will 2019 bring a national coalition government? Who might constitute that government? What are the chances of the ANC and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) teaming up? Or will the EFF and the DA, the odd couple of many municipal cooperative governments, join their fellow opposition parties in ganging up on the ANC?
Which policy issues could decide who the partners in government will be? What difference will the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC leader and president make to the governing party’s fortunes? And, perhaps most importantly, what will the public make of the potentially game-changing proposal Ramaphosa has up his sleeve to draw opposition parties into an ANC-led government?
Come 2019, the stakes will be incomparable to any election since 1994, and the political climate change from those days of relative political bonhomie will be complete.
It will be a political battle royal with the ultimate reward on offer – the power to participate in the national government.
In essence, the national and provincial elections of 2019 will be fought between those voters who believe the ANC under Ramaphosa can rid itself of corruption and those who believe it cannot.
Either way, the only party that can realistically aim for an absolute majority above 50% in South Africa’s system of complete proportional representation at national and provincial level is the ANC.
But given the continued and unprecedented flow of support away from the ANC to various opposition parties, there is a definite possibility of the ANC dipping under 50%.
If so, coalitions are the future of South African politics, on a provincial and probably a national level, as they already increasingly are on a municipal level.
If the ANC does fall below 50% of the vote, then national or provincial coalitions or cooperative agreements will be a necessity whether the ANC wants them or not. It would no longer be the ANC’s choice.
From 1994 onwards, the ANC became the behemoth of South African post-liberation democratic politics, with firm control over all provinces and metros outside the Western Cape (scoring overall majorities in KwaZulu-Natal since 2009). It was seemingly unshakable.
This led many a fashionable political commentator to state haughtily what I have always believed to be hogwash, namely that the only true power in South African politics, and at the same time the only true opposition to ANC excesses and misrule, resided within the ANC and its alliance partners, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) – in other words, that the only politics worth taking notice of was the politics inside the ruling alliance.
That notion – overwhelmingly popular as it was at one stage – blinded many in the political establishment to changes taking place in the national political psyche.
These changes were evident in the word of mouth on the street, which is difficult to gauge beyond the anecdotal without a wide network of honest, non-self-serving contacts or a polling capacity. (Incidentally, I have found that the only organisations in South Africa with the capacity to poll accurately are the large political parties – certainly not the commercial polling companies, which are often very wide of the mark, for various reasons.)
But the changes were even more obvious (and yet ignored – oh so wrongly and ever so often – by the many who peddle a narrative rather than being beholden to facts) if one were to analyse the changing patterns in by-election results and registration figures, which can reveal an accurate projection of expected results.
It is a core aim of this book to show how changing preferences, quality of governance, social and community activism, interparty relationships and quantitative statistical analysis can be used, without too much effort, by any South African interested in politics to arrive at a strong indication of the outcome of elections. In this way, one will not be unduly surprised by our election results, which helps one plan for the future.
If one realises that forecasting election results is to a large degree a statistically logical exercise, supported by tactical, strategic and/or policy-based decisions made by those whose job it is to make them, rather than following an analyst’s emotional take on how he or she reads or feels about the national mood and voter preference, it allows one to avoid much of the bullshit that has left so many political analysts completely wide of the mark in their election predictions . . .
Should one be so empirically inclined, one should not be as surprised by the 2016 election results or subsequent trends, as many analysts and other South Africans were – not least the still shell-shocked bigwigs of the ANC.