President Cyril Ramaphosa Photo: City Press
The ANC has pulled off another elections victory. But the big question is what the outcome will mean for President Cyril Ramaphosa and whether the result will be good enough to keep him safe within the ANC, writes Melanie Verwoerd.
At the time of writing this piece, about 75% of all votes cast
nationally have been counted. As I predicted, the ANC will receive about 57% of
the vote. The DA lost some ground and will receive just below 22% of the vote.
The EFF is still picking up slightly and currently sit around the 10% mark.
I also predicted that the FF+ would pick up and they have done so
quite dramatically – albeit from a very low base. It was clear to me that many
Afrikaans voters who voted DA in the last election did so because they bought
the DA's "Let's-unite-against-Zuma" argument. Yet many – particularly
in the more northern provinces – never felt 100% comfortable with the DA. These
voters have no problem with Cyril Ramaphosa as president and so went back to a
party that they believe represents their needs and concerns – such as language
The big question is what the outcome of this election will now
mean for Cyril Ramaphosa within his own party, and particularly whether the ANC
result will be high enough to keep him safe?
Although naturally, it would have been better for Ramaphosa if the
ANC had achieved 60% or above, I still believe that this result will be a good
enough result for the him. This is the first election where the ANC's support
will fall below 60%. Yet, it will be significantly higher (more than 3%) than
their support in the local government elections of 2016.
It was always crucial for Ramaphosa's future that the party's
support did not decline below 55%. According to all current projections, this
will not happened. I believe there is little, if any doubt that this can be
attributed to Ramaphosa's popularity. Ipsos's polls prior to the election
indicated unprecedented approval ratings for Ramaphosa (at the level of Mandela's),
even though the ANC's support was significantly lower. It is no wonder then
that the ANC only used Ramaphosa's face on posters, essentially making it a "vote
for Ramaphosa" campaign.
Another election outcome that would have posed a big challenge to
Ramaphosa within his own party would have been if ANC support in Gauteng had
declined below 50%. Although many votes are still to be counted, most
projections indicate that the ANC will retain the majority in Gauteng. This was
always very important for Ramaphosa. Given his history in business and
popularity amongst the business community and middle class voters, it was the
province that he was expected to "deliver" for the ANC.
So a victory in Gauteng (assuming that the numbers remain in
favour of the ANC) together with the national numbers will be a very welcome
relief to the majority of ANC members.
This of course does not mean that the so-called Zuma faction will
disappear. The stakes are simply too high for them. I have no doubt that they
will continue to mobilise and try to frustrate Ramaphosa and his supporters.
It is also likely that they will bitterly criticise him and his
faction at the national general council (NGC) next year for not delivering on
decisions taken at the ANC's Nasrec conference, such as expropriation without
compensation and privatisation of the Reserve Bank, as well as the Eskom
crisis. As explained in a previous column, the real danger is whether they
would then be able to mobilise an early national elective conference by getting
five ANC provincial structures to call on the NEC to convene such a conference.
However, with the (projected) ANC election result nationally at
over 57% and majorities in all the provinces except for the Western Cape, they are
very unlikely to succeed with such a move. Branches will simply be too relieved
by this result – especially since this bodes well for the local government
elections in about 18 months' times.
Cabinet size Ramaphosa's first challenge
Ramaphosa's biggest challenge in the immediate future now lies in
choosing his new Cabinet. He has promised a smaller, leaner Cabinet. I believe
that this will be the first indication of how comfortable he is feeling within
his own party.
If he reduces Cabinet with the rumoured 10 positions (to be closer
in size to the Mbeki and Mandela cabinets), it will be a sign of an emboldened
However, if he is still concerned about the factional problems in
the ANC he might feel the need to keep some belonging to the Zuma faction in Cabinet.
In order to then have enough of his own team in the executive, this would
require that he keeps the Cabinet bigger.
The size of the Cabinet could therefore be one of the first and
clearest signs of how comfortable Ramaphosa feels after this election.
However, South Africa and the world can certainly breathe easier
today. We came through another election with almost no violence and only
limited concerns about election hiccups. The centre (politically) held strong
and the extremists were either totally defeated or remained relatively small.
Most importantly, this result should now free Ramaphosa to focus
on his "New Dawn" and in time, bring the country back on track.
- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland.
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