When it became clear last week that the ANC was not going to suffer the kind of massive drop in support that they feared was on the cards, Jessie Duarte (deputy secretary-general), Fikile Mbalula (campaign chief) and a whole coterie of party leaders at the results centre in Pretoria walked around grinning and laughing.
And with the tension broken Mbalula, his emerging nemesis Ace Magashule (secretary-general) and spokesperson Pule Mabe suddenly started traipsing up the stairs to the encamped media's booths and working spaces offering themselves up for interviews. But while they were certainly happy, they weren't besides themselves with joy either.
It was clear that they knew they dodged an electoral bullet. And that the electorate's largesse won't last forever.
The ANC is in deep trouble, and while much cutting criticism has been reserved for the ineptitude of the DA to capitalise on the Zuptas, state capture and grand corruption, President Cyril Ramaphosa would do well to force his party to engage in some navel gazing.
The party's slide is seemingly becoming inexorable.
This is borne out by the cold, hard facts.
- The 2019 national election results were the worst in the party's electoral history.
- The aggregate of 57,51% represented the lowest level of support it has ever secured.
- Its loss of support of 4,64 percentage points between 2014 and 2019 is the worst it has ever suffered.
- The ANC has now shed 12,18 percentage points in support between 2004 and 2019.
- In Gauteng the party has lost 18,21 percentage points in the same period.
- The party has registered a loss of support in eight of the nine provinces, with North West remaining stable – but with EFF support jumping.
- Losses in KwaZulu-Natal, the cornerstone of ANC support nationally, mirror losses in Gauteng between 2009 and 2014; the party shed 10 percentage points on the provincial ballot.
News24's elections analyst is preparing a deep-dive into the ANC's numbers, but the headline numbers do not augur well for the party. Its levels of support have been on a consistent downward trajectory since 2004, with the big shock to the system coming during the 2016 municipal elections.
Was the party punished for state capture, or was this election result the product of the gradual decline that set in after the ANC reached its zenith in 2004? It's difficult to tell, but it could be that the 2016 election was when the electorate decided to discipline the ANC, and that 2019 was just a resumption of normal service.
Rampahosa's task to reform the ANC is enormous. While the public have been taken by attempts to exact accountability from the corrupt and captured through the various commissions of inquiry, the president has a battle on his hands to revamp his party.
The bloc of anti-reformists is a sizeable counterweight to the Ramaphosa grouping, and they are pushing back. The divisions were visible at the results operational centre where Magashule and Mbalula traded barbs and circled each other when going from studio to studio. One seemingly detests Ramaphosa, the other has emerged as a Ramareformer.
Ramaphosa's challenge is to get Luthuli House in lock-step behind him. And to rid the party of gangsters and tenderpreneurs. If he is unable to do that, the 2024 election will see the party's decline in support move very close to 50%. And then it will be too late.
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