There was a time when it was hard to imagine South Africa without the ANC at the helm. This was the organisation that liberated millions of people, the ideological home of Nelson Mandela – the green, gold and black behemoth beloved by the masses.
But after the local government elections, a future where the party isn’t in the driving seat is starting to look like a possibility. The ANC took just 46% of the vote, down from over 53% in the 2016 local elections. And experts say the party has no one but themselves to blame.
“Poor service delivery and perceived endemic corruption in many of the ANC-run local government structures, poor economic conditions, unemployment, loadshedding – all really hurt the ruling party,” says Dr Guy Lamb, a political science lecturer at Stellenbosch University.
“This was compounded by factional conflicts within the ANC, which appear to have affected the turnout of many traditional voters in the major metros.”
After years of failed promises, there are big questions around the party’s efficiency, effectiveness and ability to meet the expectations of voters, adds political analyst Sanusha Naidoo.
“There is general fatigue with the promises made by the ANC,” she says. “At the start of their election campaign there was this notion of, ‘We know we’ve done badly but give us a chance and we’ll do better next time’.”
But the voters have spoken with their feet – or rather, their lack of feet. Total voter turnout this year was just 48% compared to 57% in 2016 and disillusionment in government has a lot to do with it, experts say.
Naidoo calls the relationship with the ANC and its voters “abusive”.
“If you’re in a relationship where one party abuses the other and constantly comes back to ask for forgiveness, at some point the trust element kicks in.”
The ANC wasn’t the only loser at the polls – the DA, the country’s second biggest party, dropped from 26,9% in 2016 to just under 22%. And both the DA and the ANC were facing the complicated task of finding parties to form coalitions with in metros where they didn’t win outright.What does this all mean for the SA political landscape?
CAN THE ANC REDEEM ITSELF?
Experts agree that the glory days are over. Research into the 2021 elections shows older people – mostly in rural areas – are still loyal ANC voters but younger and urban South Africans have lost faith.
Corruption is at the core of the ANC’s issues and punitive action must be taken against politicians found to be corrupt.
“People don’t trust them anymore,” says analyst Dr Ntsikelelo Breakfast. “Having a commission of enquiry, as with state capture, is one thing – but the people need to see there are consequences.”
The ANC also needs to bring younger people on board to show they’re opening spaces for different demographic groups, he adds. Naidoo agrees the party needs to “recraft” itself.
“And it’s not simply about rebranding – they need to roll up their sleeves and do the work at grassroots level. Their poor performance at the polls could be the wake-up call they need.”
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE PRESIDENT?
The breath of fresh air that swept through the country when Cyril Ramaphosa came into power in 2018 has run out of much of its puff.
“Many thought he would deliver and renew the ANC and make it more responsive,” says Professor William Gumede, founder and executive chairperson of the Democracy Works Foundation. “The Ramaphosa effect was the reason many people came back to support the party – but in the eyes of vast swathes of South Africans, not much has changed since the last national election.”
Naidoo believes the radical economic transformation faction, made up of a cohort of cadres loyal to former president Jacob Zuma, will place the blame firmly on Ramaphosa’s shoulders – and there could be a bid to oust him at the ANC’s national elective conference at the end of 2022.
But, Naidoo says, without Ramaphosa, the party would have fared even worse at the polls. “He’s still popular,” she says.
“He has got the party to where it is now.” Another factor in his favour could be that there’s no obvious successor at present. If he can hang in and strengthen his support base in the party, he could survive.
WHAT ABOUT THE DA?
The official opposition is complicated, the experts say. It haemorrhaged voters after losing Mmusi Maimane and Herman Mashaba in 2018 and failed to attract new support.
Conflict within the party over vital matters such as leadership had a spill-over effect on their performance at the polls, Breakfast says, and having John Steenhuisen at the helm hasn’t done the DA any favours.
“It was too early for the party to elect a white person after Mmusi Maimane resigned because it pushed the narrative that the party has racial issues,” he says. There were positives, such as winning the Cape Town metro outright.
“And that’s quite remarkable given the terrible two years they’ve had,” says Daniel Silke, director of Political Futures Consultancy.
Steenhuisen is likely to survive, analysts say, because of support within the party. But the DA needs to come up with a strategy to woo voters of colour as smaller parties, such as Patricia de Lille’s GOOD and the Patriotic Alliance, are nibbling away at their voter base.
WHO WERE THE BIG WINNERS?
The EFF (10,42% of total votes), IFP (5,70%), Freedom Front Plus (2,37%) and ActionSA (2,36%) emerged as the most successful parties.
“They all gained in voter presence and their ability to influence municipalities, if not control them,” says analyst Tessa Dooms. “These parties contributed dramatically to the decline of the ANC and DA and are indicative of the value of having small, focused parties.”
Herman Mashaba, who broke away from the DA to form ActionSA, was a big winner in Gauteng, campaigning on issues of service delivery and an accountable government.
“Although Mashaba is a well-known name, ActionSA is a new party and for a new party to succeed at that level is impressive,” Silke says.
“Mashaba was certainly able to draw support from the township areas and suburban areas, so he was able to put together a group of non-racial supporters which is quite significant in our polarised politics. He may well be the most successful example of this election.”
For a party to secure a metro, it needs to win 50% of the votes. If they don’t, they need to form a coalition with another party.
Parties have within 14 days from the announcement of election results to form a coalition. For coalitions to work, they need to share important ideologies and establish a clear power-sharing arrangement.
Coalitions could be just what the ANC needs to win back support.
“Their coalition partners need to be trustworthy and reliable,” says Dr Guy Lamb, political science lecturer at Stellenbosch University. “There’s also considerable work to be done at branch level where the ANC lost considerable support to build trust, resolve in-fighting and develop a better community service-oriented approach.”
EXTRA SOURCES: DAILYMAVERICK.CO.ZA, MONEYWEB.CO.ZA