South Africa

South African election unlikely to bring major policy changes

This year’s elections in South Africa may be slated to be the most competitive since the end of apartheid but are unlikely to bring major change to how the country is governed, the head of a polling and analysis company said. 

While the results will provide more evidence of the African National Congress’ inexorable decline, the party that’s led South Africa since 1994 will probably be able to cobble together a coalition with minor rivals and retain power, said Frans Cronje, chairman of the Social Research Foundation. 

“My call is the ANC will govern South Africa” after the elections, but will need backing from some minor parties that win 2% or 3% of the vote, he said in an interview in Bloomberg’s Johannesburg office on Monday.

“That doesn’t change what it will be like here.”

While such a result would be seismic for the ANC as it would lose its national majority for the first time and eclipse its previous worst parliamentary election performance of 57.5% support in 2019, policies would largely be unaltered, he said.

The vote must be held within the next seven months, although a date has yet to be announced. 

Cronje expects the temptation for the ANC to form a coalition with the populist Economic Freedom Fighters, which split from its ranks a decade ago and is currently the third-largest party, to be tempered by the future damage that may do to its standing. 

“Should it choose to go into coalition with the EFF, that will not be the end of the world. It’ll just be a massive shock to sentiment and accelerate the trend line ANC support has been on for 15 years,” Cronje said.

“It will be the midwife of a future centrist coalition government for South Africa.”

Support for the ANC peaked at 69.7% in 2004. 

The SRF was founded in 2021. Cronje, a former chief executive of the Institute of Race Relations, has consulted for South Africa’s biggest political parties, companies and richest people.

Provincial shakeup 

The SRF’s polling shows opposition parties are on course to secure control of Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape — the three most economically important provinces — and that the ANC will come close to losing the Northern Cape.

That would leave it heavily reliant on voters in the impoverished rural provinces of the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and North West. 

Joblessness, crime, regular power outages and logistical snarl-ups have eroded support for the ruling party, especially among younger, urban and educated voters.

“It’s on the wrong side of all these big trends,” Cronje said. It’s “going to be doomed to become this regional party in the dust bowl scrublands of the northern part of the country, while the real action is divided up by a broader coalition in the urban centres,” he said.

Surveys conducted by the SRF last year show the ANC winning between 45% and 51% of the national vote and the Democratic Alliance, the biggest opposition party, between 24% and 31%.

The leadership of both parties have, at times, said they won’t work with each other.

That’s despite just over half of those polled agreeing with the thesis that South Africa would have the best chance of a prosperous and stable future if the two biggest groups worked together. 

A proliferation of new parties in the run-up to the elections is unlikely to significantly dent support for the main players, Cronje said.


Top JSE indices