South Africa’s stagnating and, in some cases, declining living standards spell disaster for the ANC in the 2024 national election, as its electoral support correlates strongly with the material circumstances of South Africans.
This is feedback from the head of the Social Research Foundation, Dr Frans Cronje, who said the ANC did a lot more in restoring economic stability and raising living standards than it was given credit for.
In the first decade of democracy in South Africa, the ANC’s support grew steadily to reach a peak of 70% in 2004.
This was due to South Africans’ rapid rise in basic living standards. “There are direct ties between living standards and the behaviour of ANC voters,” Cronje told a Foord Asset Management webinar.
“The ANC in its first decade in power does much better at restoring economic stability and raising living standards than it was ever given credit for,” he said.
“You will continue to read, including in the business press, that the ANC has presided over an era of service delivery failure, and that is plainly wrong on the facts of it.”
Cronje said there was a large and rapid increase in the basic living standards of many South Africans during the first decade of ANC rule.
The share of households without electricity declined sharply from 49% in 1996 to 19% in 2006, while the number of people employed nearly doubled from 7.48 million to 14.5 million.
Another improvement for many South Africans was the rapid growth of the state’s welfare system, as the number of people receiving social grants shot up from 2.4 million in 1996 to 14.9 million in 2010.
Over the same period, the ANC’s support in national elections grew from 62.7% to 69.7% in 2004, moderating to 65.9% in 2009.
However, this trend stagnated as President Zuma came to power in 2009, and by the end of his tenure in 2018, living standards had begun to decline.
For example, over the last decade, the number of employed South Africans has declined slightly while the population has continued to grow.
Furthermore, the share of households without electricity has also grown over the last decade.
Social grant payments are the only indicator that has continued to trend upward, which during a period of stagnant economic growth has put immense pressure on the national fiscus.
The stagnation and decline in living standards have been reflected in declining electoral support for the ANC.
“When those indicators began to stagnate and later, in some aspects, fall away, voters lost confidence in the ANC,” Cronje said.
“ANC voters are motivated by one thing only, and that is the material circumstances they live with, and that will remain the most dominant driver of voter support.”
However, this does not mean the ANC’s electoral support is going to collapse in 2024.
“At a national level, the ANC will cobble together a government that will see them remain in power for five more years. That might not be a bad thing,” Cronje said.
“But, once people start thinking beyond the ANC and what happens after the ANC, that is really the moment you start thinking of outright defeat.”
The direct link between the living standards of South Africans and support for the ANC is shown in the graph below.