South Africa

South Africa heads into crunch election

South Africans vote in an election today that looks set to reshape a political landscape dominated for three decades by the party that Nelson Mandela led to power.

The ANC has won every vote since the end of White-minority rule in 1994, but its support slipped from a peak of almost 70% in 2004 to 57.5% in 2019, and most opinion polls point to it losing its parliamentary majority for the first time.

While the party has dismissed the surveys, there’s widespread disgruntlement over a 33% unemployment rate, one of the world’s highest crime rates and the collapse of government services across much of the country.

“South Africa’s general election is a watershed moment in the political history of the country,” said Aleix Montana, southern Africa analyst at risk adviser Verisk Maplecroft.

“Voter discontent is driven by the ANC government’s failure to address a plethora of socioeconomic issues.”

Many analysts estimate the ANC may stay above 45%.

That would allow it to retain power by forming an alliance with one or more smaller parties and exclude its main rivals — particularly former President Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto weSizwe Party and the radical leftist EFF, which have both pledged to nationalize land and mines and would seek major concessions on policy and appointments.

It would also likely omit the business-friendly Democratic Alliance, currently the main opposition.

The financial markets are betting the country will avoid a worst-case scenario and that economic policy will largely remain intact, with the rand having gained 3.5% against the dollar since the start of last month.

Power cuts that have hobbled the economy have also eased over the past few weeks, adding to the positive sentiment, while record-setting commodity prices have boosted exports. 

Anything less than an outright majority would threaten “chaos,” Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana told Bloomberg Television on Tuesday.

“What these elections are about, are about stability and chaos, and the ANC provides that stability,” he said in an interview with with Jennifer Zabasajja. Play Video

The country’s 23,292 voting stations are scheduled to open at 7 a.m. and close at 9 p.m., with final results likely to be announced over the weekend. Almost 28 million people have registered to cast ballots and 70 political parties and 11 independents are vying for seats in parliament and the nine provincial legislatures.

The president will be elected at the first sitting of the new National Assembly, which must take place within 14 days of the release of the results. 

The ANC is banking on the popularity of President Cyril Ramaphosa, 71, to help shore up its support. He had the highest approval rating among party leaders in a survey published this week by polling company Ipsos — albeit with a score of 5.1 out of 10. Zuma ranked second with 3.7, and the EFF’s leader, Julius Malema, third with 3.5. 

More than a third of the 2,545 registered voters surveyed said that no party aligns with their views — reinforcing the findings of other polls that many people are undecided on who to support and may opt out of voting. Voter turnout was 47% in the 2019 national election. 

In the ANC’s final election rally in Johannesburg’s FNB stadium at the weekend, Ramaphosa emphasized the strides the party has made over the past 30 years, including extending monthly welfare grants to almost half the population.

He repeated that message in an address screened by the public broadcaster on May 26, drawing criticism that he was abusing state resources to campaign.   

DA leader John Steenhuisen, 48, has touted his party’s record in running Cape Town and the surrounding Western Cape province as evidence of its ability to do a better job than the ANC of governing the country. The economic growth rate in the region has consistently exceeded the national average, while the unemployment rate is markedly lower.  

Malema, 43, has sought to rally support among younger voters, while Zuma has tapped into his popularity among his predominantly fellow Zulu speakers in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal to build up his new party.

The 82-year-old led South Africa for almost nine scandal-tainted years before the ANC forced him to step down in 2018 and replaced him with Ramaphosa. 

Police are on high alert for any signs of election unrest after Zuma questioned the impartiality of the Independent Electoral Commission and members of his party allegedly breached a warehouse where ballot papers were being stored.

The KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and Gauteng provinces have been flagged as the highest-risk areas. 


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