Jun 03

SA Elections 2024 – The People Have Spoken

But What Did They Say?

An article by Ian Kilbride, published on 3 June 2024.

“Shock, shock horror horror, shock shock horror”, is a memorable line in the brilliant song ‘Female of the Species’, by Liverpool band Space. It’s a line many in the ANC could be mouthing right now.

Apart from Jacob Zuma’s supporters and the brilliant local pollsters who predicted the outcome, the rest of South Africa is aghast at the poor electoral showing of the ANC, matched by the astounding Provincial success of the Umkhonto we Sizwe party.

Before analysing the results in more detail, let’s take a step back and look at the conduct of the 2024 election, which was actually a resounding success for our maturing democracy. This is true in two key respects: Firstly, by any measure, the 2024 election was free, fair and despite the many objections of small party losers, legitimate. Campaigns were free of violence and largely devoid of intimidation. Even the previously dominant ANC adhered to IEC and court rulings that allowed its own former President to commit party patricide in KZN. Secondly, the ANC’s acceptance of ‘defeat’ through the ballot box is unusual for any liberation movement, particularly in Africa. Rejecting the ZANU-PF model, the ANC has accepted constitutionalism and the rule of law, which is a signal of political maturity.

What then has the 2024 election delivered and what is the bottom line for the electorate?

At the aggregate level, relatively little has changed over the past 30 years and less still since 2019. In effect, the ANCs vote has splintered in three, but taken together, the ANC mothership, EFF upstarts and MK still collectively occupy the African nationalist, populist and socialist political space. The difference is of degree. Nonetheless, for Julius Malema’s red berets, the 2024 poll was a cold shower. Far from the rhetorical bravado of taking over government after May 2024, the EFF has been relegated to fourth place, failing to achieve double digits at just 9,52% of the national vote.

The opposition Multi-Party Charter, led by the Democratic Alliance, predictably failed in its moonshot pact, but achieved just less than 30% of the popular vote. Encouragingly for the DA in particular, it retained its majority in the Western Cape and achieved a credible 27% in Gauteng. Remarkably, the DA achieved just 3,5% less than the ANC polled in KZN.

So, where does this messy outcome leave the country? To state the obvious, we have entered unchartered and uncertain national and coalition country which has placed financial markets and business in particular on edge. While the constitutional process of the Chief Justice swearing in MPs within fourteen days and Parliament electing a President and Speaker of Parliament thereafter are clear, the configuration of coalitions and the composition of cabinet is not.

We can make the assumption that President Ramaphosa will be re-elected as State President by the end of June. There is simply no alternative candidate that could be realistically elected. Notably too, the State President has the constitutional authority to form a government even when he leads a minority/plurality party in Parliament. He also has the power to appoint two members of cabinet from outside the ranks of Parliament. He has a strong constitutional hand.

However, Ramaphosa is a wounded buffalo and the writing is on the wall for his Presidency both of the ANC and country. His leadership has been catastrophic for the ANC and he has been outflanked by Jacob Zuma. So, far from acting in the national interest and unity, strong internal party forces are lobbying Ramaphosa to put the ANC first and forge a coalition that will guarantee their political interests. These nationalist and populist entrepreneurs see any coalition with the DA and MPC as ideologically anathema and political suicide in light of the forthcoming 2026 local government elections and the more threatening 2029 national elections.

The EFF has announced its willingness to enter into talks with the ANC and in light of its relatively poor election performance, is willing to compromise on its arrogant demands of the positions of Speaker and Treasury Minister. MK too is willing to talk with the ANC, but not with Ramaphosa. This could be the breaking point for any coalition talk at national (if not Provincial) level.

Business and the markets are anxiously waiting in the wings hoping beyond hope for some form of ANC/MPC coalition. But while the DA has quickly assembled a redoubtable team of negotiators to engage with the ANC, it is hard to see how the party could compromise with a party determined to drive expropriation without compensation, the NHI and a basic income grant. Ideologically far apart, any deal with the ANC could in fact cost the DA dearly at the next local government and national elections, having only just recovered from the Musi Maimane ANC lite era.

The man with all the power and yet exercising so little of it is Cyril Ramaphosa whose political DNA is riven with compromise. To lead his party into bed with MK and the EFF will not only take the ANC irreversibly left, it has the potential to lead the country to perdition. Conversely, a coalition with the MPC will pull the ANC to the centre, provide relief to business and the markets, but it may also signal the death knell for Ramaphosa’s Presidency and the ANC Tripartite Alliance.

All of this may lead to the option of a Government of National Unity which, on reflection, may just be the least bad of all the bad options.