​A new era: on the South Africa general election

The ANC should stay true to its legacy while reaching out to others 

Updated - June 06, 2024 01:33 pm IST

Published - June 06, 2024 12:10 am IST

The African National Congress (ANC), South Africa’s ruling party that led the country out of apartheid three decades ago, suffered a setback in the May 29 general election when it lost its majority in Parliament for the first time. In the final results on Sunday, the ANC, currently led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, saw a dramatic fall in its vote share to 40.18%, from 57% in 2019, while the main opposition Democratic Alliance emerged as the second largest party with 21.81% vote. The surprise was the surge of the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK), a left-wing party founded in December and led by Jacob Zuma, the scandal-ridden former President, which secured 14.58% of the votes. The far-left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), led by Julius Malema, former ANC Youth League leader, came fourth with 9.52% vote. The ANC’s decline itself was not surprising, from the peak of its popularity in 2004, when it won nearly 70% vote. A whopping 17 percentage point drop in vote share points to the rapid erosion of confidence the electorate has in the party which was once led by Nelson Mandela.

When Mr. Ramaphosa became President in 2018, after Mr. Zuma was forced to resign, he promised economic stability, employment and modernisation of infrastructure. But under six years of his rule, there has been little progress in addressing the critical problems of Africa’s most advanced economy, which has shrunk over the past two and a half years. Officially, at 32%, the country has one of the highest unemployment rates. Voters also complain about a lack of quality water supply, hours-long power blackouts and rampant violent crimes. After three decades of ANC rule, nearly two-thirds of Black South Africans are living in poverty, as compared to 1% of white South Africans. The ANC knew voters were upset, and Mr. Ramaphosa sought votes in the name of the party’s legacy rather than its performance. But voters did not buy into his arguments. The ANC breakaway parties winning more votes than the right-wing Democratic Alliance suggests that the legacy of anti-apartheid politics remains strong, despite the ANC’s decline. The three opposition parties have shown an interest in coalition talks, but with riders. The MK will join hands with the ANC only if Mr. Ramaphosa steps aside and the EFF has a radical economic agenda, including expropriation of land. A tie-up with the Democratic Alliance, which is largely seen as a representative of the apartheid era, would not be popular with the ANC’s base. Mr. Ramaphosa is in an unenviable position. The era of the ANC’s dominance is over. He should form a coalition that would not mar the party’s anti-apartheid legacy and keeps it in good stead so that it can focus on resolving the country’s myriad economic woes.

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