• Thursday, June 20, 2024
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South Africa election: ANC faces biggest test since Mandela

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South Africa is approaching the May 29 (tomorrow) election with widespread voter dissatisfaction threatening the long-standing dominance of the African National Congress (ANC).

For the first time since Nelson Mandela’s historic victory 30 years ago, the ANC faces the real possibility of losing its parliamentary majority. Polls suggest the ANC’s share of the vote could fall as low as 40 percent, compared with 57.5 percent in 2019.

The decline in support for the ruling party is driven by a combination of economic stagnation, social unrest, and corruption. A recent survey by Afrobarometer suggested a third of voters were undecided, making the election the most unpredictable in the country’s history.

Public anger has been mounting over persistent issues such as power cuts, high unemployment rates, and inadequate progress in addressing social inequalities.

The ANC, once celebrated for its role in ending apartheid and establishing a democratic South Africa, now finds itself criticised for failing to deliver on its promises of economic and social progress.

Many South Africans, especially the younger generation, feel disillusioned with the party’s leadership and its ability to tackle pressing challenges.

The South African economy has struggled with low growth rates and high unemployment, particularly among the youth. This economic stagnation has fueled public frustration, manifesting in protests and declining voter confidence in the ANC.

Power cuts, a result of mismanagement and corruption within the state-owned utility Eskom, have further exacerbated the situation, disrupting daily life and business operations across the country.

With the recent introduction of popular measures such as a national health insurance law and a proposed basic income grant, Nicole Beardsworth, a politics researcher at the University of the Witwatersrand, sees a narrow escape for the ruling party. “But I don’t think we’re going to see the ANC get over 50%. They’re … going to have to negotiate a coalition. The big question is: with whom?” she said to Reuters.

The potential loss of a parliamentary majority by the ANC has also raised concerns among investors. There is apprehension about the possibility of the ANC forming a coalition with more radical parties, such as the Marxist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), known for their aggressive stance on land reform and wealth redistribution. Such a coalition could introduce policies perceived as unfriendly to business, potentially destabilising the already fragile economy.

A poor electoral performance by the ANC could significantly impact President Cyril Ramaphosa’s leadership. Ramaphosa, who took office in 2018, has positioned himself as a reformist, committed to rooting out corruption and revitalising the economy.

However, his presidency has been marred by internal party conflicts and limited progress on key issues. A weakened mandate could curtail his ability to implement reforms and might lead to increased pressure from within his party to step down.

Opposition parties, particularly the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the EFF, are poised to benefit from the ANC’s declining popularity. The DA advocates for pragmatic economic policies and improved governance, appealing to voters dissatisfied with the ANC’s performance.

Also, former President Jacob Zuma’s newly formed party, uMkhonto weSizwe (MK), poses a threat to the ruling party. MK could get the majority of votes in its eastern Zulu heartlands, potentially denying the ANC a parliamentary majority.