South Africa: General Election, African National Congress Victory in Doubt

The ANC party, which has been in power in the South African country for the past 30 years, will likely have to try to negotiate with the opposition to form a coalition government

Cyril Ramaphosa

On Wednesday, May 29, South Africa will vote to elect a new National Assembly and local legislatures. Some 28 million eligible voters will be called to the polls in the seventh general election since the end of apartheid. Nationwide, 23,292 polling stations will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. local time. According to the South African Constitution, the National Assembly will choose the next president, who will remain in office for five years. Traditionally, the leader of the party who manages to get more votes than all the others is elected president.

For the first time in South Africa’s history, independent candidates can also run in an election. Voters will receive three ballots instead of two, each requiring them to choose a party or candidate. Two ballots will be used to elect the National Assembly, while the third will be used to elect members of the provincial legislature in each of the African country’s nine provinces. The South African Electoral Commission has authorized the admission of 14,889 candidates.

At the very last moment, on May 20, South Africa’s Constitutional Court declared “ineligible” former President Jacob Zuma, who had previously run for election after founding a new political party, uMkhonto weSizwe (literally “Spear of the Nation”).

The African National Congress (ANC) has been in power in this African country for the past 30 years, that is, since the election of Nelson Mandela in 1994. According to opinion polls, in 2024, for the first time in the thirty-year post-apartheid era, the ANC risks being rejected by the electorate and failing to win an absolute majority of the 400 seats that make up the National Assembly.

As the local press recalls, “over the last four electoral cycles, the share of the vote gained by the ruling party has been gradually declining: the ANC fell from 69.7% and 279 seats won in 2004 to 65.9% and 264 seats in 2009, then dropped to 62.1% (249 seats) in 2014, and finally to 57.5% (230 seats) in the 2019 elections.” Recent polls suggest ANC support for the election should not exceed 40 percent.

In recent years, ANC leaders have been embroiled in a number of corruption scandals that forced then president Zuma to resign in 2018. If the ANC fails in its renewed attempt to win an absolute majority of seats, the party will be forced to try to strike an agreement with the current opposition to form a coalition government. According to South African analysts, the most likely alliance would be with the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), formerly known as the Inkatha National Cultural Liberation Movement, founded in 1975 by Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, a former leader of the ANC Youth League, which particularly represents the interests of the Zulu people and enjoys a strong consensus in KwaZulu-Natal province.

If, however, the ANC manages – by pure miracle – to win an absolute majority, it is highly likely that outgoing President Cyril Ramaphosa, the leader of the party and of the country since Zuma’s resignation, will be re-elected as state president by the new National Assembly. Finally, there is a very slim chance that voters will totally reject the ANC and that Mandela’s former party will be completely overthrown by the next government.