The 2024 South African general election may just be a turning point for the country’s political landscape.
New surveys indicate that the incumbent ANC stands a chance of losing its long-standing majority at the national (and more of the provincial) polls for the first time in the nation’s thirty-year democratic history.
The makeup of national and provincial governments in 2024 is uncertain and hotly contested, with over 200 political parties expected to contest in next year’s general elections.
Over the years, the ANC has seen a consistent decline in its support. This is especially true at the national polls since the 2004 elections.
An important result came in the 2021 local government elections, where it fell below 50% of the national vote for the first time in its three decades of power – receiving around 46%. of the vote. This was a massive drop from its nearly 58% support two years earlier in the general election.
The Social Research Foundation (SRF) conducted a survey to try to pinpoint the issues currently on the top of voters’ minds. In order, participants view the following as South Africa’s top issues:
- Unemployment (30%)
- Corruption (24%)
- Load shedding (19%)
- Crime (10%)
- Weak leadership (9%)
- A failed political system (4%)
- Poor policy (2%)
- Access to land (1%)
- Other (1%)
Chief Economist of Investec Annabel Bishop said in an election note that this also includes a failure by the governing party “to make economic gains for South Africa in the current and past decade (less than 1% growth year-on-year)”, load shedding, freight capacity problems at Transnet and “the severe corruption and state capture that has occurred.”
According to global polling firm Ipsos, the decline in the ANC’s support can also be attributed to the changing voter demographics in the country. Around 11.2 million of the 26.8 million registered voters are between the ages of 18 and 39.
In the most recent IEC voter registration drive on 18 – 19 November 2023, young people overwhelmingly signed up to leave their mark next year. 445 089, or 78.31%, of the 568,374 new voters were in the age category of 16-29.
This has seen a new political age emerging in South African politics.
To form a government, 50% (+1) of the vote is required. Results over the past several local government elections in metropolitan municipalities like Johannesburg, Tshwane, Ekurhuleni and Nelson Mandela Bay have shown the feigning prevalence of one-party dominance.
No political party emerged with an outright majority to rule alone, resulting in power-sharing coalition politics in these municipalities.
This is expected (although not guaranteed) to pan out at the national and provincial levels in 2024.
Recent polls for 2024 indicate an even further dip for the incumbent.
These surveys are expected to change over the next seven to eight months because of factors like party campaign dynamics, political and economic changes, as well as the state of essential services like electricity and water provision over this time, as well as having a variance of results based on who conducted the survey.
Having said this, even the ANC is preparing for the scenario that in 2024, it does not meet the threshold to form a government on its own.
At this year’s inaugural dialogue on coalition governments, ANC Secretary General Fikile Mbalula said in his opening address that “[the ANC] are fully confident that 2024 will result in not us or anyone having the outright majority to govern.”
Furthermore, provincial coalitions are likely to occur in three of the country’s provinces – namely Gauteng, the Western Cape, and KwaZulu Natal.
A crucial factor affecting next year’s results will be voter turnout.
According to the IEC website, there are currently 26.8 million registered voters for next year. The scenario of having a high voter turnout is seen to not be realistic, given the prevailing voter apathy in the country.
Ipsos predicts that the most likely voter turnout scenario falls between the range of 45% to 50%.
Research suggests that the lower the voter turnout, the better the outcome would be for the ANC. Ipsos said in a press release that “a low voter turnout could work to the advantage of the ANC, possibly even pushing ANC support above the 50% mark.”
Research from the Brenthurst Foundation suggests that, in this scenario, the ANC’s support would sit at around 45%. This situation relies on a large decrease in voter participation across metropolitan areas and a high turnout of ANC voters in rural regions.
At this stage, the Multi-Party Charter for South Africa (MPC) – which currently comprises eight political parties, including the DA, IFP and ActionSA – is predicted by Ipsos to draw about 31% to 33% of the national vote.
However, different polls show different results, with some, like the Brenthurst Foundation, predicting that this grouping might reach between 36% and 38% in a low-turnout scenario.
At the time of writing, all polls and surveys emphasised the fact that it remains too early to accurately call the outcome of the 2024 election for both the incumbent and opposition parties.
Amongst other things, this is reliant on the unpredictable voter turnout on the day.
Regardless, next year‘s general elections will mark a significant shift in the country’s political landscape – with one-party dominance in the polls expected to be losing its prevalence. This would mark a new era of how South African politics operates – if voters actually turn up.