The man who could hold KwaZulu-Natal’s fate in his hands

 ·10 Jun 2024

The National Freedom Party’s (NFP’s) President Ivan Barnes could be the new kingmaker in KwaZulu-Natal despite his party only getting one seat in the provincial legislature.

Following the conclusion of the 2024 national and provincial elections, democratic South Africa is entering a new period of widespread coalition governments, even if they are informal.

The African National Congress (ANC) lost its national majority, dropping down to 40% of the vote, and has thus touted a Government of National Unity.

Reports have suggested that the Democratic Alliance (DA) and Inkhata Freedom Party (IFP) are willing to work with the ANC.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has rejected such a government, and the MK Party says it will not work with the ANC if President Cyril Ramaphosa stays.

Despite the ANC holding most of the power on a national level, the picture is incredibly different in KwaZulu-Natal.

Former President Jacob Zuma’s MK Party saw incredibly strong results in KwaZulu-Natal, falling just shy of an outright majority with 45.35% of the vote.

The ANC not only lost its majority in the province, but its 16.99% share of the vote was even below the IFP’s 18.07%.

The DA was the fourth-biggest party in the province, with 13.36% of the vote, while the EFF got 2.26% of the vote.

However, with only 0.56% of the vote in the province, the National Freedom Party (NFP) received the last remaining seat.

The seats in the provincial legislature will be made up as follows:

PartyKZN legislature seatsSeat change (vs 2019)
Source: Seth Thorne

Parties will need 41 seats to form a majority in the 80-seat provincial government.

A potential ANC-IFP-DA team-up would only get 40 seats, with the parties needing only the NFP’s single seat to form a majority.

However, the EFF and MK, which have indicated that they are willing to work together, would only get 39 seats. A potential arrangement with the NFP would result in a 50-50 split.

The kingmaker of KZN

The NFP was formed in 2011 after a faction led by Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi split from the IFP.

In the 2014 general elections, the NFP got 1.57% of the national vote and 7.31% of the KZN provincial vote.

Since then, the party has suffered several setbacks, such as failing to participate in the 2016 municipal elections, seeing its share of the provincial vote drop to 1.57% in 2019, kaMagwaza-Msibi passing away in 2021, and a leadership dispute that almost left the party unable to contest the 2024 elections.

In 2023, Ivan Barnes was named President of the NFP and, despite the aforementioned infighting at the party, appeared on the ballot.

Barnes will thus be crucial in navigating the potential KZN alliance.

Cynthia Shinga, who is on the IEC’s list for provincial legislatures, could also play a key role, as she will actually sit on the KZN legislature.

NFP President Ivan Barnes (Source: Twitter/X)

It will be difficult to say who the NFP chooses as its allies, as the party has previously shown loyalty to both sides.

The NFP’s Zandile Myeni, who lost the party presidency vote to Barnes, is currently the deputy mayor of eThekwini, ruling alongside the ANC.

However, founder kaMagwaza-Msibi previously worked as the Deputy Minister of Science and Technology after being appointed to the position by then-South African and ANC President Zuma.

As reported by City Press, IFP spokesperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa said that the party had engaged with the ANC, the DA and the NFP about the KZN provincial elections.

Huge potential

The potential political chaos could add further strain to KZN, which was the province hardest hit by the July 2021 unrest and 2022 floods.

That said, business leaders previously highlighted the province’s resilience and are confident that it can turn a corner.

KZN is the second most populated province and contributes roughly 16% of the national GDP.

Positive developments in logistics have included the award of the management of the Durban Container Terminal Pier 2 to Filipino-based International Container Terminal Services Inc.

This should improve capacity from 1.7 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) to 2.9 million TEUs in two years.

Luxury resort chain Club Med also announced that it will build a new beach resort on the province’s North Coast by 2026, which should boost tourism in the region.

A major problem for the province, however, is unemployment, with a provincial unemployment rate of 29.9%.

“If I could change one thing, it would be to look at labour policy and regulation, to help businesses deal with the cycle and employ more people,” said Neo Ralefeta from Investec Treasury Sales and Structuring said. 

Nigel Ward, executive vice president of Manufacturing and Support at Toyota South Africa, also cited red tape as a disincentive to setting up business.

He added that skills are leaving the province amid safety and security issues.

Read: Warning over ‘delivery crisis’ in South Africa

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