Ramaphosa still ANC’s best bet despite electoral results

President Cyril Ramaphosa presided over the African National Congress’s worst electoral performance since the end of apartheid. A top South African ruling party official still thinks he’s its best asset.

Support for the ANC in municipal elections held on Nov. 1 dropped to 46% – the first time it’s fallen below 50% since the party of Nelson Mandela came to power a quarter-century ago. That quashed expectations that Ramaphosa’s popularity would soothe dissatisfaction with poor service delivery, crumbling infrastructure, record unemployment and frequent power outages.

The results cost the ANC control of key cities, and come ahead of a party conference next year, when Ramaphosa is expected to seek a second term as leader. While his detractors will have been emboldened by the poor electoral showing, they risk an even worse performance at national elections in 2024 if they try to ditch him before then.

“The reality of the matter is that without the president as our arsenal in this campaign, we would have been politically annihilated,” the head of the ANC’s election campaign, Fikile Mbalula, said in an interview. “Were it not for the kind of president we have, we would be at 30%.”

The results demonstrate just how far the party that led the struggle against White-minority rule has fallen. In national elections in 2004, it garnered more than two-thirds of the vote.
Record Low

Now, almost a decade of corruption scandals and an inability to ignite a stagnant economy has slashed support. A spate of widespread looting, which saw at least 354 people killed in July triggered by the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma, was seen as a reaction to worsening poverty and the frustration of neglected communities.

Ramaphosa, 68, came to power in 2018 on a wave of so-called “Ramaphoria” tied to expectations he would implement policies to revive the struggling economy. While a slow pace of reforms has cooled that initial enthusiasm, Ramaphosa’s still the most popular leader since Mandela and a poll last month showed his approval rating among voters about 10 percentage points higher than support for the ANC.

The president’s efforts to crack down on corruption, including sidelining powerful officials, and to undertake painful economic reforms to boost economic growth may have roused his opponents within the party. The poor election showing gives them more ammunition.

“Opponents within the ANC will use this as justification for, firstly, as an example of the failure of his presidency and a reason to put forward an alternative candidate” at next year’s conference, said Sithembile Mbete, a senior politics lecturer at the University of Pretoria. “At this point there is no alternative.”

The results of the municipal vote mean the ANC must rely on smaller parties to try and form coalition governments in urban centers including Johannesburg, Tshwane and eThekwini.

The election was marked by the lowest turnout in post-apartheid South African history, with only 47% of the 26.2 million registered voters casting their ballots.

“The voter despondency that this reveals likely speaks even louder” than the results, said Razia Khan, head of research for Africa and the Middle East at Standard Chartered Plc. “From both a markets and long-term foreign-direct investment perspective, a reaction to the weak voter turnout that solidifies the likelihood of reform, is now critical.”

The elections had little impact on the financial markets, with investors more focused on Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana’s first mid-term budget next week.

The ANC clinched the majority seats in 161 municipal councils, followed by the Democratic Alliance (DA) with 13 municipalities which is closely followed by the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) which now holds majority seats in 10 municipal councils.

At least 66 municipal councils are hung – meaning that no party gained an outright majority.

Results for the eight metropolitan municipalities:

  • Buffalo City: the ANC is in the majority with 59%, followed by the DA with 19.52% and the EFF with 12.06%.
  • City of Cape Town: the DA won that council with 58.22%, the ANC won 18.63% of the vote and the EFF won 4.13%.
  • Ekurhuleni was won by the ANC with 38.19%, in second was the DA with 28.72% and the EFF with 13.57% of the vote.
  • In Ethekwini in KwaZulu Natal, the ANC won 42.2%, followed by the Democratic Alliance with 25.6% and the EFF with 10.49%.
  • In the City of Johannesburg, the ANC won 33.60%, the DA won 26.47% and Action SA won 16.05% of the votes.
  • In Mangaung, the ANC won the majority of seats after receiving 50.63% of the votes, followed by the DA with 25.73% and the EFF with 11.31%.
  • The ANC and the DA won exactly the same amount of council seats in the Nelson Mandela Bay council after receiving about 39% of the vote each, the EFF came in third with 6.4% of the support.
  • The City of Tshwane has shown that the ANC won 34.31% of the votes, closely followed by the DA with 32.34% and the EFF came in third with 10.62% of the vote.

“We congratulate the 10 461 councillors who have won the right to serve our people. We urge them to go out and make the lives of our people better. Go out and ensure that our communities develop and live in peace. Go out and, through your honest and ethical work, guarantee the future of our children,” Glen Mashinini, the chair of the Electoral Commission (IEC).

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Ramaphosa still ANC’s best bet despite electoral results