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The ANC, the African National Congress, has won a majority of the vote, and seats in the National Assembly, in every election since 1994, when the first post-apartheid democratic election was held. However, their vote share has been declining in recent elections. Early election polls suggest that, for the first time, the ANC may not win a majority of votes. Election analysis is contemplating the prospect of a coalition government.

About the elections

National elections take place every five years. Anyone who is aged over 18 years of age and has registered, can vote.

The election will be held on 29 May 2024.

Declining support for the ANC

The ANC have won a majority of the vote in every election held in the last thirty years. However, their vote share has been declining in recent elections. In 2019 the party received the lowest share of the votes since the 1994 election, receiving 57.5% of the vote.

Early opinion polls suggest the ANC may receive less than 50% of the vote in the 2024 general election.

Dissatisfaction with ANC rule is one factor. Sandy Africa, an associate professor of politics at the University of Pretoria, says there is a “mood of despair” over high levels of crime and violence, and “widespread frustration” over crumbling infrastructure and poor service delivery. She says the perception that the ANC has been unsuccessful in combating corruption has “dented the country’s image”.

The party also faces challenges from former prominent leaders, including former President Jacob Zuma, who has endorsed a new, rival party.Mashupye Herbert Maserumule, who co-edited a book on the Zuma administration, suggests that in endorsing the party “[Zuma] not only challenges the ANC politically, but also claims its heritage.”

Leading opposition parties

Opposition parties have been steadily carving into the ANC’s majority over time.

The two main opposition parties are the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters.

Opinion polls suggest the Democratic Alliance (DA) is gaining support. The Social Research Foundation found support increased by seven-percentage points over a six-month period in 2023, rising from 24% in March to 31% in October 2023. The party describes itself as broadly centrist and historically has drawn support from white South Africans. John Steenhuisen leads the party.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), led by former ANC youth leader Julius Malema, describes itself as a “radical and militant movement for economic emancipation” and an “anti-imperialist and leftist movement with an internationalist outlook” that draws on the Marxist-Leninist tradition.

Political analysts say the EFF has become the country’s third largest political party by “stealing the ANC’s mantle”. Ongama Mtimka of Nelson Mandela University, and Gary Prevost, Professor Emeritus at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, say its focus on land issues and jobs allows Black South African voters to shift support from the ANC to the EFF “without changing their political orientation.”

Opposition ‘Moonshot’ pact

Seven opposition parties have joined forces in an effort to oust the ANC. While each party will contest the election separately, they have agreed a “shared vision” to govern South Africa if, collectively, they win a majority of seats. The pre-election agreement is known as the Multi-Party Charter, or “moonshot”, coalition.

Coalition speculation

Election analysis is contemplating the prospect of a coalition government. As it is expected to remain the largest party, early expectation is for the ANC to join forces with one of the smaller parties to govern.

Current issues

Electoral issues will likely include South Africa’s ongoing energy crisis, government and civil corruption and crime, and high unemployment, particularly among young South Africans.

Lengthy power cuts and rolling blackouts have contributed to South Africa’s poor economic performance, according to the IMF. The country has the highest unemployment rate in the world, with youth unemployment a particular concern. 43% of those aged 15 to 34 are unemployed

South Africa ranks 72nd out of 180 countries on Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index.Transparency International says “public sector corruption is a serious problem” and there have been a series of corruption scandals “involving the former and incumbent presidents.”

South Africa’s crime rate continues to grow, with the murder rate reportedly the highest in 20 years in 2022/23. In one three-month period in 2022, more than 7,000 people were murdered. BBC News reporter Daniel De Simone says “getting away with murder has become normal.”

A non-aligned approach to foreign policy

South Africa takes a non-aligned approach to foreign policy. President Ramaphosa says such an approach “has enabled us to pursue an independent foreign policy and to forge our own developmental path.”

At a time of rising geopolitical competition, South Africa has sought to avoid being drawn into supporting one centre of power over another. At the 2024 summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, President Ramaphosa urged fellow leaders to remain independent “when the world appears to be once again divided between east and west.”

South Africa has led international legal efforts against Israel, which it argues is committing the crime of genocide in Gaza, bringing a case against Israel in the International Court of Justice in January 2024.

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