Part 1: Key Political Issues That Face South Africa | Politics & Property


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Part 1: Key Political Issues That Face South Africa

What will South Africa look like after the 2024 elections? Will it follow Clem Sunter’s high road, or will it slowly deteriorate? Over the next ten months renowned author and political commentator JUSTICE MALALA will give us a monthly update on key trends in the election campaign. In this first article, Malala outlines the key issues that face the country.

On 27 April 2024 South Africa will celebrate 30 years of a peaceful democracy. Around the same time, SA will hold its most intensely contested provincial and national elections. The stakes are high.

These elections will constitute a break with the “ANC as usual” electoral outcomes of the past 30 years: the party’s dominance is likely to come to an end in provinces such as Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal while it will be severely tested at national level. Surveys over the past year suggest the ANC could go below the pivotal 50% of votes cast, forcing us into a future of coalition governments.

We are on the cusp of major change. This comes with many hopes, fears, concerns, and worries as we edge closer to the elections. Probably the biggest concern for the business community is that the outcome may give power to minority politicians who will push the country towards radical, Leftist, socialistic, and nationalist policy position. 

In this scenario, a party such as the Economic Freedom Fighters would amass a significant amount of power if it went into coalition with the ANC, and it would exercise it in a manner that deters investment and drives skills to emigrate.

For many, that would accelerate the deterioration we have seen in the economy, in business confidence, in crime prevention, in road and rail infrastructure, in governance, and in many other key aspects. This concern about a jump to the Left through an ANC-EFF marriage of convenience is, however, not supported by all sides. 

Although the ANC in Gauteng, the one province where this commentator strongly predicts an ANC loss, supports such a tie-up to save its skin, ANC national  leaders such as Fikile Mbalula, the party’s secretary-general, have poured cold water on the idea. Mbalula has called on his party to “review that marriage” between the ANC and the EFF in municipalities such as the City of Joburg. 

Mbalula added that there were “comrades who are flirting with” Malema and “that’s what makes him think that he can tell us what to do”. So, an ANC-EFF marriage is not a foregone conclusion.

Over the next few months I will be speaking to you directly about the key issues and likely outcomes of these elections, focusing on positives and negatives, and dispelling some myths. So, what are some of these main issues as we begin?

It’s the economy, stupid 

South Africa’s economy has been on a downward spiral since 2009 when Jacob Zuma took over as president of the country. Cyril Ramaphosa’s presidency over the past five years promised much but delivered very little. Statistics South Africa says the economy grew by a poor 0.4 percent in the first quarter of 2023, leading the International Monetary Fund to say that “real GDP growth (would) fall sharply from last year”. 

The poor growth is due to the unending power cuts, crumbling road and rail infrastructure, red tape, volatile commodity prices and a challenging external environment. GDP growth moderated from 4.9 percent in 2021 to 2.0 percent in 2022, while it is projected further down to a shocking 0.1% for this year. 

Official unemployment is at 32.9 percent, an unacceptable number. More tragic is the youth unemployment rate (measuring jobseekers between 15 and 24 years old), which rose to 62.1% in the first quarter of 2023. This election is really about whether South Africans can choose a party or parties that will effectively tackle the country’s economic problems. This should be the main issue in this election.

Political noise 

SA is a country undergoing a political transition. The events and failures of the past 29 years are clear, but the future is not yet defined. As the political philosopher Antonio Gramsci said, “the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear”. Expect a lot of irresponsible and populist statements from political leaders in the next ten months. 

Much of it means nothing except that they are trying to get your attention. Don’t let the populist talk shift your focus from your business and the real issues.

Who is likely to win? 

The next ten months will be like watching the Durban July horse-race and wondering who will take the trophy. Three initial polls released in August 2022 show that the ANC is on a downward trend. The first was a leaked “ANC internal poll” which predicted that the ANC would plummet from 57% of the vote in 2019 to a measly 38% in 2024. The DA would ring in at 27%, and the EFF would stay at 10%. 

The second election survey, run by well-known pollsters Ipsos, put the ANC at 42%, the DA at 11% and the EFF 9%. The rest would be taken up by a host of new, small, parties and independents. Only the third poll, by the Social Research Foundation, held any hope for the ANC. It predicted the party would get between 50% and 52%, allowing it to continue to govern through to 2029. One thing is for sure: the ANC knows it has to fight to stay in power.

The strength and unity of the opposition 

The DA has launched a call to all opposition parties to join it in a ‘Moonshot Pact’- a coalition whose aim is to keep an ANC and EFF marriage out of power. So far only the DA, IFP, FF+, ActionSA, the United Independent Movement (UIM) and the Spectrum National Party have signed up. It will be key to see whether more parties – the likes of Bantu Holomisa’s UDM and others – sign up. Otherwise, the pact will be stillborn.

Coalition country 

The points made above could culminate in a grand coalition (ANC with the DA), a Left coalition of the ANC and the EFF, an ANC-led coalition (ANC with many small parties), or an opposition coalition. Whatever the outcome, just as happened in all our metros, these coalitions will be unstable. This means that our transition will continue for another five years, marked by unstable coalition arrangements in provinces and perhaps even nationally. We may have to learn from the Israelis and Europeans how to build stable coalitions.

The possibility of violence 

In July 2021 riots broke out in KZN and Gauteng, encouraged by supporters of President Zuma. At least 354 people were killed. In July this year at least 21 trucks were torched and incinerated, major national roads were shut down, drivers were attacked in an echo of the 2021 events. 

Given these events, and low-level acts of violence such as the burning down of the parliamentary building, readers should be aware that another flare-up is a possibility. However, I believe that the law enforcement agencies are better prepared this time and will be able to quell any violence.

These are just some of the key trends that will ebb and flow in the next few months. The field is crowded. New parties such as RiseMzansi and ActionSA are now vying for support. The most important issue will be voter turnout. 

Many disillusioned South Africans have been opting out of the system by just staying at home. The party that can get its supporters out to the voting booth on Election Day will make the most gains next year.


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