Eight years ago former President Jacob Zuma said the ANC will rule “forever and ever”. That is looking increasingly unlikely.
But how will the ANC respond to its changed circumstances in fighting the election in two years’ time, and then possibly being in a coalition, or even in opposition?
ANC support is withering away. The party is divided, it has run out of ideas, and it is having increasing difficulty in running the country.
Last year the ANC did poorly in the local government elections, only managing to obtain 46 percent of the vote. Even on a higher turnout, recent polling done for internal purposes by a private body sees the ANC’s percentage share only in the mid-40s in two years’ time. Voter dissatisfaction with the ruling party is sure to have risen with the increasing frequency of power cuts, higher unemployment, a possibly severe recession, and higher inflation.
An effective campaign requires lots of money. Last year the ANC was unable, for a time, to meet the payroll at Luthuli House. International support for the party has probably dropped as South Africa’s influence has diminished.
An ANC in decline could be dangerous. It is unlikely to introduce widespread reform to kick-start growth, and is far more likely to go for populist redistribution-type policies to get out the votes. The party’s conference that ended a few days ago confirmed this.
But they still have to keep the lights on and try to create jobs. Every power cut says the ANC cannot run a basic industry or ensure service delivery. And the rising unemployment rate is just a reminder of how things have deteriorated and suffering has risen. Higher prices of basic foods and transport just add to the people’s feeling of being increasingly gatvol with the government.
Ahead of the elections, the ANC is desperate to avoid power cuts, and it wants to ensure that increasing power comes onto the grid. There is no way that the ANC can play its response to the Eskom crisis as a success, and the electorate knows this.
The country knows that allowing a far greater role for the private sector in the power sector has come late and was only granted with reluctance. It was only under the pressure of long and frequent power cuts that President Cyril Ramaphosa came up with his latest energy plan. Therefore even if there are far fewer power cuts in the lead-up to the election, the ANC cannot be given credit. Besides, it will take some time for the new private sector to add sufficient power to the grid to avoid cuts.
At its policy conference that ended over the weekend, the focus of debate was the big internal issue of whether members should step aside from their party roles when they are investigated for possible breaches of the law. It was all about factions taking positions motivated by self-interest. That shows a party that looks inwards and is divided. In the last election the party positioned itself as an anti-corruption and rejuvenated party under President Ramaphosa. It cannot do so this time round.
And then there was a full array of populist give-away policies proposed – expropriation without compensation, a wealth tax, a Basic Income Grant, (BIG), and the creation of a state bank.
The country’s overwhelming problem of unemployment was merely touched upon, but there were no practical proposals to deal with the crisis. President Ramaphosa’s compacts with big business to help address unemployment cannot go very far without key reforms to build investor confidence.
The populist issues favoured by the ANC are not foremost in the minds of South Africans. Unemployment and jobs come first, and many of the ANC’s populist issues are of little or no concern to voters, repeated polling by the Centre for Risk Analysis shows.
For years the ANC has been suggesting expropriation without compensation, the curbing of Reserve Bank independence, and greater giveaways, like the Basic Income Grant. But with the election looming it might just implement them. Ministers going around the country handing out title deeds or people receiving their Basic Income Grant would look good on TV just months ahead of the elections.
The party might be so desperate for electoral success that it will override any objections to the BIG from the National Treasury. The Covid Social Relief of Distress grant will only be paid until at the end of February next year. With the election looming, a generous non-targeted handout could well be implemented as a giveaway ahead of the polls, despite the pressures on our dwindling government finances.
A key ANC scare tactic as it heads into the polls is likely to be the claim that if the DA and other opposition parties are elected they will threaten grants. It puts the opposition on the defensive and gives the high ground to the ANC. Even though voters might see ANC failures all around, voting to defend one’s grant is a natural act of self-preservation.
Then there is the election itself. With the ANC under real pressure for the first time since 1994, the question of whether an election will be free and fair could be seriously tested. While independent in name, the credibility of the Independent Election Commission will be under intense scrutiny. During the 2014 elections, the Economic Freedom Fighters’ Commander in Chief, Julius Malema, said the elections could be compromised, as the IEC used members of the ANC-aligned teachers’ union as observers.
There are more questions than answers about what will happen if the ANC does not manage to get a majority in 2024. With whom would it align itself? Will it align itself with the EFF, if necessary? And the other big question is: how will the ANC manage in a coalition?
As the largest party, the ANC will still have considerable leverage. And any coalition government that does not include the party will have to deal with potential hostility from tens of thousands of ANC cadres in key positions in government. Cadres are unlikely to work without question for the government of the day. If a new coalition government should take a position that does not meet with the approval of the cadres, they might go on strike or undermine the state.
The adage “power is where power goes” would be demonstrated if the ANC does not achieve a majority. Unable to hand out jobs, positions or contracts, ANC power would diminish. Would the party then split, as one faction might want to remain in a coalition, or would the party stay together, reform, and wait its chance? With opportunism rather than ideas holding the party together, it might well split.
Frans Cronje, former Institute of Race Relations CEO and futurist, is optimistic about seeing the end of ANC rule in 2024, leading to rejuvenation of the country through a coalition. I see his argument, but I’m bang vir die toekoms due to the great uncertainty.
The views of the writer are not necessarily those of the Daily Friend or IRR.