South Africa has already started the electoral silly season. Manifestos are being launched, promises are being made, and voters are being assured that things will be different this time, promise.

The ANC has not been idle. It already unofficially launched its election campaign at the celebrations for the party’s 112th birthday in Nelspruit in January, and President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address was more of a campaign speech than a true overview of the state of the country. And all the tropes which we have come to expect from the ANC were present, with President Ramaphosa punting the achievements – such as they are – of the ANC in the post-apartheid era.

And, as we have now come to expect from the ANC, the failures of the current government are being blamed on the legacy of apartheid, while there are also dark mutterings about anti-transformation forces, counter-revolutionaries, and those who would stand in the way of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR). Indeed, Panyaza Lesufi, the premier of Gauteng, said an ANC defeat would mean a setback for the NDR (don’t threaten me with a good time, as the saying goes).


But one does get the sense that there is some panic in ANC ranks about this election. Perhaps this is simply a case of recency bias and in previous elections the governing party has acted in a similar way, but I have my doubts. It does seem that the party is more worried than in previous years.

This should be unsurprising. The ANC is weaker than at any other time in post-apartheid South Africa. The 2019 election saw it record its worst-ever national election result, and in 2021 there was a similar tale. In that year’s local government election, the party lost votes across the country and for the first time its national aggregate in an election fell below 50%, the significance of which cannot be overstated.

It also faces threats from numerous quarters. It is likely to lose more voters on its left flank to the EFF. In KwaZulu-Natal it is also in deep trouble, with the IFP likely to siphon off large numbers of former ANC voters. There is also Jacob Zuma’s MK Party which seems set to get the support of many former ANC supporters.

The DA could also well be a beneficiary of dissatisfaction with the ANC. With some polls showing that the DA could win up to 30% of the vote, at least some of these people will be disgruntled ANC voters. And ActionSA could also replicate its success in Johannesburg more widely, where that party also did relatively well in former ANC strongholds.

And this is all against the backdrop of a number of polls showing ANC support as low as the low 40s.

That all said, we must guard against assuming that an ANC below 50% is a done deal. As my former colleagues Gareth van Onselen and Frans Cronje have both pointed out, getting the ANC below that number could be a difficult task, but the emergence of the MK Party could be a gamechanger in our politics, and could result in the ANC losing its majority for the first time in democratic South Africa.

Formidable beast

But there is still a long way to go before the election, and the ANC remains a formidable beast. It used to have a formidable campaigning machinery and probably still has it to some degree. When campaigning starts in earnest, and the ANC launches its manifesto, we could see support for the ANC inch up.

But this panic that we’re seeing from the ANC is a good thing. It shows that it knows that a majority in this year’s election is not a foregone conclusion. And it knows that because the IEC is likely to count the votes fairly accurately, the ANC is unlikely to be able to do what its sister party, ZANU-PF, in Zimbabwe did, and blatantly steal elections.

The ANC knows that the votes will broadly reflect the will of the people, and the shenanigans the party will be able to pull off will be of a limited nature.

Furthermore, the robust campaigning from opposition political parties is something that in much of the rest of the continent is simply not possible. In other countries in Africa, and further afield (such as Russia, a seeming ideological lodestar for the ANC), opposition politicians languish in prisons or are simply killed.

Some of the most horrific images that have come out of Zimbabwe’s recent history were those of the late Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the MDC, who had been arrested on trumped-up charges and roughed up by Robert Mugabe’s goons. Images of Tsvangirai after he was released showed him with a beaten face, and eyes swollen shut from the assault, as well as torn clothing.

In South Africa such images would be unthinkable.

And the fact that the DA launched its manifesto at the Union Buildings, at the very heart of formal executive political power in South Africa, is also telling. In many other countries, an opposition party would have been prevented from doing something like that.


For all the ANC’s faults, and there is a litany of them, it has not given in to the authoritarian urge, as has been the fate of so many liberation movements in Africa. And, on the face of the evidence to date, it seems that the ANC will continue to act as a party which upholds democratic norms and accepts that the ballot box is a legitimate tool in political contestation.

Of course, there is no guarantee that this will remain the case, and if, in a worst-case scenario, the ANC is forced into a coalition with parties which clearly have little respect for representative parliamentary democracy, such as the EFF, then things could change very quickly.

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. And given that the ANC is weaker than at any other time in post-apartheid South Africa, we dare not let our guard down.


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Marius Roodt is currently deputy editor of the Daily Friend and also consults on IRR campaigns. This is his second stint at the Institute, having returned after spells working at the Centre for Development and Enterprise and a Johannesburg-based management consultancy. He has also previously worked as a journalist, an analyst for a number of foreign governments, and spent most of 2005 and 2006 driving a scooter around London. Roodt holds an honours degree from the Rand Afrikaans University (now the University of Johannesburg) and an MA in Political Studies from the University of the Witwatersrand.