The day before I voted, I looked to see what the world thought about our 2024 election and came across this story.

“‘I just want what the white people have’ – what happened to Cynthia’s dream in South Africa?” This was the headline of an online BBC article and video on the South African election. On the eve of the 1994 election, a sympathetic BBC journalist, Fergal Keane, interviewed a poor black woman, Cynthia Mthebe. 30 years later, he went back to find her in Klipgat, a rural village (in the North West, I think) to ask her how her life had improved under ANC rule. Not much, she said. She was not going to bother to vote this time. She is now 78 years old, blind, as poor as ever, and none of her children have got jobs.

Her wish, to have what white people have, is deep. It could have two interpretations: to have the assets of white people or to be like white people; to have the houses, cars, services, money, and education of white people or to have the light skin, straight hair, languages, and culture of white people. There is a vast difference between the two aspirations, and understanding it is essential to solving the white-black racial problems of the world. For the purposes of discussing South African elections, I assume she meant the former. And I am pretty sure that this is what most black people were wanting as they voted on 27 April 1994 and 29 May 2024.

I voted in both, in Richards Bay in 1994 and in Sunnydale, near Fish Hoek, in 2024. My voting experience was the same in both: cheerful, safe, and friendly. On Wednesday, I stood in a genial queue for just over an hour, went through the electoral process quickly and efficiently, and voted in a most satisfying way. I had been scared I might be baffled by the third ballot paper, which I had been warned was complicated. It wasn’t at all; it was so clear and simple that even I could understand it. I enjoyed voting on 29 May. A lot of people did not.


Apparently the voting in many places in the country was a bit of a shambles. The normally efficient Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) stumbled badly this time. The electronic system for verifying voters’ identity and address failed often, the electoral staff were not properly trained and sometimes downright unhelpful, and there were blunders everywhere. At first we were told that the long queues were because of an exceptionally high turnout. But in fact the turnout (58.5% at the time of my writing) was lower than in 2019 (66.1%). The long queues were because of IEC incompetence. Some people queued for six hours. Some people could not vote at all.

However horrid this might have been for many people, it was overshadowed in the broad scheme of things by the fact that these elections were fair, honest, and transparent. Nothing was hidden from anyone. In Zimbabwe in 2008, when the counting first revealed that Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party had been thrashed, the results were kept secret for weeks (giving time for Mugabe to mount a campaign of violence and terror against his electorate and to appeal to the South African government to help him stay in power). Here the ANC’s losses were reported to everyone the moment they had been counted.

There might have been grumbles from ANC leaders, such as Gwede Mantashe blaming its losses in KZN on Zulu tribalism, but nobody from the ANC ever questioned the legitimacy of the vote or the fact that it will surely lose their absolute majority. This 2024 election has shown the depth of South African democracy.

But how has this deep democracy helped most South Africans? Not much. It has helped the black elite enormously. The rich political leaders of the ANC, EFF, MK, and the SACP, and the highly paid black executives of the State-Owned Enterprises and the Civil Service live like kings, with BMWs, Mercs, large houses in the suburbs, private healthcare and private education. These are the blacks that have got “what white people have”. Many whites are much better off than they were under apartheid simply because democracy and international goodwill have made it easier for them to emigrate.

Most of my friends and colleagues who graduated with me in maths, physics and engineering are now in the UK, the US, and Australia, where they not only earn much more than here but are made to feel welcome and wanted, unlike here. But for the bulk of our people, for poor black South Africans, improvement in their lives has been minimal, if at all. Unemployment is now worse than it was in 1994. Crime is worse. In the first years of ANC rule there were advances in housing, water, and electricity but those have petered out. Education for most black children is appalling, sometimes even worse than it was under Bantu Education. Poor black people have got little to thank the ANC for. Is this why the ANC vote has sunk from 70% in 2004 to 42% in 2024 (the latter figure is a projection at the time of writing)?

Vote against the ANC

Yes, surely. The 28-percentage point fall of the ANC’s vote was much more a vote against the ANC than a vote for anybody else. The people who voted for the DA mainly did so because they liked the DA and wanted to be ruled by it. But the DA only got 22% (projected), only up one percentage point from 2019. The 28% of ex-ANC voters voted for the EFF and MK, as Ivo Vegter pointed out on Friday in his sombre but excellent Daily Friend article. But the ANC, the EFF, and MK all have the same economic ideas and the same ideology: socialism and black elitist nationalism. The EFF and MK believe in state control, BEE, cadre deployment, racial affirmative action, employment equity, highly restrictive labour laws, minimum wages, expropriation without compensation, a massive public service – in short all the policies the ANC has enacted over 30 years to achieve 42% unemployment (including those who have given up looking for work), disintegrating infrastructure, a stagnant economy, de-industrialisation, rising violent crime, water shortages, potholes and sewage in the streets.

The ANC, EFF and MK all hate capitalism, adore communism, and attack the West at every opportunity while loading up on Western cars, clothes, and luxuries. One may shout louder than another, one might be more corrupt than another, but they are fundamentally the same. If the EFF or MK had ruled for 30 years, the outcome would be little different from what it is now. I see the rand has fallen since it became clear the ANC would lose its absolute majority, and international investors have become nervous. This just shows how stupid international capitalists are. Capitalism is by far the best economic system of all but I’m afraid many big capitalists are extremely foolish. I think the ANC’s losing its absolute majority might be good for the economy, because it opens up new possibilities and breaks down rigidity.

The fact that 28% voted against the ANC and not for anyone else is not a bad thing at all. It is a good thing. By far the greatest benefit of democracy is the ability to get rid of the existing rulers. This is a benefit not enjoyed by Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Sudan, Cuba, and Russia (all countries the ANC admires) but enjoyed by South Africa (which the ANC has ruled for 30 years). There is a benevolent paradox here (benevolent for South Africans, that is). The fact that the EFF and MK have the same ideology as the ANC might be a reason for it to go into coalition with them or a reason for it not to go into coalition with them, since they would all be fighting on the same turf for high position, power and status. If the ANC went into coalition with the DA, I’d never vote for the DA again (this time all of my three votes went to the DA) but I don’t think it ever would. What about the smaller parties?

Most successful

I have the highest regard for the political insights and scientific methods of Frans Cronje, ex-CEO of SAIRR and now head of the Social Research Foundation (SRF), as he analyses social and political trends, including voting intentions. So I was amazed when in a recent interview he was asked to predict the most successful of the little parties and he named the Patriotic Alliance, led by Gayton McKenzie. Gayton McKenzie! He spent 17 years in gaol for robbery. But now he feels called by Jesus.

In his manifesto, he puts God first, wants the return of the death penalty and military service, wants mass deportation of illegal immigrants and believes in elevating local leaders, which means church leaders and I think gang leaders. He’s certainly original – but vote-worthy? Cronje thought he was and thought him a skilled and professional politician. And, sure enough, he has done far better than Action SA, ACDP, Rise Msanzi, Azapo, and Good. In the Western Cape at the time of my writing he has won 9% of the vote, putting him third behind the DA and ANC, with almost twice the vote of the EFF, seven times the vote of Good and 15 times that of MK. (These figures might change.)

I was most struck by the fact that, after the Hamas atrocities of 7 October and the Israeli retaliation, when the ANC was cheering for Hamas and calling for Israeli blood, McKenzie, in a public meeting and in a very loud voice, proclaimed his 100% support for Israel. Some thought this might lose him votes in the Western Cape with its considerable Muslim population. It doesn’t seem to have. It might have done the opposite.

I’d have to say that Gayton McKenzie is now the most interesting politician in South Africa. He’s different. He doesn’t fit any mould. An ex-convict solving the Western Cape’s terrible drug and gang problems by uniting the gangsters behind Jesus? Some accuse him of pandering to coloured resentment at their treatment by both whites and blacks. He has also been accused of attacking the DA more than the ANC. Who would he go into coalition with?

Most of the other little parties are uninspiring; some have good, decent, well-meaning people, some not, but none of them offer much promise for a different and better way. I quite like the IFP but it never seems to be able to escape its Zulu origins. This brings in another feature of the 2024 election: tribalism. All humans were tribal at some time in their history and most still are, so I wish we could discuss it openly and not pretend it is naughty. MK’s huge success, which is the major story of this election, seems entirely tribal. KwaZulu-Natal is a Zulu region, as its name proclaims, and Zuma is Zulu, and MK is largely a Zulu phenomenon. The Zulus are the biggest ethnic group in South Africa and KwaZulu-Natal is the second most populous province. Zulus matter. So MK matters. The ANC is often thought to be a Xhosa party and I see its second biggest vote was in the Eastern Cape, which is mainly Xhosa, but it got an even bigger vote in Limpopo, with hardly any Xhosas. So it’s not that simple, thank goodness. And the duty of all good liberals is to persuade everybody, of whatever tribe, that liberal values work best.

I feel for Cynthia Mthebe and her like, whom I have noticed, at long distance I’m afraid, during apartheid and in the 30 years that followed. I also want everybody to have the same high living standard as rich whites in South Africa now. I want everybody in Africa to have the same high living standards as Germans and Swedes now. I think this election is a step in the right direction – uncertain, unsure, but a step in the right direction.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR.

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Andrew Kenny is a writer, an engineer and a classical liberal.