The recent national and provincial elections in South Africa have marked a historic turning point, ushering in an era of coalition politics that has fundamentally altered the political landscape of the nation. 

For the first time since the end of apartheid, no single party has emerged with a clear majority both nationally and in key provinces such as Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. This development, while momentous, raises questions about the future direction of South African politics and governance.

The African National Congress (ANC), which has been the dominant political force in South Africa since the first all-race elections in 1994, saw its support dip below 50%, and nearly plummet below 40%. This significant decline in the ANC’s support base reflects growing dissatisfaction with the party’s performance, particularly in addressing deep-seated issues such as poverty, unemployment, and inequality. However, despite this historic low, the combined vote share of the ANC, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), and the new MK Party remains substantial at 64.28%, which is strikingly similar to the 66.35% in 1999 and 65.9% in 2009 levels of support which the ANC achieved.

Ideological Continuity Amidst Fragmentation

The similarity in vote share between the ANC, EFF, and MK points to an underlying ideological continuity. The EFF and MK, both offshoots of the ANC, share a common lineage and a similar ideological outlook. Nelson Mandela’s ANC was always a broad church, encompassing a range of factions with varying degrees of radicalism. Over the past three decades, these factions have splintered, with the EFF and MK representing the more radical elements that have broken away from the ANC.

Despite the fragmentation, the ANC, EFF, and MK continue to espouse similar views on critical issues such as economic policy, redistribution, and constitutionalism. Their shared commitment to state intervention in the economy, land expropriation without compensation, and a populist approach to governance indicates that, at their core, these parties are united by a common ideological framework. This ideological uniformity poses significant challenges to South Africa’s economic stability and democratic integrity.

The Coalition Conundrum

In the wake of the elections, there has been much speculation and debate about potential coalition arrangements. The ANC, having lost its outright majority, is now compelled to seek coalition partners to form a stable government. Among the potential partners, the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) have emerged as the most viable options. However, this prospect is fraught with complexities and potential pitfalls.

The DA, which secured around 21% of the vote, has expressed openness to discussions with the ANC. However, many within the party and its support base are wary of entering into a coalition with the ANC, given the latter’s track record of corruption, mismanagement, and policy failures. Critics argue that such a coalition would undermine the DA’s credibility and compromise its commitment to good governance and economic reform.

On the other hand, an ANC-EFF coalition, while ideologically more aligned, would likely exacerbate existing economic challenges and further erode investor confidence. The EFF’s radical economic policies and confrontational style of politics are seen as incompatible with the pragmatic governance needed to address South Africa’s pressing socio-economic issues.

The ongoing coalition talks will undoubtedly provide fascinating political maneuvering and strategic jockeying. The ANC’s negotiations with the MK Party, led by former President Jacob Zuma, have been particularly entertaining. Zuma, who resigned under a cloud of corruption allegations in 2018, has positioned his party as a kingmaker in the new political landscape. His demand that President Cyril Ramaphosa be removed as a precondition for any coalition agreement underscores the personal and political animosities that continue to shape South African politics.

The ideology is still there

While the political jousting is undoubtedly captivating, the more pressing question is whether the ANC’s electoral decline will eventually translate into the erosion of its ideological dominance. The ANC, EFF, and MK share a common ideological heritage that has shaped South African politics for decades. 

For South Africa to truly prosper, it is imperative that this ideological dominance be challenged and ultimately dismantled. The current coalition talks, while significant, are only a precursor to the more profound transformation that is needed. The real test lies in whether South Africa can break free from the ideological constraints that have hindered its progress, and whether the approximately 65% of South Africans can see beyond the political parties and see the true obstacle in the way of progress.

This new vision must be anchored in principles of economic liberalism, individual rights, and the rule of law. It must prioritise market-driven growth, private sector investment, and entrepreneurship as the engines of economic development. It must also foster a political culture of accountability, transparency, and respect for democratic institutions.

The DA, which received 21.81% of the vote in this election, up from 20.77% in 2019, and to a lesser extent the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) with 3.85%, the Freedom Front Plus (VF+) with 1.36%, and ActionSA with 1.2% stand as the only real opposition to the entrenched ANC axis. Despite this incremental growth, these parties did not expand their voter base sufficiently to mount a formidable challenge against the ANC and its offshoots, the EFF and MK. 

A New Political Reality

The recent elections have ushered in a new political reality for South Africa. The era of single-party dominance is over, and coalition politics is likely here to stay. This new reality presents both challenges and opportunities. It is an opportunity to forge a new political consensus based on shared values of democracy, economic freedom, and social justice. It is also a challenge to overcome the entrenched interests and ideological dogmas that have stymied progress for so long.

The recent elections have marked a watershed moment in South African politics. The decline of the ANC’s electoral dominance and the emergence of coalition politics offer a chance to rethink and reshape the country’s political and economic trajectory. While the coalition talks and political maneuvering provide much intrigue, the more critical task is to challenge and dismantle the ideological dominance of the ANC, EFF, and MK.

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

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Daniël Eloff is a believer, husband, father, attorney and writer.