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South Africa – Likely ANC Win but Challenges Ahead

02 May 2014

The 2014 South African elections will deliver a win for the ruling African National Congress party. However, internal party divisions and economic woes will be among the challenges ahead.

There is no doubt the African National Congress (ANC) will win the 7 May elections in South Africa.  But, given there is much speculation about the likely size of the margin and whether the party will be able to secure more than the psychologically important 60% of the vote.

The Election Outcome

Opinion polls, which are unreliable and clouded with bias, offer few pointers to the final figures. The number and increasingly violent nature of so-called “service delivery protests”, by those who cite a failure by the state to provide basic services as a reason to protest, may be one of the better portents to the future. For instance the Social Change Research Unit, part of the Johannesburg University, found that these protests have been increasingly violent since 2009. There have also been calls by a number of former ANC leaders for supporters to spoil their ballots or vote for a minor party at the election in protest at pervasive corruption. Party and community outrage at ‘Nkandlagate’ (the irregular spending of more than R200 million in public monies on President Zuma’s private residence) has been particularly strong. Significant divisions within the ANC’s traditional union ally Cosatu and the rising popularity of the Economic Freedom Fighters party (led by the former head of the ANC Youth League, Julius Malema) also suggest the ANC may struggle to maintain its historically sizeable lead over the its opponents.

But the biggest factor may well be low voter turnout;voters who deliberately or otherwise fail to cast a ballot in the fifth post-apartheid election. In 2009, more than 14 million eligible voters did not vote.  For the first time this was more than the number of people who voted for the ANC.  And in the 2011 local elections, nearly 75% of voters aged between 20-29 years did not participate. Apathy and frustration may well deal a severe, but non-lethal, blow to the party of government during the last 20 years.

Challenges ahead

Irrespective of the size of its likely win, the ANC will continue to face huge political and economic challenges. The first problem will be to overcome serious internal party division.  President Zuma’s need to reward his supporters, particularly from his home province, is likely to result in ongoing party infighting, factional battles and consequent policy paralysis.

The country’s economic woes, manifested in high unemployment and poverty, are serious.  Industrial unrest, electricity supply shortages and infrastructure deficits all require strong leadership and determination for resolution and implementation.

Most social indicators show South Africa has gone backwards over the last decade.. It has dropped more than 20 places on the Human Development Index since 2000. Should the government not dramatically improve employment levels and service delivery in health, education and security, inequality will remain pervasive. The country will continue to be racked by large pockets of disadvantage and violence while retaining a small, relatively wealthy, functioning society.

South Africa is not a failed state. Rather, it will continue to plod along, doing some things right, and many things wrong.

On the international scene, South Africa will probably continue to ‘punch above its weight’ enjoying a disproportionate share of the world’s attention because of its perceived exceptionalism – although this may abate following former President Nelson Mandela’s death. Certainly South Africa will need to continue to make an intellectual and creative contribution to global issues to retain this level of interest. But it will be that much harder to do if its domestic house is not in order.


Ann Harrap was Australia’s High Commissioner to South Africa from 2008-2012. She is currently the Director of AHC Consulting, Chair of the Board of learning and development company Ethos CRS and an adjunct associate professor in the School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland.