Cyril Ramaphosa’s “New Dawn” Saved By Electoral Victory

By Neo Sithole

Results completed and an official announcement from the Independent Electoral Commission on South Africa’s 6th free and fair democratic election. The ruling party, the African National Congress has, in the face of increased controversy and hardships, managed to secure its place as the majority party in the. Governing for 25 years.

However, it is interesting to note that while the ruling party managed to cling to power, there seems to be a continual shift in voting habits. First is a decline in registered voter turnout. This year’s voter turnout is 65.5%, a large drop compared to the 73% of registered voters who went out to take part in the electoral process in 2014.  A stark reality that needs to be faced is that South Africa has an eligible voting population of close to 34 million people and only 17 million cast their votes in these elections. Possibly a symptom of a society that is gradually losing faith in the parties campaigning or a society that sees no reward in voting. The importance of voter turnout also has an impact on the results. As fewer people vote the determined support for parties estimated by the amounts of votes each party secures becomes increasingly unsure

A second change is an increase in votes for some opposition parties. The Democratic Alliance takes a dip falling from 22% in 2014 to 20% losing votes to the Vryheidsfront Plus (Freedom Front Plus) which has made eyebrow-raising skip from 0.9% to 2%. 

Growth in the VF+ has sparked conversation not only around a rebirth of white conservativeness in the public political arena but also around the complexities of having people of color voting for what has been known as a white conservative party. 

The Economic Freedom Fighters have grown impressively with 10% now as opposed to 6% during the last national elections. Not merely enough to pose a serious threat to the majority party right now if both the ANC and DA continue to experience drop-in voter support and the EFF grows steadily then the EFF may have to capacity to actively contest as an opposition party in future elections. 

A change in the demographics of voters has meant that less South Africans identify with the ANC as a liberation movement but instead engage with it as a party in government. Meaning that where some may be more lenient to the ANC governance shortcomings, considering the difficulties encountered when it assumed power in 1994, others are not as kind questioning the ANCs ability to rejuvenate South Africa and introduce fresh and electrifying possibilities. In this context, the victory by the African National Congress is welcomed by many, preliminary polls predicting that the ANC would indeed snag the majority vote the win should not come as a surprise.  Still, the decline in support from 62% that the ANC enjoyed in 2016 to 57% in 2019 is telling of the ruling party’s waning popularity. Although some feel that this is an improvement for the ANC this comparison is made against the 2016 local government elections where the ANC secured 46% in Gauteng compared to 2019’s 53%. A win by an uneasily small margin. 

This decline in the ANC’s national support may be beneficial to President Cyril Ramaphosa. Ideally, a victory over 60% would indicate that Ramaphosa’s popularity as a large factor in the ANC maintaining power, however, it would also serve to further embellish him. A risky possibility especially for a party that constantly tries not to depend on individual members making themselves seem bigger than the party.  It is ironic that there exist versions of the party that is depended on an individual’s character (Mandela’s ANC/ Mbeki’s ANC/Zuma’s). 

However, this is not to say that voters chose the ANC over Ramaphosa. Popularity of the ANC took a beating as a result of former President Jacob Zuma, but it seems to have recovered as a result of Ramaphosa’s perceived charisma coupled with an endorsement from Former Apartheid leader FW de Klerk Right and a not so direct endorsement from the ‘philosopher king’ Thabo Mbeki who once again publicly backs the ANC. So, while it is reasonable to argue that it is imprudent for people to make that statement that Cyril rescued the ANC it would be ignorant to not entertain the idea that without Cyril at the helm the ANC might have done worse in these elections.

The 57% is a possible leveraging tool for Cyril’s ‘New Dawn’. Pivoting off the declining support he can attempt to stem the ‘rot’ in the ANC, obviously strengthen his tune that if the ANC does not take active steps to clean itself of what is now expected corruption, negligence and complacency then its hopes for a win in the 2024 national elections are dim. 

Notably, the ruling party has witnessed a steady decline in each election since 2004. Still, the ANC’s majority of 57% remains a very visible sign of the publics luke-warm attitude towards the ANC. 

Ultimately, both the ANC and the DA have been affected by a drop-in vote and increased skepticism in political parties an agent of change and effective, efficient governance. The ability of Cyril’s administration in making good on the promises given the ANC’s 2019 manifesto will be without question be detrimental in how the ANC will fair in upcoming elections. Albeit that Ramaphosa steering the proverbial ship of the state improves optimism for the South African economy, making serious headway in the eradication of the triple challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment will need for whatever economic growth to reach South Africa’s poor and disenfranchised in meaningful, innovative and uplifting ways. 

Regardless, for the sake of South Africa, and the ANC, the next five years cannot be more of the same.


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