AD248: Increasingly non-partisan, South Africans willing to trade elections for security, housing, jobs

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Jamy Felton

South Africa is getting ready for its fifth general election, expected to be held by August 2019. Over the coming months, political parties will be campaigning for national and provincial leadership. 

Over the past year, the three parties that received the most votes in the 2014 election have certainly made headlines. On 14 February 2018, the ruling African National Congress (ANC)  had a leadership change when President Jacob Zuma was forced to resign and was replaced by President Cyril Ramaphosa (African National Congress, 2018). A commission of inquiry into state capture by the Gupta family and its allies continues to expose corrupt practices by leaders and their families or friends. Most recently, former Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene resigned after his son’s suspected involvement with the Guptas came to light (Grobler, 2018). 

The Democratic Alliance (DA), South Africa’s biggest opposition party, made many gains in the local government election of 2016 but has been plagued by problems since then. These include a water crisis and leadership battle in Cape Town, the party’s most solid metropolitan support base, as well as the unravelling of its winning coalition with the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in Nelson Mandela Bay metropolitan municipality and evidence of DA internal conflict (Bendile, 2018). Meanwhile the EFF, the breakaway party formed by former ANC Youth League President Julius Malema, has managed to establish itself as an opposition voice of note appealing to the poor, dispossessed, young, and working-class (Southall, 2018; Thambo, 2018).

While these political battles continue, the South African economy has officially entered a recession, making life harder for the average citizen (CNBC, 2018; Van Zyl, 2018). Almost daily protests over service delivery -- 144 in all – were recorded in the first half of 2018, clear evidence of popular dissatisfaction with the government’s ability to deliver (Makhafola, 2018).

Election campaigns are sure to make the most of these issues, but will South Africans be listening? The latest Afrobarometer survey findings show that while the ANC retains a commanding lead among declared voters, a large and growing proportion of South Africans do not identify with any political party and may be up for grabs in the election. Popular dissatisfaction with government service delivery is high – to the point that a majority of citizens would be willing to give up elections altogether in exchange for security, housing, and jobs. These findings suggest that political parties may do well to focus their campaigns on showing how they plan to give South Africans a tangible reason to vote for them.