Forecasting the results of the 2019 general election, the ANC is likely to win a close contest with 55% of the national vote, compared to 29% for the DA, 12% for the EFF and 4% for the other parties combined.
In the system of proportional representation, this would give the ANC 224 seats, the DA 116 seats and the EFF 44 seats in parliament. It’s going to be a ground-breaking election against the backdrop of the sunset of the liberation struggle era and the coming of age of the born-free generation.
The born-frees, ranging from first-time voters to young adults up to 25 years old, may sway the result by a few percentage points. However, this is unlikely to change key voting patterns established during more than 20 years of election history in democratic South Africa.
The recent deaths of the struggle’s most iconic leaders, loss of unity within the ANC and its tripartite alliance and the lasting damage done to its ethos or ‘brand’ by struggle veteran Jacob Zuma have buried the liberation period along with its greatest names. We’re entering the uncharted territory of a post-liberation political phase in which much of the youth finds itself in a highly critical frame of mind, as was evidenced in the ‘fees must fall’ campaign.
The likely economic context for 2019 is stagnation, as GDP growth was 1.3% in 2017 and the World Bank did not expect improvement in 2018. This weak economy follows what Trevor Manuel described as the total disaster of Jacob Zuma’s presidency.
From a social perspective, storm clouds of high unemployment and persistent poverty are gathered overhead. Public anger is in the air, especially among the black youth with its high rate of joblessness.
Even though such conditions are conducive to a kind of Arab Spring as seen in North African countries in 2011, the pressures for revolution in South Africa are counterbalanced by several positive conditions. These include the clean-up of government and parastatals led by President Ramaphosa and Pravin Gordhan, the maturing of democracy and the historic goodwill of the broader electorate. It’s probable the 2019 election will be volatile but not revolutionary.
The 20-year election history from 1994 to 2014 shows race-based parties have failed to win widespread support in the new South Africa. The IFP, Freedom Front Plus and PAC have lost support over the years after peaking at their first electoral showing. By contrast, parties that openly endorse multiracialism, like the ANC and DA, have consistently attracted much wider support across the country. Market research company Ipsos, which has provided detailed voter profiles for the parties, has concluded that the DA is the most multi-racial party, while 96% of the ANC support base is black African.
A report by the Institute for Race Relations (IRR) states that 77% of black respondents said they have never personally experienced racism in the country. The IRR’s transformation audit, summed up in its January 2017 issue of Fast Facts, reveals that racial transformation of the South African workplace, asset ownership and state institutions has been significant and continues to improve.
The clearest message of this 20-year voting track record, aside from the fact that the ANC’s power peaked in 2004 at 69.69% of electoral support, is that South Africans understand the unsustainability of racism as a basis for governing the country. This is one reason why the EFF has failed to go mainstream and is still a regional, fringe party despite its high-profile theatrics.
Looking beyond the 2019 election, the DA is likely to be the party of the multiracial urban middle class. The DA significantly increased its voter share in all provinces between 1994 and 2014. It is the ruling party in the Western Cape and the second largest party in six provinces. By contrast, the EFF does not perform well in key metropoles, among female voters and in the south of the country. It also doesn’t rule any of the provinces.
The ANC is strong in the key metropoles but is now too dependent on declining rural voters in South Africa’s urban nation-state, with about half of its voters being rural.
It is likely that elections in South Africa in the 2020s will increasingly become a two-horse race, with the ANC being the pro-labour voice and the DA being the pro-business party. This two-party system will reflect the country’s underlying two-tier economy, comprising the underperforming, largely rural provinces with below-par schooling and higher rates of poverty and migration, and the wealthy, economically dynamic provinces that tend to have better administration and education systems.
Given the current peaking of the country’s urbanisation rate, which stopped rising this year for the first time since 1955, as well as the strong growth of the middle class, the entrenchment of multiracialism in the broader population and the maturing of the South African democracy, the country should enjoy greater social stability and more widely spread prosperity in the 2020s. The rainbow nation will survive, striving towards an ultimate post-racial state, especially if South Africa can continue to decrease its stark social inequalities.
My forecasts for the future of Africa and other regions of the world for the rest of the 21st century are contained in my book, Codebreaking our Future, which was recently translated into Chinese.
In a blog posted on 3 August, 2016, I correctly forecast that Donald Trump would win the US presidential election, despite an almost unanimous view in the media at that time that Hillary Clinton would become the next president of America (www.infideas.com/preparing-pax-trumpicana/).