South Africa Faces an Uncertain Future as the ANC Now Struggles to Maintain Power

A worker removes a campaign banner of South African president Cyril Ramaphosa after an African National Congress event ahead of the upcoming elections in Sandton, Johannesburg, South Africa, on May 25, 2024. Credit: REUTERS/James Oatway

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Almost all post-independent political parties in Africa bragged that their stay in power was eternal, but history was not on their side. They heavily relied on reminding the electorate of the ugliness of colonial rule, but once in power, they behaved worse than their predecessors.

This article focuses on revisiting the African National Congress (ANC), humiliation at the ballot box, and now her future is no longer in her hands but to her political nemesis whose key requirement is the ouster of the current president, Cyril Ramaphosa, and a seismic policy shift. From what I see, the incumbent President, Hon. Ramaphosa, will be forced to accept responsibility for a poor showing at the ballot box as the coalition government hangs in the balance.

Disgruntled South African voters fatigued by massive poverty while seeing their black leaders acquiring billions of dollars illegally, opted to change the political dialogue from racial emancipation to an economic class struggle. The ANC’s legitimacy to reign in South Africa depended on keeping racial inequality on the menu.

Still, as her leaders sank deep into official corruption, voters recognised their problem was no longer racial injustices but official graft. Once the ANC political conversation was torpedoed, she had nothing else to justify keeping her perch position.

Thirty years ago, the untested ANC garnered about 70% of the votes, but in the last election, her share of the votes dropped to 57%, and now the ballot box humiliation is stark and conspicuous for all to see. The party of the late Nelson Mandela was undone by a seemingly incessant string of corruption scandals at all levels of government and its failure to transform Africa’s most developed economy to the point where it delivered for the country’s Black majority.

Read Related: Jacob Zuma: The Ultimate Powerbroker In 2024 South African Elections!

Three decades after the end of apartheid, the gap between the richest and the poorest South Africans is by some measures wider than in 1994; 42% of the workforce is without jobs, and nearly two-thirds of Black South Africans still live in poverty—compared with 1% of white South Africans.

South Africa allows political parties a two-week bromance to cobble out an effective coalition government. It is a proposition that South African politicians lack the experience to draw from and may have to borrow heavily elsewhere, but in Africa, such is fraught with betrayal and rough shedding. Generally speaking, the African experience does not respect the electorate but treats them as disposable commodities with the military around to smooth any opposition that rears her resistance emblems.

In the specific example of Tanzania, three ‘miafaka’ agreed on the governance of the Isles archipelago between CCM and CUF, but the former dumped the pacts and declared herself the winner of the disputed elections.

In one of the elections where the CUF presidential aspirant who is now deceased, Seif Sharif Hamad, was internationally believed to have won, the results were dubiously cancelled to maintain the status quo. When the repeat elections were called, CUF, in protest, absconded, paving the way for CCM to pick undisputed spoils!

Of better days of ‘Miafaka’, one can conclude that the composition of the Zanzibar election commission accommodated the real stakeholders, who were the political parties, albeit failed to break the stranglehold of elitism that is destroying our country. Elitism has created a class of rulers and subjects. Now, political dynasties are mushrooming left and right, diluting pillars of accountability and transparency to keep them alive.

Credit to the ANC, which is amiss with CCM, is the reverence to the electorate. The ANC did not attempt to rig the elections save for a few unsystematic hitches that cannot be traced to institutional deliberate foul play to upend the clear will of the voters. In the Tanzanian case, as the rulers of the day defy the electorate’s will, it is increasingly becoming a police state to defer civil unrest that can turn violent and a means of ousting those holding the reins of power.

Back in South Africa, the ANC, having garnered the most votes, will be given the first opportunity to form a coalition government, but potential suitors harbour a variety of booby traps. The second political party, The Democratic Alliance (DA), which reaped 22% of the votes, could form a coalition government if the next government immediately embarks on drastic economic reforms.

The two political parties will be able to deliver the government agenda to Parliament, and Mr Ramaphosa may keep his coveted job. However, that political pact with the ANC will alienate the core members of her support, who may feel cheated and sold to the highest bidder.

That coalition government will easily pass the minimum threshold of 50% to form a government since it will have a 62% majority. In the long run, such a coalition will diminish the ANC recovery mode, and may end up losing even what votes she got in this election. For the ANC, the delicate choices are how much of a political asset Hon. Ramaphosa is to risk throwing themselves into political oblivion.

Most likely, the ANC’s top echelons will seek to resolve their differences with another mercurial political figure, Mr Jacob Zuma, whose political career is very much ricocheted with criminal and graft-related indictments. UMkhonto We Sizwe is Jacob Zuma’s vehicle to afford him a powerbroker mantle.

The option of forming a coalition government with UMkhonto We Sizwe, which picked up a sizeable 15% of the vote, is not without risks. Jacob Zuma has made it abundantly clear that his political party will join the ANC to form the next government if and only if Mr Ramaphosa is shown the exit door.

Mr Zuma has singled out Mr Ramaphosa as the real force behind his legal torment due to a failure to arraign his DPP. On his part, Mr Ramaphosa defended himself by saying that the DPP office is independent, not at his beck and call, an argument Mr Zuma does not buy, knowing he was the office’s occupant.

If the two political parties form a political coalition, they will barely hit the 55% sufficient to run government affairs without hitting an ice pick. It is unclear whether the UMkhonto We Sizwe will insist her pet policies be incorporated into the incoming government. Agendas for the nationalization of mines are very much topping the policy wishlist, but how far the ANC can accommodate that is anybody’s guess.

If Zuma insists that these two parties that could potentially obscure their looting through ill-fated racial justice may find the emotional connection lacking, amicably parting ways could be the best way out. The nationalization of mines is the best way to bridge the racial economic divide. Still, it carries the risks of mismanagement, embezzlement and official graft, sinking the most productive mines in Africa.

Moreover, the cost of buying those mines may undermine the incoming government’s ability to deliver their election promises, or doing so may trigger an era of unpopular high tax regimes since the treasury coffers may be empty.

The third alternative for the ANC before throwing the towel would be to sit down with smaller parties like the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) of Julius Malema, whose draconian policies include the nationalization of major means of economy and white fans confiscation without compensation, similar to the Zimbabwean ones under the then president Robert Mugabe will make the ANC squirm in horror. Malema was perhaps the biggest disappointment in this election, but the future looks rosier, given the ANC will never parlay racial justice as a weapon to hold on to power.

If the ANC fails to form a government of national unity, the opposition parties may attempt to patch up one of their own but will face similar booby traps that the ANC will soon encounter. Of the challenges facing South Africa, post-independent political parties that are still in power, such as CCM, have a lot to learn, and over-dependence on a security state to hold onto power has its limits.

The more citizens drop into suffocating poverty, the more they will begin to devise means to reclaim their lost glory. That may take non-violent options or otherwise, and the cost of quelling such protests may be too much to endure over time.

Time and time again, CCM has been given the golden opportunity to fix the rot but has refused to do the right thing, relying heavily on other arms of the government to keep her perpetually in power. But history is replete with regimes that are totally divorced from the true aspirations of their own people and ultimately collapse under their own sheer weight of wastrel.

Will CCM engage constructively with the people it governs? Only time will tell.

The author is a Development Administration specialist in Tanzania with over 30 years of practical experience, and has been penning down a number of articles in local printing and digital newspapers for some time now.

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