This article is based on content originally published on our partner platform Seerist, a Controls Risks company.

The upcoming 29 May general elections will be the most tightly contested polls that South Africa has seen since the advent of democracy in 1994. While the ruling African National Congress (ANC) – which has been in power since 1994 – will remain in government, the elections are also likely to result in the start of coalition governments at a provincial level.  

Control Risks assesses that the ruling ANC will remain the largest party nationally and will maintain power after the elections, with either a narrow majority or just below 50% of the vote. However, the likely decline in support for the ANC will result in coalition governments at the provincial level in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), which will increase political instability in the provinces.

A weakened ANC is unlikely to push for significant policy changes post elections, and as a result, policy incoherence, operational challenges and ineffective governance will persist. Moreover, the business environment is unlikely to significantly improve over the next five years and operational challenges will remain.

ANC to retain power

While recent polls suggest that the ANC will receive far less than 50% of the votes in the upcoming elections, Control Risks’ assessment is that it will narrowly secure victory in one of two ways: the first would see it attain an outright majority of just above 50% of votes, while the second would see it receiving between 47% and 50%, requiring it to enter a coalition with several smaller parties. 

Therefore, although the ANC will remain in power, it will see a significant decline in support compared to previous general elections. The steady decline in support for the ruling party is largely a result of poor governance, which has led to severe operational and service delivery challenges across the country. This includes the deterioration of State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), in particular of power utility Eskom – whose operational inefficiencies have resulted in severe power cuts, and of freight rail and road entity Transnet, whose issues have seen backlogs and delays at all major ports.  

The ANC’s weakened position as it heads into the polls is also partly due to the fact that it has been plagued by corruption since coming to power, while internal discontent is also likely to play a role. Several splinter parties formed between 2008 and 2023 and have significantly reduced the ANC’s voter base. These include the Congress of the People (COPE), the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the African Transformation Movement (ATM) and uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MKP). 

Nevertheless, the ANC remains the most popular party in the country, not least because it maintains a strong rural support base, particularly in provinces such as Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Free State and North West. It also benefits from the fact that opposition parties remain weak, with no single party able to position itself as a credible alternative and most opposition parties only having provincial appeal. The main opposition party – the Democratic Alliance (DA) – sees its strongest support in the Western Cape and parts of Gauteng, while the EFF’s biggest support base is in Gauteng and Limpopo. 

The Multi-Party Charter (MPC) alliance – a coalition of 90% of the most popular opposition parties, excluding the EFF – underscores the weakness of the opposition. The MPC parties have contradictory political ideologies and have frequently illustrated mistrust in one another – with no clear communication on who would be the president of the alliance should the parties receive enough support to form a national government. As a result, the MPC alliance parties are unlikely to attain beyond 40% of support nationally, which means their combined tally will be insufficient to unseat the ANC.

Coalitions: a new reality  

The ANC’s declining popularity coupled with opposition parties’ inability to drastically increase their voter bases will result in increased coalitions at all levels of government. This situation is likely to remain the case for the foreseeable future. If the ANC receives less than 50% of the votes, it will act strategically by seeking coalition partnerships with smaller parties, such as the GOOD Party (which currently has two parliamentary seats and whose leader Patricia De Lille is the only opposition member with a cabinet position), and Al Jama-ah (a Muslim interest party with one parliamentary seat that is currently in coalition with the ANC in Johannesburg). These parties would not require the ANC to make significant policy concessions unlike larger parties, such as the more radical EFF or the DA. 

Regardless of what happens at a national level, Control Risks forecasts that there will be several coalitions at the provincial level. The provinces most likely to experience coalition governments are Gauteng and KZN, where the ANC lost its majority support in the 2021 local government elections and is unlikely to be able to regain a majority in either province in May.  

The rise in coalition governments will result in increased political instability as parties will continue to place their political interests ahead of service delivery. This has already occurred in numerous municipalities across the country where disagreements, political deadlocks and coalition instability have affected service delivery, heightened bureaucratic inefficiencies and increased operational issues for businesses. 

A tough road ahead 

At a national level, an ANC-led government is unlikely to implement policy changes to address the electricity issues and curb the rampant corruption at SOEs, particularly as the party lacks the political will to instigate changes which may negatively impact or implicate its members. While President Cyril Ramaphosa has attempted to crack down on corruption by party officials, the ANC’s parliamentary list for the elections still includes a number of individuals who have been linked to corruption scandals. These include former finance minister Malusi Gigaba (2017-18), as well as ANC Chairperson and Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Gwede Mantashe. 

Ramaphosa is also unlikely to make many cabinet changes. Senior figures like Mantashe and Police Minister Bheki Cele are likely to remain in their posts, with the only notable changes likely to be with SOEs and environmental affairs departments (where the current ministers have indicated their intent to retire in May). The incoming ministers are likely to be close allies of Ramaphosa who will maintain consistency with ANC policy. 

As such, socioeconomic and operational challenges will continue, driven by a lack of political will to address them. While the government grapples with these challenges, the business environment is unlikely to improve. This will result in continued power outages, water shortages and port and rail delays over the coming years, which will continue to cause operational disruptions. Nevertheless, the private sector will remain resilient; an increasing number of public-private partnerships will gradually reduce operational challenges over the next five years.  

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