I am delighted by the outcome of the elections for two reasons:
Firstly, for the first time in my lifetime (and I was born in 1950) South Africa has really competitive politics.
The African National Congress got about 46% of the vote and the main opposition – the Democratic Alliance – got a little less than half that total.
Think about it: from 1948 until 1994 the National Party ruled and brought apartheid. That was 46 years.
Since 1994 until today the ANC has ruled. That’s 27 years.
In my whole life there has been just one transfer of power between one party and another.
Until now South Africa has not been an effective democracy. Now the ANC has lost its majority – and competitive politics can commence. That’s a reason for celebration.
Secondly, the election brought about such a diverse range of parties and candidates that the old “us versus them” politics is much more difficult.
This will usher in coalitions and complex negotiations.
This will not be comfortable for the politicians and may not be an effective form of administration – but at least the public can see how this works, and learn the lessons.
Finally, despite its flaws, South African elections are real. They are not stitch-ups as can be found across so much of the rest of Africa. Politicians have to fight for support and that cannot be bad.
Below is a more comprehensive analysis, which focuses on which parties won support from which ethnic group. I am only including the graph for the demographic national turnout.
I hate ethnic politics, but – sadly – it is still a key factor in South Africa.
Dawie Scholtz | Why the ANC sleepwalked into a disaster, and three scenarios ahead of 2024 elections
-18:25(Photo by Gallo Images/Sharon Seretlo)
The 2021 municipal election was an extraordinary one, that raised some complexities. News24’s electoral analyst Dawie Scholtz breaks down what came out of this election and the implications for the future.
This was an extraordinary election result. The ANC came in under 50% nationally for the first time, we saw the lowest voter turnout ever in South Africa and five of eight metro municipalities are now set to be governed by coalitions (in addition to 61 other hung municipalities across the country).
In order to understand this election outcome, there are two complexities to explore: Firstly, what was the shape of the electorate? In other words, who voted? And secondly, how did each of the demographic groups within the electorate vote? To explain this I’ve split this analysis into three sections:
1) low voter turnout;
2) demographic voting patterns; and
3) implications for the future.
1. Low voter turnout
Turnout patterns had an enormous impact on this election outcome. Overall, turnout was the lowest it’s ever been at 45%, coming in below the previous record low of 48%, which was set in the 2000 municipal election.
Looking deeper inside the turnout pattern, it’s clear that there was an uneven level of turnout across the electorate. White voters (both Afrikaans and English) turned out to vote at the highest rate (58% and 55% respectively), while black voters, in general, turned out at a very low rate. The turnout of black voters outside of KwaZulu-Natal was by far the lowest, coming in at an historically low 41%.
When such a turnout discrepancy occurs, it changes the demographic make-up of the electorate. This electorate was therefore much “whiter” than the full set of registered voters. And, given that party support is strongly correlated to race, this benefits parties that do particularly well with the white electorate (the DA, FF Plus, etc.).
The extent to which turnout skews the shape of the electorate can be understood by the difference between turnout rates, particularly for white and black voters – also called “differential turnout”. This election had an enormous differential turnout that favoured suburban voters (+16% outside of KZN), which far exceeded the differential turnout we had seen in recent elections. This drove up the DA and FF Plus numbers dramatically.
2. Demographic voting patterns
The electoral outcome suggests that it would be useful to aggregate the full South African electorate into seven sub-groups for the purpose of this analysis.
2.1. Coloured voters
There was an enormous shift in the national coloured electorate away from the DA in this election. And it appears that the shift away from the DA has not explicitly been towards any particular party, but rather reflects a significant splintering of the coloured electorate towards various smaller parties.
The Patriotic Alliance performed exceptionally well in Johannesburg, winning places like Eldorado Park with outright majorities, even though the DA had previously won there with 70%+. In other parts of the country, GOOD, the ACDP and other smaller community-based organisations, like the Cape Coloured Congress in Cape Town and the Northern Alliance in Nelson Mandela Bay, siphoned off significant portions of the coloured electorate. The voting pattern for the main parties is shown below.
2.2. Indian voters
Unfortunately, I did not track the IFP in this portion of the electorate previously, but I have a strong hypothesis that some of the losses from the DA and ANC went to the IFP here. It should be noted that the ANC’s halving of support here from 19% to 10% had a significant impact on the eThekwini result, where the ANC lost significant support overall.
The DA’s losses here help to explain why, despite an enormous differential turnout in eThekwini, the party remained relatively stable in that metro.
2.3. White Afrikaans voters
On a methodological note, it is important to keep in mind that the voting pattern reflected here is from areas that are “majority white Afrikaans” but it also includes small groups of other voters and, as such, is not a perfect reflection of the white Afrikaans electorate. This is true for all the demographic groups analysed here, but is particularly relevant for the white Afrikaans and white English groups.
The numbers are fascinating and show a minor DA success in regaining some support here; but it’s clear that the DA’s “FF Plus problem” has not yet been resolved. Interestingly, it should also be noted that in some important areas, especially in Tshwane, the FF Plus grew at the DA’s expense beyond the 2019 level.
Finally, it should also be noted that the 4% for ActionSA here reflects its share of the national vote for this segment, but that it achieved in the range of 10% of the white Afrikaans vote in areas where it contested.
2.4. White English voters
The party regained some support lost here in 2019, likely reclaiming some votes back from the ANC, but has not yet recovered back to 2016 levels. Importantly, ActionSA also made significant inroads here, achieving 15-20% of the vote in this group in the areas where it contested (translating to 5% of the group overall at a national level).
2.5. Black voters outside KwaZulu-Natal
That -9% swing between 2019 and 2021 is of critical importance and, together with low turnout in this group, is the primary driver of the ANC’s sub-50 performance nationally. These losses are simply devastating for the ANC.
In key urban areas, it was amplified. As we have already reported, Soweto is perhaps the best example of this. The ANC vote collapsed to 53% in Soweto, an unprecedented low and especially surprising, considering that it was as high as 87% two municipal elections ago.
And again, ActionSA took 3% overall, but in the areas they contested this was actually 10-15%. Soweto also appears to be a particularly strong area for ActionSA. It took 21% in Soweto, driving the ANC’s decline there.
2.6. Black voters in KwaZulu-Natal, ANC-leaning areas
The IFP grew significantly in the ANC’s strong areas in KZN, including eThekwini. This shift was a crucial driver in the eThekwini result. If this were to hold in future elections (or further amplify), it would be a tectonic shift in South Africa’s electoral landscape with far-reaching implications, especially for the ANC’s ability to maintain a national majority.
2.7. Black voters in KZN (IFP areas)
The IFP has been making a steady recovery in Northern KZN, and the trend continued into the election on Monday. The IFP grew by +7% across its key areas, and the ANC lost 6% within this group.
This, together with the trends described in point 2.6 above, mean that KZN delivered highly significant losses to the ANC, contributing to the sub-50% result.
3. Implications for the future
I see four major themes emerging from this election, all with important consequences for the future.
3.1. The vast majority are frustrated and disengaged
Prior to the election, Victory Research conducted a poll for Media24 which found that 70% of South Africans think the country is heading in the “wrong direction”. South Africans are neither satisfied with government, nor with the ANC.
This dissatisfaction is being expressed in several ways. About 13 million who are eligible to vote didn’t bother to register to vote. Another 14 million who are registered, didn’t vote. (For context, only about 12 million people voted) and an unprecedented percentage of voters decided to vote against the ANC.
There is enormous potential for any party (including the ANC) if it can provide credible solutions for people’s frustrations. From the perspective of the ANC, this requires the delivery of improved economic and governance outcomes.
From the perspective of the opposition, this requires the formation of a credible plan, advocated for by a large enough group of credible people, to address the real frustrations of South Africans. The single most important objective for the opposition parties is to develop a tangible alternative economic blueprint for South Africa that acts as a credible alternative to the ANC’s current economic policy frameworks. Crucially, whatever the opposition comes up with, it will have to provide a clear and tangible path towards a more equal society that redresses racialised inequality. Pretending that race doesn’t exist, and not going deep on an alternative economic policy blueprint is simply not a viable option.
If an opposition party can get this right and deliver the message via credible messengers, the impact in 2024 could be explosive. The work must begin immediately.
3.2. The ANC has a KZN problem
The results in KZN are an earthquake. The extent of the stayaway in places like uMlazi in eThekwini was unprecedented. And the swing away from the ANC all over KZN, and especially in northern KZN, was also highly significant.
These developments will, I am sure, create challenging questions for the ANC internally. But there clearly is a serious issue to be addressed. High turnout in KZN, with high ANC vote percentages, especially in eThekwini, has been the quantitative bedrock upon which the ANC’s national majority has been built in recent elections. The ANC will need to do serious work to resolve the internal and external issues that are causing problems in KZN.
3.3. The DA is in deep trouble
This was not a good election for the DA. If you look at the core demographic drivers of the result, the DA was down with coloured voters, marginally down with Indian voters, down with black voters everywhere while recovering somewhat with white voters (but not yet back to 2016 levels). These demographic losses were masked by an extremely favourable turnout pattern that may or may not repeat in 2024.
The fact of the matter is that after decades of hard work, money spent, multiple rebrandings and so on, the party is simply unable to break out of its demographic constraints (and is now moving backwards). There are two points here that are particularly telling: Firstly, the fact that the DA has stagnated while 70% of South Africa thinks the country is headed in the wrong direction. And secondly, the fact that ActionSA was able to make more demographic progress in one year than the DA has been able to make in 27 years is truly staggering.
It is becoming painfully evident that the DA brand is electorally toxic for the vast majority of South Africans. It is a suboptimal vehicle with which to bring about large-scale electoral change in South Africa. For voters who really want to see the ANC unseated, it should be abundantly clear that the DA is not the party to do so. It may continue to govern well in the majority-minority areas it is able to win; it may continue to stand by its values; it may continue to turn out its core supporters; it may continue to achieve 20-something percent in elections. But it is not going to unseat the ANC at a national level because of its electoral toxicity with black voters – and herein lies the strategic problem for the DA.
The current economic and governance outcomes in South Africa imply an urgency for electoral change. The DA does not seem to be able to bring that change at the pace required. And so a huge part of the DA’s base, and indeed also most South Africans, is going to start looking for alternatives.
The emergence and success of ActionSA underlines the growing change momentum in the electorate. Voters want alternatives to the ANC; and the DA and the EFF have failed to provide credible alternatives, opening up a huge opportunity across all sections of the electorate.
In the context of 70% of South Africa thinking we are headed in the “wrong direction”, ActionSA has enormous potential. But there are challenging hurdles to overcome in a very short space of time. If ActionSA is to disrupt 2024 at a national level in the way it disrupted the municipal elections in the Gauteng metros, it has to, within the next 12-18 months, do a mountain of work:
- It has to pull off a credible internal party elective conference.
- It has to pull in a larger, credible leadership team that acts as public faces of the party and brains trust credible enough to look and feel like an alternative government. Ideally, these individuals need to come from other political parties, but also from business, academia, etc.
- It has to build national electoral machinery: branches, voter data, PR teams, fundraising network, etc.
- It has to consider merging with smaller parties that hold similar views to create additional momentum towards the realignment of politics in South Africa around a credible alternative to the ANC.
- It has to craft a detailed, credible, distinctive policy platform, intensely focused on economic policy and with an explicit redistributive economic policy offer (preferably in racial terms); it should not be shy of adopting aggressively populist stances on issues where it makes sense to do so
- It has to continue to drive constant media coverage and appropriate presence on the ground.
- Whatever the outcome of the coalition negotiations in the six councils it contested, it has to deliver a positive contribution to good governance and service delivery to the greatest extent possible.
There will be many who reference the Cope experience in relation to ActionSA. And I will agree that ActionSA has a real risk of fizzling out in the coming months and years. But 2021 is not 2009 – and in particular, the ANC and DA of 2021 are not the ANC and DA of 2009. There is real potential for ActionSA if it executes the right things at a good pace. But a mountain of work awaits the party. Time will tell if it is able to execute on the potential that this election has created.
The bottom line is that the South African electorate wants change, but they want it on their terms in a language, policy offer, look and feel that they can relate to. In my mind, there are three trajectories from this point.
Firstly, if the ANC can improve economic and governance outcomes, it may tap into the change desire in the electorate and continue to be the primary vehicle for change in South Africa.
Secondly, if an opposition party can execute with extreme discipline and strategic intelligence, there is enormous potential for electoral change in 2024.
And finally, in the worst case and possibly most likely scenario, we simply continue to plod along on our current path with poor economic and governance outcomes, an opposition that lacks the discipline and insight to position itself for growth and an electorate with ever-growing frustrations.
– Dawie Scholtz is News24’s electoral analyst