The ANC is poised for re-election, and smaller parties are furious

The re-election of Cyril Ramaphosa’s party in South African elections has provoked rumbles among smaller parties. 

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The South African election has left major parties bruised and smaller parties furious. The counting of Wednesday’s election will take another day (producing a result always takes an inordinately long time), but with most of the results announced, the general picture is now becoming clear.

The ANC, with Cyril Ramaphosa at its helm, has won around 57 per cent of the vote, falling 5 per cent from its 2014 electoral result. The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), took about 22 per cent of the vote – a loss of close to 1 per cent. 

In third place was Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which is polling at 10 per cent. Malema, who once promised to die for Jacob Zuma, was flung out of the ANC in 2012 and founded his own party, which has been a thorn in the side of the ANC ever since.

So where does this leave the country?

There have been a series of challenges to the validity of the election. Some of the smaller parties have voiced concerns about the way the Independent Electoral Commission conducted the ballot, and are calling for the election to be re-run. 

Compounding allegations of inaccuracy, more than a dozen people are now being taken to court for multiple voting. Although it is legal to vote away from where you are registered, some voters allegedly moved between polling stations to vote for a second or even third time. 

Revelations of multiple voting have infuriated the smaller parties, but the ANC, DA and EFF all opposed a re-run of the election. While allegations have embarrassed the Electoral Commission, the challenge is a storm in a tea cup. Most people have faith in South Africa’s electoral process, which is far removed from many African elections where the result is pre-determined by the sitting president. South African elections are hard fought, and the outcomes are unpredictable.

The result has put the ball in President Ramaphosa’s court. He won the battle to lead his party and the country in an internal ANC poll 18 months ago by the narrowest of margins. The president has carefully manoeuvred between the party’s warring factions, keen not to rock the boat.

He has promised to head off the electorate’s anger at corruption scandals that threaten to engulf the ANC. At his party’s final rally, Ramaphosa assured he would remove those tainted by corruption from office.  Now, he has to deliver on this promise.

For the DA, the election result showed its progress has stalled. The party has gradually increased its share of the vote since it won just 1.7 per cent in the first democratic election after the end of apartheid in 1994. Party leader Mmusi Maimane conceded the election had been “tough”.

The DA is caught in a dilemma: it could attempt to garner favour among a growing contingent of black African middle class voters, or consolidate its base of white, Indian and mixed race supporters. For a party that doesn’t define itself around race and counts support among all ethnic groups, it’s no easy decision. 

One of the winners in this election has been the Freedom Front Plus, which is popular among white Afrikaners. The party took 2.5 per cent of the vote, almost trebling its vote since the last election. It has attracted  right-wing voters seemingly disillusioned with the DA’s adoption of affirmative action and land reform policies that have long been staple ANC positions. The feeling is captured in the Freedom Front’s slogan: “Fight back!”

With 48 parties to choose from, the South African electorate was not short of political alternatives. But the vast majority will not win a seat in parliament. Andile Mngxitama – known for supporting a campaign to get the statue of Cecil Rhodes removed from the University of Cape Town – failed to become an MP. His radical “Black first, Land first” party was resoundingly rejected (it is heading for 0.09 per cent of the vote.)

South Africa is left more or less where it was. The ANC will run the government, even if it lost votes. The DA still maintains a stronghold in Cape Town and the Western Cape, but failed to make an electoral a breakthrough. Meanwhile, the 54 per cent of young people without jobs will continue to wander the streets, hoping that something will turn up.

Martin Plaut is a senior fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London and author books including Understanding Eritrea and a biography of Robert Mugabe with Sue Onslow.