South Africa elections results puts ANC at a crossroads, including on foreign policy and Israel relations

South Africa elections results puts ANC at a crossroads, including on foreign policy and Israel relations
In South African elections shock result, the ANC experienced its first loss since 1994, leading to coalition talks amid internal friction and changing politics.
5 min read
South Africa
06 June, 2024
ANC leaders react during a National Executive Committee meeting at Birchwood Hotel in Johannesburg on June 6, 2024, after the party's election setback [Photo by Phill Magakoe / AFP via Getty Images]

For the first time since South Africa gained freedom from apartheid in 1994 under the leadership of the ANC, its general elections last week produced no clear winner after decades during which the ANC predominantly held power. 

The ANC won 159 seats in the 400-seat National Assembly (40% of the total), falling short of winning a majority required to pass laws in parliament.

Despite his party's poor performance, President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed very little regret when he delivered his election results acceptance speech early this week but assured the nation that his party was willing to work with anyone with "good intentions" to form a coalition government.

“Our people have spoken...whether we like it or not. As leaders of political parties and those who occupy positions of responsibility in society, we have heard the voices of our people, and we must respect their choices and their wishes," he said.

This challenge couldn't have arisen at a more critical moment, as the ruling party has been grappling with internal conflicts and poor governance issues, which have let down many of its traditional voters.

The unexpected emergence of the populist uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) Party, led by former President Jacob Zuma, provided disgruntled voters with an alternative to the ANC.

The Democratic Alliance (DA), South Africa's official opposition party, secured 87 seats (21.8% of the vote), while the MK Party gained 58 seats (14.66%). The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) came in fourth with 39 seats (9.5%).

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Policy differences: ANC versus DA

The election results have left the ANC in a challenging position, prompting it to seek support from other parties to form a coalition government.

While many political analysts argue that aligning with the DA could benefit the country's economic future, they also point out policy differences between the two parties.

The DA advocates for free-market principles, opposes certain empowerment policies, and strongly opposes the newly formed National Health Insurance policy. Additionally, it supports reducing the government workforce, cutting bureaucracy, and abolishing the minimum wage.

To complicate matters further, the ANC and DA have different foreign policies.

While the ANC maintains longstanding relations with Palestine and Russia, the DA opposes these alliances and criticises South Africa's membership in BRICS, the intergovernmental organization comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, and more recently Iran, Egypt, Ethiopia, and the United Arab Emirates. 

Associate Professor of Politics and International Relations at the University of Johannesburg, Prof Bhaso Ndzendze, highlighted the potential challenges:

"There are numerous landmines that both the DA and ANC will have to navigate. While they may align on domestic issues, they cannot anticipate the nature of the next international crisis."

Prof Ndzendze also noted that while the ANC shares some sentiments with the EFF, the latter party takes a more radical approach.

For example, the EFF calls for South Africa to sever ties with Eswatini over alleged human rights abuses and wants the Southern African Development Community to condemn the king Mswati III's actions as a war crime.

Nelson Mandela University political analyst Ongama Mtimka told The New Arab that the ANC's decline has been evident due to dissatisfaction with government services and the emergence of splinter parties like Congress of the People, EFF, and the newly formed MK in 2024.

Mtimka suggested that the formation of MK by former President Jacob Zuma dealt a significant blow to the ANC. Despite Zuma's corruption scandals, he was able to attract voters at the expense of his former party (the ANC).

Mtimka stated, "Yes, President Zuma faces numerous corruption cases, but he is a very popular leader who has used his political capital to advance the electoral fortunes of the MK party."

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ANC members split on coalition talks

On Thursday, June 6, 2024, Ramaphosa and senior ANC officials met for coalition talks. 

While Ramaphosa and other top ANC leaders negotiate for a coalition government, some notable members of the party have openly expressed dislike for the move.

Lindiwe Sisulu, a current ANC member of the National Executive Committee who formerly served as a minister of various portfolios, opposes any coalition involving the DA, claiming the party represents former colonists and oppressors.

Sisulu told journalists, “In all the time I spent in prison fighting apartheid, I did not do it for the DA. The DA epitomizes what the previous government represented. The idea that black parties cannot govern is very racist. It is an insult for people who oppressed us and threw us in jail for fighting for justice to tell us that we can’t govern.”

On the other hand, Siphiwe Nyanda, an ANC stalwart, Veterans League member, and former chairman of the uMkhonto weSizwe Council, blames Zuma for the poor governance and corruption that marked his nine-year presidency.

Nyanda wrote a letter this week urging his party never to accept working with Zuma.

“Look at the ANC now. It is carrying a begging bowl, scrambling for coalition partners it would have never needed were it not for Jacob Zuma and his disastrous leadership. Now that Zuma has inflicted so much damage on the ANC from the outside, there is a rush to bring him back by his accomplices still embedded in the leadership of the ANC so that he can finish his job of destroying the once-proud liberation movement of the oppressed people of South Africa. These attempts must be firmly rejected. These counter-revolutionaries and pseudo-revolutionaries have defiled our good name and driven away many of our supporters,” said Nyanda.

Joseph Chirume is a freelance journalist from Zimbabwe based in South Africa, writing on human rights and immigration issues with a focus on the South African landscape.