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Research and Policy Brief: South Africa after the ANC - 2nd July 2012.

Few analysts are prepared to make bold forecasts about South Africa’s future political landscape. This paper breaks from that pattern and argues that the ANC is dying and will lose its parliamentary majority at or before the 2024 national election. We do not make this forecast recklessly but rather because the evidence points overwhelmingly in this direction.

The first point is that ANC support among South Africans is falling very quickly. It is true that the ANC won 63% of the national vote in 1994 and increased that to 65.9% in 2009. However, this figure is misleading as it ignores the growing number of people who are choosing not to vote at all. For example in 1994 54% of South Africans who could have voted, voted for the ANC. By 2009 that percentage had fallen to just 39%. This means that while more than 5 out of 10 South Africans turned out to vote for the ANC in 1994 that figure had fallen to less than 4 out of 10 in the 2009 election. In a sense the ANC, for all its pretention as the ‘will of the people’, is now a minority government.

The decline in ANC support generally did not result from another opposition party drawing its supporters. The DA did very well in its own right, increasing its support from just 2 out of every 100 South Africans in 1994 to 1 out of every 10 in 2009. However, it achieved this growth more by cannibalising other opposition parties, and possibly by attracting new young voters, than by eating into the ANC support base.

The decline in ANC support rather occurred as a result of a growing number of people losing confidence in the ANC. The evidence for this lies in the fact that the same period saw the number of protests against the government take off. The research company Municipal IQ reports that the number of major service delivery protests in South Africa increased from 10 in 2004 to over 100 by 2010. Data from the police suggests that they are now responding to three protests every day.

The reasons for the decline in ANC support and rise in protest action have very little to do with alleged failures in service delivery. In fact service delivery did not fail. Over 1000 households have been connected to the electrical grid every day since 1994. More than three million houses have been built. Since 1994 12 formal houses have been erected for every shack that went up. The number of people receiving social grants increased from 3 to over 14 million.

The decline in ANC support has its origins in two other spheres. The first is the overall failure of the public school system. Only 1 out of every 2 black South Africans who enter grade one will ever reach matric and only 1 out of 10 will pass maths. Hence black South Africans are generally too badly educated to prosper in the formal economy. As a result, they have limited means to increase their own living standards outside of what the State, and by extension, the ANC can give them. It is quite logical therefore that when they are frustrated by their living standards they protest against the same State and ANC.

Related to the failure of education is the failure of the labour market to generate sufficient jobs. Today only 1 out of every 2 black South Africans entering the labour market will ever find a stable job. Part of the reason is their poor level of education. Another is government hostility to the private business sector, which has stunted South Africa’s economic growth. South Africa averages half the growth levels of its BRIC partners.

Take just two current examples. First the government has announced that it intends to place ownership restrictions on the private security industry. The message is that private foreign investment is not welcome, and must be strictly regulated. Secondly it has been announced that the government is considering further taxation on the mining industry. As Michael Spicer pointed out in a letter to Business Day it is simply foolish to think that you can add further burdens to a declining industry at a time of great international economic uncertainty.

These two examples are instructive because they are typical of the approach the ANC has taken to private business and investment since 1994. In the heady days after the 1994 transition such an approach could perhaps be understood from a communist-inspired liberation movement not well versed in the management of a modern economy. That this approach continues today, long after the ANC has identified the threat to itself in high levels of unemployment and low growth, is to suggest that it is not serious about addressing these threats.

How else must it be understood that ANC delegates apparently devoted much time at their recent policy conference debating whether to call their policy the ‘second transition’ or the ‘second phase’ while around them their Rome was literally burning in a number of townships around the country. Likewise the reform of agricultural land, which contributes just 3% of GDP and 5% of employment, apparently enjoyed extensive attention as a means to reduce national poverty and unemployment rates!

Rather than actually addressing South Africa’s problems, the ANC has tried to place the blame for its failures elsewhere. Jacob Zuma told delegates at the policy conference that the problem was that the structure of the South African economy had not changed sufficiently since 1994 and was largely in white hands. He is of course correct that whites are far more likely than blacks to hold professional positions or start and run successful businesses. However, that he even raises white ownership of the economy as a key problem suggests that at some level he believes that, despite failures in both growth and education, black South Africans could nonetheless have attained white standards of living and expertise in business. There is no content or logic to such arguments. That the ANC president makes them suggests that his party has run out of ideas.

The same is true when it comes to corruption. This is without doubt an issue that is important in any diagnosis of the ANC’s flagging support. There is much evidence that what the media likes to call ‘service delivery protests’ is often the angry response of communities to corruption perpetrated by their ANC representatives. A senior police general, who happens to be black, has communicated to us that he is sick and tired of deploying his members to stamp out protests that result from ANC councillors, often repeatedly in the same municipality, stealing money that is meant for community projects. Despite Jacob Zuma’s exhortations to the party to root out corruption in its ranks, the DA’s research head, Gareth van Onselen, points out that the party has in fact, under Zuma, placed a number of candidates convicted of fraud and corruption on its election lists. Even the head of its political school, who is responsible for guiding the ANC’s emerging leaders, is a convicted criminal. This is not a party that takes corruption seriously or believes it to be a problem.

What the above shows is that the ANC is not serious about addressing the failed education, low growth, unemployment, and corruption that underpins its flagging support. If it is not addressing the reasons for its decline, it follows that the party must be in terminal decline. All that remains to be done is to speculate which election will see the party’s national support levels dip below 50%, opening the door to a coalition of opposition parties to govern South Africa. On current trends we think that 2014 is too early, 2019 is plausible but uncertain, and 2024 is probable. To argue against this conclusion is to suggest that despite flat economic growth and failed education, ANC support will not just be sustained, but that the established trend of declining support will be reversed. This is not possible.

As in all things, once we have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. The truth for South Africa is that it is time to consider what the future may look like without the ANC. Who will lead the country and what will their policies be? That these questions are not being asked shows how unprepared many businesses and other organisations are for the changes that may grip South Africa over the next decade. Of course the party may fight a desperate rear-guard battle to try and save itself. There is already evidence that some in its ranks are considering radical policy changes including seizing land, property, investments, and assets without paying compensation. However, without a two-thirds or three-quarters parliamentary majority, the ANC cannot bring about the constitutional changes that would permit this. Even if it could, such polices would simply kill off any growth and investment and so hasten its now inevitable political demise.


- Frans Cronje
Frans Cronje is the Deputy CEO of the South African Institute of Race Relations. He leads its Unit for Risk Analysis.

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