National coalition politics await South Africa after the 2024 elections

Cyril Ramaphosa, John Steenhuisen and Julius Malema. Image: AFP

OPINION: Which coalition will govern South Africa after elections 2024?

Joe Mojapelo explores the potential coalition scenarios that could unfold in Parliament after elections 2024.

National coalition politics await South Africa after the 2024 elections

Cyril Ramaphosa, John Steenhuisen and Julius Malema. Image: AFP

As South Africa approaches its 2024 national and provincial elections, political analysts are closely monitoring the shifting dynamics within the country’s political landscape.

With the number of parties contesting the elections rising to 52, along with a number of independent candidates, it is the view of the writer that the percentage of support for all parties currently represented in Parliament will decrease.

This increase in political options means votes are likely to be more widely distributed, reducing the share for each established party. Furthermore, with the ruling ANC facing internal challenges and increased competition from opposition parties, speculation about the election outcome is rife.

In this piece, I delve into the factors that may influence the outcome of the 2024 elections and explore the potential scenarios that could unfold.

ANC’s internal challenges

The ANC, which has been in power since the end of apartheid in 1994, is facing significant internal challenges that could impact its performance in the 2024 elections. The party is first and foremost tested from within.

Factionalism, corruption scandals, and leadership disputes have eroded the party’s public image and thus public confidence in its ability to govern effectively. Persistent power outages or load shedding have increased public frustration and highlighted the government struggles with provision of basic service delivery.

Additionally, the Phala Phala scandal involving allegations of money laundering and corruption linked to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s farm, has further tarnished the party’s image. This was exacerbated by the management of the Covid-19 pandemic. Compounding these issues is widespread discontent with the ANC’s handling of the Zondo Commission report and its recommendations on state capture and corruption.

While the ANC still commands a significant voter base, disillusionment among its traditional supporters combined with increasing discontent over economic stagnation and high unemployment rate may lead to a decline in their performance at the polls.

Opposition parties on the rise ahead of elections 2024

Meanwhile, opposition parties such as the Democratic Alliance (DA), the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), and newly formed parties like ActionSA, Patriotic Alliance (PA) and the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) Party are positioning themselves as viable alternatives to the ANC.

The DA, in particular, has been successful in attracting support from disillusioned ANC voters by emphasising good governance and effective service delivery, especially to urban and middle-class voters.

The EFF, with its populist rhetoric and focus on radical economic transformation, continues to mobilise support among South Africa’s youth and marginalised communities.

ActionSA is seeing a surge in voters drawn to its message of non-racialism, competence and an end to corruption, positioning itself as a viable alternative to both the ANC and DA.

Meanwhile, the PA is increasing its voter base by focusing on issues affecting the working-class communities, such as crime, unemployment, and poor border control. It is solidifying its support among Coloured communities by addressing issues specific to their demographic, positioning itself as a voice for their concerns including economic inequality.

On the other hand, MK Party is gaining momentum by tapping into sentiments of liberation struggle nostalgia and leveraging the Zuma brand by aligning itself with the former president’s political legacy. By associating with Zuma, the party aims to appeal to voters who remain loyal to him despite his controversies, particularly in regions where he maintains influence like the KwaZulu-Natal.

Newly formed parties

The emergence of the MK Party presents an unpredictable factor in this election, introducing uncertainty into the political landscape. Its presence could potentially disrupt traditional voting patterns and influence electoral outcomes in unforeseen ways.

The party aims to challenge the ANC’s dominance and attract disaffected ANC members and supporters, with most people believing it has the potential to divide the ANC in two, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga.

MK Party remains the wild card of this elections, however its impact on the 2024 elections remains to be seen but should not be underestimated. 

In addition to the 14 parties currently holding representation in the National Assembly, there is a notable expansion in the upcoming 2024 elections, with a total of 38 new parties appearing on the ballot paper.

This surge reflects diverse political landscape in South Africa, encompassing a wide array of ideologies, interests and regional affiliations highlighting the democratic nature of the electoral process. The writer posits that only the top five parties currently holding seats in Parliament (ANC, DA, EFF, IFP and FF+) are likely to maintain their representation in the National Assembly and the rest will face oblivion.

This forecast suggests a significant shift in the political landscape, potentially leaving several smaller parties without any parliamentary seats. The writer argues that these smaller parties missed an opportunity to collaborate and form a voting bloc under a unified umbrella. Such collaboration could have prevented potential wasted and enhanced their collective influence, presenting a more formidable challenge to established parties.

Regrettably, according to the seat allocation formula, votes that do not make up a seat will primarily advantage the larger parties with higher overall vote tallies. This observation underscores the strategic importance of pre-election coalition building among smaller parties in maximising their electoral impact, enhance their relevance within political space and advancing their shared policy objectives.

At most, the electoral competition among these smaller parties and independent candidates appears to be a struggle for securing even a single seat in Parliament, without significantly impacting the prevailing status quo.

While these parties may contest elections fervently, their electoral gains often fall short of altering the overall political dynamics as we have seen in the last national elections of 2019. Consequently, their limited representation may hinder their ability to enact substantial legislative changes or exert significant influence on national policies.

Among the newly formed parties, three have shown considerable traction and are anticipated to secure representation in Parliament. The MK Party, ActionSA and the PA have garnered sufficient voter support, as evidenced by their performance in the 2021 local government elections and subsequent by-elections, indicating their ability to independently contest and potentially win seats in the 2024 elections.

Potential election 2024 outcomes

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) indicated that over 27.79 million voters, the highest since the dawn of democracy in South Africa, are eligible to cast their votes in the 2024 national and provincial elections.

While various polls have offered their projections, our prediction is purely speculative, devoid of any scientific methodology but rather informed by general observation.

This intuition-based forecast offers an alternative perspective-grounded in a review of relevant literature and experience, leading to the following election outcome projections as compared to the previous elections:

4MK Party8%N/A

SCENARIO 1: ANC retains majority – highly unlikely

Despite its internal challenges, the ANC manages to retain its majority, albeit with a reduced margin. The party’s long-standing support base, combined with its extensive resources and infrastructure, enables it to hold onto power for another term.

SCENARIO 2: Coalition government – very likely

The ANC fails to secure a majority, leading to a coalition government involving the following parties:

ANC and MK Party – highly likely

This coalition will signify a reconverging of the ANC contingent upon resolving internal disagreements over key leadership positions, particularly the contentious “Ramaphosa element”, which could prevent a unified front.

ANC and EFF – highly likely

There are no significant ideological differences between the two parties except in the realm of implementation. However, historical conflicts, leadership rivalries and lingering animosities could complicate the coalition negotiations, especially on key leadership positions.

ANC and DA – likely

The ANC and DA have fundamentally different political ideologies and policy approaches, particularly on issues like economic policy, social welfare and governance.

However, to prevent what could be seen as a calamity and the continuation of corruption with the other two options, the DA might be persuaded to consider a coalition or collaboration arrangement with the ANC, where they share governance responsibilities based on provincial majorities.

ANC and a number of smaller parties – likely

As we have seen with municipalities, while the coalition with multiple parties could enhance the ANC’s ability to govern effectively, it would require careful negotiation, formal agreements clearly outlining the terms, power distribution, priorities and the management of the coalition.

The dynamics of forming and managing coalition government with a number of parties could be a tedious exercise due to a number of factors including, diverse interests, policy compromises and managing public perceptions.

Coalition politics could result in greater political instability and policy uncertainty but may also foster greater accountability and transparency.

SCENARIO 3: Opposition government – highly unlikely

A substantial shift in voter sentiment would be necessary for an opposition party to win a majority of the 400 seats in Parliament, representing a historic turning point in South African politics and signalling the end of the ANC’s decades-long dominance. This dramatic change would not only alter the political landscape but also reflect a significant realignment of public trust and priorities.

Additionally, the prospect of all opposition parties uniting to form government with the exclusion of the ANC as some has been punting, remains highly improbable. The ideological differences and varying agendas among the opposition parties pose significant barriers to such a coalition, making this scenario an unlikely outcome in the near future.

In conclusion, as South Africa prepares for the historic 29 May national elections with the introduction of independent candidates for the very first time, the political landscape is characterised by uncertainty and change.

The outcome of the elections will be influenced by a myriad of factors, including the ANC’s ability to address internal challenges, the performance of opposition parties including independent candidates who must get about 90 000 votes to secure a seat, and the country’s economic and social trajectory.

Whatever the outcome, the 2024 elections are likely to shape the future of South African politics for years to come. The ANC is still widely expected to be the biggest party, although below the 50% as several polls projected.

The immediate challenge with this outcome, it will throw the spanner in the works in how the president will be chosen in the absence of a majority party.

Written by Joe Mojapelo, a former COO of the Ekurhuleni municipality and current president of the Independent Citizens Movement