South Africa’s 2024 National Election: What to Know

South Africa’s 2024 National Election: What to Know

By Oghale Apr20,2024

This year is the 30th anniversary of South Africa’s first democratic elections, but millions of people continue to suffer from economic challenges similar to those during apartheid.

Most Black South Africans do not earn enough to meet their basic needs. Inequality and unemployment have increased, basic services like water and electricity are unreliable, racial disparities remain wide and political corruption has left many fed up with the country’s democracy.

All this has placed the African National Congress, the liberation party that has governed since the start of South Africa’s democracy, under more pressure than ever before as it enters an election on May 29. In the six previous national elections, the party comfortably won an absolute majority in Parliament, allowing it to govern as it wished. Now, though, the party faces a real threat of losing that majority for the first time.

This has forced the A.N.C. to get serious about pushing new solutions to the many problems that afflict the country. The party has also had to work hard to heal its internal divisions and address corruption among its ranks.

As one of the most developed economies and stable democracies in Africa, South Africa has enthusiastically embraced its role as a gateway to the continent for nations around the globe. But the grim economic conditions have brought fears of social unrest that could undermine the stability so important to the country’s reputation and influence on the continent.

Voters choose a party on their ballots, and the percentage of votes that a party gets determines how many seats it receives in the 400-member National Assembly. Members of the assembly, the more powerful of the two chambers in Parliament, then elect the president. This means that the party, or coalition of parties, with more than 50 percent of the seats chooses the nation’s leader.

But this year there is a change in the system.

For the first time, South Africans can run for Parliament without being affiliated with a party. To accommodate the shift, Parliament passed a law to create a second ballot that includes independent candidates. If an independent candidate meets a certain vote threshold to make it into Parliament, that reduces the number of seats available to other parties.

So, for example, if 10 independent candidates win seats, then the remaining 390 will be split among the parties based on the percentage of the vote that each party receives.

The A.N.C. is led by the incumbent president, Cyril Ramaphosa, who will almost certainly retain his position if the party receives more than 50 percent of the vote. Whether the party will be able to do so is anyone’s guess.

The A.N.C. won with 57 percent of the vote in the last national election in 2019, but many polls predict that it will dip below that 50 percent threshold. Party leaders remain confident that they will maintain absolute control, as the most the A.N.C. has ever lost from one election to the next is 4.65 percentage points.

Even if the A.N.C. does lose its absolute majority, it will probably have enough support to form a coalition with other parties and continue to lead the government. But the party could find itself having to make serious policy and governing compromises depending on how much electoral support it loses and whom it partners with.

One wild card is that, in an unprecedented move, the former president of the A.N.C. and of the country, Jacob Zuma, broke from the party and is running with a newly formed political organization, the uMkhonto we Sizwe Party. The party has had strong polling numbers and has performed well in a handful of local elections.

The leading opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, led the formation of a coalition of 11 parties that say they will form a government if the A.N.C. fails to retain its majority.

The results are expected to be announced about three days after the voting.

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By Oghale

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