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Situation Update - South Africa

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SOUTH AFRICA TO HOLD ITS SIXTH GENERAL ELECTION ON 8 MAY

South Africa is due to hold its sixth post-apartheid general election in May for a new national assembly and provincial legislatures for each of its nine provinces. The election, which has been proclaimed as a national holiday, will take place between 07:00-21:00 local time on 8 May, overseen by the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC).

  • South Africa’s general election is scheduled to take place on 8 May 2019

  • The ruling African National Congress (ANC) is currently leading in polls against the main opposition parties, the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF)

  • Incumbent President Cyril Ramaphosa is seeking to secure his first full term as president after assuming power in February 2018

  • Over 27 million people have registered to vote in the election

  • Civil unrest, xenophobic attacks and rolling blackouts have seen significant focus in campaign trails and led to blame being traded between opposing parties

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Situation

On 8 May, South Africa will hold its sixth general election since the end of apartheid in 1994, which will determine who will become the next President of South Africa. A record 48 parties will be contesting the election; however, the majority of votes are expected to fall with the three largest parties: the ruling African National Congress (ANC) led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, the Democratic Alliance (DA) led by Mmusi Maimane, and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) headed by Julius Malema. 

The election will see Ramaphosa attempting to secure his first full five-year term in office after assuming the position of president in February 2018 following the resignation of his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, amid allegations of corruption. During the campaign trails, Ramaphosa has vowed to tackle corruption within South Africa's political system, even if this is within his own ANC party. Meanwhile, the DA’s Maimane has regularly used the phrase "A job in every home" promising to reduce the country's unemployment rate, which was estimated to be around 27 percent at the end of 2018 and the EFF’s Malema has placed land rights and expropriation without compensation at the focus of his campaign. 

The election, which will mark the silver jubilee from apartheid, has seen over 27 million people registered to vote in the election; however, it is expected that a substantially lower number will proceed to cast their vote due in part to political apathy. The province of Gauteng, also known as the economic capital of South Africa and the most populated province, has the highest number of registered voters. Whilst South Africa’s political system has been marred with allegations of corruption, particularly pertaining to the ANC party, elections in the nation are generally considered by the international community to be legitimate, fair and free. 

Incidences of civil unrest have posed concerns in the lead up to the elections as widespread protests and demonstrations have been experienced across the country in April. The nationwide protests have seen members of the public demanding better public services and improved delivery services. In some incidences, the protests have escalated to violence and criminal damage, where burning tyres, roadblocks and attacks targeting police forces have featured on South African news outlets. In addition, in the month of April, four deaths were reported in connection to the protests and demonstrations. Significant incidences were experienced in townships in the Gauteng, Western Cape and Free State provinces. However, smaller demonstrations had also occurred in other areas. 

In addition, March saw a rise in what has been described as xenophobic attacks targeting foreign nationals living and working in South Africa. A group of Malawians living in a squatter’s camp outside the city of Durban, consisting of more than 300 people, were attacked by their South African neighbours in the last week of March. Shops owned by the Malawians were looted and burned, and they were forced from their homes by what reports have stated were a group of unemployed South African males. Unconfirmed reports also stated two were killed during the attack and one woman fell whilst trying to escape, resulting in her death. 

It should also be noted that the rolling blackouts which have impacted South Africa for several months have also posed a significant concern and point of interest for the public during the election campaign. The country’s primary power supplier, Eskom, which is owned by the South African government, has been facing issues of not meeting the nationwide demand, resulting in temporary periods of blackouts. However, whilst this issue has been ongoing with Eskom since 2007 and Ramaphosa has already suggested a restructuring proposal, the newly elected government will still be expected to commit resources to tackling the issue.

Analysis

The increasing incidents of civil unrest and xenophobic attacks in the lead up to the election have led to the main parties trading blame. Particularly, the ANC has been accused by the DA of inciting unrest and violence during protests in DA-governed areas that have been taking place against service delivery and living conditions. The opposition has accused the ANC of trying to undermine the DA ahead of the election. On the other hand, the concerns raised by protestors during the demonstrations do reflect the current economic turmoil the country is facing, which will continue to spark protest action following the election, regardless of the outcome. 

Some news outlets have indicated that the rising spate of xenophobic attacks in South Africa is as a result of politicians’ comments and incitement. As the general election approaches, many candidates had been openly discussing their immigration policies. Whilst Ramaphosa condemned the attacks and stated South Africans should be treating their neighbours with gratitude following their support during the country's apartheid period, the comments had been seen as a contradiction as he has been criticised by opponents for allegedly using foreign nationals as scapegoats for some of the country's economic and social problems. The ANC has also accused foreigners of setting up businesses illegally and over-burdening the country's services. However, the DA also made securing the country's borders a significant aspect of their manifesto, further suggesting immigration is a key concern for voters. 

Whilst Ramaphosa will be expected to reassure the South African public that corruption will be tackled, not only within the opposition but within his own party, allegations have only so far served to further divide the ANC and raise questions of uncertainty of its ability to govern following the election. As such, during election polls, many South Africans have expressed that whilst they would like to vote for the likeable Ramaphosa, they still have reservations for voting for the ANC due to its questionable past. 

Additionally, several of Zuma’s allies, who have identified ties to his corruption allegation, have stated they will seek election for the ANC. This includes Nomvula Mokonyane, the environment minister who had been implicated during Zuma’s corruption enquiry and Bathabile Dlamini, who was found primarily responsible for the welfare crisis in 2017. In addition, the ANC’s Secretary General Ace Magashule, a key Zuma ally, has been accused of plans to commit fraud, which himself and the party have denied and labelled as part of a “vicious character assassination campaign” ahead of the 8 May election. 

Although polls leading to the election indicate the ANC receiving the highest number of votes, it has been predicted that the DA will gain some ground on the ANC by supporters who have deferred following the party’s corruption scandal. Moreover, it is expected that the EFF party are likely to make the most gains during the elections, with major parties losing their long-time support to the rising party. The EFF have been benefitting from the rise of populist parties worldwide and whilst it is unlikely to win the majority, it will see a higher distribution of seats between the three main parties.