John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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South Africa’s May 7 Elections and What I Will Be Watching

by John Campbell
April 28, 2014

Youth worker Nathaniel Groep, nineteen, stands in front of flats outside his home in Mannenberg, a gang-ravaged township, in Cape Town. Nathaniel said, "Every vote counts, particularly for young people. For our generation there are new possibilities and maybe we can build a brighter future. The issues I would like to see addressed are gangsterism, peer pressure and the lack of work opportunities." April 18, 2014. (Mike Hutchings/Courtesy Reuters)


There seems to be a good deal of genuinely democratic ferment in South Africa, and the post-apartheid political mold may be breaking apart. South Africa’s new political directions may be clearer by the next election cycle, that of 2019. Nevertheless, in this cycle, with election day on May 7, voting trends may indicate the direction that politics will be moving over the next five years.

Here are some of the things I will be looking for when the results of May 7, 2014, come in.

How many parliamentary seats did the governing African National Congress (ANC) lose? At present it holds 66 percent. In the aftermath of scandals and corruption, it seems likely that it will lose some. If the ANC falls below 60 percent in parliament, I suspect there will be pressure for President Jacob Zuma to go. There is precedent: the ANC sent then-president Thabo Mbeki packing when it determined that he had become an electoral liability.

Is the ANC electorate becoming more rural and less urban? This has been the pattern of some other liberation movements that transformed themselves into political parties.

Do the “born frees”–those born after the end of apartheid in 1994–stick with the ANC? Or will ANC support become increasingly elderly–those who remember apartheid.

Will the “loyal opposition,” the Democratic Alliance (DA) significantly increase its parliamentary seats? It hopes to capture as much as 30 percent of the vote. That expectation may be unrealistically high. It also hopes to capture the provincial government of Gauteng and the municipal government of Johannesburg, the heart of the South African economy.

Did the DA attract more black votes? If its electoral support remains principally white, Coloured, and Asian, the potential for growth in a country that is 80 percent black is limited.

Did Mamphela Ramphele’s new political party, AgangSA, win enough seats to be a viable political player? How many parliamentary seats would it need for it to be considered viable? If Agang were to win 10 percent, that would be an earthquake. Its policies are similar to those of the DA, and an effort earlier in the year to bring the two parties together failed. Did AgangSA draw black voters from the DA or from the ANC? Did it win any white or Coloured support?

Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) is really the only left-wing political movement in South Africa. The ANC, whose leaders are close to big business, is firmly in the center, while the DA and AgangSA are center-right. Malema’s calls for the expropriation of white-owned land and other assets are said to be popular in the townships. If the EFF wins 10 percent of the votes, that would be another earthquake.

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