Challenges Ahead for South Africa’s Ruling Party – STRATFOR

Challenges Ahead for South Africa’s Ruling Party – STRATFOR

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Stratfor Africa Analyst Stephen Rakowski examines the political problems facing the South African government amid a slump in commodity prices.

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For more in depth analysis on this topic, read In South Africa, an Opportunity to Stall the Government’s Descent

Video Transcript

What is the current state of the South African economy?

South Africa, like the world’s other commodities exporters, has suffered from decreased demand from China and the global economic downturn. Recently published reports signal that the country’s economy continues to worsen, with GDP forecasts cut and official unemployment rising from 24.5 percent to 26.7 percent. The unemployment reality is even worse, though, with the figure likely closer to 50 percent. The loss of jobs comes at a sensitive time for Africa’s most industrialized economy, as municipal elections in August fast approach.

How do things look for the ruling ANC government?

As it stands now, the ruling African National Congress — which has continuously governed the country since 1994 — may suffer historic losses given the economic downturn and voter dissatisfaction with President Zuma’s government. ANC rivals are well-placed to make some notable gains in the municipal elections, particularly in areas that the ANC has historically relied upon. For example, the center-right Democratic Alliance could make a successful push in large urban centers like Port Elizabeth and Pretoria. The loss of metropolitan areas such as these would be a symbolic blow for the ruling ANC. In addition, the far-left Marxist-nationalist Economic Freedom Fighters party — created in 2013 — is poised to make further inroads into one of the ANC’s most important support bases: South Africa’s impoverished majority.

Why is there controversy over August’s municipal elections?

South Africa’s electoral commission is reportedly considering delaying the elections until 2019. This is because the commission stated that it has no means to credibly establish the addresses of millions of poor South Africans, many of which live in shantytowns built without urban planning. Although the postponement of elections is still unlikely, it cannot be ruled out given a recent Constitutional Court ruling in November 2015 which found that local by-elections in 2013 were not “free and fair” due to erroneous voter information. To avoid similar violations of the South African constitution, the IEC may ask for August’s municipal elections to be pushed off, giving officials more time to meet the requirements set forth by the constitution.

How would delayed elections change things?

Postponing the municipal elections would likely spark initial unrest on South Africa’s streets. That being said, the ANC may perceive a delay to be beneficial, allowing it to avoid possible electoral losses in August and thus prevent deeper fissures from growing within the party. While there is no guarantee that the ANC’s position would be better in 2019 as opposed to now, the short term gain may be difficult for the ruling party to pass up if it gets the chance.


Challenges Ahead for South Africa’s Ruling Party – STRATFOR