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Few analysts are prepared to make bold forecasts about SA’s political landscape. This paper breaks from that pattern and argues that the ANC is dying and will lose its parliamentary majority at or before the 2024 national election.
We do not make this forecast recklessly but because the evidence points overwhelmingly in this direction.
The first point is that ANC support among South Africans is falling very quickly. It is true that the ANC won 63 percent of the national vote in 1994 and increased that to 65.9 percent in 2009.
However, these figures are misleading as they ignore the growing number of people who are choosing not to vote.
For example, in 1994 some 54 percent of South Africans who could vote, voted for the ANC. By 2009 that percentage had fallen to just 39 percent. This means that while more than five out of 10 South Africans turned out to vote for the ANC in 1994, that figure had fallen to less than four out of 10 in 2009. In a sense the ANC, for all its pretension as “the will of the people”, is now a minority government.
The decline in ANC support generally did not result from another party drawing its supporters.
The DA did well in its own right, increasing its support from just two out of every 100 South Africans in 1994 to one out of every 10 in 2009. However, it achieved this growth more by cannibalising other opposition parties, and possibly by attracting new young voters, than by eating into the ANC support base.
The decline in ANC support rather occurred as the result of a growing number of people losing confidence in the ANC.
The evidence for this is that the same period saw the number of anti-government protests take off.
The research company Municipal IQ reports that the number of major service delivery protests increased from 10 in 2004 to more than 100 by 2010. Data from the police suggests they are now responding to three protests every day.
The reasons for the decline in ANC support and rise in protest action have very little to do with alleged failures in service delivery. In fact, service delivery did not fail.
More than 1 000 households have been connected to the electrical grid every day since 1994. More than three million houses have been built. Since 1994, 12 formal houses have been erected for every shack that has gone up. The number of people receiving social grants increased from three million to 14 million.
The decline in ANC support has its origins in two other spheres.
The first is the overall failure of the public school system. Only one out of every two black South Africans who enter Grade 1 will reach matric, and only one out of 10 will pass maths. Hence, black South Africans are generally too badly educated to prosper in the formal economy. As a result, they have limited means to increase their own living standards outside of what the State, and by extension the ANC, can give them. It is logical, therefore, that when they are frustrated by their living standards they protest against the same State and ANC.
Related to the failure of education is the failure of the labour market to generate sufficient jobs.
Today only one out of every two black South Africans entering the labour market will find a stable job.
Part of the reason is their poor level of education. Another is government hostility to the private sector, which has stunted economic growth.
SA averages half the growth levels of its Brics partners.
Take just two current examples:
First, the government has announced that it intends to place ownership restrictions on the private security industry. The message is that private foreign investment is not welcome, and must be strictly regulated.
Second, it has announced that it is considering further taxation on the mining industry.
As Michael Spicer pointed out in a letter to Business Day, it is simply foolish to think you can add further burdens to a declining industry at a time of great international economic uncertainty.
These two examples are instructive because they are typical of the approach the ANC has taken to private business and investment since 1994. In the heady days after the 1994 transition, such an approach could perhaps be understood from a communist-inspired liberation movement not well versed in the management of a modern economy.
That this approach continues today, long after the ANC has identified the threat to itself in high levels of unemployment and low growth, is to suggest it is not serious about addressing these threats.
How else must it be understood that ANC delegates apparently devoted much time at their recent policy conference debating whether to call their policy the “second transition” or the “second phase”, while their Rome was burning in townships around the country.
Likewise the reform of agricultural land, which contributes just 3 percent of GDP and 5 percent of employment, apparently enjoyed extensive attention as a means to reduce national poverty and unemployment rates.
Rather than addressing SA’s problems, the ANC has tried to place the blame for its failures elsewhere.
President Jacob Zuma told delegates at the policy conference the problem was that the structure of the economy had not changed sufficiently since 1994 and was largely in white hands.
He is, of course, correct that whites are far more likely than blacks to hold professional positions or to start and run successful businesses. However, that he even raises white ownership of the economy as a key problem suggests that at some level he believes that, despite failures in growth and education, black South Africans could nonetheless have attained white standards of living and expertise in business.
There is no content or logic to such arguments.
That the ANC president makes them suggests his party has run out of ideas.
The same is true when it comes to corruption. This is without doubt an issue that is important in any diagnosis of the ANC’s flagging support.
There is much evidence that what the media likes to call “service delivery protests” are often the angry response of communities to corruption perpetrated by their ANC representatives.
A senior police general, who happens to be black, has communicated to us that he is sick and tired of deploying his members to stamp out protests that result from ANC councillors, often repeatedly in the same municipality, stealing money that is meant for community projects.
Despite Zuma’s exhortations to the party to root out corruption in its ranks, the DA’s research head, Gareth van Onselen, points out that the party has in fact, under Zuma, placed a number of candidates convicted of fraud and corruption on its election lists.
Even the head of its political school, who is responsible for guiding the ANC’s emerging leaders, is a convicted criminal.
This is not a party that takes corruption seriously or believes it to be a problem.
What the above shows is that the ANC is not serious about addressing the failed education, low growth, unemployment, and corruption that underpins its flagging support.
If it is not addressing the reasons for its decline, it follows that the party must be in terminal decline.
All that remains to be done is to speculate which election will see the party’s national support levels dip below 50 percent, opening the door to a coalition of opposition parties to govern SA.
On current trends, we think 2014 is too early, 2019 is plausible but uncertain, and 2024 is probable. To argue against this conclusion is to suggest that despite flat economic growth and failed education, ANC support will not just be sustained, but that the established trend of declining support will be reversed. This is not possible.
As in all things, once we have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.
The truth for SA is that it’s time to consider what the future may look like without the ANC.
Who will lead the country and what will their policies be?
That these questions are not being asked shows how unprepared many businesses and other organisations are for the changes that may grip SA over the next decade.
Of course the party may fight a desperate rearguard battle to try to save itself.
There is already evidence that some in its ranks are considering radical policy changes including seizing land, property, investments and assets. However, without a two-thirds or three-quarters parliamentary majority, the ANC cannot bring about the constitutional changes that would permit this.
Even if it could, such polices would simply kill off any growth and investment and so hasten its inevitable political demise.
n Cronje is deputy CEO of the South African Institute of Race Relations. This article first appeared as the institute's Research and Policy Brief