As the most contested election in a generation looms for South Africa, the ANC - once an unstoppable political force - is set to eat humble pie in 2024, if the latest polling results are anything to go by.
Professor David Everatt of the Wits School of Governance, writing in the Daily Maverick on Monday, says that the ANC is grappling with significant decline, polling at a mere 42% among determined registered voters.
This represents a historic low, dipping well beneath the critical 50% mark, yet it still towers over its closest rivals. The Democratic Alliance (DA) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) are trailing with 19% and 16% of the vote, respectively, neither managing to secure a substantial fraction of the electorate.
The older, smaller political entities are fading into obscurity, while the remaining parties scuffle over the electoral scraps.
The data is based on a poll commissioned by businessman Roger Jardine’s newly formed Change Starts Now of a survey that drew in a sample of 9,000 respondents from all provinces and across urban/rural areas.
According to the data, the true dynamism of this evolving political scene is most palpable at the provincial level, where shifts in voter allegiance hint at a broader reconfiguration of power.
In this landscape, the Western Cape emerges as a focal point of interest.
The DA, traditionally dominant in this region, has seen its majority wane, plummeting from a robust 56% in 2019 to a current 42%, despite being lauded for its governance standards.
This decline suggests a growing disillusionment among voters, who seem increasingly inclined to explore alternative options.
Conversely, the ANC's foothold in the Western Cape continues to weaken, with its popularity halving compared to that of the DA.
The EFF, although nearly doubling its base, remains in the single digits, struggling to make a significant impact.
Notably, the emergence of smaller parties like Build One South Africa and the Patriotic Alliance, indicate a diversifying political arena.
The prospect of coalition governance looms large, Everatt notes, marking uncharted territory for the DA in the province, especially as a significant portion of voters remain undecided.
The story unfolding in KwaZulu-Natal is similarly gripping, with the ANC's dominance severely eroded, polling at a mere 26%.
This stark decline, set against the backdrop of former president Jacob Zuma's new political venture, uMkhonto Wesizwe, which has thrown a spanner in the works.
The re-emergence of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) creates an interesting dynamic for political observers, as it challenges both the ANC and DA, and leaves room for speculation on future coalitions.
The Change Starts Now survey on Gauteng presents another scene of ANC decline, with the party's support dwindling to 35%.
Everatt believes the DA and EFF are well positioned to exploit this weakness, potentially altering the province's political fabric through strategic coalitions. Similarly, in the Free State, the ANC's dominance is diminishing, opening the door to coalition politics that could redefine governance in the province.
According to Everatt, the EFF's consistent performance across different regions signals a steady, but limited, expansion of its influence and could sooner or later challenge the DA's position as the primary opposition force to the ANC.
However, both parties face a common challenge, he notes: extending their appeal beyond a limited segment of the electorate.
The data comes on the back of research by the South African Reconciliation Barometer (Sarb) that showed a significant rise in distrust towards the country's leadership, with a majority of South Africans expressing scepticism about the integrity and effectiveness of those at the helm of governance.
Released in December last year, the research showed that an alarming 79% of South Africans believe that leaders cannot be trusted to do what is right - four times more than 20 years ago.
In addition, eight in 10 South Africans (81%) believe that national leaders are not concerned about what happens to ordinary people like themselves.