Democratic South Africa’s sixth national election occurred at a time of mounting crises in the economy and in society, which confront the governing African National Congress (ANC) and the official opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) with two distinct challenges.
The more pressing burden falls on the ANC. As it secured a majority of around 57% of electoral support, there can now be no excuse for the party not to move swiftly towards structural reform.
This is a fundamental requirement if we are to have any hope of easing the crisis of low economic growth and insufficient investment, and the rising joblessness that has resulted from them.
In the run-up to the ballot, analysts and ANC leaders developed the idea of a "mandate-threshold", the argument being that only if President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered a strong majority for the ANC would he have a mandate strong enough to move against corrupt leaders in his party and introduce structural reforms.
While we remain sceptical of the idea of a mandate-threshold, there can be no doubt that, with around 57% of the vote, the ANC has received a very strong mandate. It remains to be seen what Mr Ramaphosa will do with that mandate but we will get a very good read from the make-up of his Cabinet and also from whether law enforcement agencies move swiftly to arrest ANC and government leaders implicated in corruption.
One thing is certain, though, there are no excuses left for reform not to happen.
The DA faces a critical challenge, too.
The IRR has long warned the official opposition of the need to abandon its racial-nationalist flirtations, return to its liberal roots, and offer a true liberal political alternative to the ANC.
This advice was rebuffed, with party strategists confidently dismissing the risks of the party being seen as "ANC-lite", and arguing that downplaying the DA’s liberal heritage would actually see support surge.
But we know there is despair in the DA camp today at what some senior figures in the party have admitted was a "disaster". One confided that the election result was an example of “what happens when you attack your supporters”.
The DA failed to distinguish its policy offering from that of the ANC under Cyril Ramaphosa, and it has paid the price.
Notably, the Freedom Front Plus (VF+) – which has grown its support from 0.9% of the vote in 2014 to more than 2% this week – ascribed its success in part to
disillusionment among DA supporters over the direction the official opposition has taken. The DA was perceived as hostile to the interests of minorities.
We repeat the advice we have given to the DA before: it needs to jettison its "soft-ANC" positions, return to its liberal roots and offer an alternative to the vision and ideas of the ANC. It needs to demonstrate in doing so how liberalism continues to offer the most effective solutions to the many social and economic crises confronting South Africa. Only then will it grow.
Without doubt, however, the greater challenge today lies at the door of the ANC.
South Africa is facing serious economic and social crises. Having performed strongly in the first decade after the end of apartheid, corruption and growing leftist influence in the government has brought the economy to its knees.
The economy is now growing at less than a quarter of the rate of comparable emerging markets. Entrepreneurs and businesses are confronted with onerous regulation and forced compliance with government-mandated racial edicts. The government is pushing for legislation that will see it seize private property without compensation. More than half of young people do not have a job and the quality of education offered in schools is rated as amongst the worst in the world.
We argue strongly that in order to turn the South African economy around, the government would need to repeal all race-based legislation, secure property rights, privatise state-owned firms, deregulate the labour market and give communities much greater direct management control of schools and police stations.
South Africa has made immense progress since 1994 – the democratic dividend is unquestionable. But much of that progress stalled after 2007 when the ANC veered away from mainly sane policy towards increasing statist intervention and a reliance on racial nationalist rhetoric to distract attention from its failings.
This is the course the ANC remains on, and it needs to change.
Our own polling has shown that most South Africans regard jobs, better schooling and safety from crime as the priorities the government should focus on. Yet, while the very same polling shows that "faster land reform" is regarded as the least important priority among ordinary people (just 2% of all respondents, and 2% of black respondents), the ANC is persisting with its drive to implement Expropriation without Compensation (EWC).
Eroding property rights by such means will do irreparable damage to the economy, worsen living conditions – for the poorest especially – and deter the foreign and local investment on which any hope of an economic "new dawn" must depend.
The path to growth – based on policies that secure a free, open and prosperous society – is open to us, and there is now no excuse for Cyril Ramaphosa’s government not to lead the way.
* Frans Cronje is the CEO of the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), a liberal think tank that promotes political and economic freedom. Read more at https://dailyfriend.co.za/
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.