The ANC will remain in power for many years after 2024 – here's why

It is almost certain that the ANC, in whichever form it emerges after its 2022 conference, will continue to be the dominant party in government, and that the president of the country will come from the ANC.

The ANC will remain in power for many years after 2024 – here’s why
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In the weeks after the local elections much has been said about the significance of the ANC dropping below 50%, and the implications for the national and provincial elections in 2024. For some, it feels as if this will be the end of the ANC and its rule, that what lies on the other side will forever change our politics. But this is unlikely to be the case.  

Instead, it is almost certain that the ANC, in whichever form it emerges after its 2022 conference, will continue to be the dominant party in government, and that the president of the country will come from the ANC. This continuing existence as a driving force in our politics is significant – South Africa’s medium term will still be defined by the ANC.

In the days after the local elections several political leaders suggested that their main motivation for their coalition decisions was the 2024 national polls.

The DA’s John Steenhuisen stated that the party would not go into a coalition anywhere with the ANC, saying: “It’s not the DA’s role to save the ANC.” EFF leader Julius Malema said, in the contest of coalitions, that: “We did not come here to revive the ANC, we came here to bury it.”

ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba repeatedly claims that his main agenda is to remove the ANC from power and he appears to believe that if the ANC is removed in 2024 South Africa will magically change, and become a Denmark almost overnight.

However, several weeks later, a reality-based reflection would suggest that none of this ANC exorcism is likely to happen.

There are certain predictions that can be made at this stage with some confidence.

One is that, unless there is unexpected drama (even more massive revelations of corruption spanning all ANC factions, an unexpected change of leadership or of direction), the ANC is likely to get anything between 45% and 55% of the vote in 2024.

If the ANC gets above 50%, it will govern on its own in national government, with probable nods to the smaller parties, like Patricia de Lille’s Good party.

If the ANC gets anything below that, it is more complicated, but only slightly.

The most likely outcome from that point would be for the ANC to form a coalition with one single party and securely govern in that way.

There are plenty of parties to choose from, particularly if it slips just below 50%. But it would probably prefer to pick a relatively small regional party, again, like the Good party. This would allow it to attract the party’s leadership through giving them Cabinet positions, and it could then safely ignore them for the next five years.

It may be tempting to say it is possible for all of the other political parties, the opposition parties, to form their own coalition. But there is very little evidence that this is possible.

It was only in 2011, 17 years after SA’s first democratic elections, that all of the opposition parties in Parliament suggested they would vote against an ANC bill. It was the Protection of State Information Bill, a piece of legislation so obviously unconstitutional that even then president Jacob Zuma did not sign it into law. In the end, two people in the chamber abstained (while two others from the ANC ensured they were not in the chamber for the vote, defying the party’s three-line whip).

Up until this point at least one opposition party had always appeared to agree with the ANC on every bill passed into law.

Now, in the aftermath of the local elections, there are still no formal coalition agreements to govern administrations in hung councils. In fact, in most of the metros – Tshwane, Nelson Mandela Bay, eThekwini, Ekurhuleni and Joburg – there are no administrations at all, only elected mayors and Speakers.

The failure of the opposition parties to agree to any kind of coalition in the main cities demonstrates how difficult it would be for the main opposition parties to form any kind of governing coalition in national government. And, thus, how unlikely it would be for them to actually remove the ANC from power in national government.

This, probably the most likely scenario of the ANC’s continued dominance, may well have important consequences for our politics now.

If the ANC is resigned to this kind of outcome, if its members and leaders realise that this is the worst-case scenario for them, then it is unlikely that there will be any change of direction.

It means that there is no existential threat/incentive for them to change their ways, or to have a proper process of what the party calls “renewal”.

It may also mean that the familiar patterns of the past few years replicate themselves. Those in the ANC contest for power in the party, whether for positions in the top six national leadership, in the provinces, or in local and provincial government.

And we are likely to see the same outcomes: more division in the ANC, more violent infighting and as a result, less policy direction, and distracted delivery.

But this also means that there is less incentive for the opposition parties to change their directions either.

If they believe they are not going to be in national government after 2024 (unless they believe they are the party that will do a deal with the ANC… such as, perhaps, Good or even the Patriotic Alliance) then their calculations may well be that it is best to focus on their base, thus continuing on their current paths too.

It also means that the period after 2024 would not bring any fundamental change to our politics.

The ANC has shared power before, in fact for much of its time in national government.

At different times leaders from the National Freedom Party, the Freedom Front Plus and Azapo have been appointed deputy ministers by ANC presidents.

All of this also suggests that not much will change after 2024.

However, that may understate what could be a very important process.

If it is the case that our political leaders are battling to form workable coalitions, and there is a significant risk that this could lead to chaos in the national government, then perhaps they may need more time to learn how to do this.

And what could be the most likely outcome going forward – the ANC in coalition with a smaller party, and then perhaps in the future with other smaller parties, and then a bigger party – may avoid some of that chaos.

Instead of a “Big Bang” moment when coalitions enter national government and the ANC exits in one move, it may be that coalitions enter national government more slowly and that the ANC exits national government more gradually. This would also allow more time for the possible creation of parties that attempt to appeal to more than one constituency, to try to form coalitions of constituencies with different interests. In other words, a chance for people to form parties similar to the ANC.

This may be a relatively peaceful, easy and chaos-free outcome that would last for decades.

While this may be disappointing to some, it may be more realistic. For those like Mashaba, who believe that all of our problems would be solved if the ANC were no longer in power, it could show how that is simply not the case.

Given the sheer number of dynamics in our politics, of course, it is impossible to predict the future accurately while so much is changing. But much is also staying the same. DM

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