New ‘struggle’ for ANC before elections


Since the “struggle” against apartheid, the ANC that ex-pres. Nelson Mandela once led in the face: the struggle to retain a majority in what can be described as a boundary-shifting election.

Defeated and under fire for corruption, a struggling economy, the power crisis and crime levels that remain stubbornly high, but nevertheless opinion polls show that the ANC will still reign supreme at the polls this year, according to all expectations.

However, infighting and large-scale disillusionment with the ANC threaten to siphon off more and more votes and force the ruling party to possibly enter into an inconvenient power-sharing agreement.

“The ANC is currently more divided than ever and is going to face the most important election since 1994,” says William Gumede, professor of politics at Wits.

Former Pres. Jacob Zuma was the icing on the cake of a miserable 2023 for the ANC, with a declaration of war against the comrades he led for a decade.

Zuma’s spear

The 81-year-old Zuma – himself stained by scandal but still a man of considerable influence – has pledged to vote for the radical new party, Umkhonto We Sizwe (MK). MK, meaning spear of the nation, was named after the ANC’s former military wing.

Although he maintains that he remains a member of the ANC, Zuma castigated the government of his successor Cyril Ramaphosa as “traitors and apartheid accomplices”.

Ramaphosa was once Zuma’s deputy, but they became bitter enemies after Zuma was forced to step aside in 2018 due to corruption charges.

Another top veteran, Mavuso Msimang, also – briefly – turned his back on the ANC in December and complained about “endemic corruption” before he was convinced to align himself with the ANC again.

“Treason, dishonesty and falsehood in the ANC are the norm,” says political analyst Sandile Swana.

Criticism from outside the ANC is also increasing.

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, Anglican church leader, said in a thinly veiled attack that South Africans are fed up with “lies, corruption and incompetence”.

“As they begin to realize that they may no longer be in control after the next election, the dazzle, scams and fraud become more blatant every day as they become even more hungry for the ill-gotten gains of power.”

Mamphela Ramphele, a former managing director of the World Bank who once founded her own party to challenge the ANC, says “the post-apartheid government led the country to the abyss of inequality, poverty and renewed injustice”.

Support for the ANC gradually began to decline after the party was able to gather 69% of votes for it in the 2004 elections. In 2019, this figure stood at 57%.

In 2024 – 30 years after the ANC came to power – the ANC may just slip below 50% for the first time. The election is expected to be held in May.

A poll conducted in October put support for the ANC at 45%, down from the 52% it stood at in March.

Rebels can beat ANC

Some analysts believe Zuma’s latest political trick could push the figure down even further.

Zuma’s power base is in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal – a province with the largest ANC membership.

Susan Booysen, a political analyst for the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection, says Zuma’s identity and his rebelliousness may resonate with some voters.

Gumede believes a vote percentage of between 46 and 49 could force the ANC to enter into a coalition with smaller, more radical parties such as the EFF. Among other things, the red berets launched an aggressive campaign to drive land reform.

He also says that if the ANC’s support falls below 45%, it could pose a threat to Ramaphosa’s leadership.

“For Zuma it will be revenge,” says Gumede.

Ramaphosa addressed supporters several times this week and confidently declared that those who think the ANC will just disappear or be deposed are “just dreaming”.

“It’s not going to happen. We see all these parties that have been established and we are prepared for it; we are not afraid of them.”

However, Africa’s most advanced economy may become a victim of the infighting before the election campaign has even properly begun.

Raymond Parsons, associated with the North-West University, says the political future is “explosive” with Zuma’s new party and the EFF gaining votes.