Semi-migration, rather than emigration, can swing election results


The more than 29,000 South Africans abroad on the Independent Electoral Commission’s (IEC) voter roll will probably cross their cross next to any name other than that of the ANC later this year.

In recent weeks, RNews has reported on various challenges that foreign voters experience in being able to register and ultimately vote in the 2024 national election.

However, experts point out that, should each of these South Africans report to a South African polling station in a foreign country on election day, and vote for the same party, their votes would still not be enough to secure one seat in parliament.

Prof. Theo Venter, political analyst attached to the University of Johannesburg, explained to RNews this week that a political party needs about 50,000 votes for one seat in parliament.

“In that respect, these votes from abroad are statistically negligible. It is not going to bring one party a seat.”

Venter believes that their votes are “symbolically important” since every South African has the democratic right to vote.

“The figure is not significant, no. But that is not what the fight is about,” agrees Connie Mulder, head of the Solidarity Research Institute (SNI). “They remain South African citizens who must still be able to vote. It is about the principle of the matter.”

Venter and Mulder both say that a small proportion of the South Africans abroad who are registered to vote will finally draw their crosses on the day.

A quarter (25%) of readers abroad who recently took part in a RNews poll indicated that they plan to vote because they would like to return to South Africa one day and hope that the situation on home soil will improve then improve.

About 32% indicated they would vote for the sake of the country and those who still live in South Africa.

However, a total of 17% indicated that they no longer care what happens to South African politics and therefore will not vote. About 13% will stay away because they think their vote will make no difference.

Focus on semi-migration rather than emigration

Venter and Mulder believe that semi-migration will be much more significant than emigration in the upcoming national and provincial elections, especially as far as the provincial elections are concerned. This is because the number of people in the province ultimately determines the number of wards and branches in a provincial government.

Semi-migration refers specifically to the influx in recent years of people from KwaZulu-Natal to Gauteng and people from the Eastern Cape and Gauteng to the Western Cape.

Venter says semi-migration is to a large extent a phenomenon of urbanisation.

“Approximately 67% of the South African population now lives in large towns and cities. This is also politically important, because the ANC has always prided itself on the fact that a large part of its permanent support comes from the rural areas.

“But those in the rural areas are getting fewer and fewer.”

A recent poll showed that 50% of voters in the countryside plan to vote for the ANC this year, compared to 38% of voters in the city and 33% of voters in metro areas.

Mulder, for his part, points out that 1.3 million to 1.4 million of those currently living in the Western Cape were born in the Eastern Cape – a province where the ANC enjoys strong support.

“These people are usually ANC voters and bring the ANC some relevance in the Western Cape. One can say the same about the influx of people from the rural areas to Gauteng. This is a plus point for the ANC (in terms of semi-migration),” explains Mulder.

“But what we also see is that the ANC is getting a kind of Zanu PF character in terms of support. The party is very strong in the rural areas. But it seems that the voters who move to urban areas become disillusioned and do not vote for the ANC again or just stay away from the polling booth.”

Mulder therefore expects that in the upcoming election the ANC will do well in the rural areas but worse in the metros.

Venter makes the same prediction.

“City dwellers’ political experience is completely different from that in the countryside. If you live in the rural areas and receive a social allowance and are subject to a traditional leader, you have few other choices than to vote for the ANC.

“It is a simple design. This makes the rural areas so fertile for the ANC.

“KwaZulu-Natal has always been the province where ANC support has manifested itself. But over the last ten years it has become Gauteng,” says Venter.

“If you look at the ANC’s internal processes, approximately 20% of all ANC branches are established in KwaZulu-Natal, while Gauteng has about the same number of branches as Mpumalanga and Limpopo.

“The amount of branches in Gauteng is therefore completely out of balance with the representation that ANC has in Gauteng.”

Venter says that in the midst of emigration and semi-migration, it is therefore important that political parties adapt to the changing circumstances and expand their support.

He says the ANC has been particularly slow to adapt.

“Gauteng currently has more people than KwaZulu-Natal, which means that Gauteng is becoming more important – not because it accounts for 35% of the country’s economy, but because it is currently the most numerous province in the country.

“The ANC has failed to give Gauteng the recognition it actually deserves within the ANC, in terms of branch size and representation.”

However, Venter believes that the situation has in a certain sense “sorted itself out”, as KwaZulu-Natal representatives did not give up in the last two internal ANC leadership elections.

“So much so that at the moment there is not a single Zulu in the top seven.”