On the election results

Once again the "worst, like the best" has not happened


Although the vote counting is not yet complete in the 2019 national and provincial elections the shape of the final results are clear. At the time of writing CSIR projections put the ANC’s final share of the vote at just under 58%, the DA at just under 21%, the EFF at just over 10%, the IFP at 3,5% and the FF Plus at 2,56%.

The DA will retain its absolute majority in the Western Cape, and the ANC should hold onto control of Gauteng with around 50% of the vote. The ANC will retain majorities in the other seven provinces.

This is a result that will disappoint all parties except the FF Plus, which made considerable gains at the expense of the DA among Afrikaner voters in the north of the country.

Turn out declined once again. The ANC’s share of the vote continues on its downward trajectory. The DA meanwhile failed to increase its share of the vote for the first time since 1994. The EFF’s electoral surge dissipated in the final week of the campaign, and while its support is considerably up from 2014 it did not make the breakthrough it hoped for. It has more MPS and MPLs, but has secured no foothold in provincial or national government. 

In South Africa, Jan Smuts once observed, “the worst, like the best, never happens”. In a country desperately in need of an alternation of government at national level this was clearly not the best possible outcome; but given the current political and electoral landscape, it was probably not the worst one either.

Cyril Ramaphosa did what was expected of him and won the election for the ANC. He now has a democratic mandate behind him. The ANC’s reduced share of the vote, and the record low turn-out, will help dispel any complacency within the party about the increasingly fragile nature of the ANC’s hold on the loyalties of the electorate.

This may help Ramaphosa in his internal party battles – and may stay the hand of those plotting his downfall - given that there is now an upcoming local government election that needs to be fought and won. This cannot be easily done without Ramaphosa at the helm of the party.

The failure of the opposition parties to win over 50% of the vote in Gauteng means that the ANC also does not have to cut a deal with Julius Malema and the EFF for control of that province. This complicates the task of those trying to bring him back into the fold, thereby isolating Ramaphosa politically.

The DA’s victory in the Western Cape, despite Patricia de Lille’s breakaway challenge, is an appropriate reward for ten years of effective government under outgoing Premier Helen Zille. The party’s stagnant performance nationally represents the ultimate failure of its strategy of trying to sell itself as a kind of ersatz-ANC. The idea was that by swallowing ever larger doses of black-nationalism, and no longer actively opposing the government’s destructive racial policies, it would be able to win over disgruntled ANC voters. Yet such voters are either still with the ANC, or they have switched across to the more authentic alternative, the EFF. Many of the DA’s supporters meanwhile feel neglected and alienated and are beginning to defect.

With an increased FF Plus caucus in parliament the DA will have a greater incentive to concentrate on representing their own supporters, and less on chasing after perpetually-elusive ANC voters.

The ANC and DA’s painful - but still not yet fatal - electoral setbacks are a timely warning to both of the dangers of persisting along the respective paths they are on.

Whether they will heed the message the electorate has sent them, or carry on heedless to it, remains to be seen.