There’s only one wild card and it’s MK

William Saunderson-Meyer dissects the results of the latest Brenthurst Foundation poll


The big squeeze has started. South Africa’s political minnows and sprats are being churned into chum.

The most recent poll of voters suggests that at a national level, the 2024 election is moving towards a familiar battle, that between the old foes: the African National Congress and the Democratic Alliance. The result, too, will be familiar: a triumphant but damaged ANC facing an official opposition largely dependent on a revived DA.

Contrary to the media hype, the plethora of new parties— more than 350 small parties and independents — will play a negligible role in the final governance structures, at least this time around. The coalescing of opposition groups in the Multi-Party Charter happened only late last year and will likely only deliver their true benefits years down the line in the 2029 election.___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Instead, except for the MKhonto weSizwe (MK) party, the one-man-and-dog egotists who are registered for May 29 are seeing their hopes dashed of being “disruptors”. Rather, they amount to no more than minor irritants — foot-servants rather than the king-makers they cast themselves as.

The most recent Brenthurst/ Foundation/ SABI Strategy voter survey, conducted in February and March and with a 3% margin of error on an assumed 66% turnout, has the ANC at a pitiable 39% of the national vote. This continues its slow slide from 41% in October 2022 and 44% in November 2022 on the same pollster’s surveys and close to 70% in its heyday. The DA is up a tad (4 points to 27%) and the Multi-Party Charter (MPC) — which pools the votes of the DA, Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), ActionSA, Freedom Front Plus (FF+), African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) and others — down a tad (3 points to 33%). 

None of this is earth-shattering, since that 3% error margin allows for a lot of possible alternatives in close contests. What is exciting, though, is the disruption that MK, Jacob Zuma’s late entry into the elective arena, may wreak. In the Brenthurst/SABI survey, MK already registers 13% of the national vote and a staggering 25% in Zuma’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal.

This is despite MK only being launched in December and being hampered at every turn by an ANC that is desperately trying to have it excluded from the election. Compare Mk’s performance with that of Change Starts Now, which also launched in December but, despite being lavishly funded by the business sector, threw in the towel a couple of weeks ago — ostensibly because it was struggling to meet the registration deadlines but most likely because it failed to register a pulse in any of the voter surveys, including its own. 

The ANC’s antipathy to MK is understandable, driven as it is by the mutual fear and loathing that exists between President Cyril Ramaphosa and Zuma, the predecessor he unseated. Whatever the long-term ramifications of MK — ultimately it may split the ANC and its very existence will undoubtedly slow further the already tardy pace of the ruling party’s anti-corruption efforts — for the moment, it doesn’t seem to be hurting the ANC’s national vote.

Instead, at a national level, MK’s entry into the lists has coincided with big drops in support for the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the IFP. The EFF, which in some national polls was rivalling the DA — IPSOS in December had it edging the DA by 18.6% to 17.3% — has dropped in the Brenthurst/SABI survey from 17% to 10%. And the IFP has dropped from 7% to 2%.

While one of course doesn’t know for definite which voters went where, when they changed allegiance, flows from the EFF and IFP to MK make sense. The EFF and MK share the same moral-free, populist, black-nationalist, pseudo-socialist zone, while the IFP shares with MK a parochial Zulu nationalism. 

And it is at the provincial level, in KZN, that the MK most clearly has a knife at the ANC’s throat. 

In October last year, the battle for KZN looked like a struggle between coalitions. The ANC (32%) potentially combined with the EFF (15%) were level pegging with the 46% of the MPC, which was made up of 27% from the IFP and 19% from the DA.  

The new survey has the MPC down 8 points to 39% in KZN, with the DA share unchanged at 19%, but the IFP dropping 9 points from 27% — almost a third of its previous vote — to join the DA at this level. The EFF (14%) is also virtually unchanged but the ANC vote has dropped 12 points — losing almost four out of ten of its voters — from 32% to 20%. The big winner is MK at 25% of the vote and this means that it could become the governing party of KZN in coalition with — in order of likelihood — the EFF or the IFP.

In Gauteng, the survey shows clearly the resilience of the ANC and the problems that the small parties are having. The ANC scores 34% (from 37% in October and 32% in 2022), while the MPC is steady at 38%. However, within the MPC, the DA’s share has gone up from 24% to 32%, while ActionSA’s vote continues to drop, from 11% in 2022 to 8% in October, to 5% now. The EFF has dropped 7 points to 11% and MK gets 6%.

It will be interesting to see in future surveys whether Johannesburg’s past 11 days without water will have any effect on the baffling resilience of the ANC’s share of the Gauteng vote. Or will voter masochism hold firm?

A ray of sunshine for the ANC is its vote in the Western Cape, which is up almost 50% from 22% in October (13% in the 2022 survey) to 35%. However, the DA remains solidly in control, at 53%, down from 56%, with the MPC also down a fraction at 55% (58%).

The impressive increase of support for the ANC in the Western Cape seems to be a consolidation of support from “other” parties. They, the likes of GOOD and Cape Independence, are down from 13% to 7% (much down from 25% in 2022), as well as increased participation (Won’t Votes dropped from 6% to supposedly zero). The trigger may have been the ANC's strongly pro-Palestine, anti-Israel, stance which, although it hasn’t yet significantly affected the DA vote, is paying off in the province that has the highest proportion of Muslim voters.

Nationally, based on all the polling surveys at this stage of the game, it doesn’t look as if the ANC has too much to worry about. Unless the MPC gets some kind of boost from unfolding events or more parties and independents take shelter under its umbrella, the ANC can easily retain power by governing in coalition with the EFF. Conceivably, there may even be a great reconciliation with MK — come home, comrades, all is forgiven — although this might be the final straw for the ANC old guard and finally cause their exit.

It is MK that, at this moment, is Ramaphosa’s biggest headache. While MK’s threats of violence, should the Independent Electoral Commission rule against its participation, are disgusting, they are the inevitable cost of having a lily-livered president who has never stood up against threats of violence or actual violence. Not by the party’s union allies, not by the ANC faction that instigated the 2021 riots, and not by the EFF. 

Ramaphosa holds no moral high ground and his position is not strengthened by the tenuous nature of the ANC’s case. This rests on the party’s dubious claim that it owns the MK name and on some hair-splitting on whether MK’s registration with the Independent Electoral Commission was done with every i dotted and t crossed.

Ramaphosa should be reminded that in 1994 everyone understood that the self-imposed absence of the IFP from that first democratic election would badly taint its legitimacy. Thirty years on, an ANC-engineered exclusion of MK from the 2024 election would be at least as bad.

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