08 Apr South Africa’s Political Future: The Coming Years
South Africa’s Political Future: The Coming Years
Given the total rollercoaster of the past two years, it’s no surprise that analysts are not entirely on the same page when it comes to projections for SA’s future. The sheer number of factors to consider makes it quite impossible to predict what the future might hold.
While different scenarios have always incorporated contributing factors, a few unexpected events in the past few years have indicated how futile it is to use existing models and focus on known factors alone. Unforeseen events which yield unforeseen outcomes need to be factored in somehow, and yet – the very premise of risk projection is to analyse past data and render most probable outcomes based on existing knowledge. Accommodating global catastrophes of an unknown nature into such projections upends the very science of scenario architecture.
Nevertheless, let’s discard chaos theory for a moment and focus on some possibilities for SA’s future.
Most important factors
The most important factors to consider when painting scenarios for SA’s future are:
– The state of the ruling party’s leadership and internal power-structure
– The state of SA’s overall political landscape
– International relations and global cooperation
– Covid-19: how long it will last and how swiftly we can recover
– Management and performance of South Africa’s SOEs
– Impact of new and proposed legislative changes
– Action taken against corrupt officials
Ramaphosa’s uphill battle
It’s no secret that the ANC is experiencing massive internal upheaval. The looting, orchestrated by Ramaphosa dissenters, was a direct result of the jailing of former president Zuma. This highlights not only the challenges which Ramaphosa faces, but the ingrained cultural foundations of the party: it favours loyalty over its own ideologies.
Mandela’s ANC has long since departed, and perhaps this was bound to happen all along – Mandela’s rule of the ANC was quite an anomaly given his Xhosa roots as Thembu royal. It’s anomalous merely for the demographic makeup of South Africa as well as the cultural history of the country – with a 70% Zulu majority, it was an oddity that a Xhosa politician would not only lead the non-white people of South Africa but unite white people behind his ideals.
Mandela was anomalous for various reasons, and so it’s not quite surprising that the fractured landscape of South African demographics and culture would rear its divisive head once more.
President Ramaphosa has even less clout through heritage given his Venda roots. While Statistics South Africa has not indicated demographic Statista indicates that merely 2,2% of South Africans speak Tshivenda in their homes while Wikipedia places this number at 2,5%. It should be noted that either platform could be wrong: Statista does not offer citations, sources or publishers for their statistics without payment of R6 800 – R28 447 for sources (excluding tax), and the Wikipedia entry lists only 10 languages as official in South Africa – it is therefore unverifiable, but gives a ballpark figure to work with. His Venda heritage had seen the president face much opposition from within his ranks. In his testimony at the SA Human Rights Commission hearings into the 0221 unrest, he noted his dismay at comments aimed at his heritage, “iVenda alime kancane thina bantu bangempela sisalungisa izindaba zethu” (The Venda must wait a bit, we, the real people are still fixing our issues), and “Thina angeke sibuswe nge Venda” (We won’t be ruled by a Venda).
Furthermore, while any normal person could not imagine incarceration for supporting their causes in the least, Ramaphosa’s ‘short’ stints of incarceration by the Apartheid government does not endear him to party stalwarts. It seems unfathomable, but his two stints in solitary confinement (11 months and 6 months respectively) for organising rallies and non-specific social unrest is somehow not qualifiable as freedom fighter, especially since he became a law clerk for a Johannesburg law firm in 1981.
Compared to Jacob Zuma’s 10 years of incarceration, Mbeki’s 24 years of incarceration and Mandela’s 27 years of incarceration – Ramaphosa simply doesn’t have the kind of pedigree expected by die-hard party supporters.
Michael Maccoby notes in the Harvard Business Review that although people generally want leaders who serve as a moral compass, in real-life scenarios there is an irrational motivation for following leaders. Maccoby notes that prominent psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud found in his own research that people transferred idealisations of past leaders or ideals onto current or future leaders – they do not want to let go of certain notions of their past. And this transference can be negative in that people believe they need to fight against certain leaders who represent something negative from their past. This is much the glue which binds the hardcore ANC supporters to their party, and to an extent also that which breathes life into parties like the EFF and sustains the pursuits of the FF+.
Maccoby further notes that during periods of organisational stress followers are more dominated by irrational feelings and more likely to heap praise onto leaders they perceive to face public trials – much the scenarios we’ve seen with Donald Trump and Jacob Zuma.
Mulling over scenarios…
While Ramaphosa is seen as the most diplomatic leader by opposition and most economically sound choice by investors – many people fail to see the possible repercussions of a continued Ramaphosa presidency. While he is holding on to leadership at present, widespread criticism by the general public over Covid-19 measures as well as opposition within his own party could see him ousted sooner rather than later. As Scenario Architect Jakkie Cilliers from the Institute for Security Studies (see our citations for more information on sources) notes – the best scenario for factions like the DA and FF+ who uphold the sentiments of most white South Africans is a poor outcome for the ANC, which requires Ramaphosa to marginally win his ANC pole position later in 2022.
Then again…many have asked why support for the main opposition parties is maintained given their lack of noteworthy inroads and appeal to ad hominem, strawman and red herring fallacies among others to drive their campaigns.
A bit of an odd dichotomy. Who should be supported or opposed to gain the best outcome for SA?
Election outcomes: 2024 – 2029
Cilliers constructed a few scenarios for SA’s coming elections for the Institute of Security Studies.
The projected election forecasts for SA are categorised into four main scenarios:
– The Bafana Bafana scenario
– The Thuma Mina scenario
– The Nation Divided scenario
– The Mandela Magic scenario
The Bafana Bafana scenario has been positioned as the most likely outcome. This scenario sees Ramaphosa only just holding on to his seat as the ANC leader at the 2022 ANC conference which makes him their candidate for president in 2024. The Bafana Bafana scenario sees the ANC backsliding drastically from 57,50% to 48%. This also sees minimal growth in DA and EFF support, significant growth in IFP support to 5,5% (+65%), significant decline in VF+ support to 1,5% (-63%).
ActionSA is highlighted as the biggest possible winner. While the party had not existed at the time of the previous national elections, it received 2,33% of the national vote in the municipal elections in 2021, and the BB scenario estimates their first national elections to snatch up 6% of South Africa’s support.
Support for other parties is estimated to increase from 5,17% to 6% in 2024.
The scenario extends to the 2029 elections with the following forecast:
Image source: collated from the Institute for Security Studies and the Daily Maverick citing information by Jakkie Cilliers.
The Thuma Mina scenario forecasts a massive growth in the EFF as the Radical Economic Transformation (RET) faction in the ANC splinters off and forms a coalition with the EFF. This sends the DA packing to third place on the podium in 2024.
The Inclusive Society Institute reckons this scenario is quite likely. Given the fractures within the ANC as well as the DA and FF+ persistently underdelivering by playing politics like the EFF of late and focusing on public melodrama. While this scenario does see growth from ActionSA, the IFP and other parties, it sees many ANC, DA and FF+ supporters jump ship to the EFF.
While not explicitly mentioned by Cilliers, another factor which may contribute to this scenario may be a significant decline in overall votes as seen in previous elections.
While many South Africans may be vehemently opposed to the EFF gaining more seats, it should be noted that a more equal split amongst the leading parties is hypothetically favourable for democracy. However, it is unfavourable when smaller parties lose seats in parliament, since the voices of millions of people may also be underrepresented.
In the Nation Divided scenario, Cilliers paints a wholly different picture to the other scenarios. In this projection, South Africans increasingly break away from the leading party in favour of more centrist parties and newly formed political parties.
By 2029, the ANC has lost its majority vote, with the DA leading at 34% and other parties claiming 14% of the national vote.
In the last, and least likely scenario painted by Cilliers (dubbed Mandela Magic), Cyril Ramaphosa does not stand in the ANC elections later in 2022, and instead breaks away from the ANC to form a new or coalition party.
This scenario sees Ramaphosa supporters from various parties walk over to newly formed parties with the ANC holding onto 34% of the national vote in 2024.
The time for youth to lead
A significant problem in politics – not just locally, but internationally – is the refusal of older generations to hand over the reins to younger leaders.
The Weill Institute for Neurosciences indicates that cognitive abilities peak at around 30 and subtly decline with age. Though cognitive decline occurs in different ways and rates for all people, it’s not something which we can deny.
The institute notes that the most prominent areas of decline are in speed of thinking and attentional control. So why is it that those who are supposed to be the smartest and most proficient decision-makers among us are the ones who clutch onto their roles as leaders so vehemently.
While the Queen of England is not necessarily a world leader, she is currently the oldest, at 95. The president of the USA, Joe Biden, is currently nearing his 80th jubilee at 79 years. The leaders of Saudi Arabia, Cameroon, Lebanon, Palestine, the Bahamas, Kuwait and Iran are all over 80 – as is the King of Norway and the Pope.
While there are younger leaders in office, change has been rather slow. The leaders of Chile, Finland, Chad, Mali, Georgia, El Salvador, Turkmenistan, New Zealand and Burkina Faso are all under the age of 45.
Though Ramaphosa certainly has a sharp head on his shoulders at age 69, it’s still alarming that he is already in his golden years. Though it’s true that life expectancy has increased over time – corresponding with overall improvements in health and medical interventions – it should generally stand that anyone post-retirement age is not necessarily the right candidate to lead a country. Vijay Maheshwari notes that the current global crises are unfortunately likely to bolster the notions of older leaders as they seek to restore the world to a place which they are used to – a world which is known to them or rather; a world which was known to them in the past.
What’s worrying is the fact that the South African youth aren’t interested in voting, and the age of leaders may have something to do with that. In fact, ANCYL Limpopo Provincial Secretary Che Selane noted in 2018 that the youth in South Africa require older politicians to retire or make way for younger leaders after they turn 60. Selane notes that it’s simply impossible for older generations to understand the socio-economic and cultural futures of younger generations.
In the words of Kahlil Gibran from his text, the Prophet:
“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you, but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.” Kahlil Giibran – On Children
The most telling indication of the youth’s disinterest and distrust of their leaders is in the numbers – the proof, as they say, is in the pudding.
The Electoral Commission of South Africa indicated that of the nine million people eligible to vote who refrained from registering in the last elections, two thirds were young people and less than 20% of first time voters registered to vote in the 2019 National Elections. This is the lowest voter-turnout in South Africa’s democracy since 1994.
In the USA, a reverting to nationalistic and old-generation notions has seen the country backtrack on Freedom and Human Rights from 89 to 83 since , according to Freedom House. The backtracking is especially telling in the arenas of sexual reproductive rights, gender equality, environmental rights and press freedom.
Younger leaders (politicians and business leaders under the age of 50) are concerned with different ideals and a different future to those who are likely to die in the coming 30 years. While death may be a rather depressing measure for determining adequacy as leader – as human beings we are intrinsically driven by the goals for our lives on earth.
The USA led by older generations has reneged on their human rights promises to younger generations, but it is not the only country or organisation to move backwards in time as more radical factions claim leadership positions in power in the USA, Europe, South America, Africa and Australia. Interestingly, while authoritarianism is still rampant in Africa, the African Union has taken great strides to redress these issues and return to African democracy as a unique system of negotiation, relations and cooperation. While extremist, nationalist and segregation supporters have gained traction in the past few years, it’s important to keep in mind that this is sure to pass. An informed, internationally-connected and younger votership is bound to take charge in decades to come. Which way the pendulum will swing remains unclear.
Between a rock and a hard place
In contrast to such nations which have backtracked on their civil and other rights to freedom, South Africa has maintained our stance as leader in human rights. While the application of such rights is not always evident, our constitution has not shrunk where our liberties are concerned. But this is not a given. With factions within the ANC, EFF, ACDP and FF+ particularly interested in reaffirming the rights of certain groups – whether tribes, races, minorities or religions – Ramaphosa may be the most capable leader among the bunch.
While leaders like Herman Mashaba of Action SA and Bantu Holomisa of the UDM are similarly focused on an equal and progressive society a la the notions of former president Mandela, Mashaba is unlikely to gain sufficient traction in the coming two years, and Holomisa does not necessarily have the professional clout to gain back lost votes. Furthermore, few leaders in SA have the economic acumen which has seen Ramaphosa succeed as businessman even before he took to office. Unlike Donald Trump, Ramaphosa has been highly successful in his business pursuits throughout the years, and has managed this primarily through his own prowess.
President Ramaphosa is facing heat from all sides – whether it be his decisions amid Covid-19, his stance on Russia or his leadership within the ANC. The question remains whether his leadership is as dire as touted by dissenters within his party or by opposition like the DA, or whether it is simply that the sordid mess left by the likes of Zuma amid a horrific crumbling of our SOEs like Eskom, a Covid-19 crisis and a world at war has simply made South Africans lose sight of what is possible instead of focusing on what we want as individuals. Despite all his flaws, Ramaphosa has found renewed support amid various factions – including the AmaZulu King-elect Misizulu…another factor which is bound to stir the ANC pot.
Whatever your views on current leaders, however – projections indicate a rocky road ahead and we’d be wise to plan accordingly. The ANC is bound to see an increasing split, depending on Ramaphosa’s popularity at the ANC polls later this year, and if Cilliers’ scenarios are to be trusted, we may be doomed if he loses his clout.
The Mandela Magic scenario which is highly unlikely is perhaps our best bet – and this is only possible if our current leader has the wherewithal and support to unfasten the ball-and-chain of his ANC marriage and finds sufficient alliance and coalition support outside the ruling faction. Perhaps a Ramaphosa-Mashaba alliance? Perhaps roping in the UDM, Independent Democrats and other progressive factions?
This is, however, the least likely outcome and not a basket in which we should place more than one egg.
Need a more stable future?
While South Africa is not fairing bad as far as our human rights are concerned and aren’t in the thick of it as other prominent nations embroiled in the Russia-Ukraine saga, we are still in a precarious position.
With such an unclear future, it’s prudent to hedge your bets by planning for multiple scenarios. In lieu of hedging bets you may just want to settle for a more stable future. If emigration is on the cards, then get in touch with Rand Rescue – we’ll assist in all aspects of your cross-border financial decisions. We’ve assisted thousands of South African expats with their financial transfers and can advise on your taxation, forex, estate and retirement planning.
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