The ANC has won six South African elections since 1994 but its winning streak may be over

South Africa’s 33% unemployment rate disproportionally affects the ANC’s black voter base

With less than a week to go to South Africa’s general election the ruling African National Congress has seen a sharp decline in voter support, daily electorate polls indicate.

A tracking survey by the Social Research Foundationthink tank shows that from May 15th to May 22nd support for President Cyril Ramaphosa and his party fell from nearly 46 per cent to 40.8 per cent, based on a 60 per cent voter turnout.

The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), and former president Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party were the main beneficiaries from the ANC’s drop in support.

In the same period, the DA went from 24.7 per cent to 27.2 per cent while the MK party, which draws most of its support from Zuma’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal, rose from 7.7 per cent to 13.3 per cent.


The ANC’s decline in support began shortly after Ramaphosa signed the controversial National Health Insurance Bill into law on May 15th, which its critics have called unworkable and an electioneering stunt.

It also coincided with a constitutional court ruling that Zuma, who left the ANC after falling out with its leadership, is ineligible to run for parliament due to a contempt of court conviction he received in 2021.

South Africa’s president until 2018, Zuma stood down under pressure from the ANC after being accused of facilitating widespread public-sector corruption during his nine-year tenure. The 82-year-old is scheduled to stand trial in April next year on corruption charges linked to a government arms deal in 1999, when he was deputy president.

Analysts have speculated for months that even with the popular Ramaphosa leading the ANC, the party could fall short of the 50 per cent plus one vote it needs to win the poll outright.

Aside from meaning the ANC would need to form a coalition to stay in government, such a result would bring to a halt the party’s national election-winning streak of six straight victories since 1994.

In early 2024 voter surveys indicated support for the former liberation movement could even dip below 40 per cent, given the levels of unhappiness with the ANC’s performance in government over the past 15 years.

When Ramaphosa was elected president in 2019 many South Africans hoped he would tackle the rampant corruption within the ANC and public sector that fermented under Zuma, turn the economy around and create much-needed jobs.

But today South Africa remains one of the world’s least equal and most dangerous countries. Its unemployment rate of 32.9 per cent primarily affects black citizens, the ANC’s voter base.

In addition, very few ANC leaders have gone on trial since Ramaphosa took office despite the emergence of damning evidence in several inquiries linking some of its major figures to corruption.

From early April, when the ANC started to roll out an election campaign across nine provinces, the party looked to be faring better with voters than earlier in the year, polls suggested.

Former presidents Thabo Mbeki, Kgalema Motlanthe and other anti-apartheid veterans were all roped in to remind voters of the ANC’s “struggle” credentials and convince them to stick with the party despite the economic and social hardships they face.

That coupled with signing the National Health Insurance Bill into law, and an ANC commitment last week to institute a basic income grant, looked to have shored up its voter support.

Some voter surveys even indicated the ANC may get close to 50 per cent of the vote, which is a major turnaround since January. However, if the Social Research Foundation polls – which run daily – are accurate that improvement is now in doubt.

Were the ANC to poll at 40 per cent or below it would need to partner with at least one of the larger opposition parties to form a minority government, which could have major consequences for South Africa. The Economic Freedom Fighters and the MK party, two of the three largest, have radical populist agendas.

However, were the ANC to get 45 per cent or more it would need only the support of small opposition parties to form a government.

Hlengiwe Ndlovu, a senior lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand’s school of governance, said the ANC has always “leveraged voter loyalty over the years” so she would not be surprised to see it poll better than expected this week.

“I think the ANC could surprise people. There are so many opposition parties now, and they don’t provide credible policies to tackle the challenges the country faces. Often it comes down to choosing the devil you know over the devil you don’t,” she said.

Indeed, at this point in the general election cycle, the only certainty for South Africans is the uncertainty that exists around how the ANC will fare.

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