South Africans went to the polls on 8 May 2019 in a general election considered the most important since the dawn of democracy in 1994. The ruling African National Congress (ANC), which won the election, was in the run-up to the poll unsure of whether it would once again secure a majority after a decade of misrule by Jacob Zuma.

The election saw the largest parties, the ANC and the Democratic Alliance (DA), have their support slashed, while two parties, the Economic Freedom Fighters and the Freedom Front Plus, saw their support soar. The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) made a comeback, and saw a moderate increase in support.

Many smaller parties lost support, and the majority failed to gain a seat.  An unprecedented number of parties, 48 in total, contested the election, with only 11 parties securing seats in Parliament. In 2014 13 parties secured  seats in Parliament.

The election saw the lowest voter turnout since 1994, with 65.99% of the registered voters casting votes. Turnout at the previous general election in 2014 stood at 73.48%, almost 7.5% higher.

A. The main parties’ campaigns and policy manifestos

The election campaign has been characterised by a number of commentators as “unpleasant”, “banal”

Commentators also suggested that the electorate was faced with voting for parties that were all unattractive.

The campaign revolved around differences in economic policies, the role of the market and the degree of state intervention. These issues were reflected in the various parties’ positions on nationalisation and privatisation of land and State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), Black Economic Empowerment (BEE).

The parties released their manifestos in the run-up to the election. According to Reg Rumney, in his three-part exploration of the parties’ policies: “The EFF manifesto sounds like it was dreamt up by students at the university canteen. The DA manifesto looks like it was drawn up by consultants who maximised their billable hours and I wouldn’t be surprised if the ANC manifesto was created by committee.” 

A1. The ANC’s policies and campaign

The ANC committed itself to public-private co-operation, a stance regarded by some commentators as equivocal, even confused. It called for SOEs to be given banking licences, and the establishment of mutual banks, which are set up for the benefit of depositors.

The ANC resolved to change the constitution to allow for land expropriation without compensation, but said this would be “done in a way that promotes economic development, agricultural production and food security”.

The ANC continues to support BEE, although it mentions BEE only once in its manifesto. This reticence was a sign that it has become mindful of the abuse of BEE, largely seen as a way for its cadres to cash in at the expense of the masses. It instead talks of broadening ownership, and puts forward the idea of Employee Share Ownership schemes.

The party has called for the Reserve Bank to be more “flexible”, and instead of focusing only on inflation targeting, address other issues. “Without sacrificing price stability, monetary policy must take into account other objectives such as employment creation and economic growth.”

On the campaign trail the ANC, divided into factions, was hardly as unified as it had been in the past. The campaign was run by Fikile Mbalula, a former Zuma supporter who appears to have swung over into Cyril Ramaphosa’s camp.

The former premier of the Free State, now secretary general of the ANC, urged black voters not to vote for “umlungus” – white people, and was seen to be giving one impoverished woman R400, causing an outcry. Strangely, he also promised poor whites in the Western Cape that the ANC would expropriate land for them.

Former president Thabo Mbeki, who was ousted by the Zuma faction and removed from office in 2008 and stayed away from campaigns since, this time supported his party, publicly signing a pledge to vote for the ANC. He was reported as saying “there was a period when I could not personally in all honesty come and say to a person … ‘please vote for the ANC’, knowing very well the wrong things that were happening”.

The ANC has received the backing of business leaders. Former editor of Buisness Day and influential columnist Peter Bruce gave Ramaphosa strong backing, entering into debates with other columnists about why Ramaphosa was the best choice.

The ANC was also fortunate to receive the backing of The Economist, the prestigious business magazine, which said that a Ramaphosa would weaken the populists in South Africa. In 2014 the publication backed the DA. “The DA has the right ideas for fixing SA, but is in no position to implement them,” the article said. So, “this time, with deep reservations, we would cast our notional vote, at the national level, for the ANC”.

Business Leadership SA, which represents 70 of South Africa’s largest companies, also gave Ramaphosa its support, arguing that if populists in the ANC prevailed over Ramaphosa, a ratings downgrade was likely, and would lead to higher borrowing costs, outflows of about $8-billion, currency volatility and paralysis.

A2. The DA: centre-right policies and a lacklustre campaign

The DA presents itself as a liberal party, favouring property rights, and is strongly against expropriation of land without compensation The DA is strongly pro-market, and vowed to privatise SOEs, especially South African Airways and Eskom, the national power utility. It is against the nationalisation of the Reserve Bank, a call for which has been rife in public debates, and further called for foreign investors to be protected from legislation that would diminish their security or profits.

The DA also supports Employee Share Ownership schemes, despite vacillating on the question of BEE – the party’s leaders were seen to be divided about black empowerment, which although it goes against its free-market policies, would be essential to lure black voters, one of the party’s central aims if it is to draw enough support to become a governing party.

In the run-up to the election, he DA was seen as a divided party, its black leaders opposed by white leaders, especially over BEE, race policies and the leadership of Mmusi Maimane. It was also seen to have badly handled the expulsion of DA leader Patricia de Lille, who broke away to form her own party, the GOOD party.

Carol Paton, writing in Business Day, said of the DA: “It is a party that is making it up as it goes along, squabbling over principles and values and never quite sure where it stands on race — even inventing the term ‘constitutional black’ to deliberate over the composition of its election lists.”

Leader Mmusi Maimane appeared to present little in the way of alternatives from the ruling party, instead frequently attacking Ramaphosa, who he tried to present as condoning the corruption of Jacob Zuma. The party failed to spell out an economic policy that would appeal to black voters, emphasising instead that it would engage in wholesale privatisation.

Former DA leader Tony Leon spent three days on the campaign trail, appearing in Alberton on the East Rand to rally voters to his party, while former leader Helen Zille also took to the hustings. Leon pointed to the Western Cape, suggesting it was the best run province in the country under the DA.

A3. The EFF’s radical stance

The EFF argued for an ultra-interventionist state, calling for all land to be nationalised, as well as the mines, banks. It wants to redistribute land without compensation. The party has been vehement in its call for the Reserve Bank to be nationalised.

It called for new state banks to be established, despite much scepticism after its involvement in the VBS scandal, where the party was perceived to have had a hand in the looting of funds from VBS and the destruction of the bank.

The EFF rejects BEE, arguing instead for state control of all resources. It also called for women and youth empowerment, and black ownership and management of banks, somewhat in contradiction to its nationalisation policy. 

Paton says of the party: “The EFF has the advantage of never being tested before. Its promises are madly unrealistic; its vision Utopian. It has the privilege and the problem of not being rooted in reality. Most voters are sceptical.” 

Julius Malema, leader of the EFF, appeared at the Rand Easter Show in April, saying the party would not enter into coalitions with the DA as it had done since 2016, especially since the DA had focused on the EFF’s role in the VBS banking scandal.

B. The final results

The ANC won the election with 57.5% of the vote, while the DA got 20.77%, the EFF 10.79%, the IFP 3.38% and the FF 2.38%. All other parties got less than 1%.

B1. The ANC

The ANC received almost 5% less support than it did in 2014, when it got more than 1.4-million more votes. It lost 19 seats in the National Assembly.

The party’s losses are due, according to any commentators, to the mideeds of former president Jacob Zuma, who has been accused of yielding the state and his presidential powers to the Gupta family, which virtually captured the state and looted state-owned enterprises throughout Zuma’s reign.

The replacement of Zuma by Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC president in December 2017, and two months later as president of the country, has been seen as the reason the ANC managed to retain enough support to be given another term as the ruling party, albeit with a much reduced majority.

Voters also punished the ruling party in the provinces. In Gauteng the party just managed to scrape a majority together, getting 50.19% – 3.4% less than it did in 2014 – losing 3 seats in the province’s legislature. In KwaZulu-Natal it got 54.22%, just over 10% less than it received in 2014, losing 8 seats. The following table lists the ANC’s performance in the provinces:

B2. The DA

The DA, the official opposition, won 20.77% of the vote, almost 2% less than the 22.23% it received in 2014. It lost more than 400,000 votes and five seats in Parliament, but it has retained its position as the official opposition party.

The DA vigorously opposed the misrule of Jacob Zuma’s ANC, but when the ruling party installed Ramaphosa as leader of the party and the country, the DA no longer had an easy target. Its voting campaign focused on condemnation of Ramaphosa because of his role as deputy president, alleging that the new president had overlooked crimes and transgressions committed by Zuma.

The party also failed to draw black voters in the numbers it had hoped for, and alienated conservative white voters in its quest to attract more black voters. It lost much support to the FF+.

The party’s results in the provincial polls were mixed.  It retained the Western Cape, although with reduced support – it got 55.45%, a drop from the 59.38% it got in 2014, and lost two seats. In Gauteng, support dropped from 30.78% to 27.45%, losing three seats in the provincial legislature. It also lost support in Eastern Cape, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West and Free State, but increased support in Northern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal.

The party also lost support in townships, according to a study by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). It received less votes than it did in local elections in 2016 in Soweto, Alexandra, in suburbs such as Centurion and Garsfontein in Tshwane, as well as Langa, Khayelitsha, Mitchells Plain and Grassy Park on the Cape Flats, all in the Western Cape.

B3. The Economic Freedom Fighters

The EFF was one of just three parties to see significant growth in support – the others being the FF Plus and the IFP. The EFF polled 10.79% of the vote, 4.44% more than the 6.35% it got in 2014. It gained 19 more seats in Parliament, and will now have 44 MPs.

The EFF drew 400,000 more votes than it did in 2014. In the run-up to the election they, too, were denied the easy target of a corrupt Zuma administration after Ramaphosa came to power. But they heightened talk of land redistribution and expropriation without compensation, which has proved to be a popular sentiment in the country.

The EFF gained enough votes to become the official opposition in three provinces: Limpopo (14.43%, 7 seats); Mpumalanga (12.79%, 4 seats) and North West (18.64%, 6 seats).

B4. The Inkatha Freedom Party

The IFP gained a modest increase, with 3.38% of the vote, almost 1% more than the 2.4% it got in 2014. It increased the number of seats from 10 to 14, with almost 140,000 more votes than it got in 2014.

The IFP’s gains were mostly in KwaZulu-Natal, its home base, where it got 16.34%, compared to the 10.86% it got in 2014. It went from 9 seats to 13 in the province. In Gauteng it secured only 1 seat, and has little or no presence in any of the other provinces. It appears to have clawed back support from the NFP, which lost 4 Parliamentary seats and 5 provincial seats.

B5. The Freedom Front Plus

The FF+ enjoyed spectacular success in the election, increasing its share of the vote from 0.9% in 2014 to 2.38% in 2019. It gained 10 seats, 6 more than it got in 2014, to become the fifth largest party in Parliament. With just 165,715 votes in 2014, it now secured 414,864 votes, more than doubling its support.

The party is thought to have gained white conservative voters from the DA, which many felt was bending over backwards to woo black voters at the expense of its white base. The FF+ ran a campaign opposing land redistribution, appealing to its base of white farmers. It adopted the slogan used by the DA in its 1999 campaign: “Fight Back” – rendered into Afrikaans as “Slaan Terug”.

B6. Smaller parties in Parliament

With 48 parties contesting the national election, voters who withheld votes from the larger parties had much more alternatives to choose from, in the process reducing the number of votes the traditional smaller parties would get. That was exactly what happened.

Six parties each secured two seats in Parliament: The United Democratic Movement (UDM) and the National Freedom Party (NFP) each got two seats, losing seats they got in 2014. The UDM lost two seats, getting 78,030 votes (0.45%), a large drop from the 184,636 it got in 2014.

The NFP lost even more support, getting just 61,220 votes (0.35%) after getting 288,742 in 2014. The party lost four seats, having had six after a meteoric rise in 2014.

COPE, which had two seats in 2014, again secured two seats even though it lost considerable support, having got 47,461 (0.27%) after getting 123,235 votes in 2014.

The AIC received 48,107votes, almost half the 97,642 votes it got in 2014. It managed to secure 2 seats, losing one.

The new African Transformation Movement (ATM) of Jimmy Manyi secured 76,830 votes, 0.44%, and two seats, surprising many commentators.

Two parties each secured just one seat, enough to have one representative in Parliament. The Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC), led by Narius Moloto, got 32,468 votes (0.19%), just enough for one seat. It too saw a decline in support, having got about 5,000 less votes than in 2014, when it received 37,784 votes.

The Muslim party Aljama got 31,468 votes (0.18%), which saw it qualify for a single seat for the first time. In 2014 the party failed to get a seat after it got 25,976 votes.

B7. Parties aligned to Jacob Zuma

Jacob Zuma, the former president of the ANC and the country, appeared to support various parties associated with state capture, notable the party of Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the African Content Party, and the ATM, the party of Mzwanele “Jimmy” Manyi,  and Black First Land First (BLF), led by Andile Mngxitama.

Of these three, only Manyi’s party won enough support to enter Parliament, receiving 48,107 votes (0.28%), for which it was awarded 2 seats. The BLF garnered 19,796 votes (0.11%), while the ACM got 4,841 votes (0.03%). Manyi was linked to state capture through his association with the Gupta family and their ANN7 TV channel, which he took over when the family left the country.

Before the election, Zuma appeared to endorse the BLF, whose leaders visited the former president late in March. Business Day reported Zuma as saying to the BLF: “To us who understand what RET [radical economic transformation] is, it is important that you [BLF] are talking about it. I am certain that you will get enough votes so that you can talk about and raise these issues in the National Assembly. Without economic empowerment, we are doomed and we will amount to nothing.”

B8. New Parties, Left and Right

Two new parties with explicitly leftwing or rightwing ideological stances stood for election. On the right, a Capitalist Party of SA (ZACP), led by Kanthan Pillay, the former CEO of radio station YFM. The party stands for a free-market economy, liberty, meritocracy and equality of opportunity, and is particularly averse to affirmative action. The party failed to secure a seta, getting just 15,915 votes.

On the left, trade union leader Irvin Jim headed the new Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party, which failed to secure a single seat after getting 24,439 votes (0.014%). The party, which is linked to metalworkers union Numsa, failed to get the union’s 339,000 members to vote for it.

B9. The election’s casualties

Agang, the party launched by Black Consciousness stalwart Mamphela Ramphele, got just 13,856 votes (0.08%), a large drop from the 52,350 votes it secured in 2014. The party lost both of its seats and will not be returning to Parliament in this term.

The other party linked to the Black Consciousness Movement, Azapo, also saw a decline of its very small support base. It got 12,823 votes (0.07%), less than the 20,421 votes it received in 2014.

The African People’s Convention (APC), whose leader Themba Godi was its only representative in Parliament, lost its only seat after getting just 19,593 Votes (0.11%). In 2014 it received 30,676 votes. Godi, who served as the head of the important Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa), will not be able to resume his role after doing much work resuscitating the committee.

The Minority Front, once the party of Amichand Rajbansi and now led by his daughter, Shameen Thakur-Rajbansi, got just 11,961 votes (0.07%.

Twelve parties got between 10,000 and 27,000 votes, failing to secure seats:

The following 22 parties received less than 10,000 votes:

The election saw the lowest voter turnout since 1994, and commentators were not surprised, having predicted that many voters were disillusioned with the voting process and the parties on offer, especially after the decade of Zuma’s rule. One of the signs of youth disillusionment was the 47% dropn in the registration of 18-to-19-year-olds.

With just 65.99% of the registered voters casting votes, this was a huge drop from the election of 2014, which drew a voter turnout of 73.48%, almost 7.5% higher.

Only 74.6% of the 35.86-million eligible voters were registered to vote, and only two thirds of those registered voted. Since 26,779,025 voters were registered, and only 17,671,616 of these voted, almost half of eligible voters did not go to the polls.



Election results available at|Reg Rumney, What the manifestos reveal about the parties’ economic policies, in Daily Maverick, part 1, part 2, and part 3|The Economist, “To stop the rot in South Africa, back Cyril Ramaphosa”

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