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‘South Africa’s Negotiated Settlement: 30 Years Into Democracy, As The Sunsets On The African National Congresses’ New Dawn.’

By Luchulumanco Mawisa

South Africa’s 2024 National General Elections have concluded. May 29 marked the 7th consecutive democratic election in the southernmost tip of Africa. The election continued a trend of increasing voter apathy and discontent. Since 2019, the electorate has increasingly expressed dissatisfaction with the status quo by either abstaining from voting, spoiling their ballot papers, or voting to reduce the dominance of the African National Congress (ANC), which has governed the country since the 1994 democratic dispensation.

This year's election saw 213,423 spoiled ballots, 16,078,093 valid votes, and 16,291,615 votes cast out of 27,872,081 registered voters, according to South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). With less than a third of the country’s registered and eligible voter base participating (16,291,615 out of a population of 60.2 million), the social contract between citizens and the state is defined by a fraction of its total population. The success and failure of South Africa’s 1994 negotiated settlement hinges on the objectives it set out to achieve. South Africa remains unique, characterized by its dual economies as described by former President Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded Nelson Mandela in 1999.

This uniqueness is marked by the ongoing effects of settler colonialism, which continues to economically marginalize the colonized majority. The psychosocial development of the cultural majority remains stifled, highlighting the persistent inequalities and challenges in the nation's economic and social landscape. Thirty years into democracy, the dominant ANC has declined to 40.18% of the vote. The Democratic Alliance (DA), which was the main opposition in the 6th administration, garnered 21.8%. The newly formed Umkhonto Wesizwe (MK), launched in December 2023 by former State President Jacob Zuma, came in third with 14.6%, surpassing the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which managed to secure 9.52% of the national vote. This outcome has opened the floor for discussions on coalition governance and the possibility of a Nelson Mandela-Government of National Unity.

14 Days in May: In Whose Interest Are Negotiated Governments?

With the ANC’s decline and failure to reach a 50% + 1 outright majority, the ANC’s National Working Committee (NEC), which happens to be the highest decision-making body of the ANC issued a statement on 6 June 2024 lending its preference to a Government of National Unity. The call, to some, was rather a nostalgic moment as the ANC’s incumbent president was in the leadership core which ushered in the 1994 Government of National Unity. The country is no stranger to the call as the 1994 temporary Government of National Unity was ushered in with a set of clear guidelines on the threshold to enter into the arrangement. The Government of National Unity was nothing more than a grand coalition of parties that won more than 5% of the vote in April 1994, with each of these parties awarded cabinet seats in proportion to the number of votes each party won as per the country’s interim constitution.

As of 29 May 2024, the country’s political class had 14 days to form a new parliament. The 14 days in May countdown began on 29 May 2024 and so happened to end on 14 June 2024, a date declared by the country’s Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court. Curiously, on the backdrop of negotiations is the Multiparty Charter, which characterized opposition parties’ campaigns leading up to the May 29th elections.

South Africa at A CrossRoads: Can Coalitions Deepen The Democratic Experience?

The ANC, founded in 1912, remains the oldest liberation movement in Africa. With a 40.18% share of the vote, it was at the center of constituting a Government of National Unity or alternatively entering coalition negotiations with elected parties in order to attain the 50% +1 majority it requires to nominate and elect members into the National Assembly. On the 17th of June, the ANC announced that five parties officially signed the Statement of Intent to participate in the Government of National Unity; that is the ANC, DA, Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), GOOD and the Patriotic Alliance (PA). The collective will represent 273 or 68% seats in the National Assembly.

This agreement between these parties makes a compelling argument for the rationality of having more than two parties constitute a cabinet, rather than adhering to the demands of parties on the far ends of the political spectrum. In political discourse, rationality is a contested terrain. Being rational often aligns with Placide Temple's argument that rationality is inherently 'European,' while African philosophy is viewed as 'intuitive and communal.' In the context of these elections, to be rational is to self-reflect on what actions should be taken. The ANC, like the cultural majority it seeks to serve, remains in a state of ideological paralysis, where no program of action is effectively translated into actual and tangible outcomes.

Alternatively, the ANC with 40.18% of the vote, had at its disposal the option to exclude the parties such as the DA and lean toward the ‘progressive caucus’ which includes the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), United Democratic Movement (UDM), African Transformation Movement (ATM), Umkhonto Wesizwe (MK Party), Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) and AL-Jamaha. Interestingly the MK Party and the EFF are political parties born out of the ANC, citing reasons of ideological inconsistency and a myriad of issues at the helm of the current ANC leadership core. The EFF and MK, posture as leaning towards the left of the political spectrum, with policies that demand the redress of the socio-economic dynamics of the country.

South Africa remains the most unequal country in the world with the racial make-up as designed by the Apartheid government, playing a key role in a society where 10% of the population owns more than 80% of the wealth, according to a 2022 World Bank report. The country's cultural minority dominates the cultural majority in all aspects of life, creating a country of two economies. The economy for a 10% population and the economy for those who fall outside of the primary economy, inclusive of Bantu Biko’s definition of what constitutes black people of South Africa, ‘those who […] by law or tradition politically, economically and socially discriminated against as a group in the South African society’. Biko defines those in ideological paralysis in the country by describing those at the receiving end of the Apartheid racial laws, the legacy of settler colonialism and apartheid, rooted in racial and spatial segregation, continues to reinforce inequality as the report articulates.

Do Policies Translate to Service Delivery?

The emergence of the Patriotic Alliance (PA) in the South African political landscape is a testament to a need for urgent intervention in South Africa’s less talked about neighborhoods. With 2.6% of the national vote and 9 seats in parliament, the PA comes in as the 6th largest political party in its first National General Election. It is a party that ran on the ticket of mass deportation of illegal foreigners on the campaign trail, which is often a veiled description of African nationals crossing the South African border at the Limpopo River. The PA’s voice in national and provincial legislatures is based on two demands, the heading of the Department of Home Affairs and the return of religion into South Africa’s schools.

On service delivery at the local government level, the PA currently serves in a coalition government with both the ANC and EFF. A relationship that may well continue at the national level with the ANC’s 40.18 %. The EFF’s 9.52% and PA’s 2,6%. Their working relationship in the Gauteng province becomes important here as the PA may as well have its eyes set on governing the Western Cape in the 2026 Local Government Elections. Umkhonto Wesizwe and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), the 5th largest political party in South Africa, have the potential to lead us to reimagine how the province is run. However, as the current political dynamics would have it, any potential threat to the ANC rule in KZN is a battle linked to grand coalition negotiations at the national level, perhaps delaying the ANC's demise. As negotiations have come to pass the IFP together with the National Freedom Party (NFP) and ANC have collaborated to keep the MK reserved for the official opposition benches in Kwa-Zulu Natal.

With the first sitting of the National Parliament having taken place on Friday, 14 June 2024, an interesting case for the distribution of parliamentary seats at all legislatures emerges. What becomes clear is that the fragmentation of the political spectrum signals the end of unilateral decision-making in parliament. Key considerations the electorate ought to consider are on the portfolio each political party wishes to take over; the Department of Water and Sanitation, Department of Cooperative Governance, Public Works, Health, Education, Women Children, and People Living with Disabilities – key institutions that affect citizens' daily lives. The so-called bread and butter issues are determined by service delivery and the men and women who have sworn the oath to take up seats in parliament and find themselves in these portfolios.


The 2024 elections serve as a pivotal moment for reflection and action, especially for the ANC. The results are urging all political stakeholders to prioritize the well-being of the nation over partisan interests. The electorate's increasing discontent and voter apathy signal a call for change, challenging the dominance of the ANC and opening the floor for coalition governance. The formation of a Government of National Unity, reminiscent of the 1994 Mandela-era coalition, presents us with an opportunity to reimagine South Africa's future and build a more inclusive democracy that truly reflects the will and needs of its diverse population. The path forward may be fraught with challenges, but it also holds the promise of renewal and progress for the country.

Luchulumanco Mawisa is an independent political analyst and researcher. He writes in his capacity.


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