As expected, the African National Congress (ANC) won the legislative and provincial elections held in South Africa on May 8, the sixth since the end of the apartheid regime, winning 57.5 percent of the total votes. A foregone conclusion, but well below expectations, considering that the historic party of Nelson Mandela, in power since 1994, lost as many as 19 seats compared to the previous elections held in 2014, when it won 62 percent, which was also down on the figure achieved in 2009 (66 per cent) and in 2004 (69 per cent). For the ANC, which had never fallen below the 60 percent threshold, this is the worst result since the end of apartheid. The figure confirms a well-established trend among the South African electorate, now increasingly intolerant of the growing scandals around corruption and internal divisions within the ruling party, as well as poor economic performance in recent years. However, the main beneficiary of this drop in support for the ANC was not the Democratic Alliance (DA), although it confirmed its position as the second party, with 84 seats (five fewer than five years ago), but the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), who won 44 seats, 19 more than in the previous elections, confirming the growing support for its leader Julius Malema, whose anti-capitalist rhetoric has clearly had some effect on the electorate.
Ramaphosa and internal party opposition
While the result achieved by the ANC is sufficient to ensure a five-year term for President Cyril Ramaphosa, whose election will take place once the new National Assembly is formed, the percentage does not allow the current head of state (who took over in February 2018 after the resignation of Jacob Zuma) to sleep peacefully, above all because of the internal splits within the party, already shaken by the scandals that marked the presidency of Jacob Zuma. Although Ramaphosa has promised to introduce important economic reforms and strengthen the fight against corruption, several analysts and insiders within the ANC are skeptical that the head of state will be able to make significant progress in terms of reforms, given his tenuous grip on the party's decision-making bodies, where infighting between former comrades in the struggle against the apartheid regime is worsening by the day. The main challenge for Ramaphosa will therefore be internal opposition within the party, with many intransigent representatives who oppose the head of state’s reformist agenda and who could frustrate his initiatives in parliament. Because of internal resistance, in fact, during his 15 months in charge of the country, Ramaphosa has so far been forced to compromise in key political areas, including agrarian reform and rescuing the state-owned electricity distribution company Eskom, at risk of bankruptcy, and has promised to accelerate the redistribution of land to the black majority by passing a bill presented by the opposition amending the Constitution to facilitate expropriation without compensation, ensuring that investment and food security would not be threatened. As a result, according to several observers, Zuma's successor has ended up failing to satisfy both the demands of the radical left, which advocates a radical reform, and business representatives, who are worried about the possible negative effects on the country’s economy. As for Eskom, which in recent months has imposed repeated interruptions in the supply of electricity, causing considerable disruption to the daily life of South Africans, President Ramaphosa recently promised the unions that there will be no redundancies in the context of the announced recovery plan. However, experts say he will struggle to maintain the promise.
Eskom and the recovery plan
The recovery plan envisages splitting the company into three entities, in an attempt to save it from bankruptcy and restart the economy. Recently, moreover, the Department of Public Enterprises, which oversees Eskom, declared that the state company is considered technically insolvent and that it will “cease to exist” in its current form by April, unless it obtains a rescue plan. In this context, last February, the South African Finance Minister Tito Mboweni announced that Eskom will receive a rescue plan of 23 billion rand (about $ 4.9 billion) to settle its debt over the next three years, specifying however that financial support will be subject to the appointment of an independent restructuring commissioner to be appointed jointly by the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Public Enterprises. Eskom, which supplies over 90 percent of the country's electricity capacity, is over $ 30 billion in debt. For months, the company has been working on a restructuring plan to reverse a decade of sharp decline, due to the drastic fall in electricity sales, which has led to an increase in debt, in addition to the various corruption scandals in which it has been involved.
The recovery of Eskom, together with a fair agrarian reform, will in any case be fundamental to restore the confidence of investors in an economy where slow growth (1.2 percent growth is expected in 2019 against the 0.8 registered in 2018, according to the latest report by the International Monetary Fund) is further weakened by corruption scandals. However, the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, failed to make the most of these scandals and attract disappointed ANC voters, mainly due to the divisions that emerged within the party in recent months. The liberal-conservative party only managed to win 20.8 percent of the vote, a less than exciting result, especially in light of the success achieved in the 2016 administrative elections, when it took control of two key cities: Johannesburg and Pretoria. It has confirmed its position as the first party only in its historic stronghold of the Western Cape province. One party that has grown strongly, however, is the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), although their result cannot be regarded as a landslide.
The far-left party, which has made the expropriation of white lands its political battlefield, went from 6.3 percent in 2014 to the current 10.8 percent, winning a total of almost two million votes. A significant figure that confirms a considerable increase in approval, but still lower than the expectations of its leader Malema, determined to erode the ANC's support, now weakened by its uninterrupted grip on power, links to lobby groups and corruption scandals. Admittedly, however, the EFF is the only party that increased its share of the vote in all nine provinces of the country, demonstrating widespread support linked to the crisis in the ruling party. The Freedom Front Plus (FFP), a party that represents the white Afrikaner community, which increased its share from 0.9 percent to 2.38 percent (with its seats in parliament going from 4 to 10) is also celebrating, having become the fifth-largest South African party thanks above all to its repeated denunciations of the murders of farmers and the policies of the ANC, which are are considered more and more “discriminatory”. The Inkhata Freedom Party, which mainly represents the interests of ethnic Zulus, also did well, increasing its share from 2.4 percent in 2014 to the current 3.38 percent.