Rising discontent: What is the future of South Africa’s ruling Congress party?

South Africa has witnessed many problems facing the ruling regime led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, who has been in control of political power since 2018, which has grown significantly over the past two years, accompanied by a noticeable decline in the traditional popular support base for the ruling party, the African National Congress.ANC) who controls political power since the end of the apartheid regime and the beginning of the political transition in 1994. This decline has raised many questions related to the future of the party’s political role in South Africa, especially in light of the upcoming general elections to be held in year 2024.

internal crisis

The ruling party, the African National Congress, is going through a stage of political imbalance, which is the most difficult stage since it came to power in the country since 1994. Perhaps the most prominent indicators of this are:

1- Decline in the level of popular support: Despite the fact that the African National Congress is in control of political life by winning five consecutive general elections following the fall of the apartheid regime, it is witnessing a sharp decline in its political popularity, which was crystallized through the local elections that took place in early November from last year (2021), which is a turning point and an indication of the erosion of the level of political legitimacy enjoyed by the ruling party; The party’s share of the vote fell to less than (50%) at the national level for the first time since the beginning of the political transition in the country in the mid-nineties of the last century. The main opposition party “Democratic Alliance” received (21.8%) of the total votes, while the “Combatants for Economic Freedom” party received (10.4%).

The rate of participation in these elections is low; less than half of the registered voters participated in the databases; This is by (12.3) million registered voters out of (26.1) million voters. Participation has decreased in general by at least (10%) compared to the last local elections that took place five years ago. This continued decline in support for the ruling party could be reflected in the next elections scheduled for 2024.

2- The heated competition for the leadership of the party: This matter grew significantly and crystallized clearly during the Sixth Conference of the Party, which was held in late July of this year, in which about (2000) officials and party members participated, a conference that is considered as a preparatory meeting for the party conference next December, which will witness the holding of elections Critical internal affairs to choose the next president of the party, in preparation for the next general election race in 2024. The ruling president, “Ramaphosa” faces great opposition within the ruling party; The rival faction loyal to former President Jacob Zuma is very active, and it is scheduled to present a candidate to challenge him for the leadership of the party, and it will try to exploit the unstable situation in the country and the escalation of sharp criticism against the current president on several levels during the recent period.

The scandal related to financial corruption, which the current president, Ramaphosa, was exposed to last February, may affect his chances of re-election as party leader, but at the moment it seems that he still has some support from his party; Whereas, during the ANC Executive Committee meeting, which took place after allegations of corruption against it emerged; Committee member Tony Yengeni – a staunch opponent of President Ramaphosa – tried to persuade the committee to force the current president to step down, but failed. The position of the current president has strengthened over the past few months; Various branches and regions of the ruling party held conferences to elect new senior officials, many of whom largely support Ramaphosa.

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3- Exacerbation of internal divisions in the party: Radical differences have crystallized between party members on some influential issues, perhaps the most prominent of which is the application of the rule of resignation adopted by the National Executive Committee of the party in August 2020, which refers to the need to step down members who are accused of corruption, or suspend their roles and tasks immediately until investigations are completed; This is what happened with the former Secretary General of the party, Ace Magashule, who was forced to step down on May 3, 2021, after he was allegedly involved in corruption while in charge of the state of the Free State.

This rule exacerbated divisions within the party; Where some of his leaders who were forced to resign claimed that they were used and employed by the ruling president “Ramaphosa”; To marginalize and exclude political competitors (opponents), which deprived this base of gaining support and support at the party conference that was held last July.

Influential problems

There are a number of internal governance problems existing in the state during the recent period, which in turn affect the political legitimacy of the ruling regime and its “African National Congress” party, the most prominent of which are as follows:

1- Increasing socio-economic problems: It was crystallized through a deterioration in some indicators of an economic and social nature affecting societal stability, the effects of which were greatly exacerbated by the repercussions associated with the Corona virus pandemic, as well as the Russian-Ukrainian war that erupted in February of this year. Perhaps one of these indicators is the high unemployment rate, which reached about (34.5%) in the first quarter of 2022, thus achieving the highest rate recorded in South Africa since 2008.

In the same context, this rate recorded record increases of about (63.9%) for those aged between 15 and 24 years, and about (42.1%) for those aged between 25 and 34 years in the first quarter of 2022. In addition to this is the high levels of poverty in the country. ; Where about (30.3) million people live in poverty, which represents about (55.5%) of the total population. In general, South Africa is classified as one of the countries with the largest inequality in the world, and the annual inflation rate in the country reached about 6.5% in May 2022, thus recording its highest rate in five years.

2- The growing reality of corruption linked to the ruling elite: The ruling elites in South Africa suffer from the decline of their legitimacy at home due to the corruption charges and cases directed against them, and perhaps the latest scandal against the head of state, “Cyril Ramaphosa”, which appeared to public opinion when the former intelligence director, Arthur Fraser, filed a complaint against the current president at a police station. “Johannesburg” on February 9, 2020, during which thieves allegedly targeted a farm belonging to the president called “Pala Fala” Wildlife Farm in the northern “Limpopo” province, and that they were able to find (4) million dollars (3.7 million euros) in foreign currency hidden Inside the furniture, President Ramaphosa later admitted the theft had occurred, but asserted that the money was from an auction of valuable cattle, that he had done nothing wrong, and that his supporters asserted that he was the victim of a smear campaign ahead of a potentially brutal contest for a second term as ANC president in next December.

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This case comes in light of public opinion raising what is known as the case of the “Gupta” brothers (Atul and Rajesh Gupta), who are among the most wanted arrested in South Africa due to corruption charges. They were accused of paying bribes to obtain government contracts and influencing the process of appointing individuals to senior positions; That was during the administration of former President Jacob Zuma.

3- Escalating crises related to the abundance of energy: These crises were mainly manifested by the unprecedented intensity of power outages during the recent period, specifically since last June, to be considered the worst of its kind in the country since 2019; A series of aging coal plants belonging to the state-owned company, Eskom, plunged the country into darkness for up to 12 hours a day; This led to a decline in the capabilities of all public utilities in the country, and increased pressure on the ruling African National Congress.

As a result, Ascom, which provides more than 90% of electricity, implemented a system to separate and reduce loads to reduce about 6000 megawatts from the electrical network, which is enough to cover about (4) million homes, and this is the worst reduction in Electricity production since the collapse of the grid in 2008, and the company has also stopped serving some areas in the country because its workforce is under constant attack; It stated that 14 teams were attacked this year in Gauteng area, and were threatened with violence by angry community members, and they are sometimes exposed to common crimes such as stealing their property.

In this context, the ruling regime has adopted some measures to address this crisis, including canceling a limit of (100) megawatts for private power generation last July; This is in order to allow companies to build power plants without a license; To meet its own needs, and sell it to the state network, as well as doubling government purchases of renewable energy to (5,200) megawatts; To accelerate the shift towards relying on renewable energy sources (wind energy, solar energy), and moving away from non-renewable sources, especially coal, on which the state depends for more than (80%) of its energy. Despite this, the crisis is still present in the country and affects various sectors.

4- The low level of integrated public infrastructure in the country: This is one of the most prominent problems facing the ruling regime, which is related to the inefficiency in planning and implementing the state’s infrastructure. Work plans for two major projects to permanently increase the capacity of the port of Durban, which were designed a decade ago, and whose first phase is to be completed by 2037, have been postponed. The decline in this port’s capacity has increased dependence on the ports of its fast-growing neighbors. For a long time, instability, inefficiency, and chronic corruption also deteriorated the country’s railway, port, and logistics infrastructure.

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This has made South African exports uncompetitive; Many local exporters are looking to new areas in the region such as Mozambique and Namibia, and the water system across the country is at risk of complete collapse; This is due to lack of infrastructure maintenance and corruption. In addition, the wastewater infrastructure system has almost collapsed; As out of the (824) water treatment plans across the country, only (60) plans were able to provide clean water, and more than (60%) of the sewage treatment works in the country were classified as in poor condition. or critical.

future paths

The future vision proposes the possibility of going down one of two paths regarding the future role of the ruling party, the African National Congress, in the political life of the country, namely:

1- The growing efforts of the ruling party to consolidate the pillars of its ruleIt constitutes the most likely path, which is represented by the attempt of the ruling party, the African National Congress, to correct its course by restoring its declining popularity during the recent periods, by trying to unite the party’s internal front at the party’s next conference at the end of this year; By rallying around a leadership of the party that is internally accepted by its members, but rather with acceptance and support at the popular level; This is to ensure that the party wins the voting majority in the next general elections in 2024; This is similar to what happened in the general elections that were held in 2019, which is considered critical for the political future of the party in the country, especially in light of the exacerbation of criticism directed at the ruling party led by the current president “Ramaphosa” due to the stumbling on finding solutions to address Issues affecting stability and community peace.

2- The role of the ruling party has declined in favor of the political opposition: This is the path that is considered the least likely, and is linked to the ability of the opposition political parties to benefit from the decline in the popularity of the ruling party, which is likely to happen in light of the failure of any opposition party so far to benefit from the losses of the African National Congress in the local elections that took place in November. 2021; By winning votes and presenting itself as a political alternative to the ruling party; The largest opposition party—the Democratic Alliance (DA)—performed in these elections, worse than in the 2016 local elections; where he received barely less than (22%) of the total electoral votes. This is reinforced by the limited experience of the political parties in the country with the policy of forming coalitions or party alliances; Very few have been piloted since the 2016 local elections.

In sum, the NCP faces many challenges, whether within the party from the existing disparities among its members or at the level of issues and exacerbating crises in the country that affect, in one way or another, the party’s legitimacy and popularity. Despite this, the party still possesses tools to enhance its political opportunities, especially since the political opposition suffers from many problems that undermine its ability to form an effective alternative that can be bet on.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

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