ANC political party faces unprecedented challenge in upcoming South African Election

By Esther Muhozi
On 30 May 2024 at 10:15

For three decades, power in South Africa has had a three-letter name: The ANC, or the African National Congress. The political party, once led by Nelson Mandela, has been a powerful symbol of liberation from white minority rule, attracting loyalty from millions of South Africans who remember life under apartheid.

But after winning election after election for 30 years, the ANC, now led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, is facing its biggest challenge since taking power in 1994. This potentially marks a watershed moment for one of Africa’s most powerful nations and a major test for South Africa’s still-fledgling democracy.

Polling ahead of Wednesday’s election shows that, for the first time, the ANC could fall below 50% of the vote. Although the party would still likely end up controlling the presidency, currently held by its leader Cyril Ramaphosa, it would be forced to enter into a coalition with smaller parties. These smaller parties blame the ANC’s current direction for the nation’s profound problems.

In the years after apartheid ended with the first free, democratic election in 1994, many voters credited the ANC with improving life for South Africans — especially for the black majority that gained basic rights. International sanctions that had hampered the economy were lifted, and the gross domestic product surged.

This year, a record 51 opposition parties are on the national ballot attempting to unseat the ANC. Some of them are new parties, while others are campaigning on specific issues like closing the borders, or appealing to specific ethnic groups. According to the Electoral Commission of South Africa, 27.79 million South Africans aged 18 and above have registered for the elections this year, up from 26.74 million in 2019.

According to the Electoral Commission of South Africa, 27.79 million South Africans aged 18 and above have registered to vote in this year’s elections, up from 26.74 million in 2019.

The Democratic Alliance, the second-largest party in the 2019 election, is campaigning on a platform of combating widespread corruption and revitalizing the economy. Party leader John Steenhuisen has urged voters to oust the ANC to "rescue" the country, calling this "South Africa’s most consequential election in post-democratic history." However, the party faces the perception of being predominantly supported by white voters.

The ANC is also challenged by the Economic Freedom Fighters, a party founded about a decade ago. Its core supporters are young people, including many black university students concerned about racial inequality. With polls indicating around 11% support ahead of Wednesday’s election, EFF leader Julius Malema has criticized the ANC’s platform for lacking ambition.

A newcomer to the political scene is uMkhonto weSizwe, or the MK party, named after the ANC’s former paramilitary wing. Formed last year by former South African President Jacob Zuma as a breakaway from the ANC, the MK party faces the obstacle of Zuma’s ineligibility to run for office due to a criminal conviction for contempt of court. Nevertheless, his face will appear on the ballot alongside his party.

As the nation heads to the polls, the ANC faces unprecedented challenges, and the outcome of this election could reshape South Africa’s political landscape for years to come.