Foreign policy could dominate South Africa’s 2024 general elections

In an insightful and interesting address at the Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies AGM and Community Briefing, political commentator Wayne Sussman addressed the issue of whether the current conflict affecting Israel is likely to have an impact on South Africa’s national elections next year.

Sussman started his analysis off by referring to recent election outcomes in Argentina, Poland and the Netherlands. In all these countries, the ruling party suffered defeat which saw the senior coalition parties particularly weakened during the elections. Sussman believes that these outcomes could serve as a warning to the ANC in South Africa about the party’s own performance in the 2024 general election.

As regards another factor, Sussman spoke about the low turnout of voters in the last elections in our country, pointing out that the voters’ roll has not grown at nearly the same rate as the population has increased in size. The recent registration weekend did not result in registration numbers that match the population growth either, so suggesting that voter turnout could again be low. Low voter turnout is also a negative scenario for the ANC.

In terms of lessons from the 2019 general election, a trend started developing which shows that people are keen to follow a party that represents their niched interests. This can be seen in the successes achieved by parties like the Freedom Front and the IFP, which gained votes, especially from people in their representative groups, the Afrikaans community and the Zulu-speaking demographic.

That election also demonstrated that there is a move away from the big parties like the ANC and the DA towards smaller parties. This could be crucial for 2024 when it’s quite possible that smaller parties could be brought into a coalition government, should no party win an outright majority – a likely situation.

Overall, the ANC faces its toughest election yet, with a number of negative factors likely to play a role in it losing voters. However, a key issue that could bring voters back to the ANC is its foreign policy, specifically foreign policy relating to the Israel/Palestine situation. The ANC Government has made its stance on the conflict very clear with the approach regarding the Israeli Ambassador, the failure to condemn the terror attacks of 7 October, and its cosying up to Hamas. In the ANC’s calculus, this can be a vote winner next year. The ANC believes it is an issue which can lead Muslim voters, many of whom used to vote for the ANC, back to the ANC from the DA. However, this scenario is not a certainty, especially since the elections are some way away yet.

While many people are concerned about a significant growth in the EFF’s support, Sussman does not believe that it’s likely that the EFF will necessarily grow. In the last election, the party gained voters in KwaZulu-Natal but many people in that province are now showing support for the IFP. In addition, its support base seems to be growing in smaller towns but not in the cities. The EFF could potentially look like a possible coalition partner for the ANC but Sussman thinks this would be unlikely and that the ANC is more likely to look for a coalition partner among smaller parties.

All in all, it appears that the ANC is likely to end up with under 50% of the vote. In addition, having been losing support among Black voters in Gauteng and with the growth in support for the IFP in KwaZulu-Natal, there is a chance that the governing party will not win these two key provinces. This will relegate it to a party popular among voters in rural areas, but not a party with the same strength nation-wide as has previously been the case.

Ultimately, elections 2024 could be the most interesting elections in South Africa since 1994, and it’s certainly likely that we’ll see many significant changes.

Wayne Sussman

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