South Africa heads to polls; votes will be counted in Kampala, Kigali, Nairobi, Dar

Saturday April 13 2024

If the ANC were to bypass MKP and elope with the EFF and other small radical parties, it would mean a sharp shift to the left and a Robert Mugabe-era-type populist agenda in Zimbabwe, which shattered the country’s economy. ILLUSTRATION | JOSEPH NYAGAH | NMG

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

South Africa’s wobbly unit, the rand, notched its highest level against currencies like the US dollar in the middle of the week but then fell sharply to the bottom of the well after a shock opinion claimed the ruling ANC could perform disastrously in the May 29 elections.

The poll by the Social Research Foundation showed the African National Congress, which has led South Africa since the end of apartheid, could win just 37 percent support, while corruption-tarred former president Jacob Zuma’s new uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MKP), may get 13 percent, making it the third largest.

The main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), seen largely as a white-leaning pro-capitalist party, would come in second with 25 percent of the vote.

Fiery and populist Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) would cross the line in fourth with 11 percent.

Read: NGUGI: Dark clouds are gathering over Rainbow Nation

In the 2019 election, the ANC won 57.5 percent of the vote, down from the nearly 63 per cent (but not by a perilous margin) with which it first came to office in 1994.


Other opinion polls have hovered between 42 and 48 percent for the ANC, but whichever outcome, the result would mean the ANC has to form a coalition with a large rival, or several small ones, to retain control of government and Africa’s most industrialised economy.

It would have to make concessions on policies and appointments, and if it went to bed with MKP, it would be the equivalent of giving a fox a stall in a chicken market. The prospect of a baggage-laden Zuma and his long-fingered comrades calling even a few shots again, has investors spooked.

If the ANC were to bypass MKP and elope with the EFF and other small radical parties, it would mean a sharp shift to the left and a Robert Mugabe-era-type populist agenda in Zimbabwe, which shattered the country’s economy. That scenario of a coalition descending upon rich peoples’ and corporations’ wealth and redistributing it to the masses, is even scarier.

The pragmatic economically sensible alternative would be a coalition with the DA, but black pride and history make it a mountain nearly too high to climb. It would feed the “Africans are too corrupt and incompetent, so give things to white men to run” narrative, and seem like a reintroduction of apartheid through the back door. However, it might be the best for the economy and capital.

The DA has been fairly competent in the province and municipalities it runs, and far less thieving than the ANC. There is a popular video on the internet with a South African motorist filming the road as he drives. The road in the DA-run area is smooth, wide enough to take two cars, and the grass on the sides is neatly mowed.

Read: OBBO: How SA, US polls could shape Tshisekedi’s bread in Kinshasa

As soon as it crosses to an ANC-controlled area, the same road has been eaten into a one-lane strip, it is potholed, and the grass on the sides is growing wild.

For East Africa, the outcomes of the May vote could be far-reaching. It would not all be bad, though.

For countries like Uganda, where the armed wing of the ANC and some of its political offices, and those of other more radical anti-apartheid groups, were based in the years before the end of apartheid, a government in which MKP and EFF have sway would be good.

There is likely to be a more open policy toward Uganda — which silently nurses grievances about “betrayal” — that could see a visa-free regime introduced for its citizens wanting to travel to South Africa. Kenyans, Ugandans gripe, have visa-free access to South Africa, yet Nairobi didn’t contribute to the armed liberation struggle.

A better-run South Africa could see a significant economic recovery, good for the country and the southern African region. It might also see a rebound of giant South African companies, like retailers Shoprite and Game, who have since been run out of East Africa. Their return could bring greater competition, and better prices and services.

As previously noted, at the hard geopolitical level, whichever alliance the ANC makes, South Africa’s lead role in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) intervention force in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, would have to be curtailed or come to an end altogether.

It might also have drawbacks in its contribution to the SADC force in Mozambique’s once-rebel-overran Cabo Delgado Province. There have already been reports, that SADC angrily denied, that it was planning to exit Capo Delgado in June because it was broke and could no longer afford to pay for the mission.

If that happened, Tanzania would have to make some tough decisions. It would have to decide whether or not to pick up South Africa’s slack either in DRC, Mozambique — or both. Rwanda too, which in reality has been the main pacifier in Cabo Delgado, would also have to go back to the drawing board, to figure out whether it should step up there, or hold the line.

The Islamic State affiliate in Mozambique, Islamic State Mozambique Province (ISMP), which is already resurgent, could re-emerge strongly, blowing back directly on Tanzania, and lifting the fortunes of extremist violent groups in the East, Horn, and Central African jihadist loop.

If the ANC had been a better manager, and not discredited itself as a thieving cabal, we wouldn’t be here. On the positive side, now the economists and political science professors who teach about the dire consequences of corruption don’t have to quote old examples from Asia, Latin America and Cold War Africa. They have South Africa, freshly minted, arriving in new packaging.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. X: @cobbo3