South Africans don't elect the President. Here is how they vote

Wednesday May 29 2024

People vote at Mponegele Primary School during the South African elections in Seshego, Limpopo Province on May 29, 2024. REUTERS


South Africans went to the country’s seventh democratic general elections since apartheid ended in 1994. The elections include a vote for members of the National Assembly and state legislatures.


The National Assembly will then choose the President for the next five years. Usually, the President comes from the party with majority members in Parliament. It has been the African National Congress (ANC) since 1994 even though there have been five Presidents since.

Exactly 30 years ago, the late Nelson Mandela was elected president, with the ANC winning 62.5 percent of the 400 seats in the National Assembly.

Yet after three decades of dominance, the ruling ANC faces its most difficult election yet, needing 50 percent of the National Assembly to maintain its parliamentary majority. In the past, that percentage was almost guaranteed. But after recorded drops in successive elections over the past two decades, it has become a battle.



With election day declared a public holiday, at least 23,292 polling stations opened at 7 am local time (GMT +2) and will remain open until 9 pm to facilitate voting.

In the build-up to the elections, the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) confirmed that 27.79 million South Africans aged 18 and above had registered for the polls this year. The number of registered voters increased from 26.74 million in the last polls held in 2019.

South Africa follows a proportional voting system in which parties and candidates compete for 400 seats in the National Assembly.


For the first time, independent candidates are in the running for the elections. In light of this change, voters are being issued three ballots instead of two, each needing a choice of one party or candidate.

Voters are casting two ballots to choose the National Assembly and one to select members of the provincial legislature in each of South Africa’s nine provinces. 

The IEC cleared 14,889 candidates, including 70 political parties and 11 independents, to contest 887 seats in the vote.


South Africans do not directly vote for the head of State. Instead, they elect the 400 members of the National Assembly, who, in turn, vote for the President. President Ramaphosa needed 201 votes to ascend to the presidency in 2019. The 400 members of Parliament are drawn from 14 political parties.

The ANC won 230 seats, accounting for 57.5 percent, while the Democratic Alliance (DA) won 84 seats (21 percent). The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) held 44 seats (11 percent) with Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) winning 14 seats (3.5 percent). 

This means that if the ANC secures more than 50 percent of the seats, President Ramaphosa, 71, will be automatically re-elected to serve his second and final five-year term.

If no party reaches the 50 percent threshold, a coalition government will have to be formed. 

Parliamentary powers

The National Assembly alone may remove the President, for "a serious violation of the Constitution or the law", "serious misconduct" or "inability to perform the functions of office". A two-thirds majority is required. 

The ANC has, twice, removed elected Presidents - Thabo Mbeki in 2009, and Jacob Zuma in 2018. 

Mr Mbeki agreed to step down after the ruling party formally requested his resignation over allegations he misused his power. Nine years later, the party also voted to "recall" Mr Zuma after trying for weeks to get him to resign following allegations of corruption.

Three horses

The ANC, the DA and the EFF are the three most prominent players in the 2024 election. Although 82-year-old Zuma is legally barred from standing for Parliament due to a jail sentence, his party uMkhonto We Sizwe’s emergence has disrupted the political landscape, testifying to his enduring influence, particularly in his home province, KwaZulu-Natal.

ANC – Cyril Ramaphosa (71)

Out of nine provinces, the ANC is known to dominate in seven. The other two—the Western Cape and KwaZulu Natal (KZN)—are strongholds of the DA and, most recently, MK (uMkhonto We Sizwe). KZN is Mr Zuma’s home province, while the DA has always dominated in the Western Cape.

DA – John Steenhuisen (48)

The country's official opposition, the DA, won 55.45 percent of the vote in the Western Cape. The capital, Cape Town, stands out as South Africa’s best-run city. 

EFF – Julius Malema (43)

The youthful EFF has made strides in the last two elections and could still garner a significant number of votes.

Read: Who will be president of South Africa after May 29 polls?

When to know the outcome

The IEC typically begins releasing partial results within hours of polls closing. In the 2019 elections – held on May 8 – results were announced three days later on May 11. In all likelihood, verifying results may take longer this time around, with one more ballot to count. The results could be announced over the weekend.