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TematicheAfrica SubsaharianaEchoes of democracy: the South African ballot

Echoes of democracy: the South African ballot


The general elections in South Africa in May 2024 marked a crucial moment in the country’s political history. The African National Congress (ANC), in power since 1994, experienced a significant loss of support, obtaining 45% of the votes, the lowest in its history. This decline is attributed to the growing public dissatisfaction with the party’s corruption and poor economic management. The Democratic Alliance (DA) increased its vote share to 30%, solidifying its role as the main opposition party. The DA’s strategy of focusing on good governance and transparency resonated with urban voters and the middle class. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), led by Julius Malema, maintained a strong base of support among young people and rural communities, securing 15% of the votes. Their radical proposals for land reform and nationalization of natural resources continue to provoke debate.

Voter turnout was 68%, slightly lower than the previous elections in 2019. This decline reflects growing apathy and disillusionment among voters, particularly the youth. The elections highlighted increasing polarization between urban and rural areas. Cities, especially Johannesburg and Cape Town, saw a rise in support for the DA, while rural areas continued to back the ANC and the EFF.

Political volatility has impacted financial markets. The South African rand experienced a slight decline immediately after the elections, reflecting uncertainties about future political stability. Structural issues such as high unemployment, poverty, and inequality remain central to the political debate. Political parties must address these challenges to maintain social and economic stability. Unemployment stands at 32%, and GDP per capita has fallen from $8800 in 2012 to $6190 in 2023. Additionally, 7% of white South Africans still own 72% of the country’s agricultural land. South Africa needs policies to reduce economic inequality inherited from apartheid, a policy of racial segregation established in 1948 and in effect until 1991, and also applied to neighboring Namibia.

This could be achieved through measures such as wealth redistribution, increasing the minimum wage, and creating stable jobs. South Africa must invest in education and training to ensure all citizens have equal development opportunities. Installing infrastructure like roads, water, and sanitation in rural areas and townships can help reduce social divisions. This could improve living conditions and increase opportunities for citizens. Creating a more transparent and participatory governance system can increase trust in politics and reduce social tensions. Recognizing and valuing cultural differences can help reduce social divisions by promoting cultural diversity and creating opportunities for all communities in the country. In this regard, spatial segregation remains a persistent problem in South Africa. Reducing spatial segregation through the creation of mixed areas and promoting social integration can help reduce social divisions. A sustainable economy that fosters local development and economic growth could help reduce social divisions by promoting sustainable agriculture, local industry, and tourism.

The 2024 elections in South Africa take place in a global geopolitical context characterized by increasing tensions and complex dynamics. Globally, there is a polarization between major powers such as the United States, China, and Russia. South Africa, as a member of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), might seek to strengthen its alliances with these countries to balance Western influence and promote a multipolar world order. South Africa will need to ensure economic stability to attract foreign investments, while post-election economic policies will be crucial in determining its ability to respond to these global challenges and promote inclusive growth. Lastly, the issue of climate change is becoming increasingly central to global political agendas. With its rich natural resources and environmental challenges, South Africa will need to address pressures to adopt sustainable development policies and reduce carbon emissions. South Africa’s international relations, particularly with the European Union and other Western powers, could be influenced by its environmental policies and commitment to international climate agreements. The political and strategic choices the country makes in the coming years will impact not only its development but also the role South Africa will play on the global stage.

Jakkie Cilliers, head of South Africa Futures and Innovation in Pretoria, asserts that “to improve living conditions, South Africans must set aside ideology and other divisions. A divided country grows slowly.”

Beatrice Nicolini

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