South African Elections

Hello all! I’ve been MIA for about a month and a bit as I’ve been working on final essays for grad school as well as travelling to South Africa to work on my dissertation with the African Centre for Migration and Society. There is a parliamentary election in South Africa today (May 8th), and I thought in order to process what’s happening myself, I would write a blog post on the candidates, issues, and expected outcomes of the vote. Understand that I am not a local, so I am explaining what I see around Joburg and what people are saying about the election.


South African parliamentary elections are happening today, May 8th. The party that is likely to win has been in power since the first parliamentary vote in 1994. This is the ANC, or the African National Congress, which has President Cyril Ramaphosa at its helm. He took over last year when Jacob Zuma was forced to resign over corruption scandals. The ANC is now pushing anti-corruption and reform agendas.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is the best opposition candidate to beat the ANC, but is only expected to win about 22% of the vote. This is no surprise, as in 2018, 62% of the party was white, and 67% were male. This is in comparison to the South African population, which is 79% black. They have had much criticism around their demographic makeup and they are unlikely to win if they do not start to represent more of the population. According to their website, the DA is focused on reforming the police, creating fair access to jobs, and securing borders.

The third main party is the Economic Freedom Fighters, formed in 2013 by a former ANC member, Julius Malema. This party is leftist, and promotes controversial policies like nationalizing mines and banks, and expropriation of land for redistribution. They are only expected to win about 10% of the vote.

In recent years, the ANC has had several corruption scandals, which has meant that people have seen the current President as a good change. According to a survey done by Ipsos, it seems like 62% of South Africans think that President Ramaphosa is doing his job well. In this election, there appears to be a difference between the sentiment on local and federal government, as well as a distinction between the institution and the person leading it. In the 1990s, Ramaphosa was seen as a potential successor to Mandela. However, now the economic and social problems of South Africa are difficult and complex, and citizens are angry with the government in general. The wealth gap between the poor and the rich is immense, and something has to change.

Something has to change, but the ANC is expected to win between 54% and 61% of the vote. With many voters boycotting the election, the other parties are unlikely to win a majority. Black South Africans do not trust the DA (see the above demographics of the party), so many will unhappily vote for the ANC.

So what will happen?

Not much, according to locals. I’ve spoken to several people who say they don’t think anything will change. Yesterday, I had a conversation about protests and riots. There are protests and boycotts happening in rural areas over grievances that have not been addressed. In Limpopo, a municipal demarcation dispute has led to arrests already today. But the riots apparently will mainly be in rural areas so they won’t be immediately visible to those who live in cities.

According to Nic Spaull, director of Funda Wande (a home language literacy organization) and senior researcher in the economics department at Stellenbosch University:

“In three days thousands of voters are likely to “hold-their-noses-and-vote-Ramaphosa” knowing full well that one votes for a party and not an individual, fully cognisant that their vote will contribute to large numbers of murderous, corrupt and inept ANC politicians making it into Parliament as a result. Yet they will do it anyway. Not because they do not know that the DA exists, or what its policies are, or even its track record in the municipalities it governs. It is simply that they do not trust the DA”

-Nic Spaull, ‘The Incredible Whiteness of Being (The DA)’

The ANC will win in general, but it may lose control of various provinces, including Gauteng, where Johannesburg is located. Mayor of Joburg Herman Mashaba said that if South Africans vote for Ramaphosa, within two years they will want his predecessor Zuma back.

The disenchantment is real; an Uber driver only mentioned the effect the elections would have on his business, and nothing about political consequences.

We will see what happens on Saturday when the results are confirmed.


Affiliate Disclaimer

Elizabeth Hampson is a visiting researcher at the African Centre for Migration and Society at Wits University in South Africa, but the views expressed in this personal blog are hers alone and do not represent the views of the ACMS. She does not receive funding from any organization that would benefit from this article.


Bibliography & Further Readings

AFP. “Under New Leader, ANC Faces Frustrated S.African Voters.” Eyewitness News, 6 May 2019,

DA. “Why the DA?” Democratic Alliance,

Head, Tom. “Ramaphosa vs Maimane vs Malema: Who Is the ‘Most-Liked’ Leader in SA?” The South African, 7 May 2019,

“Home | Funda Wande.” FundaWande,

Mabena, Sipho. “Why Black Voters Feel Alienated by the DA.” The Citizen, 7 May 2019,

Meredith, Sam. “South Africa Election: Everything You Need to Know about the Vote.” CNBC, CNBC, 7 May 2019,

Mvumvu, Zingisa. “If You Vote for Ramaphosa, within 18 Months You’ll Be Asking for Zuma to Come Back: Mashaba.” TimesLIVE, TimesLIVE, 14 Apr. 2019,

The South African Digital Editors. “Elections 2019 Latest News: Protests Flare up, Issues with Ballots – Live Updates.” The South African, 8 May 2019,

Spaull, Nic. “Op-Ed: The Incredible Whiteness of Being (the DA).” Daily Maverick, Daily Maverick, 7 May 2019,

Toit, Pieter du. “The Dead Hand of Jacob Zuma That’s Throttling Cyril Ramaphosa.” News24, 8 May 2019,

Wade. “Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).” South African History Online, 28 Mar. 2019,

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