Recent political unrest paints an uneasy picture for South Africa’s future, according to a new report by the Institute for Security Studies.
South Africa may face a political turning point by the end of 2017, as the National Confernce of the ANC stands to determine the way forwards for the country.
Despite slowly declining support numbers, the ANC is still by far the dominant political party in the country, and thus much of the country’s future will hinge on decisions made by the party in the years ahead.
In the past week – and for some time now – unrest has sprung up both within the ANC and among the populous, pointing to a growing divide among the country’s leaders. This has put economists and global investors on edge, and the country’s economy under scrutiny.
Traditionalists – rural, black nationalist, socially conservative, loyal to Jacob Zuma, dominated by Zulus, strong commitment to a centralised state, redistributive policies and not constitutionalists.
Reformers – social democrats, typically urban, include larger segment of born-free voters with jobs, multi-ethnic, believe in a mixed economy and the importance of inclusive economic growth, Gauteng ANC and others.
According to the ISS, looking ahead to 2024, with the current political landscape as a backdrop, South Africa faces three future scenarios.
“The first scenario is an uninspiring and business-as-usual ‘Bafana Bafana’ scenario, an alarming downward scenario called ‘Nation Divided’, where the traditionalist camp within the ruling party holds sway, and a desirable ‘Mandela Magic’ scenario, where reformists triumph and begin to address some of the country’s most pressing challenges,” the group said.
“South Africa is a complex country and, just as few foresaw the transition from white minority control to democracy some three decades ago, we do not claim the ability to predict the future. These are turbulent times for the country, with the potential for divergent outcomes.”
According to the ISS, this is the current political landscape, as at the end of the 2014 National elections:
In the Bafana Bafana scenario, the South African economy remains firmly stuck in a middle-income trap, accentuated by policy vacillation, investor uncertainty, poor political management and bad implementation.
Traditionalists and reformers are at each others throats within the ANC in an ongoing tussle for control over state resources.
This outcome will be reached if South Africa stays on its current path.
“President Zuma is most likely forced to step down as president of South Africa once a new president of the ANC is elected at the ANC’s National Conference at the end of 2017 (to avoid a ‘two centres of power’ problem), and is replaced by a compromise slate of traditionalists and reformers,” the ISS said.
“Given the burden he has become to the ANC, the early departure of Jacob Zuma
as president of both the ANC and South Africa would point the country towards
the Mandela Magic scenario,” it said.
Various options could lead to Mandela Magic. The first is that the reformers emerge victorious from the December 2017 ANC National Conference and adopt policies that allow for a restructuring of the economy to unleash pent-up growth potential.
Alternatively a 2018 split in the ANC could result in the formation of a new party of interesting alliances (particularly in Gauteng) that could sharply change national and provincial election outcomes in 2019.
This outcome will be reached if there is a rapid transition to a new leadership dominated by a reformist grouping – it has the greatest potential economic and developmental benefits for the country, and the most positive election results for the ANC, the ISS said.
“Mandela Magic sees support for the EFF eventually drop off on the understanding that many EFF supporters’ votes were actually a protest vote against the current leadership of the ANC,” the group said.
“In addition, ANC voters considering voting for the DA (particularly in Gauteng) may be persuaded to give the ANC the benefit of the doubt under a reformist and revived commitment to leadership that echoes Mandela’s vision of a rainbow nation.”
The Nation Divided scenario is one where the traditionalists triumph during the December 2017 ANC National Conference, possibly resulting in a split in the party and the emergence of coalition politics much earlier than in any other scenario.
In the long run, this is the worst-case scenario for the ANC and the country (which experiences sustained low growth).
This outcome will be reached if the ANC extends the mandate of Zuma as president of the ANC and the country to 2019 (by aligning the term of office of the president of the ANC with that of the president of the country) or if the traditionalists triumph in December 2017 by electing a NEC and top six who are committed to a vision of growth through redistribution.
“This is, in effect, an agenda where the ANC seeks to emulate some of the populist
policies espoused by the EFF – aggressive policies of redress and black economic empowerment that prioritizes redistribution above growth,” the ISS said.
Bumps along the way
Before these 2024 outcomes are reached, a number of key events will take place, all of which could fundamentally alter South Africa’s path, the ISS notes.
- The municipal government elections scheduled for August 2016;
- A possible international investment rating downgrade towards the latter part of 2016 or early in 2017;
- Ongoing muted economic growth;
- The election of a new president of the African National Congress (ANC) in December 2017 (or earlier, should President Jacob Zuma step down in response to the growing number of calls for him to do so).
- The national and provincial elections scheduled for 2019 and 2024 are also two points at which we’ll see begin to see the impact of generational change on voter behaviour as the country becomes better educated and more urban.
According to the ISS, however, in every scenario things will get worse before they get better. Notably, levels of political violence will increase leading up to the 2016 elections, as well as ahead of and immediately after the 2017 ANC conference.
In the Mandela Magic scenario, reformers would likely be able to mediate, and a more unified government will lead to prosperity by 2024, mitigating the need for violence.
With the Bafana Bafana scenario, will see levels of violence continue as they have, with more civil protests and political killings around elections.
In the Nation Divided scenario, violence between parties, especially the ANC and EFF, could escalate as both vie for power.
According to the ISS analysis, the most likely scenario for South Africa is the Bafana Bafana scenario.
“The key issue determining the future of the ANC (and the country) is the outcome of the factional battle between the reformists and traditionalists within the party,” it said.