The End of the ANC’s Dominance: South Africa’s Journey to a New Political Era

Foto di Marco Longari – AFP

by Bruno Venditto, Researcher at the Italian National Council of Research, Institute of Mediterranean Studies (ISMed-CNR)

The 29 May 2024 general elections in South Africa called nearly 28 million voters casting their ballots to elect 400 members of the National Assembly[1]. Nelson Mandela’s former party, the African National Congress (ANC), which has been the ruling party since the end of apartheid in 1994, faced significant challenges in the election, losing its parliamentary majority for the first time in its history. The party’s support has been eroding over the years due to various factors, including corruption, particularly under the administration of former President Jacob Zuma, scandals, and internal dissent, often resulting in a fragmentation of the political landscape[2]. The party’s failure to deliver on its promises of a better life caused a loss of trust among the population and voters’ disappointment.

Such dissatisfaction manifested in the low voter turnout, at just 58.6%, which marks the lowest since the end of apartheid and has significantly impacted the election results. Although the ANC’s support is eroded, the party remains the largest. In contrast, populist parties like the newly formed Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) Party have gained ground, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) made marginal gains, and the Democratic Alliance (DA) performance was partially disappointing.

This significant shift in the political landscape of South Africa marks a new era for the country, as the ANC must now form a coalition government to remain in power. Such a change could lead to a more unstable and unpredictable political environment, as parties with different agendas must work together. Considering the low voter turnout, the new government will also face significant challenges in restoring trust in the political process and addressing the concerns of citizens who feel their voices are not being heard.

It is worth briefly analyzing the main parties’ performances to understand the possible scenario[3].

The ANC emerged as the leader in the latest election, but only by a narrow margin, securing 40.2% of the votes and 159 seats out of 400 in the National Assembly (tab 1).


Table 1 Election results African National Congress, 2024

1994 1999 2004 2009 2014 2019 2024
Votes 12,237,655 10,601,330 10,880,915 11,650,748 11,436,921 10,026,475 6,453,720
Percentage 62.65% 66.35% 69.69% 65.90% 62.15% 57.50% 40.18%
Seats 252 266 279 264 249 230 159

Source: Author elaboration from South Africa Electoral Commission website

These results will have significant implications for the party and its leadership, raising questions about the leadership of President Cyril Ramaphosa and its ability to work hand in hand with the leader of the MK party, who has indicated his willingness to work with the ANC, but not while Mr. Ramaphosa leads it. The poor results also question the ANC’s ability to address the country’s pressing issues, such as corruption, unemployment, and crime (Newton & Maseko, 2024).

On the other hand, all opposition parties, but mainly the DA, the EFF, and the MK have capitalized on the ANC’s decline, reducing the gap in terms of votes and parliamentary seats.

Specifically, the DA, led by John Steenhuisen, a center-right party known for its pro-business agenda and western sympathies, which have made it to gain popularity among national and international investors, trailed in second place with 21.8% of the votes and 87 seats in the National Assembly (tab 2).

Table 2 Election results Democratic Alliance, 2024

  1994 1999 2004 2009 2014 2019 2024
Votes 1,931,201 2,945,829 4,091,584 3,622,531 3,500,675
Percentage     12.37% 16.66% 22.23% 20.77% 21.80%
Seats 50 67 89 84 87

Source: Author elaboration from South Africa Electoral Commission website

The party, however, failed to increase its support base significantly and performed below expectations compared to the 2014 election, which only showed a slight improvement from the 2019 election, where it secured 21% of the votes and 84 seats.

The DA’s performance was particularly disappointing in the Western Cape province, where it has traditionally been the dominant party, managing to retain its majority in the province, but with a slight decrease in support to 55.29% from 55.45% in 2019. The party’s failure to make significant gains in the election and its inability to fully capitalize on the ANC’s decline raise questions about its strategy and its lack of connection with most South Africans, particularly those living in poverty and facing economic hardship.

Equally, the EFF, a far-left communist and black nationalist party founded in 2013 by expelled former African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) president Julius Malema, made marginal gains. Still, the party’s performance was not as strong as expected, resulting in reduced seats in the parliament. The party, however, remains a significant force in South African politics, with a strong presence in several provinces. Still, EFF’s policies are often seen as radical and divisive, which can make it challenging for the party to build coalitions with other political parties. Its manifesto includes a highly controversial topic in South African politics such as the nationalization of mines and banks and expropriation of land without compensation (Economic Freedom Fighters, 2024), which can be a major obstacle to forming a national unity government.

Table 3 Election results Economic Freedom Fighters, 2024

1994 1999 2004 2009 2014 2019 2024
Votes 1,169,259 1,882,480 1,528,349
Percentage 6.35% 10.80% 9.52%
Seats 25 44 39

Source: Author elaboration from South Africa Electoral Commission website

On the other hand, the newly formed uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) Party, led by former ANC President Jacob Zuma, has gained significant support, particularly in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces, and can be argued to be the real winner of the election. Although MK party did not achieve an outright majority as Zuma hoped, it has achieved a remarkable result, considering it was launched only in December 2023. The party secured 14.58% of the national vote and 58 seats in the National Assembly (tab 4), winning the most votes in Zuma’s home province KwaZulu-Natal.

Table 4 Election results uMkhonto weSizwe, 2024

1994 1999 2004 2009 2014 2019 2024
Votes 2,342,622
Percentage 14.59%
Seats 58

Source: Author elaboration from South Africa Electoral Commission website

The MK party’s performance has the potential to shake the foundations of South African politics, as it has emerged as a significant force in the country’s political landscape (Fogel B. 2024). The party’s success is derived from several factors, such as its ability to attract voters who are dissatisfied with the ANC’s performance and, on the other hand, its appeal to the Zulu ethnic group. The party’s left-populist agenda, which includes policies such as nationalizing land and banks (uMkhonto weSizwe 2024), has resonated well with many voters who felt that the ANC has failed to address their needs and concerns.

The party’s success has also raised questions about the future of the ANC and its leadership, deeply eroding the ANC’s consensus, increasing political fragmentation, and making it more difficult for any party to achieve a majority.


The way forward

The 2024 election results have significant implications for the future of the country. The ruling ANC failed to secure a majority and will need to form a coalition with one or more opposition parties to regain government control. Given the number of seats each party won and the threshold of 201 seats required to form a government, there are a few possible options for a coalition government.

The ANC could form a coalition with the center-right DA; with 246 seats, this would be a substantial majority. The DA’s pro-business agenda would ensure support from international investors and would be looked at positively by many countries in the global North. However, a coalition with the DA risks alienating large sections of the ANC, who would be angry at governing with a perceived white party. Referring to a potential alliance with the DA, the EFF leader, Julius Malema, has warned against coalitions that reinforce white supremacy (Chothia, F, 2024). The MK and EFF voters would then see this coalition as a continuation of the status quo, which would not address the economic and social challenges faced by the majority of South Africans and further erode the party consensus. Furthermore, an ANC-DA alliance would be challenging due to significant philosophical differences between the two parties regarding the role of government, the country’s international stand, and the need to address economic and social challenges.

Another potential coalition option for the ANC would be to ally with Jacob Zuma’s MK party, which secured 14.6% of the votes and 58 seats in the National Assembly (tab 4). The ANC and MK would have 217 seats, just short of a majority. Bringing in the EFF, which shares similar views on economic policies with the MK party, could further strengthen such a coalition. With the EFF’s 9.52% of the votes and 38 seats (tab 3), the ANC-MK-EFF coalition would have a total of 256 seats, a comfortable majority.

However, the animosity between Zuma and Ramaphosa, who replaced him as president, is a significant barrier to this coalition. The exchanges of words during the election campaign among the leaders would require identifying a different president from the current Ramaphosa to avoid further tensions. The EFF’s demands for a constitutional amendment for land expropriation without compensation and MK’s request for an unfettered parliamentary system where the parliament is not limited by a written constitution (Campbel, 2016)[4], are significant obstacles. The DA has warned that such a coalition could lead to potential ethnic and racial conflict (Clothia, 2024).

Despite these challenges, a coalition between the ANC, MK, and EFF could provide a strong majority government that would be able to implement its economic agenda. However, such a coalition would ignite the markets’ wrath with their demands for the nationalization of major industries. It also risks losing the support of those in the ANC who believe in the Constitution and, in the case of MK, are hostile to Zuma and Zulu nationalism. Furthermore, the parties would need to overcome their differences and find a way to work together effectively to address the country’s pressing challenges.

Against those odds, alternatively, the ANC could form a minority government with the support of other opposition parties, such as the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) or the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP). In such a government, the parties, without joining the executive branch, will vote with the ANC to appoint a president, and the ANC will negotiate with them to pass legislation through the government. Or propose a government of National Unity. Such an arrangement is a failure compared to a formal coalition, allowing parties to support the ANC on key votes while retaining their political and ideological agendas. Both are moving further into uncharted waters for South African politics, and they both present their challenges, particularly the prospect of a precarious government in a perpetual state of gridlock.

As per the South African Constitution, the party with the most votes has two weeks from the result confirmation to form a new government (Akinwotu & Bartlett, 2024). The ANC, therefore, needs to form a coalition government with one or more opposition parties to remain in power. At the time of this writing, the most plausible outcome appears to be the formation of a National Unity government, especially after Zuma’s U-turn on his initial stand not to engage in talk with the ANC for any coalition due to the involvement of the DA (Nkosi, 2024) seems to be the creation of a National Unity government, but regardless of which option the ANC pursues, forming a new government will be a complex and challenging process. Additionally, the talks will take place against the backdrop of a struggling economy plagued by negative per capita growth, high unemployment, poverty, inequality, and a heavily indebted government. On a GDP per capita basis, the country is poorer than a decade ago. The official unemployment is 33.9 percent, grappling with many socio-economic challenges (Nantulya, 2024). Nationally scheduled blackouts, colloquially referred to as “load shedding”, have become a routine experience for many citizens, and the provision of essential government services has deteriorated significantly.

If none of the mentioned electoral outcomes come to fruition, South Africa may be compelled to hold a supplementary election. This scenario would be particularly disconcerting, as it would signify a failure to effectively address the pressing issues that have contributed to the current political impasse. Politics is a realm of surprises, where the impossible can happen overnight. This unpredictability is rooted in the complex interplay of factors that shape political outcomes, including the dynamics of public opinion, the actions of political leaders, and the unforeseen consequences of events. It is also possible that the current election outcome could lead to a more inclusive and representative government that better addresses the needs of all South Africans.


Akinwotu E. & Bartlett, K. (2024). In an historic election South Africa’s ANC loses majority for the first time. NPR,

Fogel B. (2024), Who will govern South Africa? (The Nation, 4 June)

Newton, L & Maseko N. (2024) South Africa president faces up to poor poll results, BBC news, .

Nantulya, P. (2024).Aouth Africa’s seismic political shift, Africa Center for Strategic Study.

Economic Freedom Fighters, (2024). Our land, & jobs now. Stop loadshedding. 2024 Election manifesto. EFF,

uMkhonto weSizwe (2024) The People Mandate.

Nkosi, N. (2024) MK Party does U-turn on ANC coalition partnership talks,the%20involvement%20of%20the%20DA.

Suri R. (2010) Bills of Rights in Functioning Parliamentary Democracies: Kantian, Consequentialist and Institutionalist Scepticisms. Melbourne University Law Review 592

Campbell, J. (2016) Constitutional or Parliamentary Democracy in South Africa, Africa in Transition

Clothia, F. (2024) The ANC dilemma which will determine South Africa future, BBC News,

South Africa Electoral Commission

Appendix 1 Parties’ seat allocation election 1994-2024

1994 1999 2004 2009 2014 2019 2024
African National Congress
Votes 12,237,655 10,601,330 10,880,915 11,650,748 11,436,921 10,026,475 6,453,720
Percentage 62.65% 66.35% 69.69% 65.90% 62.15% 57.50% 40.18%
Seats 252 266 279 264 249 230 159
National Party*
Votes 3,983,690 1,098,215 250,272
Percentage 20.39% 6.87% 1.60%
Seats 82 28 7
Inkatha Freedom Party
Votes 2,058,294 1,527,337 1,088,664 804,260 441,854 588,839 618,021
Percentage 10.54% 8.58% 6.97% 4.55% 2.40% 3.38% 3.85%
Seats 43 34 28 18 10 14 17
Vryheidsfront \ Freedom Front
Votes 424,555 127,217 139,465 146,796 165,715 414,864 191,862
Percentage 2.17% 0.80% 0.89% 0.83% 0.90% 2.38% 1.19%
Seats 9 3 4 4 4 10 6
Democratic Party
Votes 338,426 1,527,337 1,931,201 2,945,829
Percentage 1.73% 9.56% 12.37% 16.66%
Seats 7 38
Pan African Congress of Azania
Votes 243,478 113,125 117,792 48,530 37,784 32,677 36,690
Percentage 1.25% 0.71% 0.75% 0.27% 0.21% 0.19% 0.23%
Seats 5 3 3 1 1 1 1
African Christian Democratic Party
Votes 88,104 228,975 269,765 142,658 104,039 146,262  96,479
Percentage 0.45% 1.43% 1.73% 0.81% 0.57% 0.84% 0.60%
Seats 2 6 7 3 3 4 3
United Democratic Movement
Votes 546,790 355,717 149,680 184,636 8,030 78,391
Percentage 3.42% 2.28% 0.85% 1.00% 0.45% 0.49%
Seats 14 9 4 4 2 3
United Christian Democratic Party
Votes 125,280 113,512 66,086
Percentage 0.78% 0.73% 0.37%
Seats 3 3 2
Independent Democrats
Votes 257,824 162,915
Percentage 1.65% 0.92%
Seats 7 4
Minority Front
Votes 48,277 55,267 43,474
Percentage 0.30% 0.35% 0.25%
Seats 1 2 1
Azanian People’s Organisation
Votes 27,257 39,116 38,245
Percentage 0.17% 0.25% 0.22%
Seats 1 1 1
Congress of the People
Votes 1,311,027 123,235 47,461
Percentage 7.42% 0.67% 0.27%
Seats 30 3 2
Democratic Alliance
Votes 1,931,201 2,945,829 4,091,584 3,622,531 3,500,675
Percentage 12.37% 16.66% 22.23% 20.77% 21.80%
Seats 50 67 89 84 87
Economic Freedom Fighters
Votes 1,169,259 1,882,480 1,528,349
Percentage 6.35% 10.80% 9.52%
Seats 25 44 39
National Freedom Party
Votes 288,742 61,220
Percentage 1.57% 0.35%
Seats 6 2
African People Convention
Votes 35,867 30,676
Percentage 0.20% 0.17%
Seats 1 1
Agang South Africa
Votes 52,350
Percentage 0.28%
Seats 2
African Independent Congress
Votes 97,642 48,107
Percentage 0.53% 0.28%
Seats 3 2
African Transformation Movement
Votes 76,830 63,502
Percentage 0.44% 0.40%
Seats 2 2
Votes 70,408 29,486
Percentage 0.40% 0.18%
Seats 2 1
Al Jama-Ah
Votes 31,468 39,041
Percentage 0.18% 0.24%
Seats 1 2
Umkhonto  Wesizwe
Votes 2,342,622
Percentage 14.59%
Seats 58
Patriotic Alliance
Votes 330,225
Percentage 2.06%
Seats 9
Votes 218,709
Percentage 1.36%
Seats 6
Rise Mzansi
Votes 67,853
Percentage 0.42%
Seats 2
Build One South Africa with Mmusi Maimane
Votes 65,792
Percentage 0.41%
Seats 2
National Coloured Congress
Votes 37,410
Percentage 0.23%
Seats 2
United Africans Transformation
Votes 35,654
Percentage 0.22%
Seats 1
Abolition Income Tax and Usury Party
Votes 10,611
Percentage 0.07%
Seats 1
Federal Alliance
Votes 86,704
Percentage 0.54%
Seats 1
Afrikaner Eenheidsbeweging
Votes 46,292
Percentage 0.29%
Seats 1
Total seats 400 400 400 400 400 400 400

Source: Author elaboration from South Africa Electoral Commission website

* 1999 and 2004 presented as New National Party

[1] The South African electoral system uses a closed-list proportional system with no electoral threshold, meaning that parties are allocated seats in proportion to the votes they receive. The system is designed to ensure that smaller parties have a voice in parliament and can influence policy decisions.

[2] With 56 registered parties the 2024 election saw the highest number of contestants.

[3] Annex 1 provides a synoptic table of South African elections results in the period 1994-2024

[4] In an unfettered parliamentary democracy, the government is accountable only to the parliament, and the parliament is not accountable to any other institution or the people directly. and its decisions are not subject to judicial review or other forms of oversight and can make laws, amend or repeal existing laws, and exercise executive powers without any significant constraints, (Suri, 2010). This can lead to a concentration of power in the hands of the parliament, potentially undermining individual rights and freedoms.

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