Women supporters of the EFF march in Gauteng.
Although the ANC may receive a pretty resounding 59% according to the latest polls, the substantial growth of the populists (EFF) at the expense of the centrists (DA), sends a clear message to Luthuli House, writes Daniel Silke.
While opinion polls in South Africa have
often produced inaccurate results, the eNCA/Markdata poll released this past
weekend is – despite its possible inaccuracies – sobering and disturbing. It
presents one possible scenario outcome of the May 8 poll and a resulting set of
The headline figures of the poll conducted
with over 3 058 respondents nation-wide puts the ANC at 59%, the DA at 21.3%
and the EFF at 12.1%. This is close to, but different enough from the South
African Institute of Race Relations’ last poll which put the ANC closer to 55%,
the DA around 23% and the EFF at 11%. Given a margin-of-error at around 3%, these
two polls do confirm clear trend-lines now apparent in the election outcomes.
For the purposes of this article only, if
we take the eNCA/Markdata numbers as the final result, South Africa will wake
up on May 9 to a new political dynamic. At 59%, the ANC will have reversed its
recent downward spiral in terms of electoral support and will be back in the
driving seat. With 21%, the DA will suffer its first decline in support since
1994 and at 12%, the EFF will be able to claim a virtual 100% increase in its
support levels since 2014.
But the figures tell another story too. A
weakening of the liberal opposition and a strengthening of populists with a
radical platform will alter the debate and steer a new discourse back to
radical economic transformation.
With the EFF already able to lead the
debate on land expropriation, a double-in-size growth for the party will ratify
that stand and strategy and put immense pressure on the ANC for a
constitutional change that might well be more uncomfortable than originally
With the momentum then clearly with the
EFF, it will build on its ‘pressure-point’ style of lobbying and will be
emboldened that its own re-racialising of South African politics can be further
At 21%, the result for the DA would be
disastrous. Although not a wipe-out as was the case when the party won 1.7% in
1994, it would signify a backwards step, a failure of leadership and a
rejection by the very constituency it has so courted in recent years.
Psychologically, a growing EFF and
declining DA will have its own set of dynamics on party moral, participation
and fundraising. The old cliché of ‘nothing succeeds like success’ is very
relevant for political parties. Voters want a winning team and they want
strength to influence events. A depressed DA will therefore face a herculean
task of recovery.
But for all the nuances within the
Opposition, the real effects of a rising EFF will be felt within the governing
ANC. Although it may receive a pretty resounding 59%, the substantial growth of
the populists (EFF) at the expense of the centrists (DA), sends a clear message
into Luthuli House.
The electorate will have shifted to a more
radical base. And, those within the ANC still sympathetic – and empathetic – to
the message of Julius Malema will call for greater synergies between the two
policy conflicts with Ramaphosa/Mboweni axis of power
Gains by the EFF therefore run the risk of
destabilising the ANC from within. Its policy platform on state-owned enterprises
conflict directly with the Ramaphosa/Mboweni axis of power. Given that Eskom’s
unbundling process (and larger restructuring) will be key to its (and South
Africa’s) economic security, the Ramaphosa faction will find it tougher-going
to convince his own party of the important (and more market-oriented) structural
shifts that need to be made.
A strong EFF will therefore make Ramaphosa’s
policy shifts even more complex. And with ANC caucus members increasingly
uneasy about further electoral erosion at local government level in just 24
months, the ANC might descend into yet another debilitating internal struggle.
It was always going to be tough for
Ramaphosa to convince his own decision-making bodies of the need for economic
policy change but with an EFF surge, it will become tougher.
Significantly the weekend, other than the
Markdata poll, Deputy President David Mabuza very deliberately tweeted out a
very comradely picture of himself and Malema. The sentiments of the tweet
suggested a commonality of purpose despite being in different political
By choosing to tweet this image, Mabuza is
indicating a preference amongst the major opposition groups – perhaps paving
the way for a future alliance over the expropriation amendment, provincial
pacts where coalitions are needed or even something more akin to an eventual
re-integration of the EFF into the ANC.
Of course, Mabuza’s apparent affection for Malema
is less apparent amongst the Ramaphosa faction. Trevor Manuel is suing the EFF
leader. Pravin Gordhan is locked in a war of words with the Red Berets and
moderates at Treasury will shiver in their boots at the thought of greater EFF
by populist drift
Conversely to this scenario is a decline of
the DA – less able to extend its influence into new markets and usurped by a
growing populist drift. Its more market-friendly policies will be on the
back-foot as statist economics from the EFF becomes more pronounced in the
public domain. And, it runs the risk of a debilitating leadership battle should
its support decline.
But the real rub will be within the ANC. It
will pit the reformers with an understanding of confidence-building market
dynamics and global finance against the populists and those keen to foster
A stronger EFF will pry open the fissures
already apparent within the ANC and can lead to a destabilisation of the
Ramaphosa Presidency in the process. Ironically for Ramaphosa, his own reform
agenda would be better supported if the DA did well and not the EFF.
Ramaphosa will either have to buckle under
intense pressure or precipitate a more serious internal schism within his own
party to avoid a combustible policy melt-down. It’s the stuff of serious
political theatre that could play out.
Of course, it’s but one scenario which may
not occur. The DA could do 25%-plus, the EFF can get below 10% and the ANC may
struggle at 55%, But, the confluence of polls do present us with clear polling
Ironically for South Africa, whilst the DA
might’ve not covered itself in glory these past two years, a South Africa with
a diminished liberal participant in Parliament can shift the debate to a
dangerous terrain – one seen all too often in the Venezuelas or Zimbabwes of
this world. A political drama awaits.
– Daniel Silke is director of the Political Futures Consultancy and is a noted keynote speaker and commentator. Views expressed are his own. Follow him on Twitter at @DanielSilke or visit his website.
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