South Africa elections: ANC loses 30-year majority; Communists warn of right-wing threat
Women with children walk past election posters in Tembisa, east of Johannesburg, South Africa, May 28, 2024, ahead of the elections on Wednesday, May 29. | Themba Hadebe / AP

South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) party will not consider any demands from possible coalition partners that President Cyril Ramaphosa step down, a top official said on Sunday. This came after the ANC lost its 30-year-old majority after a stinging result in Wednesday’s election.

South Africa has now been plunged into a series of negotiations to form a national coalition government and to maintain stability. ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula said President Ramaphosa would remain as party leader and any demands from others that he resign for talks to go ahead was “a no-go area.”

“President Ramaphosa is the president of the ANC,” Mbalula said in the leadership’s first public comments since the landmark election results.

He said: “And if you come to us with the demand that Ramaphosa is going to step down as the president, that is not going to happen.”

Mbalula insisted that the ANC was open to talks with every other political party in an effort to form a government, but “no political party will dictate terms to us, the ANC. They will not. You come to us with that demand, forget it.”

The ANC received just over 40% of the votes, falling well short of the majority it has held for all of South Africa’s young democracy. But the ANC will still be by far the largest party in the parliament. It is in a tripartite alliance with the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP).

Mbakula acknowledged that “the results send a clear message to the ANC.” He said, “We wish to send a message to the people of South Africa: ‘We have heard them’.” He said that the ANC was committed to forming a stable government but recognized the economic troubles facing the population.

Unemployment is at record levels, hovering near 32%, with youth facing jobless rates of more than 50%. The poverty rate is 62%, according to the World Bank, while inflation for the bottom percentage of the population is at 9.3%. Power and water shortages are regular features of life for many.

These are the problems that opposition parties sought to exploit. The Democratic Alliance came second in the poll with 21% of the vote. It draws its support predominantly from Afrikaans, English-speaking people, and white business owners.

The new MK Party of former President Jacob Zuma came third with 14%. Zuma was forced to resign in 2018 due to a flood of corruption scandals. Zuma has said Ramaphosa must go as leader of the ANC and the country before it would be willing to enter coalition talks with the ANC.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EEF), a far-left party, came fourth, with just under 10%.

Ahead of the election, SACP General Secretary Solly Mapaila warned of the danger if DA and EEF were able to gain power. He said that the DA “stands for neocolonialism of a special type and is at the service of imperialist regimes,” particularly the U.S., and would align South Africa’s domestic and foreign policies with the wishes of Washington.

The SACP worked hard to remind voters that the DA also made clear that it would reverse public employment programs in the name of reducing the size of the state, cut social security spending, and abolish popular ANC initiatives like a student financing program and Black Economic Empowerment.

Mapaila had pinpointed “certain sections of capital” as the prime movers behind the effort to “unseat the ANC and by extension obliterate any prospects for a successful National Democratic Revolution.”

He argued that the ANC government must continue but that there must be a re-assertion of “national-revolutionary transformation” and an end to neoliberal economic policies in order to build on the progress made since the overthrow of apartheid in 1994.

The Communist acknowledged what it called “the glaring weaknesses” of some of the ANC’s economic management, but SACP Central Committee member Buti Manamela said it was still “the only worthwhile political force advancing the needs, interests, and aspirations of the working class and the poor.”

This article features reporting by Roger McKenzie of the Morning Star and has been supplemented with further information from Umsebenzi, a publication of the South African Communist Party.