There is little doubt that Cyril Ramaphosa, the incumbent president of South Africa and the African National Congress (ANC), will come out on top in the upcoming election. The aim is to obtain at least 60% of the vote to prevent unlikely coalitions in parliament with the main opposition parties. This would improve on the result of the 2016 municipal elections, when the oldest African liberation movement gained “only” 53% of the vote. That symbolic result enabled the Democratic Alliance (DA), the main opposition party (which is still labelled as a pro-white movement), to win in big cities such as Johannesburg and Pretoria, alongside Cape Town, a historical DA stronghold. A crucial part is played by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the far-left party led by Julius Malema, a former supporter of former South African President Jacob Zuma and expelled from the ANC for disputes with the latter, and since then a real thorn in the side of the ruling party.
At the national level, parliamentary seats will be split mainly between the ANC, DA and EFF, but unlike the local elections, the failures of Zuma's administration (2009 -2018) look set to have less of an impact. In recent years, the Democratic Alliance, having achieved all it could under Hellen Zille, decided to try to win over more middle-class black voters. To do so it elected Mmusi Maimane, dubbed the “Soweto's Mandela”, as its new leader. A liberal with a decent political career behind him, at 38 years of age he has still not been able to shrug off criticism that he is ultimately a puppet in the hands of the white patriarchy ruling the party. During the campaign, he has spoken out strongly against corruption, the real cancer ailing the country especially under the Zuma administration. He is Cyril Ramaphosa's number one challenger, but he is unlikely to gain more than 20% of the vote. The best he can hope for is to remain the main opposition party in parliament.
On the other hand, there is a lot of anticipation about how Julius Malema and his “red berets” will perform. The first time he stood, in 2014, he managed to gain a remarkable 7% of the vote, resulting in 25 members in parliament. Opinion polls suggest that turnout for this election could be twice as high as for the one held 5 years ago. With his populist policies, Julius Malema, also 38, has succeeded in capitalising on the grievances of South Africa's more deprived black population. Originally from Limpopo, one of the country's most rural and poorest regions, he has convinced voters, mainly the unemployed, miners and poorly educated youth, that the ANC has betrayed them, preferring the money-grubbing corruption of white-collar workers. Throughout the campaign he has promised that, if elected to lead the country, he would immediately put former President Zuma and other top ANC figures behind bars. Jobs and land reform are two of his other main issues. He also wants to nationalise financial institutions and mines and guarantee the right to free education. In parliament he has managed to gain the support of the governing party on land reform. More of a symbolic than an economic issue, it aims to redistribute part of the land taken from local populations during Boer colonisation in the mid-1600s. It is a hotly debated issue and spreads doubt amongst international investors as to the country’s future.
One of the new parties contesting the upcoming election is Black First Land First (BLF), a movement backed by former President Zuma, which has focused its campaign on the occupation of land to solve the housing crisis engulfing the country's big cities. Another new party, Good, was launched last December by Patricia De Lille, a former mayor of Cape Town whose candidacy seems to be more about making a point with the DA, which expelled her, than a real movement capable of presenting a manifesto with new ideas for South Africa.
Barring political shocks, Cyril Ramaphosa will have the tough task of forming a government that can reflect the various currents within the ANC. The choice of lists submitted to the Electoral Commission already shows that cleaning up the party will be no mean feat. Mandela's disciple is much more popular abroad than at home and the traditionalist wing close to President Zuma is still not happy with his rise to the party leadership. Ramaphosa will have to use all his gifts as a skilled negotiator, because much of the future of South Africa will depend on his presidency.