South African Local Elections 2016. From One Party Dominance to Effective Plural Democracy Etudes de l'Ifri, November 2016
The South African political landscape experienced a shock from an unlikely source; the country’s local government elections on August 3, 2016 representing the last tier of government and often overlooked in favour of national and provincial polls.
This year’s vote was a barometer of public sentiment towards the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and heralds a wind of change that is blowing through SA’s politics, leaving the possibility for growth and disruption in its awake. The watershed municipal election is the biggest opposition breakthrough since the National Party (NP) government was toppled in 1994 and it excludes the ANC from the running of four of the eight metro municipalities, densely populated cities that generate more than half of the country’s wealth.
To fully understand what has occurred in South Africa and the debates that will shape the country’s future, this article examines the result of the past election and explains how the ANC progressively eroded the trust of the voting public. The significance of local elections and the metros is unravelled to describe the new space of political competition and potential instability in which the country finds itself. The discussion then taps into the future, presenting the altered face of South African politics defined by a party used to power and intent on etching its way back, and coalitions that may threaten the ruling administration, but are also barely comfortable marriages of convenience that will be severely tested. Finally, the article asks what could be next for the party that has largely controlled South African politics, and cautions that a change of president may not be enough to revise the ANC’s blemished image as the party appears to fracture and tear into itself following its poor showing. The nation’s democracy is experiencing a new phase which begun with the elections in August 2016, and over the coming years there is the potential for effective multi-party politics and economic growth, as well as instability and violent social disruption.