The 2014 South African General Election - A Future Uncertain

Strategic Communications

April 22, 2014

As the post-Mandela “rainbow nation” prepares to take a further step along the road of pluralistic democracy, Tim Hughes and Max Gebhardt assess the issues at stake and the implications for foreign investors in Africa’s most developed economy.

South Africa holds its fourth democratic election on Wednesday 7th May 2014. There are few certainties in politics, but a fourth African National Congress (ANC) victory is a political certainty. Everything else about the election is less certain. The ruling party enters the election race dogged by controversy, racked by division and less confident than at any time since its unbanning in 1990. In certain respects, this suggests a normalisation of politics in South Africa, but also masks significant under-currents and shifts in the body politic, that portend even greater changes in future.

Some 25.3 million voters are registered out of a potential 31.4 million eligible to vote. Some 80 percent of new voters who registered in the final month before the campaign got started are under 30 years old. Fully 200 parties are registered with the Independent Electoral Commission, of which a record 33 will contest the May 2014 elections.

This election will be the first time that South Africa’s two million 18 and 19 year olds born after the lifting of apartheid, the so-called ‘born-frees’, will be able to vote. However, only 700,000 of these eligible voters have registered. This low registration figure is symptomatic of a broader disenchantment with, and disinterest in, party politics together with the policies and programmes offered. Whilst not yet numerically determinant, the votes of the born-frees will serve as a plebiscite on the performance of the ANC as the country’s ruling party over the past 20 years.

The low youth voter registration will likely impact the prospects of the populist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), given that its appeal is largely to the black youth and urban unemployed. Up to 25 percent of the South African youth polled electronically chose the firebrand EFF head, Julius Malema, as their preferred national leader.

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Key Contacts

Max Gebhardt

Managing Director, Head of South Africa Strategic Communications

Tim Hughes