Elections 2019: What hangs in the balance?

An array of election posters from various political parties on poles in Pretoria. Analysts say polls have no influence on voters. AP African News Agency (ANA)

The final results of this week’s elections will determine not only the future trajectory of the country and our future political landscape, but also the willingness of foreign investors to make South Africa a destination of choice. Without political, social and economic stability, investors will invest their money and operations in countries that are more predictable and which instill confidence and trust. How the See Saw tilts will hugely influence the ability of our government to create jobs, attract investors to our special economic zones, leapfrog into the 4th industrial revolution, attract tourism with all its economic spin-offs, and pay off our burgeoning debt. The stakes have never been so high since 1994.

This week we have heard over and over again from political commentators that our country is at a critical juncture and this is a historic election. The hope was that voter turnout would be substantial in order to produce decisive results, much needed credibility and clarity of mandate for the political parties concerned.

As anticipated, voter turnout was impressive, and South Africans made their way to the polls en masse to have their say in how South Africa is going to move forward, and in which direction. But what must not be forgotten is that over half of those eligible to vote under the age of 30 did not register to vote, and therefore the voices of our youth will not be adequately reflected in these election results. With the swiftly changing demographics in South Africa as in the rest of Africa, the priorities of our youth will become increasingly important as we move forward, as will the ability of politicians to resonate with young people and respond to their needs.

The greatest disruptor in our political landscape has been the EFF, which has managed to tap into the frustrations of many of the youth and urban poor who have responded to their populist messaging with promises of free education, a doubling of social grants, greater access to land and jobs. These are messages which have resonated with the youth in the townships, even if the EFF did not specifically clarify how they would implement such promises, or pay for them. But it is likely to explain a strong showing which is being predicted for the EFF both at the national and provincial level.

The depiction of South Africa which has been prevalent in the Western media throughout this election period has been one of a grossly unequal country – arguably the most unequal in the world where those living an opulent lifestyle live in close proximity to the poorest of the poor, many of which live on $5 a day. The inability of the country to bridge this huge divide and reduce the massive wealth gap over the past quarter century has been the nation’s greatest failure, and presents its most overwhelming challenge. With unemployment sitting at 27%, and one in seven South Africans living in informal settlements, any political party hoping to consolidate support in the future will need to develop concrete plans on how to address these challenges.

But while the EFF may have made significant inroads on the political map, it is the strength of the mandate handed to the ruling party which will largely determine the health of our economy in the near to medium term. Potential foreign investors will feel more comfortable if the ANC receives over 60% of the vote or close to it, as the perception is that the strength of Cyril Ramaphosa’s mandate will determine how empowered he is to: robustly tackle corruption, root out corrupt elements on the ANC’s electoral list, reform struggling state owned enterprises, ward off another ratings downgrade, leverage international goodwill to respond positively to the massive investment drive of US$1 billion over the next five years.

Given the need for the ruling party to have a decisive victory at the polls in order for the country to see economic growth, even the Economist magazine chose to endorse Ramaphosa and the ruling ANC on its cover this time around, even though it had endorsed the DA in 2014.

Moody’s rating agency – the only one of the three major rating agencies which considers South Africa investment grade – is taking a wait and see approach in order to get clarity on what the government will do to address its major challenges, and whether the election results will enable Ramaphosa to act decisively.

But whether Ramaphosa succeeds in receiving the robust mandate that he is hoping for, there is every indication that he will push ahead with his plans for renewal, reducing the size of government, tackling corruption and forging a government which will operate as a lean mean machine that will have strict performance indicators. What is likely to characterise his administration is stability and dependability, and we are unlikely to see anything approximating the 11 cabinet shuffles of the Zuma era. The top priority of his government will be to turn around the stagnant growth of the past few years where the economy has lagged at 1% growth, making it impossible to meet the expectations of the electorate.

What is certain is that Ramaphosa’s ability to right the ship over the next five years will determine the fortunes of the party of liberation which needs to show South Africans it has a good story to tell.

Shannon Ebrahim is the Foreign Editor for the Independent Media Group.