The African National Congress (ANC) retained control of South Africa’s government in last week’s national election with 58 percent of the vote, below both its 62 percent performance in 2014 and the symbolic threshold of 60 percent. The ANC narrowly won in the economic and political capitals of Johannesburg and Pretoria with 50 percent. President Cyril Ramaphosa, who promised to fight corruption (of which his own party is among the accused), was granted a five-year term to govern and will face ongoing voter anger.
Steven Friedman, a political scientist at the University of Johannesburg, said, “The black middle-class has given up on the ANC — there’s no evidence it’s ever going back. The ANC is now a party of the working class, shack-settlement dwellers and people in the townships who say they’ve had enough with the party, but think it’s worth a try because they see no alternative.”
This was the sixth general election after the end of apartheid, and the results underscore growing disillusionment with South Africa’s political system, particularly among Millennial voters. Voter turnout fell to 66 percent, down from 73 percent in 2014, which is considered low for the young democracy. Recent polling data shows Millennial South Africans are increasingly concerned about their future and that of their country, reflecting the same challenges of legitimacy faced by numerous democratic nations across the globe.
In the poll commissioned by the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, a South African charitable organization, the findings revealed that respondents feel limited by the choices on the ballot. Though 58 percent said they would vote in favor of the ANC, 52 percent of respondents stated that they are distrustful of the party. 76 percent of young South Africans were expected to cast a ballot in this election, compared to only half who were polled ahead of the 2014 vote. When asked which word best described feelings on South Africa’s future, 42 percent identified ‘concerned’, which points to growing uncertainty about the nation’s future prospects. The findings are indicative of deeper trends amongst South Africa’s youth, where trust in institutions and political parties has reached alarming lows.
Prior to the election, Founder and Executive Chairman of the Ichikowitz Foundation, philanthropist Ivor Ichikowitz said, “Our findings indicate that South Africa faces challenges not unlike those of other democracies across the world in the modern age, with our youth expressing deep concerns regarding the state of the nation and its ability to work for the people. However, while lack of faith in both our institutions and political parties is clearly low, there is reason to believe that our historic determination to foster greater social cohesion will prevail. As the nation prepares to head to the ballot box, we must all consider the impacts that declining trust and confidence could have on our democracy – and how to change the narrative to a more optimistic outlook.”
Mr. Ichikowitz added, “I’ve always believed that the future of our country is assured by the optimism, energy and resilience of our youth. It was their voices throughout history that led by example and spearheaded change in South Africa. These findings should be deemed an alarm call that must be heeded by our nation’s leadership; they need to result in a call to action by the new government. Should they fail to do so, the future of our country’s 25-year ‘Democratic Experiment’ will be placed at risk”.