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In the run-up to South Africa’s national elections, the Democratic Alliance (DA) will receive a boost from the Good Governance Africa’s annual Government Performance Index. Good Governance Africa is a highly respected NGO that monitors government performance. Its latest report highlights the DA’s strong performance in municipal government, particularly in the Western Cape. The DA has led that provincial government since 2009, and it is better governed than any other province: twelve of its twenty-five municipalities are in the top twenty. The report also shows that KwaZulu/Natal and the Eastern Cape, provinces traditionally dominated by the ANC, are among the worst governed.
South Africans will vote for members of the national assembly on May 8. (The index rated municipal governments, whose leaders will be elected in 2021.) Under the country’s system of proportional representation, voters vote for a party, not individual candidates. Since the end of apartheid and the transition to “non-racial” governance in 1994, the largest party in in parliament has been the African National Congress (ANC); its party leader has also been the chief of state. At present, it holds 249 seats out of a total of 400 in the national assembly. The party is almost entirely black in leadership and support. Especially in the aftermath of the presidency of Jacob Zuma (2009 to 2018), the ANC is associated with corruption and poor service delivery. But, its support among blacks in rural areas remains strong, in part because of a system of welfare payments it established.
The formal opposition is the DA. Initially the party of whites and other racial minorities, it is trying to grow its support among black Africans. It is a pro-business party that emphasizes the constitution. It is also the “good government” party. Of the Government Performance Index’s top twenty, eleven are governed by the DA and an additional four are governed by coalitions that include the DA.
Of the index’s twenty worst-governed municipalities, sixteen are led by the ANC, three by the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), a Zulu party, and one is a coalition between the ANC and IFP. Of the worst, nine are in KwaZulu/Natal, once dominated by IFP, now by the ANC. KwaZulu/Natal is the country’s second-largest province by population, and Zulu-speakers make up about a quarter of the population. Another seven are in the Eastern Cape, also long-dominated by the ANC.
Poor service delivery and ANC corruption are lively issues in the current campaign. Despite the index, the ANC is likely still to emerge from the elections as the largest party. Black Africans are about 80 percent of South Africa’s population, with minority races making up about 20 percent. They are significantly poorer than the racial minorities, and South Africa remains one of the world’s most unequal societies. Under these circumstances, most blacks who vote are likely to support the largely black ANC, though the end-of-apartheid-era sense of party loyalty could be wearing off. The ANC may well emerge with fewer seats than it did in 2015; should it fall below 50 percent—it currently holds 62 percent—of the seats in parliament, it would be forced to form a coalition government, drawing on the support of the country’s numerous minor parties that have seats in parliament under proportional representation. While that scenario is unlikely in 2019, if the ANC continues to erode, coalition government in 2023 becomes a real possibility.