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202209 Fresh Quarterly Issue 18 03 William Gumede
Issue EighteenSeptember 2022

Changing global and local political landscapes

South Africa will soon undergo a political upheaval that will alter the country forever. By Kara van der Berg.

This is the opinion of Prof. William Gumede, economist and political scientist in the School of Governance at the University of the Witwatersrand, and founder and executive chairman of Democracy Works Foundation.

Gumede highlighted the major events that have impacted both the global and the South African political landscape. These include the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing effect of Covid-19. Closer to home there is the continuing saga of Eskom and violent unrests such as the July 2021 lootings.

The end of one-party rule

A surprising consequence of the war in Ukraine is that it will hasten the demise of ANC domination in South Africa. Gumede explained that price hikes coupled with economic stagnation and rising unemployment will further reduce confidence in the ANC government. This comes on top of poor public-service delivery and ongoing corruption.

Gumede believes that the ANC will no longer be in power after the 2024 national elections. “In the next three years, it is very likely that South Africa will enter coalition politics,” said Gumede. “It is very unlikely that we will again have a dominant party.”

He added that very few political acts or reforms will take place at the national level until the ANC conference in December this year. “I think Ramaphosa will be re-elected by the ANC but won’t win the national election without a coalition in 2024.”

This coalition, according to Gumede, will change the face of the country, which might scare some people but will make space for change.

“The same people have been in charge of the country since 1994,” said Gumede. “If leadership changes, so will everything else. Hope is very little while the ANC is in power. Change in South Africa can almost only happen if the ANC isn’t in power anymore.”

Gumede said that coalitions at the city level have been quite successful overall.

Implications of the Russia-Ukraine war

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has had major consequences for the fruit industry — and society as a whole — thus far in 2022. Supply chains and international logistics, which are still recovering from Covid-19, have been further disrupted, while fuel prices have reached record highs.

“It has a direct impact on prices in South Africa. Normally when we increase prices in South Africa it has a disproportionate impact on the poor,” said Gumede. “When you look at the July lootings of last year it was partly because of the Covid financial crisis.”

Gumede also pointed out that there has often been a correlation between increasing food prices and political coups in other African countries.

Besides the contribution of increased fuel prices to hikes in the cost of food, Ukraine is a major source of grain for the world, specifically for Africa. “When a vital food source like this is threatened, so too is the political status quo,” warned Gumede.

This might apply to South Africa as well. Gumede said that the economic repercussions of the war could be the last straw for many ANC supporters. “The irony is that the ANC has supported Russia, but almost against the interest of the country and of the ANC because the impact of the war on the economy of the country will lead to the ejection of the ANC.”

There are various reasons why the ANC supports Russia in the ongoing conflict. Russia lobbied all its fellow BRICS — Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa — countries before the invasion. But whereas the other BRICS countries negotiated hard terms with Russia in exchange for their neutrality, Gumede said that South Africa did not.

He explained that many senior ANC members have ties to the old Soviet Union, and may feel they still owe Russia loyalty for her support during the struggle.

The politics of Eskom

Gumede discussed the influence of Eskom on the ANC. The ANC has long been trying to reform and break up Eskom, especially since President Cyril Ramaphosa came into power. The problem is that once a state-owned entity has collapsed it is very difficult to salvage because of its dynamics.

“Eskom and its problems are almost a picture of how the ANC works,” said Gumede. “Most of the jobs created in the last decade have been in the state not in the private sector.” Appointments at Eskom and other state-owned entities were through political patronage, not based on qualifications or competence.

The size of Eskom has also hampered government attempts to reform it. “To get rid of this management is difficult,” explained Gumede, “because a lot of them are very closely linked to the ANC’s top management.”

In addition, reforms are opposed by unions such as the National Union of Mineworkers, which is the largest South African trade union. The ANC can ill afford to lose the votes of trade-union members. This is also one of the main reasons why progress on renewable energy has been so slow.

Meanwhile, a lack of reliable electricity is a major constraint on growth and development, said Gumede. This is a good example of why Gumede believes that people shouldn’t be anxious about a coalition government in 2024. He is optimistic that the resulting political and economic changes hold great promise for South Africa.

Image: Prof. William Gumede, School of Governance, University of the Witwatersrand. Supplied by Echo Media.

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