Brave New SA?

Did anything really change after the 2024 elections?

At the time of writing this, many commentators are saying that the results of South Africa's 2024 general elections represent a huge change in South Africa's political landscape.

Is that really the case?

Thirty Years Later

Let's go back 30 years, to the 1994 elections, when there certainly was a huge change.

What were the election results then?

In brief, the ANC received ~63% of the vote in 1994, and the National Party-plus-Democratic Party ~22%.

When we compare the 1994 and 2024 results, there is a case to be made that nothing has changed. The broader ANC (and we will explain what that means) is still at ~63% and the 'liberal democrats' (in broad ideological terms) are also still at ~22%.

This level of similarity over 30 years is just astounding.

The ANC still at 63%?

The 1994 ANC was a 'broad church', i.e. 'a group or doctrine which allows for and caters to a wide range of opinions and people'. For their decades-long struggle to achieve 1994 victory, this was a good strategy.

Later, once it became clear that apartheid was defeated, ideological and other differences resulted in the ANC gradually shedding smaller progeny parties such as the EFF, MK, and COPE. (And Holomisa to the UDM). In this way it also became clear to what extent voters were aligned to which of the various broad-church ideologies, personalities and ethnic group focusses.

So, yes, the 'monolithic' 1994-ANC and the eventual 2024-ANC-group both received ~63% of the vote.

The Liberal Democrats still at 22%?

Even before 1994 there was a notion that most not-'black' voters (as defined under apartheid) were generally liberal democrat leaning.

This, of course, is a very long discussion, but there is some evidence:

The 1992 Referendum paved the constitutional way towards the 1994 elections. In this referendum 'white' voters (with other groups excluded) overwhelmingly (~69%) voted 'Yes'; i.e. 'democrat' leaning (if not necessarily a 'liberal' leaning).

The Referendum and Ethnicity

The 69% 'Yes' result also provides some insight into the extent to which individuals consider ethnicity (as opposed to other considerations) when voting.

Those 1992 voters had to answer a very simple 'Yes/No' question. I.e., voters had to be more than 50% certain about which considerations mattered most to them.

While they may also have had 'fear'/'better-the-devil-you-know' reasons, one could assume that the main reason for a 'No' answer would have been 'ethnicity'?

Conversely, the question of why many of the 69% 'Yes' voters did not push for a much earlier Referendum is an interesting political, behavioural and historical discussion.

People Don't Change

The fact that 2024 and 1994 election results are essentially exactly the same result, indicates how difficult, or even how impossible, it is to 'change' people.

Older generations are now out of the voting pool and 30 years of newer generations are in the pool. Parents drive their children's thinking. People don't change.

Earlier we called the similarity between the 1994 and 2024 elections astounding. Yet, these types of people-never-change results are reasonably common, especially in relatively stable countries around the world. One example is the USA where the numbers of Democrat and Republican voters have, since 1789, been roughly equal, with frequent relatively small swings this way or that way, resulting in around 250 years of almost equal periods in power.

So, while some individuals may change, people (in groups) don't change much.

How to Change People

There are only a very small number of ways to change groups of people. Violence, such as in the form of wars and conquest, is one such way.

The spread of certain religions are good examples thereof. Win battles or dominate in other ways, force a new religion on people, and the next generation will then embrace that religion.

This was true for Christianity during the European conquests in the Americas, Africa and more. And it was also true for Islam in North Africa and elsewhere (ever since the Battle of Badr).

Huge new ideas (and, we will stay with religion for an example) such as the Reformation's ideas (Martin Luther et. al.) that managed to split the Christian churches, is another way to change people. But, yes, such ideas have to really be 'massive'.

No Political Landscape Change?

Back to the 2024 elections.

So, no political landscape change, then?

Nope, quite a bit has in fact changed.

Politics is war and, for the last thirty years, the ANC has been winning that war.

This time they did not get more than 50% and this implies (a) Mexican Standoffs and (b) Politician-driven (not voter-driven) change.

Mexican Standoffs.

After these 2024 elections we have now moved into a type of Mexican standoff.

Governing is now impossible without coalitions. These are alliances with people who you don't agree with. That's a big change in the general election landscape - although it has been the case at some municipal levels for a while already.

(In terms of coalitions: One of the better post-election jokes is: I thought Koalisie was the Springbok Rugby captain?)

Politician-driven Change

If the ANC does end up in a coalition with the DA, then, of course, the landscape change will have been massive. It essentially then means that the ANC will have exchanged its 1994 'broad church' for its 1994 opponent. That's huge.

More so, this will then be huge because voters have not changed their voting preferences for 30 years! They did what they have always been doing. Not changing and voting for the same politicians.

Let's make this clear: It is the politicians that would then have changed things, not the voters (as per most commentators).

Voters, by and large, have not changed their alliances at all over the years. As various 'pieces' broke off various parties (especially off the ANC) some voters just followed those new pieces/parties. They did so if and when those new parties represented the parts of the political church that they wanted to support.

If this analysis is a correct one, then not much (if any) of this would have had anything to do with the ANCs performance in government. They are then not being 'punished' by voters - as many analysts are saying.

Smoke that pipe!

Either things are as outlined above, or (a) large groups of people exchanged their voting preferences simultaneously, (b) all of this is just one huge coincidence, or (c) this is a very bad analysis.

Probably (c).