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Country Reports

South Africa before the elections

by Gregor Jaecke, Dr. Christoph Wiedenroth

New hope at the Cape?

On May 29, 2024, elections were held in South Africa for the national assembly and all provincial parliaments. After years of economic decline, the country is in urgent need of a new direction. Polls suggest that Nelson Mandela's party, the ANC, will fall short of an ab-solute majority at national level for the first time since the end of apartheid in 1994 and will rely on coalition partners to form a government. At the same time, the South African party spectrum is becoming increasingly fragmented, which also means more competition to pro-vide better solutions to the country's numerous challenges. Against this backdrop, the con-stellation in which South Africa will be governed in the future is uncertain, as various sce-narios are conceivable following the outcome of the elections.

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Election year 2024 - a decisive year for South Africa

Thirty years after the end of apartheid, the seventh election to the National Assembly and the nine provincial legislatures will take place in South Africa on 29 May 2024. These elections will be the most important ones since 1994, as political realignment is needed in almost all policy areas. Over the past fifteen years, the country's socio-economic development has fallen far short of self-imposed targets and urgently needs to correct course. Economic growth has stagnated since the 2019 parliamentary elections and amounted to 0,6% in 2023.[1] Unemployment remains at a very high level of 41%.[2] Social inequality has also continued to rise sharply in all areas of people's lives, including in health and education. These failures are associated with high crime rates (especially gang crime), which affect the poor most.

Against this backdrop and reinforced by a high level of corruption and clientelism among the political elite, many South Africans have lost confidence in Nelson Mandela's party, the African National Congress (ANC), and are taking refuge in abstention.[3] The ANC's approval ratings have been declining for years. Although there are doubts about the predictive power of current election polls in South Africa, it is expected that the former liberation movement will not win an absolute majority at national level for the first time. The party, which has been spoilt for success, will therefore need one or more coalition partners to remain in power.

In parallel to the ANC's falling approval ratings, numerous new parties have been registered in a highly fragmented and dynamic party system. These are predominantly break-aways from the ANC and the largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA). Even if the outcome of the elections is uncertain and therefore political uncertainty is high, one thing seems clear: the de facto "one-party rule" of the ANC is coming to an end. This will strengthen party pluralism. Many South Africans associate this with a hope for necessary reforms and more social and political participation.

The elections in South Africa are of considerable importance for Germany. The rainbow nation is an economic and political giant on the African continent, which is becoming increasingly important for Germany. Economically, South Africa has the largest and most industrialised economy in Africa. The country is our most important trading partner on the continent with an annual trade volume of more than 20 billion Euro. Over 600 German companies are active in South Africa and have recently made long-term investments, particularly in the automotive industry. At the same time, Germany and South Africa are closely linked by a strong "people-to-people" relationship: South Africa is a popular destination for German tourists.

Politically, the country acts as a voice of the so-called Global South. South Africa serves as a mediator and supports many peace missions within Africa and is therefore an important point of contact for Germany in the region. At the same time, South Africa is increasingly distancing itself from Western partners in terms of foreign policy. The genocide indictment against Israel at the International Court of Justice, the traditionally close ties with Russia (which were maintained even after the war of aggression against Ukraine) and cooperation with countries such as Iran in the expanded BRICS format are also bringing Germany and South Africa's relations to a crossroads.

[1] Department of Statistics South Africa (2024): Media Release – Embargo: Tuesday 05 March 2024.

[2] Department of Statistics South Africa (2024): Media Release – Embargo Tuesday 20 February 2024.

[3] During the 2019 National Assembly election, the official voter turnout was 66 %, see Henning Suhr: South Africa has voted: ANC loses popularity - Ramaphosa does not, KAS Country Report, Wahl­bericht Südafrika 2019 (


Read the full-length publication "South Africa before the elections: New hope at the Cape?" here as pdf.

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