What you need to know about the South Africa general election


South Africa’s upcoming general election on 29 May is occurring amid heightened political tensions and decline in popularity of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party.

The ANC has governed South Africa with an uninterrupted majority for 30 years, since the country’s first post-apartheid election in 1994. While the security trend during the general election is anticipated to remain stable, there is a heightened risk of unrest, political violence, and xenophobia during the election period.

Who’s in the running? Primary political parties

African National Congress (ANC)

  • The ANC originated as a national liberation movement and has governed with a majority since 1994.
  • While trust in the ANC among black South Africans has generally been high, particularly among older voters that remember ANC’s apartheid-era liberation role, its popularity has declined in recent years.
  • The ANC is expected to remain the largest party despite the heightened likelihood of losing its majority.

Democratic Alliance (DA)

  • The DA is the main opposition party and was formed in 1989 as a successor to the now defunct Progressive Party.
  • The party has a particularly strong support base in the Western Cape.
  • DA has not ruled out a coalition with the ANC due to greater hostility towards leftist parties such as the EFF.

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF)

  • The EFF was launched in 2013 by former ANC youth leader Julius Malema in response to rising inequality and perceptions of corruption among leading members of the ANC.
  • In line with the party’s socialist roots, the EFF champions nationalisation and land distribution policies to address perceived racial injustices.
  • Other opposition parties such as the DA are against any ANC-EFF coalition.

uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK)

  • MK was launched in late 2023 and is led by polarising former president Jacob Zuma. The party is named after the ANC’s former paramilitary wing.
  • MK has gained momentum since Zuma’s condemnation of the ANC and backing of MK, particularly in Zuma’s stronghold of Kwa-Zulu Natal.
  • The tense dynamic between MK and the ANC has defined the pre-election period so far.

What do the polls say?

The upcoming election is significant as it is highly likely the ANC will lose its majority for the first time in the post-apartheid era. Several issues are working against the ANC, including economic pessimism, rising crime levels, endemic corruption, poor service delivery and the energy crisis. The party has consistently shed votes in the past few elections as dissatisfaction and voter apathy grows. Major polling agencies estimate the ANC will gain around 40% of the vote. The ANC is almost certain to remain the largest party but is expected to need partners to form a government for the first time in its history.

Heightened electoral risks

Election risks in South Africa are expected to remain moderate and stable. However, ANC infighting and the formation of the MK splinter party by former president Jacob Zuma have contributed to an increase in political tensions.

Active political tensions temporarily heighten the risks associated with unrest, politically motivated violence, and xenophobic attacks. Nevertheless, travel will remain permissible throughout South Africa during the election period barring a deterioration in the security risk environment. Any deterioration is unlikely to spread to countrywide levels and will most likely be contained to certain cities or provinces. The risk of widespread unrest similar to the July 2021 riots is assessed as unlikely despite Zuma’s return to the political spotlight in recent months.

Navigating business in the election climate

Organisations operating in South Africa should closely monitor election-related developments on a daily basis. This includes monitoring for triggers indicative of a deterioration in the security risk environment amid heightened political tensions, particularly in Gauteng and Kwa-Zulu Natal. Anticipate disruption, particularly on 29 May, and ensure business personnel and assets are prepared for the election period.

Key precautionary measures 

  • Stay informed through reliable local and international sources, like the Healix Sentinel Risk Management Platform.
  • Avoid alignment with any political affiliations.
  • Remain neutral in your social media profiles and refrain from posting and sharing content related to the election.
  • Plan for potential disruption and heightened security on election day.
  • Identify and steer clear of protest-prone areas.
  • Exercise caution around sensitive locations like campaign rallies.
Michael Gardiner
Intelligence Analyst
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