South Africa's ANC says it won't ditch Ramaphosa to form coalition

Cyril Ramaphosa

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa casts his vote during the South African elections in Soweto, South Africa May 29, 2024. 

Photo credit: Oupa Nkosi | Reuters

What you need to know:

  • Angry voters dismantle 30-year ANC majority
  • Party says it won't ditch incumbent president
  • Official results expected Sunday evening
  • Parties must agree new coalition within 14 days


South Africa's once dominant African National Congress acknowledged that it had been humbled by an election that ended its 30-year majority but vowed not to replace President Cyril Ramaphosa as a condition to forming a new governing coalition.

Official results from Wednesday's vote, due on Sunday evening, will confirm the end of the ANC's unchallenged grip on political power and start the clock on a race to strike a deal with one or more opposition parties.

Political parties will then have two weeks to work out a deal before a new parliament sits to choose a president, who would likely still emerge from the ANC as the biggest party.

Voters, angry at joblessness, inequality and rolling blackouts, slashed support for the legacy party of Nelson Mandela to 40%, down from 57.5% in the 2019 parliamentary vote.

"Did we commit mistakes? Yes, we did. In governance and everywhere else," Fikile Mbalula, the party's secretary general, said on Sunday during the first press briefing the ANC has held since the polls, adding the party had "nothing to celebrate."

The result means that the ANC must now share power, likely with a major political rival, in order to keep it - an unprecedented prospect since the democratic end of white minority rule in 1994.

Will of the people

"The ANC is committed to the formation of a government that reflects the will of the people, that is stable and that is able to govern effectively," Mbalula said.

He said the ANC would be having discussions internally and with other parties to create national and provisional governments "that reflect the will of the people and that are able to take the country forward."

The party's poor showing has fuelled speculation that Ramaphosa's days might be numbered, either due to the demands of a prospective coalition partner or as a result of an internal leadership challenge.

Mbalula said the ANC would not bend to pressure from other parties that Ramaphosa, once Mandela's leading negotiator to end apartheid, must step down.

"That is a no-go area," he said.

COSATU - South Africa's largest trade union group and a major ANC ally - also rallied behind Ramaphosa.

"What's key is that a coalition be led by the ANC and President Ramaphosa," COSATU spokesman Matthew Parks said.

Counting from the May 29 poll was all but complete on Sunday afternoon, with results in from 99.9% of polling stations.

Before Wednesday, the ANC had won every national election by a landslide since 1994, but over the last decade its support has waned.

Democratic Alliance

The main opposition party, the white-led, pro-business Democratic Alliance (DA), received 21.8% of votes.

uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) - "spear of the nation" in the Zulu language - a new party led by former President Jacob Zuma and named after the ANC's former armed wing, managed to take 14.6%, doing most of the damage to the ANC.

Despite doing better than expected, MK said it was considering challenging the results in court.

The far-left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), led by former ANC youth leader Julius Malema, got 9.5%.

The prospect of an ANC tie-up with either the EFF or MK has rattled South Africa's business community and international investors, who would prefer a coalition that brings in the DA.

The leaderships of both the DA and the small Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) were due to meet separately on Sunday to discuss the next steps.

"We will look at the final lie of the land," said DA spokesperson Charity McCord, adding there had been no coalition talks yet with any party.

Local media reported that the DA could be open to entering a cooperation pact with the ANC, supporting it in key decisions in exchange for top jobs in parliament. The IFP could also be part of such a deal.

Mbalula said the ANC's leadership would meet on Tuesday for discussions on the way forward.