Leadership and Democracy LabWestern Social Science

Political Overview of South Africa


Primary Analyst: Claire Okrainetz

Team Leader: Jake MacDonnell

South Africa is a parliamentary republic led by President Jacob Zumba, who serves as both the chief of state and head of government. Currently the African National Congress (ANC) party, led by Zumba, holds a majority government, controlling 62 percent of parliament. The ANC was brought to power in 1994 under the leadership of Nelson Mandela. Zumba was elected as the President and leader of the party in 2009 and re-elected in 2014, with the next election scheduled for 2019. The ANC is focused mainly on job creation and the racial unity of South Africa. Zumba promised in the 2014 election that he would create 6 million new jobs, specifically stating that he will “create jobs and promote job placement, especially for the youth.”

Large portions of the programs introduced by the ANC since their rise to power have addressed raising basic living conditions for all South Africans. This includes bringing electricity to 5 million households since 2001, expanding the water infrastructure to now reach 90% of households, and improving basic sanitation. Public health and safety have also benefitted through programs such as expanding the refuse removal services and improving primary health care. Together, these programs have increased South Africa’s life expectancy, from 53.4 years in 2004 to 62.5 years in 2015, while decreased the infant mortality rate. Additional infrastructure problems that the ANC is improving are regarding settlement (housing), and public transportation. It is in conjunction with health and infrastructure programs that South Africa’s economic policies can prosper, as the first step to a prosperous country is a well maintained infrastructure and a healthy population. This applies directly to the ‘Expand Public Works Programme’ (EPWP); through which over 5 million work opportunities have been created for poor and unemployed people.

A policy introduced early in the ANCs mandate is that of ‘Investing in the Future, Getting young people working - An employment Strategy of the ANCYL’. This policy outlines the job creation goals of the ANC, it is specific to youth but also addresses unemployment as a whole, and is a policy that still influences South Africa today. The outlined steps of this policy are:

  1. ‘to increase the total number of jobs in the economy’
  2. ‘increase the proportion of total available jobs which are channeled to youth.’
  3. ‘to introduce special programmes which serve both to provide temporary employment for youth and to increase their levels of skills and "employability"
  4. ‘to promote self-employment and collective employment programmes for young people.’[1]

With unemployment is still a main issue in South Africa, although less so than in 1998 when this policy was developed, this outline is still prevalent in the ANC government. Solving unemployment applies to Fintech as this industry addresses both job creation as a whole, and also consists mainly of younger generations interested in technology and software development, addressing South Africa’s top unemployed demographic. Fintech can also help close the gap of who in the country has access to financial services at this brings financial independence into the home, helping in the effort to bring about social equality.

The party in power prior to ANC is the Reunion National Party, which was in power from 1948-1994. The RNCs main platform was strict racial segregation in all aspects of living, this policy is called Apartheid. The National Party enforced Apartheid for the duration of their power. As a result of this segregation, many civil rights activists opposed social exclusion, and political parties based around racial equality overcame the political spectrum. The most notable member of this battle for racial equality was Nelson Mandela, the leader of the ANC party. South Africa adopted a new constitution in 1996 which is grounded in the freedom charter. A reformation of the constitution was necessary as apartheid came to an end with the election of the ANC.

The main political pressure groups are The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and South Africa Communist Party (SACP). COSATU was started in 1985 and the group is based upon ‘unity talks between unions opposed to apartheid and committed to a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa’. This group’s main focus is to end racism and empower those who were disempowered during apartheid. The Communist Party and the ANC were intertwined in many ways, so close ideologically that Nelson Mandela is confirmed to have sat on the central committee. These three political parties, the ANC, COSATU, and SACP, are so closely aligned that they were at a time part of a tripartite alliance. This further demonstrates that parties were divided into two categories, with apartheid or against it, as these three parties were traditionally not aligned together.

Since South Africa became a democracy in 1994 and the last election was held in 2014, there are only 10 years of voting data. From this Data (figure 1) it is clear that voter turnout has declined, which is not uncommon in countries around the world. In 1994, the first democratic election had the highest turnout at 86% of the population. Turnout has been progressively lower since then, reaching its lowest in the 2014 election. This may be due to the fact that the ANC has been in power for the past ten years, which has led to political disinterest from voters who believe that the consistency of ANC rule means that their individual votes don’t matter as much. South Africa would not be an outlier in this regard, as voters not thinking that their vote matters is a problem in most democracies today that has yet to be solved. South Africa has a rich political history, but is still struggling mainly with the issues of segregation and unemployment. The introduction and expansion of the Fintech industry in South Africa, while not the end all to these problems, has the potential to be at least a tool in their mitigation.