30 years on from Apartheid’s fall, South Africa votes

The Progressive International election observer delegation reports for South Africa’s 7th general election of the democratic era.
On Wednesday 29 May 2024, South Africans will go to the polls to elect all 400 members of the National Assembly using a form of closed party-list proportional representation. Voters will also elect provincial legislatures and through them, the national upper house, the National Council of Provinces. This general election is South Africa’s seventh since the end of Apartheid three decades ago.

Today, the “born-free” generation — those born after the African National Congress’ (ANC) 1994 election triumph led by Nelson Mandela consigned formal white minority rule to the dustbin of history — form a majority of South Africans. But their lives are still structured by the Apartheid’s long afterlife in persistent and extreme racial, economic and geographic inequalities. They remain defining features of South African society.

Far from an outlier, South Africa is a microcosm of the world at-large: severe inequality amid immense wealth with degraded state capacities unable to cater for the needs or stimulate sustainable development for the majority. This reality of formal freedom, combined with structural oppression is recognisable to many around the world.

But it is also South Africa’s inspiring past and present of popular struggle to transform this world that draws so many to its story. The heroes of the past are well known, but today their spirit lives on in powerful and militant progressive forces. Mass organisations like the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) and Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM) are fighting to improve lives in the here and now while pointing the way to a socialist future.

Some of South Africa’s foreign policy in recent years has been animated with this same spirit. The country led the world in seeking to break down the monopolist walls that kept Covid-19 vaccines expensive and out of reach of the world’s majority. It has led international outcry to the US embargo on Cuba and vicious Northern sanctions on its neighbor, Zimbabwe. Today, the South Africa case against Israel at the International Court of Justice for breaches of the Genocide Convention speaks for humanity as a whole.

But back home, the transformation of society – that the South Africa people deserve and many had believed they had won in 1994 — has yet to fully materialise. Public trust and satisfaction with the government and public institutions has been falling. This reality is now manifesting in the political system, with the long-dominant ANC falling below 50% in opinion polls for the first time since 1994. The potential for the ANC to lose its absolute majority amid the emergence of new parties from across the political spectrum — including former president Jacob Zuma’s newly formed uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MK) or the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) — promises to make the 2024 general elections among the most pivotal in the country’s democratic history.

The Progressive International observer delegation looks forward to accompanying the electoral process alongside the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC), while engaging institutional, political, and social forces throughout the country.

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