The decline of South Africa’s Dominant Party System and how to overcome the coalition trend in 2019

Mandela’s voice featured in 2016 South African elections: a democracy with a lost legacy?
November 9, 2016
Overview of Elections in Africa – 2015
November 10, 2016

The decline of South Africa’s Dominant Party System and how to overcome the coalition trend in 2019

Now that the voting, the count and the negotiations have come to an end the time has come to reflect on the political developments that have transpired in South Africa, with a particular emphasis on the recent coalitions and gentlemen’s that have been formed. After much consideration I am of the opinion that the People of South Africa could not have wished for a better deal! Here is my analysis (which I have drawn up using both my own political experiences as well as the knowledge I have gained as a student of Political Science thus far):

  1. South Africa’s dominant party system has begun to disintegrate. The 2016 Local Government Elections marked a phenomenal turning point in our democracy as voters have finally realized that that the policies advocated and implemented by the African National Congress (ANC) have sent South Africa on a downward path. The overload of party dictatorship, lack of service delivery and recent corruption scandals has led to more voters drifting away from the ANC.
  2. South Africa does not suffer from “catch all” party syndrome. This is indeed a good thing as it indicates that most of our politicians and our parties are still ideologically inclined and thus stand for something. The difference in ideologies still gives the electorate a choice thereby making a politics a tad more interesting as compared to the politics where “catch all” parties are in power.
  3. We have an ideologically divided BUT goal united opposition. Although the Economic Freedom Fighters and the Democratic Alliance failed to come to terms with one another when attempting a coalition, mostly due to their ideological differences, there was still agreement among the main opposition politicians that the ANC has to be removed from power. This is indeed the icebreaker that has led to the dawning demise of our dominant party system.


Now that the tectonic plates of South African politics have begun to shift many will most likely start looking towards the 2019 National Government Elections. In many cases the major parties did not obtain an outright majority as they missed by what I would be happy call narrow to medium margins in the 2016 Local Government Election. The question now remains what can parties do to ensure that the possibility of collations is minimized in 2019?

The answer to this question lies in the electorate itself, particularly with the youth. Political parties in South Africa have failed to entice the youth, let alone gain their trust. A recent study conducted by the Institute for Security Studies conforms these findings. One of the key findings of their study concluded that the youth are becoming less partisan towards the ANC, but are also showing signs of dissatisfaction with the current opposition parties. This should be alarming for all political parties from across the political spectrum as this means that young people are beginning to drift away from the political process. With over half of South African’s population being under the age of 35 South African political parties would do well to review their attitudes towards the youth, by making it easier for young people to firstly, understand the political process and the imperative role they play in it and secondly, to become involved with political parties.

Such actions should not only be undertaken by local branches and constituencies, but be a form of policy pronouncement that is embodied and endorsed by the national leadership of the respective political parties. Reaching out to the youth will only prove to be a fruitful exercise if national party leaders embrace this growing population trend and give the youth purpose in their organizations. Programs need to be drawn up that encourage civic engagement, explain the voting process and where possible simplify the voting process, as well as provide platforms where civic engagement activates such as debating, voter education workshops and community engagement can take place.

svenAbout the Author: Sven Botha is a student of Political and International Studies at Monash University South Africa. He is a political activist who is passionate about encouraging young people to understand the imperative role they play in maintaining and sustaining political systems. His research interests include; causes of civic disengagement, possible antidotes for civic disengagement, arms control and disarmament, counter terrorism and voting behavior.