DEMOCRACY AT DAWN: Voters queue to cast their ballots in the 1994 election. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
DEMOCRACY AT DAWN: Voters queue to cast their ballots in the 1994 election. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

The 2019 general election will take place on May 8, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced during his state of the nation address (Sona) on Thursday.

Ramaphosa said that after consultation with the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) and premiers of the nine provinces, he intended to proclaim that date for the sixth democratic election. 

The fifth term officially ends on May 6 and the elections have to be held thereafter. 

Ramaphosa's announcement kicks off election season, with political party campaigns set to start when the date is gazetted. 

The ANC faces its toughest election yet, after its consistent decline in electoral support both in general and local elections over the last decade. It will have to put up a fight to retain the country's economic hub, Gauteng, in which its support slipped below 50% in the 2016 local elections and two key metros, Tshwane and Johannesburg, were lost. 

Opposition parties too are on shaky ground, with the DA facing debilitating internal contradictions and the EFF cosying up to the faction linked to former president Jacob Zuma, marking a stark contrast to its stance as his most ardent critics.

Malema has said that he “forgives Zuma”, and his party has defended those implicated in allegations of corruption in state-owned companies such as former Transnet boss Siyabonga Gama and embattled axed SA Revenue Service commissioner Tom Moyane. 

The date of May 8 is strategic for Ramaphosa to manage the difficult dynamics within the ANC — Zuma's court application for a permanent stay of prosecution in the corruption case against him takes place on May 20. Zuma has used his court appearances to mobilise support for himself and has been critical of the ANC from that platform. This poses an electoral risk for the ANC, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal.

Internal polling in various political parties indicate that the ANC is set to face an uphill battle in the province in which it has the highest number of members.

The IFP has regained ground in the province, due to the disintegration of the National Freedom Party, but also the factional dynamics inside the ANC. 

“This is an opportunity for our people to exercise their hard-won right to determine the direction of this country,” Ramaphosa said. 

“We wish to remind all eligible South Africans who have not yet registered as voters that they still have until the proclamation of the election date to register.”