President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses ANC supporters in Johannesburg, May 12 2019. Picture: REUTERS/MIKE HUTCHINGS
President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses ANC supporters in Johannesburg, May 12 2019. Picture: REUTERS/MIKE HUTCHINGS

While various ANC protagonists argue about whether or not Cyril Ramaphosa won the election for them, , data shows that Ramaphoria was a critical factor.

It is most obvious in the remarkable phenomenon of the split vote in which opposition voters gave their votes for the National Assembly to the ANC but voted against the party in their home province. These were DA and EFF voters who believe that even though the ANC does not express their political aspirations, it was nonetheless necessary to back Ramaphosa as he will do the best job of running the country.

In a deeper indication of support, the townships, especially those in Gauteng, turned out to back Ramaphosa.

In each of the nine provinces, the ANC’s vote on the national ballot was higher by between half and three percentage points than the vote on the provincial ballot. The effect is most strongly seen in Gauteng where the ANC got 52.2% on the national ballot but only 50,19 % on the ballot for the provincial legislature. Conversely, the DA did better on the provincial ballot with three percentage points more than on the national ballot.

Similarly, in the North West and Mpumalanga where the EFF is now the new official opposition, some EFF voters showed that they trust Ramaphosa above Julius Malema to lead the national government. In Mpumalanga for instance, the EFF got 1.25 percentage points less on the ballot for the National Assembly than it did for the provincial legislature.

In a deeper indication of support, the townships, especially those in Gauteng, turned out to back Ramaphosa. Turnover in the province as a whole was 70%, well above the national average of 65%. These were the people who stayed home in the 2016 municipal election and who booed Jacob Zuma at the memorial rally for former president Nelson Mandela in 2013 and at a May Day rally in 2017. On the PR vote in 2016, the ANC scored only 42% in Gauteng. Had Ramaphosa not been the face of the ANC, the party was on track to lose the province.

That it was not just ANC supporters who backed Ramaphosa is a positive reinforcement of our democracy. It is good for social cohesion and nation building that 57.5% of the population want Ramaphosa to lead and trust him enough to give the ANC another chance at governing.

But while the Ramaphosa effect is the most uplifting aspect of the election story, the broader picture is not quite so encouraging. While 65% of voters turned out to vote, 35% did not, and 10-million eligible voters did not register at all. Together that means, almost 20 million adults did not participate in these elections.

To some extent, falling turnouts are normal in a maturing democracy. But the consensus among analysts is that the main reason behind the low turnout was not apathy but disillusionment. An ever-increasing number of people have begun to believe that political leaders and parties cannot or will not do anything that helps them. Conversely, it is clear that violent protests, which always draw a political response, are on the increase.

Having saved the ANC at the polls, Ramaphosa must now move onto the bigger mission to save the country. All eyes will now be on his cabinet picks and the restructuring of the government. These will be an important indicator of the extent to which he is determined to arrest the trend of corruption and weak state capacity.

To do so, there will be no avoiding political battles both within the ANC and the broader alliance, in particular, Cosatu. Rebalancing public finances towards investment rather than consumption, restructuring state-owned entities especially Eskom and selecting cabinet leadership on the basis of competence rather than loyalty, seniority or political constituency are certain to be flashpoints of conflict.

It is also inevitable that there will be intense political contestation about the strategic vision he will need to drive if the economy is to be rebuilt and social divisions addressed. The ANC manifesto is a broad wish list, which in true ANC style included the demands of all ANC political constituencies but took no stance on the trade-offs that need to happen between them.

These things can be done, but they will require immense courage and leadership from Ramaphosa. We wish him success. SA needs him to succeed.