BNC#6: RW Johnson Q&A – Explosive political insights: ANC’s future hangs in the balance

Political scientist RW Johnson shook up the BNC#6 conference in Hermanus with his explosive insights on the ANC’s uncertain future. Revealing unprecedented polling data, Johnson highlighted the meteoric rise of MK and its potential to disrupt the political landscape, leaving the ANC scrambling for coalition partners. From KwaZulu-Natal’s seismic shifts to the Eastern Cape’s unexpected dynamics, Johnson painted a vivid picture of South Africa’s evolving political landscape. As smaller parties gain traction and youth apathy looms, Johnson’s stark assessment leaves attendees pondering the nation’s trajectory and the elusive search for a way out of the current political quagmire.

Sign up for your early morning brew of the BizNews Insider to keep you up to speed with the content that matters. The newsletter will land in your inbox at 5:30am weekdays. Register here.


Watch here

Listen here


Summary of the Question and Answer session with Political Scientist RW Johnson at BNC#6 in Hermanus

At the BNC#6 conference in Hermanus, political analyst RW Johnson delivered a riveting Q&A session, offering unparalleled insights into the uncertain future of the African National Congress (ANC). Johnson’s analysis centred on the explosive rise of MK, a phenomenon that could potentially reshape South Africa’s political landscape. With polling data indicating MK’s growing influence, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal, Johnson underscored the profound implications for the ANC’s electoral prospects. From the Eastern Cape to Mpumalanga, he highlighted the intricate dynamics at play, including the enduring popularity of figures like Jacob Zuma and the shifting allegiances within the electorate.

Moreover, Johnson addressed the emergence of smaller parties, such as the Patriotic Alliance, and their potential impact on the electoral calculus. Despite mounting disillusionment and youth disengagement, Johnson refrained from offering a definitive solution to the country’s political challenges, citing global trends of populism and division. His candid assessment left attendees grappling with the stark reality of South Africa’s political quagmire and the urgent need for decisive action. As the conference concluded, Johnson’s insights resonated with participants, sparking conversations about the future direction of the nation and the critical choices facing its citizens.

Extended transcript of the Q&A discussion session with RW Johnson at BNC#6 in Hermanus ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Alec Hogg [00:00:07] We’ll just have a short chat, you and I. I’ve got a couple of areas that I’d love you to elaborate on. That , that first, the point that you made about Ramaphosa being worth 11% to the ANC in 2019 is one that I’m not sure too many people have worked into the notes, into their, their projections. But can you give us any insight? Are you allowed to tell us anything on how you reading the polls at the moment, given that you’ve got this big project that you’re doing with with ETV? 

RW Johnson [00:00:40] So how? 

Alec Hogg [00:00:41] Well, maybe just how? You see May 29th at this point. 

RW Johnson [00:00:48] Well, the big phenomenon is clearly the rise of MK. The worry I have about our survey is that this is something which is going on. It’s growing explosively. Look, I’ll leak 1 or 2 things to you. In KwaZulu-Natal we have the ANC at 13 one three and MK at 36. So you can see what’s going on there. But equally, what is very striking is that Zuma’s appeal is also strong in, Mpumalanga. And, so I think I’m the only other province where that MK is doing anything of any significance is Gauteng. But there it’s more like sort of 5 or 6%. But overall that puts MK at around 11 for the country as a whole. Which of course is a decisive number because it takes the ANC away from the possibility of having any hope of a coalition with small parties, because there won’t be enough. So basically it doesn’t, I mean, what it shows really is that the choice is going to be either an ANC EFF coalition or an ANC and MK coalition that could also be numerically possible, or an ANC DA coalition. Those are the three possibilities now. And that’s really been made, certain by the rise of MK. I mean, that really has, what we what is not clear as really I mean, they’ve already taken away enormously from the, ANC in KZN. It looks like they’re also hurting EFF to some degree. The thing that is striking to me is that at its peak, the ANC was around two thirds. If you now add up the three parts of the ANC family, which is ANC, EFF and MK, they come to 2/3. So what has happened is that policy has split into three. The thing that I cannot but remember is how during the early years of the ANC dominance, many, many people, especially DA supporters, would, talked rather helpfully and longingly of how one day the ANC must split. Well, I think, you know, you must be wary of what you wish for, because that’s never happened. I’m not sure that the results are going to cheer people up an awful lot. 

Alec Hogg [00:03:36] The Eastern Cape before we move off the subject. Gayton McKenzie said that Jacob Zuma is more popular in the Eastern Cape than he is, in KZN. 

RW Johnson [00:03:45] Well, that’s not borne out by the data I’m looking up. What is certainly true is that, if you ask people about how favourable they are to Jacob Zuma, then he does quite well in Eastern Cape. So there is potential there. It’s as if there is a sort of Nguni solidarity. Not just Zulu, but, you know, obviously most powerful among the Zulus. But, that is not mirrored by any good performance by the MK and Eastern Cape that I’ve looked at, though, frankly, if they get campaigning down there, that could change, I suppose. 

Alec Hogg [00:04:25] Those are those are big numbers, 36 to 13 way, way different to even the most optimistic projections that we’ve seen for MK, in for instance, the Brenthurst, a poll that came out the other day. A few people, I would say had a stockbroker, giving the information. They said the printer’s numbers were not credible. What you telling us now appears to support that. 

RW Johnson [00:04:55] Well, I mean, our numbers are higher than the Brenthurst ones, actually, but it is KZN. One thing I should say is that, what the data shows is that, you know, when people talk about dissidents within South Africa, they usually come around pretty quickly to talking about Western Cape secession as a sort of possibility. Now, quite clearly, if you’re going to get either an MK, ANC coalition or EFF ANC coalition, it would greatly strengthen secessionist feelings across the board, no doubt. But if you just look at the data, you would say that the province which is in the state of revolt and rebellion is KZN, not the Western Cape, and that on all sorts of indices, it’s the most radical. I mean, when you ask people about how much confidence they have in the ANC in KZN, on the sick. It’s just gone, you know. And the absolute fury against the government, which you can see in many of the responses, was much stronger in KZN. You would actually think that was the province on the verge of secession. 

Alec Hogg [00:06:17] [00:06:17]Mr. Hlabisa [0.3s] had an interesting talk yesterday, he was particularly, impressive, when he deviated from his script, where in much of his script, he was talking about Prince Buthelezi and the bad rap he’s been getting, but he came across as a very, as a leader with great integrity. And, and for some people, potentially a president, clearly, the numbers you’re giving us. So that’s not going to happen. But how’s the IFP doing in its home province?

RW Johnson [00:06:46] Oh, they were up, they, they were doing quite well in KZN. I’ve forgotten the actual number. I think it was around 19 or 20, that, so it was definitely better than they’d been before. But, the, it’s very splintered. You got ANC, MK, DA, IFP. I mean, that’s four large blocks, in that province and no one in the size for 50, you know. So, it’s all over the place. But the IFP, certainly they have recovered ground. 

Alec Hogg [00:07:23] The stockbrokers report that they’ve been working at it for some time. They are advising clients on the basis of it, and they talk about 4000 interviews they did. They give a lot of, it’s a stockbroking firm. They’ve kept it, confidential, but they’ve given a lot of, a lot more support to the smaller parties. Now, it was interesting, one of what you were saying in the beginning, that the the structure of South Africa’s political, well, the political structure here will support smaller parties in time. Are you seeing the ActionSA Patriotic Alliance. Maybe those smaller parties getting ground or getting a lot of ground in this election? 

RW Johnson [00:08:10] No. Basically, I mean, the problem is this, you see, that if we did a sample of 3000, except for the most important questions, we did 7, 6000 to to double it up and make the margin smaller. Now the small parties come out very poorly. But the problem is that that means that a very small part of your sample, which means that the margin of error is much higher when you’re talking about small numbers. And, I mean, look, I’ll give you another leak, which is that, on our numbers, the DA is going to be the biggest party in the Northern Cape. Now the trouble is, the Northern Cape is such a small population, but again, the sample size there is small, so the margin of error is very high. So I can’t be certain of that result, you know. But no, the problem, look, what one realises is that the electoral system makes it very easy to break through, but the barriers are not only the number of signatures you got to get, which has made it difficult for a number of parties. As you know, it finished off Roger Jardine. But it’s actually the hard slog of setting up party organisations and recruiting members, fundraising, etc. it’s a tremendously hard slog and I can remember, you know, talking to James Self, who was then the chairman of the DA at the time when COPE was launched. And I said, what do you think about that? And he said, oh, well, I wish them luck. So I said, really, even though they’re a competitor? He said, listen, we were nearly wiped out in ’94. And after that, Tony Leon and I and a couple of others, we had to slog away for years, setting up branches, getting fundraising, going. It was the hardest work of my life. And we did it, you know? And now it’s all right. But oh my God, I never want to go through that again. So anyone else who’s volunteering for that. Good luck to them. You know. And that was his attitude. And I think that all the small parties underestimate just how tough that is. 

Alec Hogg [00:10:23] And the DA in this election. Where you putting them? 

RW Johnson [00:10:27] They were coming out more or less as before. The the Brenthurst poll was giving them something very fancy. In the high 20s. We saw no sign. I mean, it was all about 2021. 

Alec Hogg [00:10:41] Okay. We have 20 minutes. Audience participation. If you’d like to put your hand up. There’s a hand over here. On this side of the room. When you get the microphone, please just stand up and ask your question. 

BizNews Community Member [00:11:04] Mr. Johnson, thank you for your usual erudite, wisdom for us to learn from. I just have a simple question. Do you see this election as, as the end of democracy or whatever is at the moment for South Africa? 

RW Johnson [00:11:25] Oh, no, I don’t. We did ask questions about this. And it’s quite true that when you ask people, you know, how do you think the ANC would react to the loss of power? There’s no great popular confidence that they will behave democratically. There’s a strong feeling that they’ll find a way of staying in power. Whatever. But no, I, I don’t feel like this is a stage in, our political development, but, you know, there will be other stages. So I don’t feel that. But I did look at obviously worrying that MK has been making threats of misbehaviour because they’re in a very strange position, because, it’s illegal for Zuma to be head of the ticket because he’s been sentenced to 15 months in jail, and that means he’s ineligible. So the IEC’s got a big problem. What it’s going to do about that. But of course, given the fact that Zuma is quite popular and is universally known, there’s no other way that the MK are going to have anyone else on the front of the ballots or on their posters. So, you know, that’s already a rather shred situation. And it’s pretty clear that the people who organised the 2021 riots are involved in organising MK, and you know, they’re quite good at what they do. So, they’re quite formidable, I think. But we don’t know how they’re going to react. And, I think it’s going to be very difficult for, EFF because I think they had very high hopes in this election. And MK is going to put a brake on those. Although EFF will gain before that [incoherent]. Any sign that Russia will interfere with the election, or is interfering with the election to tip the scales, given the socialistic connections to the ANC. No, there’s no sign that I can see. But, of course, I wouldn’t expect to see it in the data. You know, look, if there were going to be covert help from abroad, you would find it more in social media and in financial contributions. Things which, by definition, will be half hidden or fully hidden. So it you know, when I’m not going to have any special way of knowing about that. 

Alec Hogg [00:13:57] But what is your gut telling you on that front? On Russian, when, when, and I’ve mentioned this before at this conference when Malema stands up and says Putin is us, we are Putin. And when, a co-founder of the Scorpions maintains that it’s the Russian secret service that is funding MK. 

RW Johnson [00:14:19] Well, these are just guesses, you know? What is certainly true is that it’s clear that, Putin’s, the group around him have decided some time ago that, you know, that the ANC has to stay in power in South Africa. That’s become quite important to them. And, so I would expect them to lend support to one sort or another. But it’s not visible to me what that is at the moment. 

Alec Hogg [00:14:52] The side of the room  

Alec Hogg [00:15:02] You know, I get to talk to Johnson all the time. 

Alec Hogg [00:15:06] Yeah, yeah. I get to talk to you all the time, and you guys don’t get this option, so please use it. 

BizNews Community Member [00:15:12] Mr. Johnson? 

RW Johnson [00:15:13] Yes. Hello? 

BizNews Community Member [00:15:14] I’d like to know your opinion about Gayton McKenzie. Do you think he is the forceful character that. 

RW Johnson [00:15:21] Sorry, I’m not understanding that very well. 

BizNews Community Member [00:15:22] Do I think Gayton McKenzie, your opinion of him? And do you think he is the forceful character that South Africa needs now? 

Alec Hogg [00:15:31] The question was Gayton McKenzie. What do you think of him? Your opinion of him. And is he the kind of leader South Africa needs now? Forceful leader? 

RW Johnson [00:15:42] Well, I don’t think I should give personal opinions, of that. But, look, all I can say is that, look, he’s a forceful figure. It’s difficult to judge what, his party is going to do because they’ve done quite well at municipal level. But there isn’t much sign of that at national level. Certainly no one’s the data I’ve seen. But and there are parties like that, you see. I mean, you get these local parties like [00:16:15]Icosa, [0.0s] which does quite well in local elections in the Western Cape, but is invisible at, national level so that we don’t know yet whether that’s going to be true of the Patriotic Alliance. But. Look, the calibre of our leadership is not high at the moment. In any, respect at all. I don’t think any of the parties are as well led now as they have been in the past. You know, I think that’s true as a DA I think it’s true of the ANC. I mean, that’s true. Quite a lot of parties. So this does create an opening for, other new parties. And look, he’s got a following within the coloured community. There’s little doubt about that. But. I would be surprised if that were a lasting factor. You know, we have had this phenomenon over and over again. The first election, Cope did quite well in its first election, and after that it faded away. The same has been true of other good, for example, doesn’t look like it’s good to do very much. You know, it’s a one election wonder sort of thing. And we have to see whether that’s going to be true. You don’t know. 

Alec Hogg [00:17:36] What about the. Sorry. Yeah. Yeah. Carry on. 

BizNews Community Member [00:17:39] Mr. Johnson, thanks so much for your your speech. Just with regards to what the past sort of five, six speakers have said with regards to this election. Do you believe it is a make and break election for South Africa? Or is there more more time to fix this nation? 

RW Johnson [00:17:56] Do I think. 

Alec Hogg [00:17:57] Do you think that this is a make or break election for South Africa, as some of the politicians have been positioning it? 

RW Johnson [00:18:04] Well, I’m sorry, I have to say yes or no. No, because life will go on. The political system will go on. And you know, it’s not the end of the world, whatever happens. But where you, where it is make or break is, I mean, what the data shrieked out very, very loudly is that there is obviously a tremendous disillusionment in the country. I mean, one question which we asked was about if we look at the record of the ANC over 30 years. Do you feel, dissatisfied with what they did? Very dissatisfied. Or are you satisfied or very satisfied? And so forth. So to try to get a picture of how people feel overall about the ANC’s performance. Now, given that the ANC were around about 40, nationally, you think, well, you know, that they’re obviously going to get 44 out of every 10 are going to say that they’re satisfied. Not at all. The ratio of dissatisfied to satisfied was 9 to 1. Including ANC. Think of that. 9 to 1 is hideous. Huge landslide of dissatisfaction. Now, that is clear right across the board. And all the data that the, feeling of, upset with the ANC and feeling of disappointment is enormously strong, which is, of course, why MK and EFF they’ve got this tremendous following win, of that dissatisfaction. That’s why they was pumping those parties up, you know. So in that sense, there is this very, very strong mood. And I suppose, you know, the most likely result, as I say, is that we’re going to have a government which will be ANC plus something or other. And for along the electorate, that’s going to be a very, very upsetting result because that degree of dissatisfaction and yet to find that party still the dominant one in power, that can it be a very disappointing result. 

Alec Hogg [00:20:21] What about a government of national unity? It has been raised a couple of times at this conference already, where you would have the FBC getting together with the ANC after the election. 

RW Johnson [00:20:32] Well, look, the nearest thing to a government of national unity would be ANC DA, because, the DA is strong among all the minorities, the business community. And so on. So, it’s it’s quite interesting that, when you ask people about, who would you like to be in coalition? The DA come out best, among all voters. With more favourable than unfavourable. And that includes the ANC and see if you say would you like to see the ANC in coalition, there are more people saying no, they don’t want it, they’re not saying they want it. Which is, you know, quite remarkable. So, the DA are actually more popular as a coalition partner with the ANC. When you ask people why, there is a strong feeling that it would be good to have the white business community and the minorities, so they’re in support of that. That will give you more possibilities, of doing a better job. I mean, that feeling exists not only among DA voters, but quite a lot of them in general. 

Alec Hogg [00:21:48] Are there any parallels in history to where we are now in South Africa and elsewhere in the world that we can draw on for, for perhaps inspiration? 

RW Johnson [00:21:57] Well, I don’t know of any. I can’t think of any. Obviously you have had the phenomenon in many African countries where an African nationalist party is utterly dominant at first and then loses its way and so forth. What is very striking to me is that, as I said to you in the talk that the National Party vote peaked 29 years after they got into power, the ANC vote peaked in 2004 after ten years. So the whole process is, you know, concertinaed, with the ANC. And the disillusionment now is stronger with the ANC than it was in the late 80s, I think. 

Alec Hogg [00:22:43] We have no one standing up. Anyone with a microphone? No. Perhaps if we look beyond 1994, I sorry, 2024, the 29th of May. We’ve had some conversations which, we’re not negative. It’s not necessary, I’ve said to you, wow, you’ve really depressed me now. But actually you, you explain to me why it isn’t a depressing scenario that you’ve painted or that is likely to happen. Could you just unpack that for us? 

RW Johnson [00:23:16] No, I’m not quite sure what you want. 

Alec Hogg [00:23:18] Well. 29th of May and the Socialist Party’s takeover, ANC EFF alliance happens. Many of the people in this room are going to say I’m packing my bags. Goodbye. I’m not coming back. I’m going to Europe. I’m never coming back to South Africa. Your view is, maybe that’s not, not actually the smart call. Would you tell us? What do you want do? 

RW Johnson [00:23:43] Well, look at my case of ANC EFF, and I suspect it applies to, ANC and MK as well. Look, it’s first of all, both Malema and Zuma, I made it clear that they dislike and despise Ramaphosa. So it’s very difficult to see Ramaphosa steering his party into coalition with a [00:24:05]hydra. [0.0s] I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s an obstacle. But the other thing is this. If you just think of ANC EFF. I think the situation that creates is very similar to when, Zuma made [00:24:21]Van Rooyen [0.0s] finance minister. That is to say, you would immediately get capital flight. You would panic in city boardrooms. And you would get an overwhelming, pressure from the business community saying, this is intolerable. This is makes the whole country uninvestable. And, if you carry on with this, then all bets are off. And in that sense, I can’t see that sort of government lasting more than a very short time, because I think the pressures against it financially and economically would be overwhelming. Quite apart from the fact that it would increase secessionist pressures and not specifically the Western Cape and KZN. I just think, that, you know, that’s got to be taken into account, that, if that were to happen, I’d say wait and see. Give it a couple of weeks and see whether it’s still, happening, because, I wouldn’t be concerned. 

Alec Hogg [00:25:28] You mentioned secession of the West Western Cape. We going to be having a session and maybe a little more this afternoon on that particular topic. Is it is it I think, for Craig’s question, is, is it a viable proposition or just a fool’s errand? 

RW Johnson [00:25:45] Well, that’s not something I really reflect on because it’s, you know, it’s an idea which, is not a fact. You know, that’s, obviously anyone who wants to envisage secession has to think about, you know, how does it work, practically, leaving aside the national governments attitude towards it. But, I mean, at the moment, we’re part of a national electricity [00:26:11]grid, for what it’s worth. [1.1s] What happens then? Do we have to set up our own regional electricity grid? How do we disconnect? The same thing of the tax system? I mean, the practical difficulties are enormous, and, I haven’t got any more idea about that than anyone else. 

Alec Hogg [00:26:34] If you cast your mind forward ten years. Given, you’ve, and that’s what investors like to do, is they like to see through the short term. If you go forward ten years, what might, what kind of scenario could you see occurring that? 

RW Johnson [00:26:51] Well, that’s very hard. Look, the thing that, really, I’m most conscious of is that look we’ve had in the last couple of weeks, water cut offs in Durban and also in Joburg. And no doubt many other smaller towns around the country. Now, if that can’t be dealt with relatively quickly and effectively, those cities will die. I mean, no city can live for very long without water. And that is the biggest crisis that the country faces. And the most immediate one, is the threat to South Africa as an urban civilisation. And you know. I don’t know what the answer to that is, but something will have to happen long before ten years from now. 

Alec Hogg [00:27:52] And the semigration wave to the Western Cape. Is it anything to to perhaps reverse that or slow it? 

RW Johnson [00:27:59] Not that I could see. And look, the population of Cape Town has increased over 27% since 2011, which isn’t that far away, you know. And it’s going on, of course. What is very difficult about it is that when people talk about semigration, they’re thinking about more or less well-off people from Joburg or elsewhere moving down and, setting up in Constantia or something like that, whereas in fact, the much larger, semigration is black people from the Eastern Cape. You know that that is going on all the time. And, in larger numbers and, is very rational because the rate of unemployment is more than 10% lower in the Western Cape, than it is in the rest of the country. So from that point of view, you know, you’re moving towards where the jobs are. Well. So I can’t see that stopping quickly. The extraordinary thing is that that the migration to Joburg is still bigger. But of course it’s often international. And those patterns have been set up over donkey’s years, you know, and they’re not going to stop at all quickly. And yet they’re moving towards the city, which is less and less able to cope with it. 

Alec Hogg [00:29:20] Final question. Gayton Mckenzie was quite outspoken about the fact that the Western Cape is gone for the DA, in his view. Do you agree? 

RW Johnson [00:29:30] No. No I don’t. I think that the demographic factor, which I’ve just mentioned, is in play and, it does look to me as if both the EFF and the ANC will do better in the Western Cape, this election than they did last time, which I suspect is because of demographic reasons, finally. But I don’t know. But, the data I’m looking at suggests that the DA will still be the dominant party. 

Alec Hogg [00:30:05] Mr. Johnson. Thank you. 

Read also: