Cronje on Election’24:  SA’s historic opportunity – if ANC avoids Chernobyl option

With results of South Africa’s watershed election now baked in, political scientist Dr Frans Cronje says the country faces a one-off, historic opportunity to catapult ahead. Whether or not it happens depends entirely on which way a badly bruised ANC jumps. The High Road lies in an ANC which opts to embrace a working partnership with the DA, IFP and others. The alternative  is what he calls “the Chernobyl option” when it retains political power in the short-term through a coalition with MK and the EFF – but thereby sows the seeds of its own destruction. The SRF chairman spoke to BizNews editor Alec Hogg.

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Highlights from the Interview

In a candid interview with Alec Hogg, Frans Cronje from the Social Research Foundation delves into South Africa’s recent elections and the potential outcomes for its political landscape. Cronje highlights critical factors affecting the ANC’s performance, including the impact of legal rulings on Jacob Zuma and electoral inefficiencies. He explores scenarios for future governance, advocating either a coalition with the DA to stabilize the country or risking fragmentation and further decline. Cronje emphasizes strategic opportunities in KwaZulu-Natal, suggesting that acknowledging voter alienation could reshape regional dynamics favorably.

The discussion also praises Helen Zille’s leadership within the DA amidst electoral challenges, signaling a potential resurgence for opposition politics despite media scrutiny and internal conflicts. Cronje’s analysis underscores the complexity of coalition negotiations, stressing the need for careful planning and public understanding to navigate South Africa’s political landscape effectively. Overall, the interview portrays a nuanced view of South Africa’s electoral intricacies, balancing optimism for potential unity with cautious realism about the challenges ahead.

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00:00:05:00 – 00:00:28:17
Alec Hogg:

Well, here is the interview that the BizNews tribe has really been waiting for. Dr. Frans Cronje, who is a political scientist and chairman of the board of the Social Research Foundation, and will be giving us his thoughts on Election 24. We’ve got, well, enough of the results now to have a very good indication that the poll from the SRF was incredibly accurate, despite all the naysayers.

00:00:28:17 – 00:00:37:06
Alec Hogg:

We’ll get more insights from Doctor Frans himself in a moment.

00:00:37:08 – 00:01:06:00
Alec Hogg:

Well, you took quite a bit of stick in the run-up to the election from some of the smaller parties because in our conversations, Frans, you did say that certain of them were going to be terribly disappointed, and, well, I suppose even more forthright in your opinions on some of those smaller parties, but they just haven’t shaped this time round, the big story being M.K. and, well, let’s suppose the one party you didn’t really call to the degree that it’s done is the Patriotic Alliance.

00:01:06:00 – 00:01:10:20
Alec Hogg:

But outside of that, your polls have been vindicated. Interesting.

00:01:10:22 – 00:01:37:11
Frans Cronje:

Yeah. Look, the stuff works. There’s a science to it. The whole polling community was very good, and the people at Ipsos were very close. Mock data, what Bill Johnson did there was very good. The Oppenheimer family and their Brenthurst initiative was very close. And the SRF stuff was also close.

00:01:37:15 – 00:01:56:06
Frans Cronje:

I mean, even on the PA, if you take into account the margin of error that we had on the Western Cape, it was inside the margin. I think… I just wanted to say too, that a lot of our work was done by a company called Victory Research, run by a guy called Gareth van Onselen.

00:01:56:08 – 00:02:26:13
Frans Cronje:

And these guys, I mean, they must be the best in the world at this now because what they managed to do is, is this wasn’t a normal election, one where the ANC was, you know, going to step down from 57 to 54. It took a 15 point dive and they called that right. That’s amazing. The second thing is they saw that M.K. was a thing and that it would be big.

00:02:26:13 – 00:03:04:01
Frans Cronje:

Now we knew that before because we knew the popularity behind Zuma’s when he launched. It was obvious that something was going to happen. And yeah, they, the guys that sit behind the scenes, they take the work into the field, for us, they work on the questionnaires, they’re doing the math behind a lot of this, and they really deserve the credit because it’s been one of the great successes of election polling of this era is what they achieved on South Africa.

00:03:04:01 – 00:03:06:03
Frans Cronje:

Yes. I’m very grateful to that.

00:03:06:05 – 00:03:22:12
Alec Hogg:

And Gareth also stuck his neck out. He wrote a very, very powerful article on BizNews responding to Herman Mashaba’s criticism, where I guess if he got it wrong, he would have looked, he had a lot of egg on his face, and he didn’t, he got absolutely right.

00:03:22:14 – 00:03:48:18
Frans Cronje:

The thing is, Alec, is that it’s not wrong, it’s right. It works. The methods have been perfected. There’s a science. You cannot do this kind of work. It’s like trying to explain the economy without knowing what the inflation rate is or the fixed investment rate. It’s the same thing.

00:03:48:20 – 00:04:35:10
Frans Cronje:

And there’s a problem in the political analysis world that people who do not have proper resources and information make it up as they go along based on what they read in the Sunday newspaper, and they cause a lot of damage. As a consequence, this industry needs to be professionalized. And the examples of what happened at Brenthurst with the Oppenheimers, what Ipsos did and what Mark Data for ETV, and what we were able to do is, is hopefully going to become the standard that needs to be aspired to because it’s simply not good enough to run around shouting all sorts of views with absolutely no basis in fact for those views.

00:04:35:10 – 00:04:45:00
Frans Cronje:

And the results, as they turned out, being projected, bear that out very, very strongly. Yesterday morning and again this morning.

00:04:46:13 – 00:05:17:19
Alec Hogg:

It’s an extraordinary story on that side. But an even bigger story is what next. We’ve got a fabulous column on BizNews Premium right now by Bill Johnson RW Johnson on KwaZulu Natal in particular. And we should never forget that MK had a massively funded campaign then and that the a lot of the regalia on the MK t-shirts had Putin together with Ubaba with Jacob Zuma.

00:05:17:21 – 00:05:29:18
Alec Hogg:

So there’s something going on here, Frans, which maybe one needs a bit of second-level thinking to understand where the MK surge has come from.

00:05:29:20 – 00:05:59:08
Frans Cronje:

Well, what it’s coming from is obvious from the deep. The data on MK voters, they didn’t vote so much for the policies of the party. I think many are not up to speed on the policies of the party. And if they were, they wouldn’t find them attractive. MK voters voted, amongst other reasons, but importantly for this reason, that they felt alienated.

00:05:59:10 – 00:06:42:18
Frans Cronje:

They felt they’d been forgotten, neglected, insulted by the ANC, and the strength of MK arose from the perception of the persecution of Mr. Zuma. And that perception resonates very, very broadly. Remember, also you factor into this, it’s the same point just from a different angle, that Zulu nationalism was only interrupted by British colonial rule. And as British colonial rule has ebbed, so the influence returns, a point that RW Johnson has been making for 20 years, but which has never been taken seriously.

00:06:42:18 – 00:07:16:09
Frans Cronje:

Now he and the point are borne out and we saw, for example, right round at about ten days, two weeks before the election, the ANC was nicely on the way up. It was the time of but a month out from the election, five weeks up. It was at about 40%. A lot of very weird stuff that will investigate and find out what it really was in newspapers like Business Day saying that this is a disinformation campaign.

00:07:16:14 – 00:07:53:18
Frans Cronje:

It wasn’t, and will though that’s going to be followed up. After that, the ANC can’t lift it and it got to about 45, 46% about two weeks out from the election. Then two things happened. One was the National Health Insurance announcement, and that sent ANC support into a tailspin. And they miscalculated horribly and thought that the idea of national health insurance would be seen as supportive of a broader kind of social wage theme.

00:07:53:18 – 00:08:19:17
Frans Cronje:

And it wasn’t because there are more black than white medical aid beneficiaries. There is vast private out-of-pocket expenditure on private health care. People respect private medical professionals, even in poor communities. It’s one of the few people you can go and see that you can trust will deliver a high quality of service to, and the ANC seems to be completely ignorant of aspirations.

Read more: Dr Corne’ Mulder outlines options for lawmakers during SA’s critical next two weeks

00:08:19:19 – 00:08:50:17
Frans Cronje:

One of the things people aspired to and aspiring to a middle-class standard of living is the idea of private health insurance. Kind of amazing products that are made available by great South African entrepreneurs like Mr. Gore at Discovery. And when the ANC went after NHI, it absolutely alienated the established and the aspirational middle class, which were markets that were already very weakened and we saw it dive.

00:08:50:18 – 00:09:19:09
Frans Cronje:
At the same time, the Constitutional Court, all within a couple of days, rules that Mr. Zuma cannot stand for parliament, and electoral authorities in South Africa are busy playing politics. As it turns out, they’re not focused on running efficient elections — a point we’ll get to — and that absolutely just amplifies the perception of the persecution of Zuma. We saw MK the day after that.

00:09:19:09 – 00:09:39:00
Frans Cronje:
This is why you’ve got to do it every day. We saw MK support jump, I don’t know, 2 or 3 percentage points over a short period of time, and the ANC was comfortably headed for 46 or 47. Had it not done those two things, it would have stayed at 46 or 47, but that’s entered into a dive.

00:09:39:02 – 00:10:03:20
Frans Cronje:
The third thing that I think hurts it badly was the incompetence of the IEC. There were a lot of places where it was difficult to vote. I spoke to people who’d been in polling stations; some even told me they said this was the most incompetent election they’d seen. Opposition voters, in the meantime, were more motivated than ANC voters, who were greatly disillusioned.

00:10:03:22 – 00:10:34:06
Frans Cronje:
It’s been coming for 15 years from their party, maybe we’ll estimate later on. But I think the ANC lost, you know, the differential turnout. It lost another point or two, maybe more, at the hands of the IEC. Now, those three events — NHI announcement, the Constitutional Court saying Zuma can’t go to Parliament, and the IEC…

00:10:34:08 – 00:10:52:15
Frans Cronje:
I think that took and markets priced the election at about 44, 45%. It’s why the rand dived a little bit yesterday, and bonds, and I think that wasn’t the lower than that. It’s consequence of those three bits, Alec.

00:10:52:17 – 00:11:16:04
Alec Hogg:
Isn’t that interesting, in that you have a look at what’s happened in the United States with Donald Trump, a similar situation to that of Jacob Zuma. The courts found him guilty on all 34 charges, on the whole Stormy Daniels porn star affair, and his ratings have just been climbing, and climbed even more after yesterday’s results.

00:11:16:04 – 00:11:38:07
Alec Hogg:
So it’s so interesting that we’re getting this situation. But let’s dwell on Zuma and in particular in KwaZulu-Natal. If you have a situation where we don’t know what the final outcome is going to be, but MK will be pretty close to the mid-forties or maybe even higher, it appears, from where we are right now. And you can guide us on that.

00:11:38:09 – 00:11:41:17
Alec Hogg:
That brings another joker into the pack. Surely?

00:11:41:19 – 00:12:09:08
Frans Cronje:
Yeah, indeed. Mr. Zuma is a very, very capable man. The idea of the bumbling idiot that’s been cultivated in elite society and the press is wrong. If I had to go to war, the political war, I’d take him with me, and I’ll take Helen Zille with me. And between the two of them, if those two ever teamed up, we would have a national majority.

00:12:09:10 – 00:12:44:12
Frans Cronje:
That the toughness of the one and the strategic acumen of the other. He’s also pretty tough; she might be even tougher than he is. But… So you’re dealing with a master. You, who is, again, performed very well. What do you do now with this if you’re the ANC? Well, one option, we started to cast the Chernobyl option for the ANC is that…

00:12:44:13 – 00:12:57:20
Frans Cronje:
Disillusioned, disillusioned, and shattered. Mr. Ramaphosa exits and…

00:12:59:09 – 00:13:34:02
Frans Cronje:
His crowd, whatever that is, melt. The EFF storming back, Paul Mashatile has a strong EFF caucus in the ANC and outside the maybe MK back in some form or another. And what the ANC has done is set up its Chernobyl, and it’s going to melt though, you know already, Alec, 70 ANC MPs are not going back to it next week.

00:13:34:04 – 00:14:01:19
Frans Cronje:
Just people who within a month or two are going to get letters from their banks that they can’t pay the bond, their kids’ school fees. These aren’t, in the main, people who are going back to their successful careers in law or their businesses, and I know where the bodies are buried. If you let the EFF and…

00:14:01:19 – 00:14:46:20
Frans Cronje:
MK back into this now, into this, this… Without them back, let them back. The conflict over resources and the like will be spectacular. What will also happen is that the MK and EFF’s return will actually alienate the middle classes. What the ANC still has, it will greatly embolden middle classes that are already in the opposition. It will see an absolute surge of support for South African civil society groups to fend off any malfeasance that will now be cooked up in whatever way that will happen.

00:14:46:22 – 00:15:25:12
Frans Cronje:
And the aspirant middle class, which is the ANC lost hope of avoiding annihilation, will be alienated, and the odds are the ANC doesn’t survive. Now, there’s a bit going around on Twitter, I’m told. I called my colleagues, made when I headed the Center for Risk Analysis in 2012 with them, that the ANC loses the election in 2022, and mentioned that only because we do this stuff properly. There was a lot of data that went into that.

00:15:25:14 – 00:15:50:13
Frans Cronje:
If the ANC goes for this option now, surrenders Ramaphosa, lets the EFF back in, lets MK back in, it’s Chernobyl that the ANC and its, for the I think, the country will be much better off than people. And this will be harsh. I mean, capital markets are going to hammer us. It’ll be a tough few years, but I think the country comes out.

00:15:50:13 – 00:16:21:19
Frans Cronje:
A bit battered. But we are a tough people; we’ve been through terrible things for hundreds of years, literally. The country will come out the other side. Public opinion’s very moderate, very solid, and reach another election. There will be a stark choice for voters. There’ll be no fences; there’ll be a stark choice between absolute devastation, which is what the brand of the ANC will be, versus a clear alternative, which is what the centrist opposition presents.

00:16:21:21 – 00:16:54:02
Frans Cronje:
So Chernobyl is the one option now to avoid Chernobyl; the ANC count is so low it can’t do a deal with the rats and mice. It’s got to do some deal with the DA now; those deals can take many forms. You can have a coalition, and the way people think of it, everyone’s in government together. That’s one thing. You can also have a not quite as ambitious an initial relationship where the ANC elects the president with the minority of the vote in parliament.

00:16:54:05 – 00:17:19:23
Frans Cronje:
You don’t need a majority of members of the House to elect a president. You need the majority of votes cast, tactical abstentions, all the opposition, and bring that about. And the ANC could be told this. You elect Mr. Ramaphosa, not… We don’t do this with anyone else. You elect him, and you put the cabinet. In exchange, you give us key portfolio positions, parliament chairmanship of the committees.

00:17:50:01 – 00:17:54:02
Frans Cronje:
is a prospect that it will remain an influential future member of a South African coalition government, perhaps for years to come.

00:17:54:04 – 00:18:08:00
Alec Hogg:
Fascinating stuff. Thank you for those insights and again for clarifying that it isn’t an all or nothing. It isn’t, well, we going to go together in government, but actually there are many different steps along that road.

00:18:08:02 – 00:18:36:09
Frans Cronje:
Many degrees of this. And the parties must decide what works for them. You know, but some broad advice is if you want this deal to hold, you’ve got to give the partners almost everything that they want out of the deal, not great sacrifices. So the ANC wants to be in government needs that. So you try and accommodate that as far as possible.

00:18:36:11 – 00:19:16:08
Frans Cronje:
The opposition needs to demonstrate to its supporters that it is successful in countering malfeasance, corruption, ineptitude, incompetence. It can do so very effectively with parliamentary committees, the speakership of parliament and the lot, doesn’t mean they have to stay in separate blocs, though, as you can have some overlap here in that. But a centerpiece of the first point coalition negotiation has to be how can we accommodate each other both to get most of what we want out of this that we must all sacrifice our principles, is never gonna hold it’s not the right way to.

Read more: RW Johnson: MK, PA and other big Election’24 changes to SA’s body politic

00:19:16:10 – 00:19:41:11
Frans Cronje:
Second point that must be made in the negotiations is to say, a second point is that this is the one coalition deal that works for the country, for the reason that the two anchor tenants, the DA and the ANC, find it difficult to fish in each other’s pockets so they won’t really compete for votes. The ANC cannot get back into the established middle class market.

00:19:41:11 – 00:20:10:22
Frans Cronje:
The DA can completely tap into a multi-generational, multi-racial market because the established middle class are shell-shocked at the consequences of ANC government. The DA cannot easily reach the aspirant emerging middle class, particularly young Black people and immigrants from urban areas, because the DA has been so stigmatized by the mainstream media. So, this is quite a good deal.

00:20:10:22 – 00:20:42:03
Frans Cronje:
It’s a balance of power. If the ANC’s behavior in this arrangement is abhorrent, the DA will have easy exits to say to people, we tried, but they just do too much damage and we are out. Then the ANC government collapses and there’s a door. And the door for the ANC is there is MK, there is the EFF. It’s going to meet you in 2024, not if you slur up.

00:20:42:05 – 00:21:05:20
Frans Cronje:
On the other hand, if the ANC feels the DA is overzealous, it can control majorities in Parliament, and when to remove the DA from the committee. So now we have a balance of power and something for them to take into account in these negotiations. It’s not to rush too quickly. Now, let’s look at this over ten years.

00:21:05:22 – 00:21:28:03
Frans Cronje:
Let’s understand which is correct, that there is one deal that makes a unitary SA state succeed. And that is where we unite the interests of the established middle classes with the interests of the emerging and aspirant middle class. Urban peripheries are important, but they’re not a major future market for them. So let’s see how can we get there?

00:21:28:03 – 00:22:00:04
Frans Cronje:
Another point to make in these talks is to say that of ten major issues, these partners aren’t going to agree on all ten; they’re not going to agree on Ukraine, for example. So let’s focus on the things that are agreed on, which are domestic issues. Let’s build a relationship around those. Let’s park everything else and say it’s important, but we will not allow this to stymie this negotiation now.

00:22:00:06 – 00:22:21:04
Frans Cronje:
And if that succeeds to any extent, even if it’s initially a loose affiliation short of a coalition, over time, the two might learn to work together on more and more projects, and perhaps in five years’ time, perhaps even further into the future, they, in a sense, announce an engagement. So look, we’ve this has held. This has worked.

00:22:21:06 – 00:22:45:20
Frans Cronje:
And after this election in 2029, we’ll see how it goes. And perhaps then we’ll form a formal coalition. That is the opportunity the country has now. It’s a historic opportunity. And if we seize it, the upsides for the country are immense. And into 2030, 2040, we’re going to be one of the world’s most successful, most enticing emerging markets.

00:22:45:22 – 00:23:01:06
Alec Hogg:
How can you get that message through to the politicians? Because they are human, after all, with all kinds of emotions and prejudices, how can that almost be instilled in them that they have a higher purpose here?

00:23:01:07 – 00:23:30:09
Frans Cronje:
I mean, to tell them, you can talk to people, of course. I think it’s also important that the public understands this opportunity and why it works technically. Why does it actually work? It works because they apparently have little in common. That’s why they’re not competing for the same votes. But actually, their voters’ interests are very much aligned. And actually, opening the door to the EFF is the Chernobyl option for the ANC.

00:23:30:11 – 00:23:54:20
Frans Cronje:
And actually, working together is an option in which all our interests ultimately align. And no, we don’t have to do a shotgun marriage in the first 14 days. We can do something more gentle. I think it’s very useful for the public to understand that. I think it’s very useful for the business community here to know this because a lot of them don’t understand at all, but the people are still taken by surprise by the idea of a minority government.

00:23:54:20 – 00:24:21:20
Frans Cronje:
How could that work? And they don’t understand the dynamics of why it might work in this case. Why going slowly, slowing the game down might be better than going faster and trying to force some sort of deal. And for goodness sake, start communicating to London and Washington, which is completely absent to, to very early on indicate this is the best thing that could happen.

00:24:21:20 – 00:24:52:12
Frans Cronje:
I don’t know if it will happen well the best thing that could happen is if, if serious people, even if it’s initially, you know, Mr. Hlabisa at the IFP central to the success of such an arrangement, given this future importance in Natal and the importance of Natal and, you know, John Steenhuisen and others, the hope maybe, ANC catches on. Early actually, lets say by Sunday afternoon, able to say to the country or and the world there is a plan and this is the plan.

00:24:52:13 – 00:25:14:11
Frans Cronje:
You cannot leave this hanging. I just got off a call with one of the banks, and the point very much there again, was to not leave us hanging for three weeks. You don’t want to see what the rand is going to look like. You don’t want to see what yields on bonds are gonna look like if you leave us hanging for 2 or 3 weeks so early on.

00:25:14:11 – 00:25:16:04
Alec Hogg:
Have a plan and communicate it…

00:25:16:04 – 00:25:50:01
Frans Cronje:
Yeah, but but understand broadly understand in business, in the media, among our diplomatic partners around the world, the Russians, Chinese, the Americans, Europeans understand why this deal can work. And hell, if we pull this off Alec. It’s going to be and we’re going to the roller coaster from where we were three weeks ago to these results this morning, to what the government could look like in two weeks’ time.

00:25:50:01 – 00:25:56:12
Frans Cronje:
It will be an incredible story and it’s totally within our grasp.

00:25:56:14 – 00:26:22:15
Alec Hogg:
But it is. South Africa has always been an incredible story. We’ve come from the brink so many times, and perhaps, as you say, this is a historic opportunity that will be grabbed before we leave. You did mention KwaZulu-Natal, presumably that kind of potential relationship or that opportunity could bring KZN back into a non-MK/EFF ruled province.

00:26:22:15 – 00:26:53:22
Frans Cronje:
MK voters didn’t vote for MK policies. They voted on the extreme sense of alienation and neglect that they had felt on the part of the ANC. The ANC is too broken in KZN to fix that and get that back. But there is a serious prospect that MK will struggle to hold what it has together in the absence of Mr. Zuma, who is an elderly person.

00:26:54:00 – 00:27:26:22
Frans Cronje:
And if the IFP has a prominent role in government, with Deputy President Hlabisa, then there’s an opportunity for this unity government I speak of to treat Zulu voters in Natal with respect, dignity, and indicate to them that it is aware of them and that they are important and that they do matter.

00:27:27:00 – 00:28:07:03
Frans Cronje:
Then a lot of that support might flow back into the capital of the unity government in time. And that’s how you mitigate the danger of Natal. So this is sophisticated stuff. It’s high-level thinking. It’s high-level strategy and statesmanship. Mr. Hlabisa said that Inkhata ticks all those boxes. So, you know, hopefully it plays a role in the talks of the next couple of days and then you can put the pin back into the hand grenade that Natal has become.

00:28:07:05 – 00:28:38:16
Alec Hogg:
Just to close off with. There were some predictions that the DA would go below 20% in this election. It hasn’t. It’s gone the other way. You did mention earlier that Helen Zille is a force in politics. This has been something of a triumph for her, not least at a national level, but also retaining majority in the Western Cape when that was being quite widely predicted, including by, you know, often the only adult in the room, as is called, Corne Mulder.

00:28:38:18 – 00:29:19:12
Frans Cronje:
I think any party in this election that sought support as much as was established has done very well. It was very difficult. The IEC made it hard for them all. At the end, a lot of people voted but on the differential, it will probably favor the ANC more than the opposition. And you know, the DA campaigns against its political rivals, then had to campaign against its purported political allies, which were put into play by private funders and generally spent their time attacking the DA, trying to reduce its majority in the Western Cape.

00:29:19:12 – 00:29:53:16
Frans Cronje:
The DA has to campaign against the mainstream media as well. And it’s a popular thing to denigrate DA politicians broadly, but I think anyone that does that has no idea of how difficult this work can be. And I think we can be very grateful to Helen and John for what they’ve done and their predecessors in the DA for ensuring that there is a firmly established principle of opposition in South African politics.

00:29:53:18 – 00:30:05:22
Frans Cronje:
And, I mean, Helen’s efforts too absolutely heroic over the years. We haven’t always agreed, but you can be very grateful that she’s there.

00:30:06:00 – 00:30:11:12
Alec Hogg:
Doctor Frans Cronje from the Social Research Foundation. Alec Hogg from BizNews.com.

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