SRF’s Frans Cronje: SA’s opposition parties blew opportunity; ANC decline arrested now stable above 50%

The latest polling data from the Social Research Foundation, shared here by chair Dr Frans Cronje, shows that SA’s opposition political parties wasted a golden opportunity to punish the ruling ANC when it was most vulnerable. With the notable exception of the IFP (especially in KZN) Cronje says the ANC’s other competitors dropped the ball when the tryline beckoned. Biggest loser, research shows, is the radical EFF whose share of the vote has almost halved to a modest 6% in recent months. Cronje believes the ANC’s fortunes will be further boosted ahead of the 2024 National Election by a virtual end to loadshedding as long-term plans start to have an impact. He spoke to Alec Hogg of BizNews.

Find the interview timestamps below:

  • 00:00 – Introduction 
  • 00:51 – Polling numbers this time around 
  • 11:35 –  By-elections 
  • 12:38 – On Cyril Ramaphosa 
  • 14:46 – The electricity issue 
  • 20:45 – Gayton Mackenzie and the ANC
  • 22:02 – The Christian conservative voters
  • 25:41 – If voter turnout numbers don’t improve
  • 28:19 – On if he’s still feeling upbeat about SA in the long term

Some extracts from the interview:

Dr Frans Cronje on the polling numbers this time around

It is fortuitous that we’re talking today because I’ve received the most recent batch of polling numbers over the last couple of days. It’s importamt to understand a few things about them: sample size is about 1500 people, where the previous sample we shared with you was based on 3200 respondents. Our margin of error on these numbers, on the national numbers, is about 4%. So my advice to people who hear the numbers is, don’t cling to a specific figure, rather read the figures as indicative of trends, and I think they’re very good at that. We’ve got the ANC modelled for turnout. So assuming an actual election at 52%, that is up marginally from the 49, 50% that we had it on about six or eight months ago. The DA is steady at below 25%, around 23, 24%. That’s largely where it was.

These things do fluctuate through days of the week, but this is where they were, with the EFF, sharply down, you know, it was sustaining levels of over ten. It’s now down somewhere between six and 8%. And the reason for that is that it’s hit a dead end. Its offer of radical populism doesn’t have deep and far reaching appeal. So it’s way down. The IFP you’ve been reporting on and your instincts are absolutely right, way, way up from 2% plus to 6% on the national figure. Bear in mind though, margins of error. So again, read the trends in KZN. Absolutely astonishing from somewhere I can’t remember. Just north of 10%, 23 is where it’s at at the moment. Huge inroads are eating into the EFF and ANC share. In that province, the Freedom Front is up from two to around three, which, if your base was two, three is quite far ahead of that. ActionSA is down on the raw number that the model turns out from 4.7 to 3. Chiefly in line with that is that Mr. Mashaba’s popularity is way down about 50% over the last eight months and that’s really the newcomer syndrome, you’re new on the scene, very exciting. And then things kind of moderate after that. On turnout modelled ActionSA numbers probably down from five to around nearer four. And so that’s the national picture. 

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The failure of coalition parties

Key reason for that is the coalition has failed to inculcate the reasonable belief that the coalition government will definitely be better than the ANC government. It hasn’t been tremendous. The coalitions have surrendered the cities they captured in Gauteng to a significant extent, the audit result in Tshwane and into DA governance of that city was appalling. As bad as anything that you’ll get out of the depths of ANC governed Eastern Cape.

You’ll remember there was a moment during the coalitions when two power stations were discovered in Pretoria, and that was an absolute gold dust moment because if they’d taken them, commenced the refurbishment of them, the coalition would have had a political platform to say: ‘Look how we’ll solve loadshedding, but that deteriorated into accusations of corruption and internal squabbling so that the moment was squandered, etc., to a point where now and this is the stuff from yesterday evening – we asked voters the questions, are coalitions working? 18% say yes and 70% say no. But that’s correct. I mean, it’s true, you can’t say these things are not working in Gauteng at all. Where does that leave us? The ANC gets scared it’s going to lose. And, you know, the narrative in a lot of the mainstream media was that it was absolutely finished. They are below 40%. But all of these things are very volatile and now fluctuate. So the numbers I’m giving you today are not a forecast of next year. They are where we are now. 

Can the ANC can get the electricity issue right

Now I think we can get it right. Over the last couple of months, we did quite a lot of trying to understand energy numbers and how much space there is only for power stations. The more we did of this, the more it just didn’t make sense to us. And this is why if I try to sum it up for you coherently, it’s quite complicated. We went through February on average. We generated, in a peak hour of the day, 23 or 24,000 megawatts. Maybe I’m out by a thousand here or there, but roughly. Of that, about 16, 17,000 came from coal, and then the rest came from everything from the pumped storage stations to the gas turbines that burn diesel, to a bit of solar and wind to Koeberg, and to imports. So about 16, 17,000 megawatts of coal are being produced. But coal infrastructure, the potential generating capacity of coal plants that exists in the country is about 45,000 megawatts. So only a third of that is operating at its full potential. And an idea is being cast about behind various scenes, because controversial people don’t like being attacked in the press and that. 

To say that it’s plausible that we refurbish a third of the country’s coal infrastructure, how that’s explained to me is that you’re basically going to a coal plant that was built decades ago, but the structure’s pretty solid. And you do an audit of the boilers and things and you pull out all the parts that are broken and you order replacements and you put them back in. You refit it. It’s like a serious service of a car is how it was put to me. But that’s it, and it should be possible on a timeline of around three years to for one. So one third of the coal fleet is working. Two thirds are set to recommission. The impact of that would be sufficient to allow the country to sustain modest rates of growth between three and 4% if other policy reforms are brought about first, not only energy to allow a rate of growth gain of 3 to 4% of GDP from an energy perspective for a period of ten years. And a lot of people are going to get cross, if you say we must reinvest in coal and get coal going again. It’s not at odds with green transition ideas and the like. Certainly if you refit the coal fleet sufficiently to firstly eliminate load shedding and then again allow modest growth, we will put the country in a position from an energy perspective to sustain the modest rates of growth necessary to secure our longer term political stability so that in 20 years time, when the true potential of the green transition is there. We actually are still a society, a democracy, an economy that cares about things like green and just transition. 

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So on the ten year view, it is relatively straightforward to see how to eliminate loadshedding and restore growth. The reason for load shedding is in the mine. I mean, there are plenty of reasons for corruption, incompetence,and all of that. But a key reason is a far too rapid move away from coal, a far too fast turn away from coal in a jiffy in the form of not investing enough in the maintenance and refurbishment of the coal fleet. And that needs to be done. If it is, growth is again enriched, in the 12 month window let’s get the chart that deals with that sort of thing by lifting coal production by 2 to 3000 megawatts and by buying enough diesel to ensure that the gas turbines are operating at a level closer to their potential than has been the case through the middle of February. 

So adding a modest amount of solar and wind and the refit of Koeberg being completed within 12 months, it is perfectly plausible, looking at the data that we will be at loadshedding stage 0 perhaps on a bad day stage 2 perhaps on a good day we’ll have a bit of surplus to allow growth. 

So my prediction is within 12 months we will be in a better position. There’s energy. And if you read that against what I’ve told you about ANC support and how the ANC becomes a bit more pragmatic and how the broader opposition coalition disappoints for a period, it can all change again. And you can see how it must be seriously considered now that the ANC wins the election in 2024. 

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