Polls point to seismic shift in ANC support base

R.W.JOHNSON / The great phenomenon of South Africa’s 2024 election has been the emergence and huge success of Jacob Zuma’s MK party – the latest ENCA poll shows it to be the third biggest party already, and within sight of the 50% mark in KwaZulu-Natal.

The MKP is, in fact, just the latest splinter party from the ANC. First there was Bantu Holomisa’s UDM, then COPE, then the EFF and now MK. It was hardly surprising that we found that respondents to the ENCA poll thought that the ANC’s decline was bound to continue, and that it would probably keep on splitting. But the poll data also enabled us to measure the various large Black party electorates (IFP, ANC, EFF and MKP) against one another. The results are revealing.

While all four electorates are overwhelmingly African, 10.7% of IFP voters are from the racial minorities – 6% Indian, 2% Coloured and 1.9% white. The ANC is 94% African, with 6% from the minorities, the MKP is 97.7% African, and the EFF 97.8% African.

When it comes to age, the ANC is now under-represented in both the 18-24 and 25-34 age groups, slightly over-represented in the 45-54 group, and heavily over-represented among the over-55s. This is, indeed, a classic picture of a party in decline: as the older age group dies out, it will clearly not be fully replaced by the young.

The EFF is the opposite: massively over-represented among the 18-24s and 25-34s, and still slightly over-represented among the 35-44s. But EFF voters over the age of 45 are scarce indeed. To a large extent it is still the ANC Youth League, which is how it began life, after all. But the EFF’s problem is also that its supporters are 56.7% male in an electorate which is 55% female.  It clearly has a problem with young women – which is unlikely to be dispelled by its muscular antics in Parliament.

The MKP, on the other hand, is almost perfectly representative both in gender and age group terms. The IFP is almost as representative, but is notably weak among the 18-24s.

Educationally, the ANC is the weakest of the four. The IFP leads the way with almost two-thirds of its supporters having completed Grades 11 and 12, but the EFF electorate has most degree holders (6.9%). This was further emphasised when we looked at student support. 7.5% of our total sample were students, but only 4.9% of ANC voters were students and the IFP had no student supporters at all. Students made up 8.8% of the MKP’s support – but they constituted a huge 17% of the EFF electorate. Conversely, pensioners made up 16.3% of the IFP electorate and 16.1% of the ANC electorate – but only 8.2% of the MKP’s voters and 3% of the EFF electorate.

33.2% of the ANC’s electors were unemployed and looking for work, while the figures for the other three were 30.8% for the EFF, 30.7% for the IFP, and 29.3% for the MKP. 33.8% of IFP voters were in full-time employment, as were 29.2% of the EFF, 27.6% of the MKP and only 24% of ANC voters. Yet average income was lowest among the IFP – so most of their full-time employed must have been in poorly paid jobs. ANC and MKP voters both had incomes around 20% higher on average, and the highest average incomes were clearly received by EFF supporters. (This could be a reflection of their disproportionately male electorate since men often still out-earn women.)

However, all these social differences are utterly dwarfed by tribal/linguistic factors. (Absurdly, the politically correct thing to do in South Africa is to pretend that tribalism doesn’t exist – but the numbers speak for themselves.) No less than 87.5% of IFP supporters and 83% of MKP voters are Zulu-speakers, but only 22.6% of EFF voters and 18.7% of ANC voters are Zulu-speakers.

This is extremely striking. This huge collapse of Zulu support for the ANC leaves the governing party with an electorate in which all the other African language groups are now over-represented. The net effect is extraordinary, because ever since 1994 the ANC has stood for the dominance of the Nguni bloc – but now it no longer does. To its 18.7% of Zulu-speakers one can add 24.7% who are isiXhosa speakers, but that still means that 56.6% of its supporters are now non-Ngunis, with Sepedi, Setswana, Southern Sotho and XiTsonga-speakers particularly prominent.

It is tempting to see this as part of the ANC’s decline, because its old balance has been thoroughly destabilised. If, indeed, these smaller non-Nguni groups were to become the dominant force within the ANC, this would mean the overthrow of the Nguni bloc which has ruled South Africa since 1994. It is difficult to believe that that such a revolution could take place without triggering fierce resistance.

In the last ENCA poll, it was clear that the MKP had taken support away not only from the EFF and ANC but from the IFP. That might seem implausible because the IFP are moderates and the MKP is a revolutionary populist party. It is only when one puts their electoral profiles side by side – each with its overwhelming Zulu predominance – that one can see how easily that could occur.

However, we cannot know the future. Jacob Zuma has clearly had great success in mobilising the Zulu vote – but he is 82, and most unlikely to be able to campaign for the MKP again in five years time. At which point the Zulu vote might collapse back towards the ANC, or it might seek a new home elsewhere.


Every election has its ironies. Thus far the ENCA polls have shown vanishingly little support for many of the smaller parties such as Songezo Zibi’s Rise Mzansi or Mmusi Maimane’s Build One South Africa. Yet we found that no less than 40.9% of voters said they wanted to vote for an Independent candidate, and another 20.9% said they were somewhat likely to do so. Enthusiasm for Independents peaked in the Western Cape where 56.6% said they were very likely to vote for an Independent, and another 21.7% said they were somewhat likely to do so. These numbers are so high that it seems all but certain that the sole Independent standing in the Western Cape – Zackie Achmat of TAC fame – is bound to be elected, probably at the expense of the DA.

So it is perfectly possible that we will see Independents elected elsewhere in the country while smaller parties fail. This may cause people like Zibi and Maimane to feel that instead of wasting their time, effort and money trying to build a party, they should have tried their luck as Independents. Building a party is an exhausting and back-breaking business, after all. And parties have to have programmes – which may put people off, as Zibi’s promise of expropriation of property certainly has.

But an Independent like Achmat has no programme: he is just an independent-minded individual known for his good works. Had they run as individual Independents, Maimane and Zibi could have had a better chance that way: Maimane is still more popular in the Western Cape than John Steenhuisen, after all, and many people have a good word for Songezo Zibi but are unlikely to support his party.

Note: R.W. Johnson is the research leader of the ENCA election team. The polling data he cites was all provided by Markdata.

FEATURED IMAGE: Jacob Zuma at the launch of the MK Party’s election manifesto in the Orlando Stadium in Soweto. Image: eNCA TV.

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