South Africa Local Elections: Between August 3 and November 3, 2021 (due)

Young South Africans registering to vote in 2014, 20 years after the country’s first multiracial elections. Photo credit: Wikimedia/HelenOnline (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Freedom House Rating

Government Type
Parliamentary Republic
56.5 million
Local Elections
Between August 3 and November 3, 2021 (due)
General Elections (Parliamentary and Provincial Assemblies)
May 2024 (due)
General Elections (Parliamentary and Provincial Assemblies)
May 8, 2019
Local Elections
August 3, 2016

South Africa is due to hold local elections between August 3 and November 3, 2021. Voters will elect councils for all municipalities in each of the country’s nine provinces.

Political Context

South Africa, dubbed the “Rainbow Nation” by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, inspired the world with its nonviolent transition from apartheid in 1994. The election that year was South Africa’s first that included all races. Since the end of apartheid and the subsequent victory of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson Mandela, the African National Congress (ANC) has been South Africa’s dominant political party, winning every election since then.

South Africa’s 2019 General Elections

The ANC once again won the 2019 general elections, but with a reduced majority – in fact, it was the first time the ANC got less than 60 percent of the vote. Nonetheless, the National Assembly elected President Cyril Ramaphosa to a second term. Ramaphosa first became president in 2018 following the resignation of Jacob Zuma, who faced numerous corruption charges. The ANC led the charge in ousting Zuma,  Ramaphosa inherited one of the highest unemployment rates in the world and a contracting economy. Nonetheless, as The Economist noted in 2019: “Despite the wasted Zuma years, the rainbow nation still has the continent’s most sophisticated economy, vibrant civil society and feisty media.”

Unfortunately, many believed Zuma over-promised and under-delivered, leading to the ANC’s historically-low vote share.

Opposition Did Well in 2016 Local Elections – Debates Future Trajectory

The main opposition party is the liberal Democratic Alliance (DA). Following the 2019 elections, DA had some internal turmoil. The party’s first black leader, Mmusi Maimane, left the party. The DA is currently in the middle of leadership elections. Mbali Ntuli is challenging interim leader John Steenhuisen to be the first black woman to lead the party. Concurrently, Ntuli has endorsed John Steenhuisen, who is challenging longtime DA leader and former Cape Town mayor John Steenhuisen for chairmanship of the party’s federal council.

As Joseph Cotterill notes in the Financial Times: “The leadership contest has unleashed a debate about race in a party mainly supported by white voters and other ethnic minorities but which became a real threat to the ANC as it began to attract black votes in the decade of misrule under previous president Jacob Zuma. It gained more than a quarter of the vote in 2016 local elections — its biggest electoral success in two decades — while coalition agreements gave it control of big cities outside its Western Cape heartland for the first time.” DA gained control of Johannesburg and other cities in those elections.

Far-Left Rising

The far-left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) doubled its vote share in the 2019 elections. Founded by Julius Malema, a former ANC youth leader who was expelled for hate speech, the EFF became the third-largest party in the National Assembly.

Proposed Merger of Local Elections with General Elections

Some political parties – specifically the EFF and the ANC – want to postpone the 2021 local elections, and instead hold them at the same time as the 2024 general elections. However, the election commission has said that the idea is a non-starter, and that the polls would go ahead in 2021.

Curated News and Analysis

Joseph Cotterill, Financial Times (October 4, 2020): Leadership hopeful warns South African opposition to include black majority

Rebecca Davis, Daily Maverick (September 28, 2020): 2021 local government elections likely to go ahead – and they could be the most contested ever

Dirk Kotze, The Conversation (September 6, 2020): Who stands to win or lose if South Africa were to hold all elections on the same day

Council on Foreign Relations (May 14, 2019): What the ANC’s Election Win Means for South Africa

BBC (May 11, 2019): South Africa election: ANC wins with reduced majority

21votes does not necessarily agree with all of the opinions expressed in the linked articles; rather, our goal is to curate a wide range of voices. Furthermore, none of the individuals or organizations referenced have reviewed 21votes’ content, and their inclusion should not be taken to imply that they endorse us in any way. More on our approach here

Updated October 6, 2020

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