(Bloomberg) -- South Africa’s ruling African National Congress could lose power at a national vote in 2019 unless it changes after its worst election performance since the end of apartheid, party Treasurer General Zweli Mkhize said.
Despite the setback, the party remains confident that it will win back control of the cities it lost in local elections on Aug. 3, he said in an interview in Bloomberg’s Johannesburg offices on Tuesday. The ANC lost its absolute majority in four major cities including the economic hub of Johannesburg and capital, Pretoria.
“Doing things as we are doing them now is not an option,” Mkhize, 60, said. “It’s just a natural thing, that if you experience a challenge under particular circumstances you need to be in a slightly different state to emerge out of that. There’s a lot of things that the ANC has to do out of that introspection.”
The loss of Johannesburg and Pretoria in Aug. 3 local elections marked an unprecedented electoral setback for the ANC, which had held a near monopoly over the political scene since Nelson Mandela led the party to power in 1994. The ANC’s share of the national popular vote fell to 54.5 percent from 62.2 percent in national elections two years earlier, with a series of scandals implicating President Jacob Zuma, an economic slump and high unemployment eroding its urban support.
Opposition parties focused on the unpopularity of Zuma whose decisions have been blamed for contributing to stagnating growth and a weakening currency. The rand has declined 41 percent against the dollar since he took power in May 2009.
“It basically requires the ANC to do quite a lot of introspection -- to acknowledge its own weaknesses and to correct those and probably embark on a very serious re-look and restructuring to be able to enable the ANC to stage a come back in the particular cities,” Mkhize said. “We remain confident that the ANC will be able to take them back.”
The ANC decided not to replace Zuma as president because he has many supporters and it may have harmed the nation’s stability, Mkhize said.
“In this kind of thing, there’s complexity of views and choices to make and it’s not a question of saying, you don’t hear that there is this concern,” he said. “We are saying the implications might cause more problems than what solutions you might be coming up with. There’s a question of trying to balance it. It’s a very tricky matter.”
The ANC will choose a new party president at its elective national conference next year because Zuma, 74, will have to stand down after serving the maximum two terms. “After the conference, it’s not even probably,” he said. “We will have a different president.”
With two years remaining in Zuma’s term as state president, South Africa will have face the prospect of having different people serving as the leaders of the nation and the ruling party.
“That overlap is going to continuously happen,” he said. “What are the considerations that you to have to take into account as to whether the president finished the term or not like it has been in the past? The ANC has not come to that decision as we speak.”
The informal coalition in cities including Pretoria and Johannesburg between the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, and the left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters, faces many obstacles, Mkhize said. The DA is a proponent of free-market economic policies that are diametrically opposed to the EFF’s policies, including calls the nationalization of the mines and banks, and the expropriation of land without compensation.
“We expect that there will obviously be competition on where some of the resources have to go and somebody has to make a call and take a decision as to where those resources have to go,” he said. “It’s going to be an interesting spectacle to witness.”
For the ANC, it’s time in opposition in the cities presents the party with “interesting opportunities,” Mkhize said.
“It’s an interesting terrain for the African National Congress to get into that space,” he said. “We are not going to sit back and say: ‘We are not going to become opposition.’ We have been told by the electorate that, so we are going to have to take it that way.”