SA Elections: Women in parliament likely to drop

Johannesburg, 31 May: As election results from the 2024 South African elections pour in, Gender Links (GL) predicts a drop in women’s representation in the national assembly of between three and five percentage points.

The result would be South Africa dropping from its current twelfth place in the global ranking of women’s political participation (WPP) to twentieth.  Chantal Revel, princess of the Koranna Royal Household of the Khoi and San First Nations people, who made history by changing South Africa’s electoral system for this election through the Constitutional Court, is not on the ballot papers.

“While democracy is the biggest winner in this election, there may be other casualties,” noted GL Special Advisor Colleen Lowe Morna. “We are watching the numbers closely, because gender equality is intrinsic to every aspect of democracy. It should be a key metric in election analysis.”

There is a close correlation between WPP in South Africa and the electoral fate of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), both because of its dominance in the past, and its voluntary party quota now at fifty percent. The ANC is predicted to lose considerable ground in the 2024 elections. While several political parties have shown commitment to including women on their party lists, other more conservative parties have not observed the principle of equality.

After increasing to 43% in 2009, WPP decreased to 40% in 2014 and then rose to 46% in 2019. Now all indications are that the proportion of women in the national assembly will drop back to the 2009 levels or below.

Several factors make 2024 a watershed election in South Africa. The 2024 elections are arguably the most contested since the advent of democracy thirty years ago in 1994, when the ANC won 63% of the vote.

Polls show that the ANC proportion of the vote may drop to 46% or lower, the lowest yet, shifting the country from a one-party dominant state to a multi-party democracy. However, this comes with the challenges of coalition governments.

Many South Africans are frustrated with the current government and ruling party. This upcoming election presents several new options. Emerging parties like Rise Mzansi and BOSA bring fresh ideas and innovation, with young leaders, most of whom are under 45. Additionally, new conservative and traditional parties, such as the Mkhonto weSiszwe Party (MKP) and the Patriotic Alliance, have gained a following and are expected to draw votes away from the main opposition parties.

South Africa’s electoral system has also undergone a change.  In 2019 the New Nation Movement, along with Chantal Revel, princess of the Koranna Royal Household of the Khoi and San First Nations people, challenged the Electoral Act in the Constitutional Court. The First Nations People argued that political parties are alien to them and do not give them a voice in national affairs.

The court ruled that the Electoral Act was unconstitutional because it did not allow independent candidates to stand for national or provincial elections. The law was changed in time for the 2024 elections.

In terms of the Electoral Amendment Act, the two-tier multimember compensatory proportional representation (PR) system is preserved, i.e. there is no change to South Africa’s electoral system. The essence of this is that parties put up lists of candidates and they are allocated seats according to their percentage of the vote. By disaggregating lists by sex, it is possible to predict with a high degree of accuracy in the PR system how many seats will go to women based on poll predictions of the percentage vote each party will garner.

The 400 seats in the National Assembly will be split – 200 seats are reserved for the National list (to be contested only by political parties) and the remaining 200 seats are divided up among the nine regions (provinces), which are contested by parties and independent candidates).

The number of seats reserved for each region will be different and determined by the Electoral Commission before every national and provincial election, taking into account the number of voters per region.[1] Only six independent candidates made it onto the regional list.

Of these only two (one third) are women and Chantal Revel is not on the list, despite her mark in history as an indigenous woman who changed South Africa’s electoral system. Efforts to reach her have so far proved unsuccessful.

“The irony that a woman who fought for the voice of her community in the elections does not feature cuts to the heart of women’s continued exclusion from mainstream politics, even in modern day South Africa,” Lowe-Morna noted.

An assessment of both the party national and regional candidate lists shows a mixed bag. Women’s representation on the lists of 14 parties assessed ranges from 17% to 52% on national lists and 21% to 51% on regional lists.  The overall women to men split is 39%:61% on the national list and 36%:64%

The table shows that for the national list the ANC has respected and exceeded parity on their lists.  The EFF applied the zebra list and achieved close to parity, though just missing the 50% mark.  Four parties are in the range are within the 40-49%  The poorest performers are the conservative parties, which have fewer than 30% of women on their lists.  These trends are similar on the regional lists, with the ANC and EFF meeting and exceeding 50%. VFP and ACTION SA are have the fewest women on both of their lists.

For a more accurate picture, we used the recent poll results from the Social Research Foundation, which forecast the proportion of votes each party will garner for the 400 available seats in Parliament.  The gender outcome of the elections is dependent on the share of votes garnered by each political party, and where women are placed on the list of the seats they would be allocated.

South Africa Gender gap predictions based on forecasts

The table shows that if the parties get the predicted proportion of the vote, women will constitute 43% of the 400 elected MPs. This would be a three-percentage-point decrease since the 2019 elections, but still above the 2014 result of 40%.

If the African National Congress (ANC) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) surpass the anticipated vote share, there is a possibility of a higher proportion of women. On the other hand if the DA, and crucially Jacob Zuma’s  Umkhonto weSizwe Party (MKP) or the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) gain a bigger share, the percentage of women could drop further.

(For more information contact Susan Tolmay; phone 083 519 8959. More information on WPP in South Africa can be found here; and WPP in Africa here

[1] Ibid

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