Are SA voters on board with Radical Economic Transformation?

The concept of Radical Economic Transformation (RET) in South Africa is generally regarded as volatile, and frequently described as ‘contentious’ and ‘complex’, yet there’s a certain equanimity around the topic in the minds of South African voters. That’s according to the recently released SA Voter Sentiment Report which has delved into the thoughts and beliefs of registered and eligible voters that may well turn out to be drivers of their decision-making on 29 May 2024.

12 668 respondents took part in the SA Voter Sentiment survey which was disseminated through politically unaffiliated bases including the MoyaApp, Silverstone CIS and BrandMapp databases, providing a near-random sample of South African voters across all parts and strata of the country.

While there is no well-defined manifesto of RET, significant aspects include the demands for accelerated black economic empowerment, nationalisation of key commercial sectors such as mining and banking and the redistribution of land to address past injustices. Implementation of any future policies along these lines is going to necessitate amendments to current constitutional protections, such as property rights and shift the country’s capitalist economic system towards communistic models. So, how do South African voters feel about the possibility of such far-reaching changes?
Consumer insights consultancy, WhyFive Insights is a collaborator in the SA Voter Sentiment Report and their Director of Storytelling, Brandon de Kock says there is significant common ground for voters when it comes to RET.

We need radical economic transformation

Unsurprisingly overwhelming majorities of the supporters of the EFF (95%) and the ANC (83%) agree that the country needs RET. However, a significant 71% of Multi-Party Conference, which includes DA, Inkatha, FF+, African Christian Democratic Party, Action SA and the United Democratic Movement supporters agree with this too. De Kock says, “This indicates that voters recognize the need for change and there’s significant consensus that millions of South Africans must be lifted out of poverty. However, we need to dig deeper to reveal if voters can agree on how that economic transformation should play out.”

Capitalism is good for the rich, but bad for the poor

67% of EFF supporters and 55% of ANC supporters agree with the statement that ‘Capitalism is good for the rich and bad for the poor’ while 39% of Multi-Party Conference supporters disagree. De Kock says, “EFF supporters are clearly more anti-capitalist than the ANC supporters, but even 44% of MPC supporters recognize it might not benefit the poor. When we asked respondents if they thought communism could be the answer for South Africa, 52% of EFF supporters agreed as did 49% of ANC supporters. However, a strong 62% of MPC supporters are firmly against it. Exactly what people’s understanding of the two concepts is might be debatable, but if nothing else, it shows how powerful words can be in a country where we really should be more focused on actions!”

Nationalisation of mines and banks

When it comes to the idea of nationalizing mines and banks there’s a similar divide. Large majorities of EFF supporters (78%) and ANC supporters (68%) agree it should happen. De Kock points out, “Although the MPC swings in the other direction, it’s interesting that even 29% of them think this is a good idea.”

Redistribution of land

Redistribution of land ignites strong feelings in South African voters. “The ANC and EFF supporters are almost unanimous in favoring redistribution of land, while there is a large contingent of MPC supporters who disagree. Like ‘communism’, this is an extremely complex issue in terms of implementation, consequences and potentially disastrous economic outcomes, which is probably why more informed voters find it deeply disturbing. Just like Trump’s border wall or the ‘£350 million a week to Brussels’ lie that fueled the Brexit vote, when you simplify complex issues into three-word slogans and print them on a T-shirt, they can become very powerful populist tools. And that’s going to be doubly true in a country where the vast majority of the electorate is hungry, unemployed and desperate for change. For me, that’s the real story revealed by these results” De Kock concludes.

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