By Mark Waller in South Africa
Investors have largely welcomed the election result as it means there will be no leadership or policy shocks between now and 2017, when the African National Congress (ANC) holds its next elective conference, and the 2019 elections.
There is also optimism that the ANC will put more efforts into supporting the SME sector as a key pillar of economic growth.
The government intends to create a separate ministry for small business development. It will also use its next term of office to push ahead with the National Development Plan (NDP), which maps economic and social programmes until 2030.
The NDP devotes much space to boosting SMEs, and the sector will be promoted as a magnet for overseas investment and trade deals.
There is a sense among ANC voters that though the ANC certainly has its problems, it is the only political force with the vision and clout to fight poverty and underdevelopment.
Since 2009, the government has scored big successes in cutting HIV-AIDS. It has made anti-retroviral treatment widely available, and is running treatment campaigns to tackle tuberculosis, the country’s biggest communicable killer disease.
Life expectancy has increased by an average of five years to 60 years since 2009.
The ANC has also gained kudos for boosting jobs. The recent R22-billion injection of state investment in the auto sector has saved some 46,000 jobs and added a further 9,000.
Government infrastructure improvement is transforming many townships, adding roads, clinics and improving schools.
A new R1-trillion economic and social infrastructure programme aims to transform many poor areas by building new roads, rail links, ports, universities and schools.
The electrification of poor areas has increased more rapidly with a further one million households connected in the last five years, bringing the total to over 5.4 million connections since 1994.
Government has also started supplying free solar water heaters (geysers) to poor homes, installing over half a million in the last five years.
In the contested area of land restitution, the government has re-opened the process of lodging land claims, in the face of much protest from the political conservative opposition.
The significant downside is that in some areas of the country the demand for better basic services and infrastructure massively outweighs supply.
Despite progress, severe shortfalls in housing, water supply, sanitation and health clinics in rural areas and urban shack settlements persist.
There are almost daily service delivery protests up and down the country, often resulting in violent clashes with the police. There were more than 13,000 such protests in 2013.
Unemployment continues to be ruinously high, at 34%, according to the new definition used by government, which includes people who have given up looking for work.
This is despite government schemes and increased higher education investment, including a strong nascent industrial policy focused on developing domestic production.
All this, coupled with corruption in local government, which drastically affects the supply and quality of services, has fuelled resentment at the pace of transformation in South Africa, even though in some areas it has scored well.
It is one reason why the popularity of the EFF has rocketed. The party alleges that the ANC has sold out to corruption and self-enrichment.
EFF supporters proudly sport red berets, many of its leaders wear military fatigues, or expensive red leather jackets emblazoned with the party’s logo. Julius Malema, its portly leader, goes under the title commander-in-chief. Party functionaries are called commissars.
It promises that under EFF rule South Africa would undergo rapid economic transformation, with nationalisation of mines, land expropriations from white landowners, a massive increase in social benefits, the provision of high quality large houses for all, and high minimum wages across all sectors.
Much of the EFF’s language and iconography has been lifted from the traditional left, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), though Malema fiercely opposes them.
The SACP and Cosatu form two pillars of the tripartite ANC-led Alliance, which has been more prominently included in all levels of government under the Zuma administration.
The Alliance has a strong role in policy-making, including in re-shaping South Africa’s industrial policy away from exports of raw materials towards local production geared for export. This is a space to watch for SMEs.
For the DA, the biggest opposition winner in the elections, its efforts to court the rising black middle class seem to be paying off.
The party has doubled its support in the ANC stronghold of Gauteng, the country’s wealthiest province, and home to the densely populated Pretoria-Johannesburg conurbation, including Soweto.
The party has also astutely courted support from the Indian and “coloured” populations, which have tended to be neglected by, or have less robust ties to, the ANC compared to the majority African population.
However, the DA still draws most of its support from the wealthy white population, which continues to dominate South Africa’s corporate sector. Its stronger showing in Gauteng is good news to big business, most of which is based in the province.
So, while South Africa’s 2014 election results in many ways announce a business as usual continuity in national government and ANC rule, the political opposition terrain is undergoing rapid change.
For Welsh businesses interested in building international trading links with South Africa, visit our events calendar for information about the Welsh Government’s trade mission to Johannesburg and Durban this June.