South Africa: ANC caught between a rock, hard place in coalition talks

Political analysts and academics have painted a bleak picture of South Africa’s democracy after political parties failed to garner more than 50 percent of the vote in the last election.

Analysts said the new political landscape has uncomfortable elements in that “it raises concerns about the fate of black governance, hard-won through decades of struggle against apartheid”.

The African National Congress (ANC) lost its parliamentary dominance for the first time since the end of apartheid in 1994, securing 159 seats in the 400-member National Assembly. The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), won 87 seats, while former president Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) won 58 seats.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) won 39 seats, while the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) won 17 seats, completing the country’s top five political parties. The remaining seats went to smaller parties.

Political party leaders and their representatives have begun coalition talks, with many proposals pointing to an ANC-DA alliance, which has created a dilemma given the two parties’ ideological differences.

Other possible coalition partners for the ANC are MK and the EFF, which analysts say further makes the puzzle more cryptic due to a lot of factors.

Although many other players expect to see the back of President Cyril Ramaphosa, analysts said that is “unlikely to happen”. Analysts also said that the ANC’s status among revolutionary parties in the SADC region will be called into question if it judges the DA, and therefore for it to remain viable, “it will have to compromise and merge with its factions (MK and EFF) “.

The University of Zimbabwe (UZ) teaches political science and international relations, Dr. Prolific Mataruse, said the ANC, as a revolutionary party, “is in a catch-22 situation”.

He said the DA promises so much for the idea of ​​a rainbow nation, “but the differences in policy between the DA and the ANC are like night and day”.

“The investors and the liberal world are really praying for an ANC and DA coalition. There is greater alignment in policy between the ANC on the one hand and the MK and EFF on the other. It is more likely that an ANC and MK coalition is plausible But let’s remember that the ANC still has many months ahead of it to make a decision, so much will depend on how the negotiations pan out in the coming days,” Dr Mataruse said.

According to Dr. Mataruse, the ANC is unlikely to go with the youthful EFF given its feisty nature, meaning the EFF is likely to be unruly in a coalition.

Zimbabwe Democracy Institute (ZDI) principal researcher Dr. Bekezela Gumbo said South Africa was at a “critical juncture” where opposition factions are ready to “unite against the ruling ANC”, but with critical issues looming.

“Will this unity government inadvertently pave the way for white leadership to return through the DA, given their likely majority partnership? This scenario raises concerns about the fate of black governance, hard-won through decades of struggle against apartheid.

“The stakes are high and the decision will have far-reaching consequences. If opposition MPs choose to vote for an ANC president, it could be seen as a betrayal of their constituents who seek change from ANC rule. On the other hand, if they prioritize black governance, they risk being accused of maintaining the status quo,” said Dr. Gumbo.

Dr. Gumbo is convinced that the battle is mainly between the ANC and the DA, and who among the two parties will get the support of smaller opposition parties, especially the MK and the EFF.

However, he noted that if the ANC is to collaborate with the DA, its life after 2029 will be “very bleak as it will be seen as a treasonous move”.

“Going to the DA will remove all doubts among the remaining supporters who need to be convinced that the ANC has indeed abdicated its nationalist liberation mandate and is eating with the former colonizer and capitalist system.

“Zuma and Malema cannot be allowed to operate out of government together because their policies are populist and very attractive to the unemployed and landless masses who are eager to wreak havoc,” added Dr. Gumbo.

Dr. David Makwerere, a political scientist at the Bindura University of Science Education (BUSE) said if an ANC-DA coalition falls out, it will be based on vested interests. He pointed out that on a personal level, the DA appeals to ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa because “he comes from the capitalist school”.

“He will certainly want a political formation that is likely to advance his interests, unlike the EFF, which appears as a radical nationalist and communist proposition promoting the nationalization agenda. Zuma is undoubtedly a ‘sworn enemy’ and will less likely to appeal.

“It is President Ramaphosa and his executive committee who will carry the day and a coalition with the DA should not be a surprise,” said Dr. Makwerer.

In Dr. Makwerere’s ratings are smaller political formations like the IFP “almost indifferent” so they are less likely to be options.

He suggested that the 2024 elections showed that the Ramaphosa administration is not very popular among the grassroots and its losses in KwaZulu Natal province to the MK party are now factors in determining the choice of the next leader of the ANC.

The experts agreed that the challenges in South Africa’s quest for democratic establishment after the 2024 election is something that is likely to benefit some sectors from any coalition outcome and “maybe it will work”.

Dr. Gumbo said: “Remember the ANC was a coalition from the start, nothing will stop it from doing as it did before. However, choices made by opposition MPs will shape the nation’s future and determine whether the dream of a true rainbow nation remains a reality or fades into a distant memory.”

Dr. Makwerere said the prospect of a coalition in South Africa is not one that drives excitement because of political maneuvering going on.

Added Dr. Makwerere: “Ideological differences are likely to hamper this arrangement. Political maneuvers and war of positioning are likely to have a negative impact on any kind of coalition in South Africa. Maybe it will work, let’s wait and see.”

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