Coalition talks: Who will be in SA’s next government? President Cyril Ramaphosa

JOHANNESBURG. – It’s official: The African National Congress (ANC) party will need to share power for the first time since apartheid ended in 1994 after losing its parliamentary majority in South Africa’s May 29 national election. 

The historic loss was in part due to former president Jacob Zuma’s six-month-old uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party eating into ANC support. The ANC received 40,2 percent of votes, down more than 17 percentage points compared with the 57,5 percent it secured in the last national election in 2019. It now holds just 159 seats out of 400 in the National Assembly. 

The centre-right Democratic Alliance (DA) trailed in second place with 21,8 percent of votes (87 seats). 

Zuma’s MK gained 14,6 percent of votes (58 seats), becoming the third-biggest party in the National Assembly.

“Love him or hate him, Zuma is the most consequential South African politician of his generation,” Sisonke Msimang wrote in Foreign Policy prior to the election. 

Another ANC splinter group, the radical left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), dropped to fourth place, with a vote share of 9,5 percent (39 seats).

“We suffered heavily, but we are not out,” ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula said at a press conference on Sunday. 

“We are talking to everybody. There’s nobody we are not going to talk to.” 

The ANC now needs to form a coalition with one or more opposition parties and began talks on Monday.

The first option that’s popular with investors is a partnership with the pro-business DA. But factions of the ANC are ideologically opposed to the free market agenda promised by the DA. There’s a high potential for political infighting that could weaken any ability to govern cohesively. 

The DA does not support racial quotas in the workplace—introduced by the ANC—or the new government-funded national health insurance system.

The DA also opposes setting a minimum wage, which it says contributes to unemployment; meanwhile, the ANC believes a minimum wage shelters low-skilled black workers from extreme poverty.

EFF leader Julius Malema warned the ANC against forming a coalition that would “reinforce white supremacy” and make it a “puppet of a white imperialist agenda”—referring to the DA, which is perceived as serving the interests of minority white South Africans. 

But the DA has drawn support from black and mixed-race voters and is seen by most South Africans as governing  the best-run province—the Western Cape and its capital, Cape Town.

In turn, DA leader John Steenhuisen has been open to an ANC partnership from the outset knowing that the party was unlikely to reach more than 22 percent of votes. 

He called an ANC-MK-EFF coalition a “doomsday” scenario.

An alternative to appease dissenting ANC members would be a coalition with the ANC, DA, and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), which draws its support mainly from ethnic Zulus in KwaZulu-Natal. 

This would give the three parties 66 percent of the national vote and a commanding majority in South Africa’s most populous province, Gauteng.

A coalition between the ANC and the EFF would intensify great-power competition in the region by further antagonizing the US. The EFF has suggested nationalising key institutions and redistributing minority white-owned land without compensation. 

The two parties currently run the Johannesburg city council together but have had violent clashes running Ekurhuleni, .

The EFF and MK advocate similar economic policies, but an alliance between MK and the ANC is at the moment unlikely due to the souring of relations between Zuma and ANC members.    Foreign Policy

Zuma’s party has demanded that President Cyril Ramaphosa step down before any coalition talks, which ANC members have ruled out.

Coalitions have rarely worked in South Africa. Coalition governments that have previously governed major cities such as Johannesburg and Durban have been unsuccessful, as party rivalries often hampered the delivery of basic services. 

On a national level, this could affect the ability to swiftly introduce new policies and pass budgets to deal with the country’s immediate problems on the economy, energy, and jobs.

“The lack of ideological cohesion among parties has led to the rise of coalition politics in South Africa,” Ebrahim Fakir wrote in Foreign Policy just before the election. 

“The result is a governmental environment where oversight and accountability are minimal—and where policy implementation is erratic.”

Leaked ANC documents seen by South Africa’s Daily Maverick suggest the party may opt for a minority government with a more stable supply and confidence agreement struck with the DA and IFP, similar to the parliamentary system currently in place in Canada. 

The arrangement would mean that the parties agree to back the ANC on key policy votes in exchange for concessions on specific policies.

Regardless, experts suggest Ramaphosa’s time in office could be limited. No ANC president has ever served a full second term. 

Nelson Mandela chose not to run for a second term, while his successors Thabo Mbeki and Zuma were forced to step down as party leader before their final terms ended. 

Having presided over such a historic defeat for the ANC, pressure may increase on Ramaphosa to step down before his mandate ends. – Foreign Policy

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