Landmines on the road to a coalition government


Landmines on the road to a coalition government

Be careful what you wish for, writes MAX DU PREEZ about the broad desire for the ANC to receive less than half the votes on May 29. Deliberations will have to take place before the election on the nature of a possible coalition or minority government. And if the ANC only narrowly wins, a national dialogue may be needed to ensure it does not continue on its destructive trajectory.


THE Arab Spring of 2010-2012, a popular campaign for regime change, led to great instability and violence. It began in Tunisia and quickly spread to Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Syria, affecting Iraq, Morocco and Sudan. Stability has not yet been restored in most of these countries.

The 112-year-old ANC, the oldest liberation movement in Africa, has run the country for 30 years. The shock that a possible ANC defeat could pose to South Africa's political system and stability should not be underestimated.

The comparison with the Arab Spring has its limitations. South Africa has been a democracy with a solid constitution and a functioning, respected judiciary for three decades. The change of power will happen through an election, not an uprising.

The ANC has already accepted a loss of power in the Western Cape as well as in several metros. Attempts were made to disrupt the metros but they did not lead to violence or illegal actions.

On a national level, however, it is a different story — and moreover, the ANC might also lose control in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, meaning the three strongest, wealthiest provinces will be in opposition hands.

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It's about more than the symbolism of the once primary vehicle of black nationalism, the party of Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela — and of Umkhonto we Sizwe — being ousted.

The ANC, especially in the last 15 years, has become the party of patronage at local, provincial and national levels. A government in which the ANC is not in sole control or which does not have the EFF as a partner cannot continue to distribute favours, gifts, positions and tenders to loyalists.

Moreover, the ANC leadership has acted in the last two decades as if the ANC is the state and the state is the ANC.

Coalition governments work elsewhere in the world, but in this country the biggest potential stumbling block is the civil service, which is mostly not a professional corps of people. This also applies to the defence force and the many state-owned enterprises.

Because cadre deployment.

If a coalition government after May 29 includes the DA, a sharp reaction and potentially a destabilisation campaign can also be expected from the EFF and Jacob Zuma's MK Party.

Support for the EFF is estimated to be around 15%, according to opinion polls, and for MKP as high as 9%. (MKP just drew 28% of the vote in its first local by-election outside KZN, in Embalenhle outside Secunda, compared to the ANC's 51% and the EFF's 18%.)

The EFF and MKP are openly ethno-nationalistic and have an undertone of violence and retaliation in their rhetoric.

There is a strong suspicion that the architects of MKP were also behind the anarchy and looting in KZN and elsewhere in July 2021.

Several academics have already recommended preparing legislation to regulate coalition governments, but it clearly cannot happen this year.

It would be preferable for there to be advance back-channel discussions between the ANC, the Multiparty Charter (MPC) and parties such as Rise Mzansi to discuss the possibilities of a national coalition government. I understand there is already at least one initiative seeking to achieve this.

According to the constitution, a government must be formed within 14 days of the election results. If no prior discussions have been held, it will not be long enough.

In Western countries with a tradition of coalition governments, it sometimes takes a month or more for a new government to be formed.

A power vacuum after a shock result can be dangerous.

There are only 89 days left before the election.

As I have already written here, the clear collusion between the EFF and MKP makes a coalition with the ANC more unlikely — the ANC may still coexist with the EFF but the hatred between the Ramaphosa-led ANC and Zuma and his former RET allies and former members of the intelligence community (such as Arthur Fraser) runs too deep.

A member of the ANC national executive committee, a longtime friend of mine, said in a private conversation this week that the majority sentiment in the ANC is against an agreement with the Multiparty Charter, led by the DA, but that the ANC does not see Julius Malema as a reliable partner.

“Julius is the most ambitious politician in South Africa," says my contact. “He is reckless. A coalition with the EFF predicts only instability, in the government and in the country. He will continue to undermine the ANC. He wants to become president. He aligns with Zuma, and we know what Zuma's agenda is.

“We also realise that a coalition with the EFF will be a shock to business confidence in the country and to future investors, and South Africa cannot afford that."

I hear on good authority that the ANC firmly believes it will reach the 50% mark, but probably only by a percentage point or two. It also believes it might lose control in Gauteng and KZN.

What is no longer 100% certain is whether Cyril Ramaphosa will be the president after a weak showing by the ANC — or wants to be.

One idea being floated if the ANC cannot cobble together a coalition with small parties is that the MPC is given the posts of speaker and  leader of government business in parliament, with the ANC operating as a minority government.

I am increasingly hearing whispers that influential people in ANC circles want to see Rise Mzansi's Songezo Zibi play a role in the new regime. He will certainly be elected as an MP but his case will be strengthened if he gets around 5% or more of the vote and has a handful of fellow MPs with him.

It is in this same ANC sphere of influence that the idea of a national dialogue or convention for just after election day has been floated, regardless of the outcome, to ensure the new government will be more effective and successful.

* Wiliam Gumede, professor of political science at Wits University, writes on News24: “South Africa has so far been unable to foster a coalition government culture — which includes parties and leaders making compromises for the greater good of public service delivery, leadership maturity that rises above ego, pettiness and party-interest, and accountability." 

He also says: “Importantly, effective governance cannot take place until South Africa has a professional public service. It is not surprising that in countries with workable coalition governments, the government continues to run even when coalition governments are still cobbled together. And in countries like South Africa, when coalitions fail, service delivery also breaks down."

♦ VWB ♦

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