After May 29: Catastrophe or the real New Dawn?


After May 29: Catastrophe or the real New Dawn?

Democratic South Africa has never before as uncertain about what will happen in the weeks after a general election. All we do know is that we aren't rid of one-man wrecking ball Jacob Zuma. MAX DU PREEZ examines the possible post-May 29 scenarios, ranging from disaster to a real opportunity to set the country right.


OPINION polls among voters in the last few months have varied significantly but all have two things in common: the ANC is projected to lose its majority if current attitudes persist, and Jacob Zuma's MK Party is expected to receive between 10% and 20% of the votes.

There is a buzz among voters about what kind of coalition government we can expect after May 29, but my inquiries with the four largest parties this week have made it clear to me that no one has made a firm decision about this yet. Politics is just too fluid at the moment.

The latest opinion poll, conducted by the Social Research Foundation, reflects political support as follows: ANC 37%, DA 25%, MK 14%, EFF 11%, IFP 5%, ActionSA 2%.

Parties such as Rise Mzansi, Build One South Africa, Freedom Front Plus, Patriotic Alliance, Al Jama-ah and Good are not shown because each has less than 2% support.

According to the poll, the ANC and the two parties that broke away from it, the EFF and MK, together enjoy 62% of national voter support.

The Multi-Party Charter stands at 32%, perhaps 34-35% if the FF+ is included. If these votes are added to the ANC's, it stands at 71%.

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An old political operator who is an adviser to Zuma told me this week that the “old man" wants to win at least 20 seats, which he will then offer to the ANC in exchange for the dismissal of Cyril Ramaphosa and a position or two in the cabinet and the premiership in KwaZulu-Natal.

Zuma and MK received a significant boost this week when, against all expectations, the Electoral Court overturned the Electoral Commission of SA's decision that he may not be a candidate.

But there were indications yesterday that Zuma is not really interested in sitting in the parliamentary backbenches after all — he is 82 years old and on “medical parole" — and the possibility is now being mentioned that he may instead have his eye on the premiership of KZN, where his party is the largest, according to the polls.

A respected veteran in the ANC national executive committee told me yesterday he would “eat his hat" if the party jumped into bed with MK and the EFF.

“There are elements in our Youth League, the SACP and Cosatu that lean in this direction, but in the current national executive committee there is a solid understanding that a coalition with Zuma and Malema would be catastrophic. Isn't it a fact that it was Zuma who weakened the ANC to the extent that we might not win on May 29?"

There is no reason not to consider an ANC-MK-EFF coalition as the worst possible scenario. Confiscation of land, misuse of state funds, corruption, cadre deployment on steroids, and undermining the rule of law and free speech will be the order of the day if the behaviour and statements of the EFF leadership, and Zuma's conduct over the past few years, are any indication.

One thing is certain: MK and the EFF will not accept Ramaphosa as president in such an agreement — and Ramaphosa will probably not want to be president either. So what then? Paul Mashatile?

Julius Malema indicated last week that he would support an ANC government in exchange for positions of authority — such as, he says (nightmare after nightmare), Floyd Shivambu as finance minister. (Like Zuma, who appointed Des van Rooyen to this position, accompanied by a set of Gupta advisers.)

My impression is that the ANC's broad leadership is beginning to accept that the party may not reach 50% but still firmly believes it will get 46% or 47%. Then it might be able to reach 50% with the support of a few small parties, without the need for a major coalition.

But if the ANC gets less than 45% and a coalition with MK/EFF is off the table, it will either have to turn to the Multi-Party Charter or govern as a minority government, with agreements with opposition parties.

Such agreements could include blocking motions of no confidence in the government, support for the national budget, and even positions such as Speaker of the National Assembly and head of government business in parliament.

This is theoretically quite workable and perhaps the most likely thing to happen after May 29. If it works and trust between the parties is strengthened, it could potentially develop into something more formal.

But Ramaphosa, if he is still there after a May 29 defeat, could also convene a sort of national convention with a call for all political parties to unite under the leadership of the ANC to form a new government. Almost like a government of national unity, but perhaps in the hope that MK and the EFF won't buy into it.

Moves are already under way within the ANC, especially among the veterans league and businessmen in the party's orbit, to pave the way for such a national convention as a major initiative to save the country. The idea is that the business community, civil society, organised labour and the churches will also be involved.

The most ideal solution, seen from the perspective of the economy, stability and general governance, is perhaps a formal, structured coalition between the ANC as the largest party and the DA, the IFP, ActionSA, Freedom Front Plus and the others in the Multi-Party Charter.

The perception among black South Africans that the DA is a white-controlled party that primarily serves white interests and is in the pocket of America and the West will make it difficult for the ANC to sell such an arrangement to its supporters.

The DA and ActionSA were in an unsightly squabble last week over the possibility of cooperation with the ANC after the election. But it's just political positioning and competition.

There is no way the DA, the IFP and ActionSA can refuse if the ANC after election day asks for negotiations on a coalition government. Their own supporters will not allow their leaders to do so, because stability is everything and an ANC/MK/EFF government is, in the words of John Steenhuisen, a doomsday coalition.

The conditions for cooperation from both sides are then extremely important: which cabinet positions, who appoints the Speaker, a firm commitment that there will be no land expropriation or immediate national health insurance system, and so on.

I detect quite an appetite in senior ANC circles for a role by Songezo Zibi of Rise Mzansi, which according to the polls is not doing very well, and even a role for Bosa's Mmusi Maimane. Both will surely get enough votes to be elected themselves. These two parties are not in the Multi-Party Charter but can help soften the white face of the DA partner.

If you wonder why Zuma is so popular after his disastrous terms as president: voters have short memories. Just look at the case of Donald Trump, who is in the running to become US president again.

Both Zuma and Trump play the role of victims of the elite, martyrs for the masses. This is a magnet for voters who are aggrieved that the state is in disorder and no longer cares about their welfare. And it's easier to switch from the ANC to MK than to the DA, IFP or EFF, because it's essentially the purified ANC — the name is Umkhonto we Sizwe, after all.

Zuma has played the Zulu ethnic-nationalist card all his life, and now more than ever — and about a quarter of the South African population is Zulu-speaking.

One easily forgets that Ramaphosa won at the ANC conference at Nasrec in 2017 by only a handful of votes against the Zuma candidate, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Most members of the national executive committee later turned against the RET group, but only because they thought it was in their own interest.

The way Zuma has been outmanoeuvring Ramaphosa since 2018 is worth a book. Ramaphosa's years of courting and kowtowing to Zuma and the RETs were just what they needed to organise against him and his faction now. The first salvo was that of the former spook boss, Arthur Fraser, who almost sunk Ramaphosa with his revelations of the dollars at Phala Phala.

Postscript: let's not forget that Zuma's corruption case from 2007 is still on the court roll. His partner in crime, Schabir Shaik, was sent to prison with the same evidence that will now be used. Unless Zuma is allowed to continue his Stalingrad tactic and dies of old age before he stands trial.

♦ VWB ♦

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