The dogs bark at the gates of the GNU paradise


The dogs bark at the gates of the GNU paradise

A government of national unity is a wonderful idea that has captured the imagination of most South Africans, but the power games between the ANC and DA are planting landmines on the negotiation path for the next few days, writes MAX DU PREEZ.


TODAY is no ordinary day. It is a moment of fundamental consequence in the life of our nation.

It is a moment when we must choose to either move forward together or risk losing all we have built. In this moment we must choose to move forward; to close the distances between South Africans and to build a more equal society; to translate the promise of our constitution and the vision of the Freedom Charter into a reality for all.

This moment requires extraordinary courage and leadership. It requires a common mission to safeguard national unity, peace, stability, inclusive economic growth, non-racialism and non-sexism. — President Cyril Ramaphosa in his inauguration speech.

South Africans longing for a more effective, inclusive government and a better economy could hardly have asked for more than Ramaphosa’s words after he was sworn in as president on Wednesday.

But away from the patriotic ceremony at the Union Buildings, his warning about political bickering did not take hold. The tug-of-war between the ANC and the DA has the potential to sabotage the proposed government of national unity (GNU) even before the tough negotiations about the number and nature of cabinet posts.

After all the positive energy unleashed by the announcement of the GNU, it would be catastrophic. It could even open the door for a coalition government between the ANC, the EFF and the Patriotic Alliance (PA), which together have 207 of the 400 seats in the National Assembly. If parties like the United Democratic Movement (UDM), the African Transformation Movement (ATM), Good, Al Jama-ah, the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), and United Africans Transformation (UAT) also join, it would stand at 217.

The DA leadership clearly finds it difficult to accept that with only about half of the ANC’s seats in parliament, it is the junior partner.

The ANC is struggling to get used to not being able to make all the decisions alone.

Here is what Ramaphosa said about it on Wednesday: “Above all, the people of South Africa have stressed that they are impatient with political bickering and the endless blame game among politicians and political parties. They want us to put their needs and aspirations first, and they want us to work together for the sake of our country.”

An unsavoury quarrel arose after the chairperson of the DA’s federal council, Helen Zille, lashed out at the ANC on national television about the nature of the parties’ declaration of intent and the admission of the Patriotic Alliance to the GNU.

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

Zille, whose interpretation of the agreement is probably more correct than the ANC’s, was immediately labelled as domineering and arrogant. The reaction on social media was extreme.

A recently retired minister called me and asked if I didn’t have John Steenhuisen’s “ear” and could I please ask him to keep Zille out of the media. “She makes it very difficult for us to defend our coalition with the DA to our constituency if she continues to act like a white madam. She treated Fikile [Mbalula, the ANC scretary-general] like a lackey.”

Zille disagreed with Mbalula about the meaning of “sufficient consensus” in the agreement and said it means that the 60% approval mentioned refers to the seats of GNU participants in parliament, not to parties, and added that the ANC itself does not reach that mark.

But she was sharper about the announcement that Gayton McKenzie’s PA is now involved in the GNU agreement. “The ANC can’t bring in people they feel like bringing in. This is another thing that Fikile doesn’t seem to understand.” The DA should have been consulted about it first, she said.

“The ANC must realise that they don’t make all the decisions any more. They didn’t win the election,” said Zille.

DA MP Leon Schreiber dismissed the ANC as a minority party on Twitter/X: “A reminder of a simple fact to all who may have forgotten: even with a million small parties, the GNU has no majority without the DA. There is no place for arrogance, refusal to consult, or dishonouring a signed agreement when you are a minority without the DA.”

The ANC’s stance is that the GNU is still under construction, that the ANC invited 12 parties, and that the fact that the DA and IFP signed first does not give them a veto.

But somewhat more reassuring is that the stature of Ramaphosa and the DA leader, Steenhuisen, as pragmatic centrists has grown since the election result.

It seems as if Ramaphosa has found a second wind; as if he is more determined now that he is rid of Jacob Zuma and the RET faction. His speech after the election result and his inauguration speech were straightforward, honest, visionary and inspiring. (I hear the sigh: if only this time he can turn words into deeds.)

Steenhuisen has also not put a foot wrong yet and looks more statesmanlike than ever in his political career.

The only question is whether he is really the alpha figure in the DA; or if it is Zille, with her white liberal cheerleaders and old Nats behind her.

I do not have Steenhuisen’s ear, but dear John, if you read this: we know Helen is formidable, we know she must get credit for much of the DA’s progress, but if you don’t keep her away from journalists and Twitter/X, I and many others will blame you as the leader.

John, as an observer of many difficult political negotiations over the years, I can give you this advice: your party must conduct your power struggle with the ANC behind closed doors, not on national television or social media.

You need to try harder to understand, John, that for the ANC it is a much greater political risk to accept you as a partner than it is for the DA. You tell your supporters that it is part of your attempt to “rescue” South Africa — who can criticise you for that? Win-win.

The ANC leadership, on the other hand, is being accused from all sides of treason and selling out, of jumping into bed with a predominantly white, neoliberal party and #whitemonopolycapital.

Oh, and John, what possessed you to put a racist, homophobic YouTube bro like Renaldo Gouws in parliament? Didn't you go through a thorough process to vet new MPs? (Mercifully, the party has now suspended him, but only after days of objections and 60,000 people signing a petition.)

The chorus of protest against the ANC/DA alliance has expanded in recent days. Black business organisations and even respected figures like the former public protector, Thuli Madonsela, and the head of Gift of the Givers, Imtiaz Sooliman, feel the ANC should have allied with the EFF (and maybe even the uMkhonto weSizwe Party, MKP).

And yet, the president’s inauguration was a strong symbolic victory for the GNU idea.

African presidents and diplomats from all over watched, the air force dusted off its last few airworthy planes and performed a flypast in die blou van ons hemel, the cannons roared dat die kjranse antwoord gee, and Ramaphosa looked very presidential, even kissing his wife in a tender moment.

Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso, (God protect our nation)

O fedise dintwa le matshwenyeho (end all wars and tribulations)

And when Chief Justice Raymond Zondo swore him in, Zuma watched in his Nkandla sitting room in deep rural Zululand; the other major Ramaphosa accuser, Julius Malema, was in court in East London for allegedly firing a gun at an EFF rally.

Zuma’s MKP’s “progressive caucus,” with other black parties, began to look more and more tenuous after the original radical black party, the PAC, left and joined the GNU. Yesterday, Bantu Holomisa’s UDM, also a member of the caucus, was again in talks with the ANC about possible participation in the GNU.

If this happens, the “progressive caucus” of highly unprogressive parties will consist only of the MKP and EFF, along with the old RET party ATM, the Muslim party Al Jama-ah, each with two seats, and the UAT with one seat.

I wonder how long it will take the EFF to realise that a partnership with the MKP is not in its interest; that MKP revolves only around Zuma and is unlikely to exist after the next election. Or does Malema think he will eventually attract most of the voters who voted for the MKP to the EFF? The indunas and their followers from northern KwaZulu-Natal will not bow to Julius and Floyd Shivambu. The IFP is waiting for them.

If the negotiations with the GNU partners are successful in the next few days, the GNU might consist of 10 parties: ANC, DA, IFP, Good, National Freedom Party, UDM, Rise Mzansi, Freedom Front Plus, Build One SA and ACDP.

Zille said this week that the DA wants a third of the cabinet posts, with Steenhuisen as minister in the presidency. If the cabinet again consists of 35 members, this means 10 ministers. However, the cabinet may become smaller, so the DA is believed to want six or seven ministers — and not just minor portfolios like sport, arts and culture, and women, youth and persons with disabilities.

But the closer we get to the appointment of a cabinet, the more reluctant the ANC seems to become to share power significantly.

The declaration of intent signed by the GNU parties stipulates: “The president shall, in constituting the executive, take into account electoral outcomes. While recognising the president’s prerogative to appoint members of the executive, such appointments should be done in consultation with the leaders of the respective parties of the members considered for appointment.”

Let’s hope it will be the adults with the cool heads who negotiate this.

In Ramaphosa’s words: “This moment requires extraordinary courage and leadership.”

♦ VWB ♦

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