Why did the ANC fall into the arms of the DA?


Why did the ANC fall into the arms of the DA?

PIET CROUCAMP ponders whether the ANC discarded the mantle of ‘liberation movement' by opting for a unity government with the DA as its biggest partner.


SOUTH Africa is a country of strange contradictions. While the DA's support has largely stagnated over the past few elections, in May a significant number of South Africans punished the ruling party by voting for the radical left EFF and MKP, in the process driving  the social democratic ANC into the arms of the liberal DA and the market economy. 

In a Daily Maverick article this week, Greg Mills and Ray Hartley speculate about the ANC's motives in entering a political agreement with the DA rather than with the EFF of Julius Malema and the MKP of Jacob Zuma. 

These two “left parties” together received more than 24% of votes cast on May 29. Max du Preez and JP Landman have argued that the DA and the ANC have more in common in terms of policy than the ANC and the EFF/MKP. I still have a hard time buying this logic, but I don't yet have good counterarguments. In fact, my article today conforms to their insights, somewhat against my better judgment.

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

Mills and Hartley consider why the ANC has not done what is typical of liberation movements that lose power at the ballot box. Why did Cyril Ramaphosa and Luthuli House not consolidate their political power in an authoritarian regime? The ANC's perverse political affinity for authoritarian jurisdictions such as Cuba, Venezuela, Russia, Libya and Iran motivates the fear that Luthuli House will politically dishonour South Africa's constitution without hesitation. Mills and Hartley refer to Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Angola as good southern African examples of liberation movements that overturned the pillars of democracy on everything and everyone in an attempt to retain power.

The Zondo commission’s role

In answering their own question, Mills and Hartley make the interesting argument that the Zondo commission's revelation of state capture and systemic corruption finally alienated South Africans from the liberation party. The ANC and the president being crucified in front of everyone with a television, as it were, had the massive consequences that we saw in the 2021 and 2024 elections, when the ANC majority fell below 50%. Zondo broke the relationship of trust between the ANC and its support base.

But this is where logic is distorted by contradictions. A logical conclusion drawn from this year's election result is that voters expressed a need for better government by either staying away from the ballot box or by voting for parties on the left of the ideological spectrum. The emergence of the urban EFF and the rural MKP is thus the result of South Africans' collective realisation that the ANC's endemic corruption is responsible for unemployment, poverty and poor service delivery.

Ironically, political parties such as the DA, Rise Mzansi and Action SA, which identify with the ideological pragmatism of the so-called middle ground, did not take away support from the ANC. However, the DA with only around 14% black support has a proven history of good governance and the ANC found in John Steenhuisen and Helen Zille's liberal party the most logical alliance partner.

If Mills and Hartley are right that the theatre of the Zondo commission and the exposure of the ANC's corruption and mismanagement was the motivation for voters to desert the ANC, why have equally corrupt political parties on the left been able to take support from the ANC while parties in the middle ground have made no significant impression on historical ANC voters?   

Aren't the EFF and the MKP associated with corruption and mismanagement rather than good government? A scenario that reunites the ANC, EFF and the MKP in a coalition would hardly lead to better government. Yet it was the left-wing political parties that took away support from the ANC. 

If the ANC had decided to enter a political agreement with the EFF and the MKP, rather than the DA, this partnership would have amounted to sharing power rather than better political and financial management. In truth, this would have been an election outcome that surrendered democracy to populist claims. 

That said, it is still valid to speculate why Ramaphosa's ANC, in spite of the growing support for left-wing political parties, sought the liberal middle ground rather than entering a political alliance with populism. It is clear that almost a quarter of historical ANC voters saw their political salvation in left-wing parties. If Zuma were still the ANC president or if the so-called radical economic transformation faction still had control of the party, there is good reason to suspect the DA would not come near the Union Buildings.

Changing DNA of the ANC

The answer may lie in the fact that in the past 30 years the ANC has become more of a political party than a liberation movement. Rapidly changing demographics play an important role in the ANC's changing political DNA. Almost 70% of South Africans are urbanised, and although the ANC relies to a large extent on rural support at the ballot box, the party's political culture is predominantly modernist and urban. By the way, the EFF is also an urban representative of the black middle class. The MKP, on the other hand, may still be rooted in the rural politics of KwaZulu-Natal.

The ANC is simply no longer a liberation movement. Probably not much more than 22% of the labour market still belongs to trade unions and the Communist Party consists mainly of tenderpreneurs who see the role of the state in the economy as the authoritarian patron of their privilege. The trade unions protect the interests of the working class against those of the unemployed and the Communist Party represents the interests of the black economic elites, not those of the proletariat.

In the past, the ANC could rely on support from organised labour during elections. But today the working class is divided and not all trade unions side with the ANC politically. There is nothing in the composition of Ramaphosa's cabinet to suggest that he was under political pressure to make the communists or trade unions part of his management team. Instead, the question was to what extent the markets would react positively or negatively to the political agreements or likely coalitions.

As a representative of political liberation, the ANC transformed over 30 years into a corrupt, social-democratic political party that opportunistically stigmatised the principles of the market economy but increasingly enabled privatisation by being either absent or incapable of carrying out the most basic responsibilities of a democratic state. It is not an irony that the ANC can be saved from itself only if the private sector succeeds in getting the economy going. 

It is a valid argument that Ramaphosa's “renewal" project has failed and that he will not succeed in cleansing the ANC of corruption and corrupt politicians. But it also cannot be ignored that his administration, possibly in anticipation of the election results, adopted pragmatic and market-oriented economic policies. 

In this connection, the ANC launched Operation Vulindlela as an afterthought to the National Development Plan, which was never really implemented to fruition. The policy blueprint is a joint initiative of the presidency and the treasury to accelerate the implementation of structural reforms and economic recovery. Vulindlela aims to modernise and transform network industries including electricity, water, transport and digital communications. The initiative is part of a broader effort by the government to stimulate economic recovery and ensure long-term sustainability. 

It is not impossible that this initiative, like the National Development Plan, will never be implemented, but in itself this document is a clear sign of economic pragmatism and conforming to modernisation. Despite the ANC's insistence in its negotiations with the DA that the directors-general appointed by the ANC should remain in place, this document also shows a realisation on the part of the ANC that the public service urgently needs to adopt the characteristics of a professional institution.  It is no coincidence that the DA is at peace with the basic premises of this policy document.

♦ VWB ♦

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