IT'S widely agreed among opinion makers that South Africa's democratic institutions and its constitution would be in a far more precarious state today if not for investigative journalists. I interviewed award-winning News24 political editor Qaanitah Hunter about her book, Who will rule South Africa? The demise of the ANC and the rise of a new democracy, which she co-authored with seasoned editor Adriaan Basson. During our conversation, Hunter said it is primarily an analysis of publicly available information and knowledge, rather than the result of investigative journalism.
While many opinion makers and policy analysts may arrive at different conclusions than Basson and Hunter, the book is a valuable resource for gaining an insightful understanding of South Africa's complexities. It excels in connecting events, identifying patterns and painting a comprehensive picture of issues some of us have long suspected or feared.
Let's start with the title of the book, Who will rule South Africa? Initially, I assumed it was about the period after 2024. Then the sub-title reads, ‘The rise of a new democracy'. Can you define this new democracy and how will it evolve?
QH: The question many South Africans are preoccupied with is where this country is heading and what it means. South Africa is entering a crucial phase as it approaches 30 years since achieving democracy. There is also a noticeable shift happening, away from single-party dominance toward coalition politics.
We can't analyse the state of the country without considering recent history and where South Africa has come from. We need to assess the last few phases of ANC governance as we track the decline of the ANC. As we see it, in national politics the ANC's majority is declining and there is a gradual transition toward coalition politics, similar to what we've observed in local government.
This book isn't meant to make predictions but to provide informed analysis. We use our recent history and our expertise in covering politics for the last decade or more to make sense of where we're heading. The most crucial question is what all of this means for the future of South Africa.
If the ANC were to secure an absolute majority in 2024, say 52% or 54%, does that undermine the raison d'être of the book? It could well be that there's no need for coalition governments except in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
QH: The book isn't intended as a crystal ball-gazing exercise. We map different scenarios and provide insights into how we arrived at this point, which may have seemed unthinkable 30 years ago. The book won't become irrelevant if the ANC secures a majority. We carefully paint the picture of how we got here, who the key players are, and the question of who will rule South Africa arises within the context of the 2024 election. It's about understanding who will hold the levers of power in the next phase of democracy. Our electoral democracy is changing for several reasons, with implications for society and the political system.
Is the book investigative journalism or political analysis?
QH: It's political analysis. While it draws on extensive reporting, it relies heavily on behind-the-scenes information the public may not be aware of. For instance, what do we really know about Phala Phala or the factors behind Russia's influence in the ANC? It's not an exposé but it offers a detailed analysis of the ANC's decline from power and the factors that contributed to its demise. It provides insights readers may not have heard before.
We uncover details about behind-the-scenes discussions that led to the idea of a grand coalition between the ANC and the DA. In these discussions, the ANC would lead the executive while the DA would lead the legislature. This is something that hasn't been reported before, but it has indeed been discussed between the ANC and the DA.
Let me ask about the cover, which displays pictures of political leaders including Cyril Ramaphosa and Paul Mashatile. Is this a reference to the internal struggles for control within the ANC and how they might affect political scenarios after 2024?
QH: Absolutely. We pay a lot of attention to Mashatile, particularly because of his role in ANC internal dynamics and the way he positions himself as the future of the party. Ramaphosa isn't seen as the future of the ANC; in many ways, he's regarded as part of its recent past. People are looking at Mashatile for insights into the future. Whether this is a positive or negative development is not clear, but it's an interesting factor. The decision to include both Mashatile and Ramaphosa on the cover signals that Mashatile, rather than Ramaphosa, may well represent the future of the ANC. The future of South Africa is not solely determined by politics; it also depends on individuals and identities.
The proposed split in democratic control, where one party controls the executive and another controls the legislature, seems astonishing. I can't imagine how it could work. Who in these parties would have the authority to reach such an agreement?
QH: These are discussions happening behind the scenes. Based on internal discussions, the ANC has admitted it's open to a grand coalition with the DA. The DA, however, is focusing on the multiparty charter. Our goal is to understand the nature of these discussions, and it appears this option was indeed on the table.
Who was involved in these discussions? Who were the individuals participating in talks about the scenario you mentioned?
QH: We don't have all the details because these discussions weren't held in formal meetings. However, we provide context around how the discussion of a grand coalition has emerged within the ANC.
After Ramaphosa's first State of the Nation Address when he took over the presidency from Jacob Zuma, many South Africans were filled with optimism and hope. What went wrong? What happened to those constructive intentions and ideals?
QH: We aim to understand this by meticulously examining the “Thuma Mina" moment of 2018 and the optimism that came with Ramaphosa's election as ANC leader and subsequently as the country's leader. We diagnose how the president's indecision has contributed to a delay in implementing his vision, which many people initially praised as a good plan. We also track how he has failed to handle the internal political dynamics within the ANC at the expense of the country. Additionally, we look at his effort to create a quasi-state within the state instead of addressing state incapacity. He attempted to establish parallel structures but these did not lead to efficient governance.
So, what went wrong?
QH: Multiple factors contributed to the challenges. While there have been some improvements in certain areas, such as the turnaround at state security, the president's insistence on being a referee rather than a captain of Team South Africa has been a significant factor. As a result, when the ANC goes to the electorate next year, according to our assessment, it will have achieved only about 40% of what it promised South Africans 30 years ago. We are essentially squandering the participatory democracy people fought hard for.
What is wrong with the DA? It seems to have lost the support of black voters, even Afrikaners, with around 300,000 leaving. Do you think this is due to liberalism struggling to gain traction?
QH: I haven't thought of it in that way. Some people have lumped the DA and the ANC together when diagnosing the problems in politics. What we are dealing with is the hyper-fragmentation of the opposition, with the DA attempting to lead like-minded smaller parties. The DA has acknowledged that it can't overthrow the ANC. It's an anomaly in that, on one hand, the ANC is declining but we aren't seeing a rapid rise in support for the official opposition.
I think the ANC is likely to win an absolute majority next year. But hypothetically, if it secures only 40% of the vote and has to choose between the DA and the EFF as a coalition partner, what would it do?
QH: It's highly divided, and the choice would depend on the balance of power and the election results. If the election outcome is very challenging for the ANC, it would give momentum to the Mashatile faction and those in the ANC who are sympathetic to the EFF. They view the DA as the primary enemy. However, there are also the Veterans League and Ramaphosa's supporters who have experience working with the EFF. They have faced disappointing results in places such as Ekurhuleni and Johannesburg. They have concerns that the EFF could undermine them from within. So, it all depends on the balance of power and the political climate when the election results are announced.
Could Rise Mzansi motivate traditional ANC voters to get up and vote in 2024, but not for the ANC? Is there a chance it could gain significant support?
QH: Not necessarily with Rise Mzansi, but the phenomenon could be important. Many new political parties have registered and some might offer new ideas and options. It's important to avoid overestimating public sentiment. The goal is not to say Rise Mzansi will do well but to highlight that there will be alternatives and options that didn't exist before.
Has the massive volume of information and new knowledge gained through investigative journalism had any impact on governance?
QH: Certainly. Without the investigative journalism during the state capture years, the situation would have been much worse. South African journalism is widely recognised for upholding democracy during a time when deliberate efforts were made to subvert it. For instance, we might not have known about whistleblower Babita Deokaran's situation without the reporting by News24's Jeff Wicks. We've also learned about the failures of institutions like Transnet, Eskom and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.
However, the breakdown in local government is a direct example of how a lack of funding prevents the media from reporting on the activities of small municipalities, allowing governments to act with impunity. A vibrant press empowers South Africans to participate meaningfully, and this book aims to emphasise that.
Our democracy is a precious one, and if we disengage from it, which is what happened in the 2021 local government elections when many South Africans didn't participate, it comes with significant risks. This book empowers South Africans to believe their future shouldn't be solely determined by politicians. We are not just our politicians.
♦ VWB ♦
BE PART OF THE CONVERSATION: Go to the bottom of this page to share your opinion. We look forward to hearing from you.