THE atmosphere in the national election centre is electric with anticipation. Hundreds of journalists have gathered and a large number of television cameras are aimed at the stage to broadcast the results of the 2024 election worldwide.
The Electoral Commission of SA chairperson taps the microphone. Everyone knows what the likely outcome will be but it must be officially announced — that the ANC has not reached close to 50% support.
The leader of the coalition of parties that ousted the ANC and will form the new government then takes the microphone and, with the entire nation and the world watching, begins: “My fellow South Africans…"
What will he (or she) say to the nation? And who will be the new president? Will it be someone who can reassure and inspire, someone who gives most people hope?
If the DA's latest opinion poll is correct and the ANC has only 7% more support than the DA, we must seriously consider the possibility of a new government next year. Including ActionSA, the IFP, FF+ and two or three smaller parties, such a coalition may well win over 50% of the vote.
But do we really realise what a fundamental shift, an 8 on the Richter earthquake scale, it would be?
Do South Africans today realise that such a monumental moment can also go wrong, leading to instability and sabotage of the new order?
Think about it: the ANC was founded on January 8, 1912, and has never since been truly challenged as the primary nationalist movement; in December 1973, the UN General Assembly declared the ANC (and PAC) the authentic representatives of the people of South Africa; it had a military wing that fought a (limited) guerrilla war; it absorbed the major internal resistance movement, the United Democratic Front; it is the party of giants such as Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela; it ruled the country for the first 30 years after liberation.
The expectation was/is that, in Jacob Zuma's words, the ANC would rule until the second coming of Jesus Christ. The ANC was the state, the state was the ANC.
And after the election in the winter of 2024, is it suddenly just an opposition party?
The former Constitutional Court justice and chair of the electoral commission in 1994, Johann Kriegler, said last week during his Helen Suzman Memorial Lecture that he believes the ANC leadership will accept a defeat — and I agree with him.
“I do have confidence in the integrity of the basic leadership of the party, that if they lose at the polls, they will go," he said.
He added, and I also agree with this, that South Africans simply would not tolerate the ANC pulling Trump-like tricks. After all, we have a vibrant civil society and, moreover, a functioning, independent judiciary. And we are a constitutional democracy where the constitution is supreme.
The ANC may play dirty in the election campaign but I think the IEC can be trusted not to tolerate irregularities that could make a difference to the outcome. It is a Chapter 9 creation of our constitution and is regulated by the Electoral Commission Act of 1996.
Each of the six national and six local elections since 1994 was free and fair, and the results were never seriously disputed.
So far so good.
But how will the violent, racist EFF, the hotheads of the ANC Youth League, and the SA Communist Party, Cosatu and Saftu/Numsa react to an ANC defeat?
Because the DA is likely to be the strongest, leading party in the new coalition. And the party's leadership is mostly white. Leader: John Steenhuisen; federal council chairperson: Helen Zille with deputies Annelie Lotriet and Thomas Walters; federal deputy chairpersons: JP Smith and Anton Bredell; finance chairperson: Dion George.
Julius Malema rejected a parliamentary inquiry into his behaviour during the last state of the nation address this week because the “accuser" was a white senior advocate. He won't be disciplined by any white man, he declared vehemently.
(News24's Pieter du Toit calls the EFF “ethno-political entrepreneurs".)
Let me put it this way: the more prominent the role of the DA in such a coalition, the fiercer the rejection of its new coalition government will be. It is predictable what the new populist refrain will be: whites are taking over the government again.
The DA earns/receives support from black voters because it governs effectively and cleanly, but in recent years it has alienated or driven away many strong black leaders: caucus leader Lindiwe Mazibuko, leader Mmusi Maimane, Herman Mashaba, Mbali Ntuli, Funzi Ngobeni, Bongani Baloyi, John Moodey, Makashule Gana and others.
The idea that a white-managed party will dominate the new government after centuries of colonialism and apartheid doesn't sit well with most voters.
Not with me either, as white and Afrikaans as I am.
I don't get the impression that Steenhuisen, Zille and Co realise this. They are supposedly “colour-blind". (This week on Twitter/X, Zille again saddled up her old critical race theory — something that is only relevant in the American culture wars.)
Black South Africans only truly embraced Springbok rugby when a black captain was chosen.
If the DA leadership can find it in themselves to be more modest in the national interest and if they are willing to appoint a black president, probably from outside their own ranks (Songezo Zibi of Rise Mzansi?), it might work. But that's a big “if".
And even if the new coalition government overcomes these prejudices, there are several other serious stumbling blocks.
The ANC culture is infected with cadre deployment, nepotism and patronage. The party's contribution to the international lexicon is the word “tenderpreneur". Several criminal syndicates and the taxi industry are intertwined with it.
Especially since the Zuma years, corruption in the ANC has become completely institutionalised, on all levels.
This means hundreds of thousands of ANC people's established interests will be seriously threatened by a new regime. No more easy access to power, privilege and wealth.
The decay in the country is so serious that a new government will have to make many drastic changes to try to turn the ship around.
Among these steps are a change in labour legislation; greater cooperation with the private sector, even privatisation; a change in preferential procurement and the way black empowerment is applied; freezing of state salaries; and greater accountability and much stronger discipline in the civil service and provincial and local governments to increase efficiency.
These are all steps that will be extremely unwelcome to ANC ideologues and unions, not to mention the EFF. They're “counter-revolutionary".
In fact, a scenario where the EFF challenges the state's authority more forcefully and wants to make the country ungovernable should be seen as likely. The EFF knows it thrives in chaos and racial tension.
Cyril Ramaphosa could not control the ANC in the last five years or rid it of Zuma/RET rot; his promise of a reformed and renewed ANC remained just that. The genie popped out of the bottle in Polokwane in 2007 when Zuma replaced Thabo Mbeki.
The week of devastating anarchy and looting in KwaZulu-Natal in July 2021 showed how easily the country can be destabilised with political incitement.
The DA also stands a good chance of taking over the provincial legislature in KZN in coalition with the IFP, and in Gauteng in coalition with ActionSA and others.
There is little time left before the election, eight months at most.
Cool heads from all walks of our society will soon have to seriously consider the risks of regime change.
The only way South Africa can be saved from instability is if the centre is strengthened in time. This means more than just the parties that want to govern in coalition in 2024; it must also involve broad civil society.
The nation must be thoroughly prepared to accept the election result, whatever it may be.
There is one way to reduce the risks: a government of national unity, or a coalition between the ANC and the DA, with some of its coalition partners also involved.
This will also help the ANC leadership resist pressure from within to form a coalition with the EFF. Because if the ANC gets around 40% and the EFF more than 10% support, the temptation will be great.
And that will be the worst possible scenario.
♦ VWB ♦
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