SOUTH AFRICAN politics is gradually moving into uncharted waters in an interesting way.
The realisation that the ANC could fail at the ballot box in 2024 gives rise to exciting new expectations and political scenarios. Ideology and the previous emphasis on political parties competing at the ballot box give way to a complex constellation of new ideas.
Yet the likelihood that the ANC will get less than 50% of the votes cast in the 2024 elections is not significant for now. In the coming months, the ANC will use the state coffers, municipal budgets and their elected power bases in municipalities and the metros to mobilise their established support. In the townships and informal settlements, state grants will encourage a large proportion of eligible voters to go to the trouble of participation on polling day.
There is no indication that load shedding will be a thing of the past by early 2024. But the minister of electricity and the chairperson of Eskom will ensure that Eskom's power stations are kept operational at great risk during this time, and treasury will ensure that there is enough diesel to keep the gas turbines running day and night.
The ANC will try to shape the context of the national discourse by using the power and financial capacity of the state to the benefit of the ruling party.
Of course, the realities of poverty and unemployment are too pertinent to sweep under the carpet, and Luthuli House’s Fikile Mbalula will play the blame game to steer the national conversation away from these issues. Employers, farmers and land reform, historical privilege, apartheid, and the largely white political leadership of the DA are targets each and all.
And in some cases, opposition parties are making it easier for the ANC and Mbalula to test the citizenry's attention deficit to Luthuli House's advantage.
It is therefore not unlikely that the ANC will again end up with up to 55% of the votes cast in the National Assembly. A coalition between the existing minority parties will not get much more than 35% of national support in 2024. In fact, the situation is even more complex: if a coalition of parties fails to mobilise at least five million new votes, any meta-agreement between minority parties is doomed to another five years of ANC governance.
It is therefore time for South Africans to look at alternative ideas and new political agreements. As Songezo Zibi of the Rise Mzansi movement quite rightly argues: political parties alone will not be the essential variable. Neglected civil society will have to be mobilised with new hope. We have a year to take back the country and start from scratch.
As things stand, it is very possible that three political groupings could emerge around the philosophy of an “alliance of ideas” aimed at uprooting the ANC in 2024. Apart from the DA's political moonshot pact and Corné Mulder’s idea of a United Front, there is also the very promising Rise Mzansi of Zibi.
Alliance of like-minded people
There is a wisdom afoot that South Africa needs a collective of like-minded people to represent the common good rather than the political interest. Rise Mzansi is a manifestation of this line of thought.
In response to the DA and John Steenhuisen’s moonshot pact, Zibi wrote this week: “You can’t just cobble parties together because they are not the ANC.”
He refers to a “shared outlook” as the binding material, rather than a morbid fixation with the ANC and especially the EFF. Common ideas are more important than a common enemy. Similarly, Helen Zille's idea of the DA's non-negotiable values is too high-minded and prescriptive to lead to common ideas.
Philosophically, Zibi is probably trying to convince voters that the values of political liberation should be distinguished from those of the ANC as a political party. The ANC no longer represents liberation; for millions, this means systemic poverty. Rise Mzansi is already holding talks with traditional leaders, trade unions and business interests, among others, in an attempt to reach a compromise – if not a consensus – beyond forging together traditional coalition politics.
Former DA heavyweight Makashule Gana is involved, and political economist Moeletsi Mbeki shares Zibi’s train of thought. The expectation is that Xiluva's Bongani Baloyi will also eventually find a political home with Rise Mzansi. Ironically, it is also not impossible that the lily-white FF Plus will be more comfortable integrating with Rise Mzansi than with the liberal DA of Zille and Steenhuisen.
Currently the primary focus of the like-minded people in Rise Mzansi is not really on involving existing political parties, but it is becoming increasingly clear that some parties, such as the FF Plus, the UDM, ActionSA and the ACDP, tend to be attracted to this phenomenon precisely because political coalitions between the existing parties have not really succeeded in establishing a new consensus or support base.
The challenge for Rise Mzansi is to subsume shared assumptions in a political movement and capture the imagination of a broad spectrum of the population. The fact that only 12% of eligible voters voted for the ANC in 2021 is already an indication of enormous political alienation.
The like-minded believe they can bring hope into the sociological quagmire that the state and the ANC's corruption and political absence create. If you follow the trajectory of discourse and the supposed philosophy of Zibi's Rise Mzansi and Mulder's United Front, then Steenhuisen's moonshot pact is not really a user-friendly project.
The hallmark of the United Front is that an alliance of political parties forms the core of the idea and interest groups from society are involved in it. ActionSA, the IFP, the FF Plus, the UDM and the Patriotic Alliance (PA) are the political parties that could potentially be included in Mulder's United Front.
Mulder is likely to put great pressure on his colleagues to engage the DA at the outset, but the possible involvement of a broad front of civic groupings and interest groups should be sufficient to lead to a coalition agreement.
This front obviously has the luxury of exercising a choice when it comes to coalition partners. There is also a reasonable likelihood that not only the ANC will cede support to the United Front, but also the DA. In 2021, ActionSA drew votes from the ranks of the ANC, the EFF and the DA, and this can be done again. Under these circumstances, the DA is unlikely to be able to reach 20% support again.
Following the 2024 elections, the DA then becomes part of the new negotiated settlement as a minority partner. The general feeling that the DA can under no circumstances take the lead in coalition agreements will be addressed in such a manner.
The United Front and Rise Mzansi have a shared interest in the goal of operating outside the normal registered political parties, but the former may experience internal rebellion in terms of cooperation with the EFF. ActionSA's Herman Mashaba has an informal connection, call it a friendship, with Julius Malema, leading to various collaboration agreements in Johannesburg's metro politics.
The FF Plus does not want to end up in the same political bed as the EFF, but the PA's Gayton McKenzie will get into bed with a corpse if that gives him a power base. Baloyi is still likely to enter into agreements with the ANC and the jury is out as far as his relationship with the EFF is concerned.
Like the United Front, Rise Mzansi would in no way like to see Steenhuisen act as the leader of any political deal. But Mulder's idea of such a front is entirely compatible with Rise Mzansi's points of departure.
The United Front may find it more difficult to engage dominant interests in civil society, but it is important to attract voters who currently either vote for the ANC or have lost interest in electoral politics.
Who knows, maybe if the new political constellation can draw three to four million votes on top of their existing support bases, they might just be extremely competitive.
The UDM and the ACDP have already indicated that for now they are not interested in Steenhuisen's moonshot pact.
It is probably the case that Steenhuisen and Zille simply offended too many minority parties to allow for premature rapprochement now. If such rapprochement with political parties is difficult, relationships with society-based interests and groups will not necessarily be easier. Last week's national congress is probably historic in the sense that it has given the DA a terminal political identity.
Any political identity that continues to associate with the DA will have to justify this agreement with fine footwork given the white leadership of the party. As it is, the ANC will be able to loot generous political capital from the moonshot pact by simply stigmatising the DA's presence as that of white and privileged political interests. This could lead to cooperation with the DA becoming a political “kiss of death".
For the United Front, the DA is a very inconvenient presence, and Rise Mzansi will likewise try to avoid the DA in the run-up to the elections.
ActionSA's Mashaba made it clear in the hours after the conclusion of the DA's national congress that his party does not see the DA as an unavoidable or necessary political partner in the run-up to 2024.
Mashaba was extremely offended by Steenhuisen's insinuation that the DA would be the initiator of the initiative and also form the leading identity of the moonshot pact. This while the discussion of a broad political movement of like-minded people who could put South Africa back on a constitutional trajectory has been ongoing for some time.
In terms of votes cast, the DA is a 22% party, and about a 10% one in terms of total eligible voters. The United Front and Rise Mzansi are looking for a significantly more diverse and complicated political presence than a 10% party that are dependent on liberal values in the coloured and white communities.
The internal strife between the coalition partners in Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni has clearly caused tissue damage to the historic relationship between the respective political parties.
The refusal of the DA's federal executive to confirm the negotiated coalition in Johannesburg between Mashaba (ActionSA), Mpho Phalatse (DA), McKenzie (PA) and Mulder (FF Plus) has caused immense damage to relations between the parties, and handed Johannesburg over to the ANC on a platter.
The DA's insistence on determining as the leader of such coalitions the blueprint for policy and positions has caused tremendous alienation.
The idea that the DA could be the central or leading phenomenon in a national agreement between the disenfranchised citizenry and a new political movement is actually astonishingly naïve. The death knell for the idea came from Steenhuisen himself when he announced in his victory speech at the DA's national congress that “a letter will be sent from my office to invite interested parties to the moonshot pact".
The three political groupings, alliances or coalitions that will have to compromise over the next 12 months and formulate a uniform policy framework have at least one objective in common: South Africa urgently needs an alternative to the existing government.
* “Moonshot" originally referred to a “long shot", an unlikely attempt, but nowadays it is used to describe a monumental effort, an ambitious step to achieve a far-reaching ideal.
♦ VWB ♦
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