Race to form South Africa’s next government: Who will the ANC ally with? | Politics News


Johannesburg, South Africa — After suffering a stunning blow in last week’s election, South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) has begun closed-door negotiations with its political opponents to begin talks about forming a coalition government.

On Sunday, the Electoral Commission (IEC) announced that elections in South Africa were “free and fair” but with no single party gaining an outright majority. The final election results confirmed the ANC’s decline in support to just more than 40 percent of the vote – far less than the absolute majority it had for the past 30 years after bringing about an end to apartheid.

Parties have a two-week deadline to elect a president, and analysts said the ANC would likely need to concede to an array of demands to bring others on board for a coalition government.

The ANC held a meeting of its national leaders on Saturday where they discussed coalition permutations and the possibility of forming a “government of national unity”. Such an arrangement would be reminiscent of the era of former president Nelson Mandela, who led a government of national unity from 1994 until 1997. Mandela was the president, with FW De Klerk, the last apartheid prime minister, as his deputy. Leaders of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) were part of the cabinet.

But public policy expert Kagiso “TK” Pooe, told Al Jazeera that a government of national unity might only work if built around clear goals that all parties can agree to.

“Key among them will be the economic recovery of the South African economy and promoting employment,” he said. “Secondly curtailing the problem of institutional corruption and inefficiency.” Without the will to commit to such objectives, “the coalition will always be at the precipice of failure and fallout,” he said.

A weakened ANC

The ANC, in addition to its national setbacks, also lost the majority in three provinces that it currently rules: KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and the Northern Cape. It suffered its worst blow in KwaZulu-Natal, where former President Jacob Zuma’s MK Party swept up support.

The centre-right Democratic Alliance, the official opposition, saw marginal growth in its support with 21.8 percent of the vote, and the left-wing Economic Freedom Fights (EFF) saw a dip in their support to 9.5 percent of the vote.

Former president Jacob Zuma and his uMkhonto we Sizwe Party (MK Party) were the biggest election winners. The party, formed only in late 2023, contested elections for the first time and secured third place with 14.6 percent of the vote. It is now the largest party in KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma’s home province.

Against that backdrop, the ANC said on Sunday that it had begun exploratory talks with other political parties as it digested the consequences of its plummeting support.

“The ANC is committed to the formation of a government that reflects the will of the people. That is stable, and it can govern effectively,” ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula said at a news conference.

He sought to call for calm, committing the ANC to act responsibly amid widespread uncertainty.

“The voters of South Africa have shown that they expect the leaders of this country to work together in the interests of all. We will continue to act responsibly, progressively and at all times in the interests of the people of South Africa,” he said. “We will continue to uphold the rule of law and call on all South Africans to respect the laws, rules and codes that govern the conduct of elections.”

An ANC-DA alliance?

The ANC is scheduled to have several top-level meetings this week to try to crystalise its coalition plans.

One option could be to strike a deal with the DA — traditionally its main opponent. A coalition involving South Africa’s largest and most mainstream parties could be more stable than partnerships with newer, more radical formations, many analysts have said. Both parties are also more conservative economically than the MK Party and the EFF, which espouse left-leaning policies.

The DA on Sunday announced that it would begin talks with the ANC in an effort to block what some have described as a “doomsday coalition” between the ANC, EFF and MK Party.

“I, too, am a father to three young daughters. And, like millions of other South Africans, I do not want them to grow up in a country run by a party like MK, that wants to abolish the constitution which so many fought and died for, that wants to subvert the judiciary, and that plans to expropriate all private property and nationalise the Reserve Bank,” DA leader John Steenhuisen said in a briefing. “These are the things contained in the manifestos of the EFF and MK.”

The DA has set up a high-level team to manage talks with the ANC.

But stitching together an ANC-DA coalition will not be easy.

Lukhona Mnguni, a political analyst, said the ANC and the DA’s constituencies are “fundamentally opposed to each other”.

“If they position it as a quasi-government of national unity, then it may have an opportunity to work,” he said.

Mnguni said that, as far back as 2018, business leaders touted an ANC-DA coalition as a more stable option for the country.

“Both parties are conservative when it comes to making bold and audacious decisions when it comes to economic policy. They may disagree on other issues like foreign policy, which will be difficult to negotiate,” he said.

The EFF – which seeks the expropriation of land from minority white farmers without compensation – said it was open to a deal with the ANC. “We want to work with the ANC because the ANC, when compromised, they are not arrogant,” EFF party leader Julius Malema told journalists over the weekend.

However, business leaders and investors have expressed wariness at the possibility of an ANC-EFF coalition because of the EFF’s leftist positions.

“We are not going to support an administration that is touting policies of mass economic destruction,” Busisiwe Mavuso, CEO of Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA), told local media.

The IFP, the country’s fifth-largest party, has said it too is open to talks with the ANC.

Meanwhile, the MK said it was open to talks with the ANC — but not with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in charge.

The MK Party has also alleged that the election had been rigged, even though it has emerged as the biggest gainer from the polls.

The party – which has made calls to abolish the supremacy of South Africa’s constitution and replace it with “unfettered parliamentary sovereignty” – also threatened violence on Sunday over the election results.

Writing in his weekly newsletter on Monday morning, Ramaphosa rejected those threats.

“As we work as political parties to find each other across the divide in the coming weeks and months, let us demonstrate both in our actions and our utterances that we hold the constitution and the rule of law to be paramount,” he wrote. “Let us remember that whatever authority, whatever power we are entrusted with, must be exercised to advance the interests of the South African people.

“Now more than ever, we need to put our differences aside and work together for the common good,” he said.

But the election verdict has not only exposed the deep political fissures among South Africa’s parties — it could also set off internal scrutiny within the ANC, said Pooe.

“I think the ANC has been severely dented. I certainly have no doubt that they have been shocked. They have been disappointed,” he said. “The next [ANC] national executive committee meeting will be a very tense discretion and postmortem of this election, which may make or break the party.”

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