Coalition Politics

Is ANC starting to give up on surviving on its own?

Will it stay afloat?

Signs that the ANC itself is giving up hope of governing South Africa on its own after the 2019 general election, have become an almost daily occurrence.

The prospect of the ANC losing its absolute majority in parliament got a huge boost this weekend. The SA Communist Party gave its strongest indication yet that it might be contesting the 2019 general elections under its own banner.

That will bring an end to the dispensation of the country being governed by a so-called alliance under ANC leadership.

As far back as January 2014, in the run-up to that year’s general election, we wrote: “Then (2019), for the first time, the ANC may face a very real prospect of being replaced as government.”

We also then, and repeatedly since, held that – in line with what would be typical for a country like South Africa with proportional representation written into its constitution – the country is heading for coalition government.

Last year’s national local government elections did not only saw coalition governments taking over power from the ANC on a substantial scale, but created momentum to the trend.

More importantly, it has shaken the Governing alliance’s self-confidence and adding fat to fires of internal factionalism, enhancing the impression it has become panic stricken about its prospects come election 2019.

Preparing for coalition 

While there are mounting signs that some key figures within the ANC want it to prepare for the possibility of coalition government, others apparently are hoping to avoid such a prospect. The result is confusing signals from the party, depending on who is talking.

One of the discussion documents prepared for its June policy conference, states that future coalition partners should be persuaded that the ANC’s policies and programmes are best. They should rather join the ANC as members.

Although the document at present only has “for discussion” status, some of the party structures seem to already have launched such a strategy

This has already started in practice, with EFF leader Julius Malema having been targeted by the premier of his home province of Mpumalanga, David Mabuza, who pledged himself to “bring Malema back into the ANC.”

Support for this idea also came from the KwaZulu-Natal province, with ANC KZN chairperson Sihle Zikalala who in a radio-interview said the ruling party needs to start discussing how to get the former ANC Youth League leader back into the ruling party’s fold.

In the meantime, the until December leader of the ANC, President Jacob Zuma in his public utterances started to largely take over the policy stances of Malema and the EFF. In the process he has also effectively repudiated his own caucus on the EFF motion regarding land expropriation without compensation.

Strengthening Malema’s hand

What this situation is causing, is having the ANC look like the proverbial headless chicken with a totally uncoordinated strategy. In the process, they are also strengthening the hand of Malema, allowing him to play a much more sophisticated hand of mixed cards;

  • On the one hand Malema is promising the ANC a  coalition if the ANC effectively take over enough of his policy;
  • on another day he says in an interview that if the ANC were serious about radical economic transformation and land expropriation without compensation, there would be no reason for the EFF to exist and would dissolve into the ANC; and
  • then, only days later, in response to the Mabuza initiative, the EFF declares that  “Malema would not entertain any call to return the ruling party.”  .

But, as things stand now, Max du Preez argues in a column on Media24  that, as things stand, “the ANC is steadily moving closer to the EFF. There is no difference between the EFF’s policies and the Zuma populists’ demands for state control of the economy, including the banks, and the nationalisation of privately owned land.”

It is, however, early days with the ANC’s mid-year policy- and December elective conferences still ahead, which could both impact considerably on the lay of the political landscape.

For one, the ANC’s governing-alliance construct might fall apart with labour federation Cosatu already sucked into the factional leadership successional battle and talk within the SA Communist Party about the possibility of going its own way – something they might have to do to survive with influence in a coalition governmental environment.

While it prepares itself for the eventuality of having to enter a coalition to remain in government – that is if they exit election 2019 not too far below the 50% mark, and remains in a positon be the main caller of the shots – the ANC will do well to learn the lessons from 2014.

Then, the attempt at a “shotgun-marriage” before the election between the Democratic Alliance (DA) and Agang SA, became a messy affair. Coalition talks are best left to take place after the votes have been counted.

Road ahead

Effectively the election campaign for the 2019 national election has started, and while its own internal election battle to select a new leader is raging, the ANC does not look in all that good a shape at all.

Besides an ever worsening service delivery record, topped by the present social grants drama under the stewardship of key ANCWL leader Bathabile Dlamini, there is the unpredictable factor of which final cards might be played by Mr Zuma.

While his leadership of the party has just about gone absent, he gets himself involved in spats with the likes of party secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe.

And if, like is widely speculated and rumoured, he does in this final phase of his term as president of the country, reshuffles his cabinet, it could add some considerable fuel to the internal factional battles and/or force the hand of the SACP.

Expect an extended period of a very confusing political scene in the country, rife with speculative theories about what is really happening, with rumours, plenty conspiracy theories, “fake news” battles, blame games and power struggles

by Piet Coetzer

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