Political Watch

DA-Agang mess obscures more important political trends

Malema, picking up the slack

The messy on-off marriage of the Democratic Alliance (DA) and Agang SA underlined the growing importance of political realignment and future alliance and coalition-forming in South Africa, wider than just on the centre-right.

All the media hype around the would-be merger obscured the importance of current protest actions and police violence which undermine the ANC and benefit the populist and socialist parties on the far left, also eyeing alliances and future coalitions.

The immediate damage from the messy and naively handled would-be merger of the DA and Agang SA, would be the denting of the Agang leader’s reputation and loss of some voter-support for both parties.

But more importantly, it could set back hopes amongst centre-right parties to replace the ANC with coalition governments in more provinces – a possibility supported by recent opinion surveys.

Of probably more significance for South African politics in the near to mid future is the wave of often violent citizens’ protests sweeping townships and university campuses, and police responses that have led to a number of deaths.

This trend is harming the ANC – and the DA to a lesser extent in the Western Cape – and creating fertile ground for left-wing populist parties like the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) to spread their radical message and recruit support.

The EFF has not only already entered cooperation terrain with the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), but is also showing strong interest in an alliance or collective movement with other left wing organisations. Amongst these count the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), which has broken its ties with the ANC and is central to a threatening split in the Congress of South African Unions (COSATU).

Focus on coalitions

It is clear that realignment on the South African political terrain is already taking place and is likely to include more cooperative agreements, alliances and movements established between parties from the left and right in opposition to the ANC. This could lead to coalition governments replacing the ANC as sole ruler in a number of local and provincial governments – and eventually possibly at national level too.

Potentially the ANC itself could end up in coalitions, to co-govern in some of these local and provincial jurisdictions.

In Gauteng, for example, it might be forced into a coalition with the EFF to keep a DA-led alliance at bay. The latest IpsosMarkinor survey indicated only 51% ANC support in Gauteng.

And in the Northern Cape either the ANC or DA might have to consider the coalition option with support indicated at ANC 29%, DA 16% and 53% in the balance.

Despite the messy affair, the DA and Agang are also both still pursuing alliance/coalition strategies.

According to Ramphele her party would even still consider a future alliance with the DA.

And the DA’s Parliamentary leader, Lindiwe Mazibuko, said last week most opposition parties are committed to realignment and coalition-forming to take forward the electorate's needs, and that the DA has not been deterred by the Agang fallout. The DA aims at 30% of votes nationally and winning the Gauteng and Northern Cape provinces, the latter via coalition.

 Other cooperation agreements

A number of other opposition parties also recently entered into election pacts or agreements to improve their collective election chances and/or to put a predetermined coalition agreement in place should they collectively muster a majority to form a provincial government.

The Congress of the People (COPE) led by Mosioua Lekota, the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) led by Kenneth Meshoe, the Freedom Front Plus led by Pieter Mulder, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) led by Mangosuthu Buthelezi, and the United Christian Democratic Party (UCDP) led by Sipho Mfundisi recently formed what they call the Collective for Democracy.

Despite disparate policies, programmes and philosophies, the five political parties are bound together by what they termed twenty “joint areas of priority”. This includes opposition to the ANC’s concentration of power and corruption. Although they will retain their own identities while contesting the election as a collective, the focus is rather on possible post-election coalition governments wherever feasible.

Julius Malema’s EFF and Buthelezi's IFP recently signed a co-operative agreement aimed at protecting each other during campaigning in KwaZulu-Natal. This practical agreement sets aside incompatible policy and ideological positions in order to allow both to campaign unhindered in a province where political violence often made this difficult in the past.

The DA and Agang could have learnt from these two examples as to what is possible and how to go about it. Both agreements are strategically practical, based on well defined common interest their individual support bases can relate to.

 Left wing challenge

The centre-right, however, is not where the biggest game-changing developments are likely to take place. As reported previously, the focus is steadily shifting to the far left political space where emerging new forces and the rising appeal of populist politics pose a much bigger threat to the ANC.

While, at this year’s election, the only challenge from that flank will come from the EFF, the combined left/populist movement is likely to pose a much bigger challenge to the ANC by 2019.

Nonetheless, the latest wave of protests is a very important factor. Municipal IQ’s Municipal Hotspots Monitor showed that in December, despite a decrease, protest actions still occurred at a rate of almost one every second day.

While numbers are yet to be confirmed, January clearly brought a sudden surge in protest actions, matched by a surge in police actions leading to the death of protesters.

As a result Malema’s EFF may yet emerge with more support than most analysts are expecting. With its core support base among shack dwellers, the youth and working class communities, the current conflict between protest actions and the police is playing directly into the hands of the EFF, which exploit these situations to the full.

EFF leaders have gone to the scenes of protest actions, none of which were visited by senior ANC or government leaders. EFF has reaped positive publicity by providing various forms of support to the families of victims of police action.

In affected townships these EFF-actions are most likely scoring good political points in the absence of ANC or government leaders.  

The recent Ipsos Markinor survey showed ANC support falling from its previous almost two-thirds majority to 53%. Much of this lost support seems to be shifting towards the EFF which, the survey indicates, will get 4% of the vote.

But the EFF’s mobilisation and growth is probably just a precursor for more to come on the left-wing of the political spectrum.

It seems very likely that NUMSA will soon form a new “independent, mass political party of the working class that is committed to socialism” that will “form part of a new united front” of the left along the lines of the United Democratic Front of the 1980s.

An emerging new socialist workers’ movement united in a fight against the ANC is probably where the real political action in South Africa is going to take place post the 2014 general election and leading up to the next election in 2019.

Follow Stef on Twitter: @stefterblanche

by Stef Terblanche

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