Political Watch

Zuma might have done SA a huge favour – in the long run

Some positives from Zuma era
Zuma.jpg

As signs mount that divergent political parties can cooperate on shared issues, the prospect for future coalition politics in South Africa is fast improving.

Since February 2014, during the messy attempt at a merger between the Democratic Alliance and Mamphela Ramphele’s Agang SA, we have been writing about the “growing importance of political realignment and future alliances and coalition-forming in South Africa, wider than just on the centre-right”.

The latest round of controversies and signs of gross power misuse surrounding President Jacob Zuma could turn out to be a major momentum boost to the development of coalition politics in South Africa.

Each of the opposition parties in parliament have retained their own identities and particular styles, but in recent times managed to unite in resistance to ‘Zumafication’ of the state.

The latest example came last Thursday when eleven opposition parties boycotted President Zuma’s reply to his budget debate in parliament.

The developments around the Zuma presidency also delivered other important incentives for the development of a more diverse political power structure to safeguard democracy, including:

  • Illustrating the dangers of the concentration of power by too much of a hegemonic party political dispensation;
  • Exposing the danger of the misuse of state resources for personal gain, as happened at the Nkandla residence of Mr Zuma; and
  • Most importantly, illustrating the importance of independent judicial and watchdog institutions like the Constitutional Court, as well as other courts, and the Public Protector.

One of the dangers, that of state capture – as happened in the Zuma/Gupta relationship – has seen the ANC hegemony starting to crumble from within.

The upcoming local government elections, if and when they take place later this year (at the time of writing the Constitutional Court judgement on the issue of individual, verifiable addresses on the voters roll was not yet known) hold great promise to deliver coalition governments in a number of municipal jurisdictions.”

Signs since 2014

We also saw foreshowed the possibilities for coalition governments, in some of the results, in especially metropolitan and other larger urban areas, in the 2014 general election.

At the time we wrote: “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.”

A year later, at the time of the election of Mr Mmusi Maimane as leader of the Democratic Alliance, we wrote: “It’s been coming for some time, but a total realignment in South African politics is at hand as the middle ground is consolidating, with the ANC and SACP set to be the biggest losers.”

We then argued that the ANC indeed was effectively leading a coalition government (which it calls an alliance) since 1994.

The ANC forfeited a historic opportunity to manage the process of moving towards formal coalition when it dumped their then leader and president of the country, Thabo Mbeki – replacing him with Mr Zuma in 2007.

It has since become little more than the South African Communist Party (SACP) in drag, especially after Zuma became president of the country in 2009.

The ANC is now paying the price for that strategic slip. Not only is the party hugely embarrassed by the antics of Mr Zuma, but with the local government election upon it, is unlikely to be able to manage the transition.

Difficult transition

It would, however, be a mistake to think that the transition to a new coalition-centred political dispensation will be an easy and smooth one.

First up, there are already signs that the ANC will not give up its dominance without a fight. Especially from the side of Mr Zuma one can expect all the tricks he learned as head of the ANC’s intelligence service during the days of the liberation struggle.

For a dispensation of coalition government, something normally facilitated by the type of constitution with its proportional elective system that South Africa has, a fully professional and independent civil service is essential.

Whichever new coalition government, at whatever level of government eventually takes over from the ANC, is going to – as can be expected of the patronage system run by the ANC – inherit a civil service that is highly politicised, and likely not manned by professional career civil servants.

South Africans have to brace themselves for some turbulent times as the next phase of its transition to a normalised, modern democratic state is taking off – and is likely to last for some years.  

by Steve Whiteman

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