Election crossroads: What an ANC-DA coalition could mean for South Africa – Shawn Hagedorn - Biznews

Thirty years ago, the results of our first legitimate election seemed to maximise contentment. This year’s voting could be our last legitimate election and it’s hard to realistically envisage a favourable outcome.

As South Africa braces for its impending election, ominous clouds loom over the political horizon. Three decades since its inaugural legitimate election, optimism has waned. The ANC, once the beacon of liberation, now grapples with internal decay and dwindling electoral support. Amidst rampant patronage and economic decline, coalition talks swirl, hinting at a perilous crossroads. Will they salvage democracy through compromise or plunge into constitutional peril? The stakes are high, and the future is uncertain.

Shawn Hagedorn

Thirty years ago, the results of our first legitimate election seemed to maximise contentment. This year’s voting could be our last legitimate election and it’s hard to realistically envisage a favourable outcome.

It is quite unlikely the ANC will be ‘electorally competitive’ in 2029 without aggressively undermining the basic requirements for achieving a valid election. Such considerations are likely to dominate the party’s efforts to form a coalition government.

How vulnerable is our Constitution? Of course, the answer is that it is very vulnerable.

The ANC morphed from a militant liberation movement into a ruling party reliant on rampant patronage and hostile to genuine competition, whether commercial or electoral. Cyril Ramaphosa’s leadership has not prompted a pivot toward much-needed reforms, while the party’s candidates list for the national election reaffirms its ongoing tolerance of self-enrichment at the state’s expense.

Our ruling party has shown little willingness to purge corruption and incompetence from its senior ranks. Being rejected or snubbed by the party is much more likely to follow from acting against ANC interests.

The party’s capacity to renew itself has proven to be meagre. Nor are its prospects good for reversing declines in its electoral support.

If the ANC’s national electoral support slips toward 40% and in the three most urbanised provinces the party comes in around 25%, as recent polling suggests, its leaders will easily imagine being ousted from the Union Building in 2029. Losing the black middle class, and thus the three largest provinces, is likely to jolt the ANC into survival mode.

Whereas voters are primarily focused on jobs, the party’s reliance on patronage-supporting policies pummels our economic prospects. Meanwhile, the ANC has been over-investing geopolitically, to the detriment of SA, in the two nations whose leaders seem intent on undermining the global order to advance their personal delusions of grandeur.

Prior to the invasion of Ukraine, both Russia and China looked far more formidable than they do now. Both countries are run by autocrats who have had to recently accept that prospects for achieving their visions have plunged over the past two years. Our ruling elites don’t seem to appreciate this or the likelihood that one or both of them could die or be ousted within the next few years.

ANC leaders have long conditioned themselves to be anti-Western − alongside seeking to marginalise white South Africans. The party has now made adversaries out of millions of middle-class and aspiring young black South Africans. This opens fresh battlelines.

When considering coalition options, ANC leaders might swallow hard and accept that they have recklessly over-indulged patronage, thus undermining their economic stewardship, and that they are losing their ability to sway the electorate. Or they could form a national coalition with the EFF, or even MK, to hang on to power through undermining the constitutional protections which legitimate elections require.

The latter would be consistent with disparaging the West to align with Moscow and Beijing − but much could go wrong. SA is not strategic to Russia or China. The ANC’s leaders are not sufficiently competent to be trustworthy counterparties. Would they dare to incite mass social upheaval and then declare martial law − or a softer path to undermining the Constitution − without significant, and reliable, external support?     

ANC elites could, conceivably, prefer a national coalition arrangement with the DA. The key calculation for the DA should be the likelihood that our democracy will cease to function before 2029.

Might the two parties’ leaders be able to finesse an arrangement whereby almost everyone is better off? The ANC high command would want to be able to see a path to a deal which others would liken to a type of amnesty. Counter arguments would include the ANC asserting that it restrained from aggressively pursuing apartheid-era abuses when it came to power. By way of a contemporary reference point, the deal that ends the war in Ukraine will not lead to war crime prosecutions of Russian leaders. 

As millions of South Africans have been permanently marginalised by ANC policies, it was easy to trigger the July 2021 riots that left over 300 dead and many billions of rands in damage. Having the world’s worst − and probably most deeply entrenched − youth unemployment sets the stage for a volume of social unrest sufficient to ‘suspend’ the Constitution. The pandemic-induced lockdown in 2020 was broadly lauded, initially.

Such anti-constitution scenarios would play to the strengths of MK and the EFF, whereas the ANC’s leaders have been softened through eating well and having become accustomed to basking in the limelight at international get-togethers, such as those of the G20, WEF or BRICS. Today’s ANC leadership can’t manage SA’s economy effectively, as it is so beholden to the party’s widespread patronage network. But forming a coalition with either the EFF or MK would put our Constitution and the ANC at risk of being ruthlessly overthrown. At a minimum, our economy and democracy would suffer lasting blows.

The big picture is that our domestic economy can no more absorb our surplus labour than it can fully employ our abundant supplies of minerals. Meanwhile, many wealthy Western countries have a shortage of young workers while their economic growth is dominated by services, many of which have digital components which can be performed anywhere.

China will buy minerals which can help fund sub-subsistence payment to jobless young adults. But China is not going to import goods or services which create many value-adding jobs for South Africans. Nor are there plausible scenarios where Russia creates jobs in SA.

Whereas colonial powers actively exploited African labour for commercial gain, the ANC passively exploits black South Africans, by permanently marginalising so many of them, as a consequence of proliferating the massive patronage which keep its elites rich and powerful. The downward economic spiral that this induces isn’t compatible with the ANC remaining electorally relevant.

The middle option
ANC leaders must risk the criminal prosecutions which would follow from their being ousted from the Union Building in 2029; or they must pivot to adopt pro-growth policies; or they must collapse the Constitution.

If they were to form a coalition with the DA, the middle option would become doable − though still very difficult for all involved. This path could easily become insanely difficult for the DA, as missteps could, rather easily, lead to the demise of the party.

An ANC-DA coalition is the best possible outcome for this year’s national elections. Yet it would be messy, non-satisfying and ultra-challenging.

For 20 years, Shawn Hagedorn has been regularly writing articles in leading SA publications, focusing primarily on economic development.


This article was first published on the Daily Friend.