Marius Roodt: ActionSA courting the EFF – a match made in heaven or hell? - News24

2 March 2022 - Coalitions are a messy business. The rise of coalition governments in our municipalities since 2016 has shown the difficulties in getting different parties with varying interests to work together.

Marius Roodt

Coalitions are a messy business. The rise of coalition governments in our municipalities since 2016 has shown the difficulties in getting different parties with varying interests to work together.

What could turn out to have been a watershed moment in South African politics was the formal coalition agreement signed in 2021 by the DA, ActionSA, the ACDP, the IFP, FF+, and COPE to work together in municipalities. 

Part of this agreement included formal grievance structures to raise issues and other mechanisms to allow the coalition to function effectively. This structure and these parties could well be a dry run for a national coalition government which unseats the ANC – perhaps as early as 2024. 

Given our proportional representation system as well as the fragmentation of opposition party politics it is unlikely that one single party will emerge to successfully challenge the ANC's majority – it is far more likely that a coalition of 'wild dogs' will bring down the ANC' buffalo', rather than a single 'lion'.

ActionSA's courting of the EFF

However, earlier this year the coalition was almost derailed by ActionSA's attempts to include the EFF, especially in Ekurhuleni, where the multi-party alliance's hold is relatively weak. This led to some back-and-forth in the media and on social media, with the DA explicitly saying it would not work with the EFF, because of ideological incompatibility as well as the experience of working with them previously. 

It seems that for the moment, ActionSA has retreated from its position to try to bring the EFF into governing municipal coalitions. But why is ActionSA courting the EFF with more enthusiasm than the Tinder Swindler courts a fetching young lass the day before Valentine's Day? And what does this mean for the party and its supporters?

ActionSA's courting of the EFF will likely cause some tensions within the party.

 ActionSA recently announced that Athol Trollip, a former DA parliamentary leader and mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay, had joined the party and would be its chairperson in his home province, the Eastern Cape. Speaking shortly after the announcement, Trollip said of Julius Malema's party: "The EFF is clearly a very racist organisation." He went on to say that in his experience working with the EFF was very "transactional", something which Trollip was opposed to. 

It's unlikely that Trollip will be the only senior ActionSA leader who feels this way about the EFF and would be uncomfortable about working with the party.

And while no polling data exists on this question, those who voted for ActionSA are also unlikely to be too sympathetic to the EFF. If we take ActionSA's policy offering at face value it is almost the polar opposite of what the EFF wants. For example, ActionSA extols the virtues of non-racialism and the free market and opposes Expropriation without Compensation. The EFF is opposed to non-racialism and the free market, being actively hostile to South African minorities, and eager proponents of a state-controlled economy, and opposes individual property rights in the country.

On the other hand, ActionSA seems to have managed to do what the DA has been trying to do but seemingly failed – secure support from across the racial divide while preaching a message that embraces free markets and non-racialism.

If we look at ActionSA's performance in Johannesburg in last year's municipal elections – it won 17% in Ward 25 in Pimville, Soweto and 22% in Dobsonville's Ward 48. On the other side of the city, in Alexandra, it got 14% in Ward 108. The party also did well in the suburbs. In Ward 66 in Kensington on the city's eastern flank it won 17% of the vote, while in Sharonlea in the north west of Johannesburg it secured 20%.

ActionSA clearly did well with a cross section of Jo'burgers who likely voted for the party for similar reasons – they are looking for an alternative to existing political parties while being sympathetic to the free market and to non-racialism.

The stark ideological differences between the EFF and ActionSA raises the question of whether any putative Green-Red coalition would be able to function. 

If one studies the history of coalition governments around the world, it is clear that these alliances need to be held together with something stronger than a short-term goal.

ActionSA is clear about its goal to remove the ANC from power. This is also the EFF's claimed goal. But a scenario that is likely more desired by the Red Berets is one in which it is part of an ANC government, either through a formal toenadering or a more traditional coalition.

Little ideological thread 

Nevertheless, the absence of at least some kind of common ideological thread between the two parties, other than the stated goal of removing the ANC from power, could mean that any alliance between the EFF and ActionSA is doomed from the start. 

There is far more ideological overlap with ActionSA's partners in the formal 'wild dog' coalition. All the parties are, to varying degrees, committed to the free market and a common 'South Africanness,' unlike the EFF. This would suggest that the foundation of partnership between these parties and ActionSA is far more solid than of that between ActionSA and the EFF. 

ActionSA, through its partnership with other opposition parties, could have a unique opportunity to show what it can do when given real power and that it can be a credible challenger while cleaning up the mess left by the ANC. However, its constant flirtation with the EFF could torpedo any real chance ActionSA has of potentially achieving its goal of toppling the ANC.

Marius Roodt is a writer and senior analyst at the Institute of Race Relations