SA at a crossroads: Coalition talks determine the nation’s future – Ivo Vegter - Biznews

Pre-election fears about how the ANC would respond to the loss of its parliamentary majority have not been realised.

This pivotal juncture in South Africa’s history teeters between left-wing populism or centrist constitutionalism. Coalition negotiations are underway, with possibilities including deals with the Zuma faction, the EFF, or the Democratic Alliance. Despite uncertainties, the dignified acceptance of electoral outcomes underscores a mature commitment to democracy amidst potential challenges.

Ivo Vegter

Pre-election fears about how the ANC would respond to the loss of its parliamentary majority have not been realised.

This week and next will be monumental for the future of South Africa. The country could go either way: the way of left-wing populism, or the way of centrist constitutionalism and stability.

One way involves a deal with ‘the Zuma faction’, which now sits outside the ANC with over 14% of the vote and will demand the head of Ramaphosa in favour of, perhaps, Gwede Mantashe. That way lies the return of the gangster state.

Another way is to turn to the original ‘doomsday coalition’, which the official opposition warned against: a deal between the ANC and the EFF. On its own, even this will not be enough to form a national government, but co-opting some easily-bought opportunists could give it a precarious majority.

The third way involves a deal with the Democratic Alliance. Whether that deal extends to a full coalition – which seems to me both unlikely and undesirable – or remains limited to what is called a ‘confidence and supply’ agreement – in which the DA commits to support the ANC government against attempts to remove it (‘confidence’) and support its appropriation votes (‘supply’) in return for a substantial parliamentary oversight role – remains to be seen.

I’m not claiming to know which way the cookie crumbles.

What should inspire confidence in the people of South Africa, however, is the maturity with which the ANC has accepted what must be a very bitter pill to swallow.

Until recently, it still believed it could hold on to an outright majority. Commentators were discussing scenarios in which the ANC ended up either in the high 40s, or in the low 40s. 

Nobody foresaw quite how devastating the rise of the MK Party would be for the ANC, ultimately reducing the party of liberation to below 40% of the vote. 

In the years leading up to the 2024 election, there had been frequent talks, including among serious academics and political analysts, about how the ANC would respond to the loss of its parliamentary majority. 

Not two years ago, journalist Tim du Plessis told repentant Ramaphorian Peter Bruce that he worried that the ANC might not accept the result of a 2024 general election in which it lost badly.

There was fear that the ANC could take a leaf out of the book of its liberation ally in Zimbabwe, Zanu-PF, by delegitimising the opposition, engaging in voter suppression or intimidation, or stealing elections outright – as expressed here by Roger Southall, Professor of Sociology at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Yet the run-up to the elections was relatively free of intimidation, the elections themselves were declared free and fair, and the apparent grace with which senior ANC figures accepted the results was heartening.

‘Our people have spoken’
President Cyril Ramaphosa, before making his prepared speech at the official election results announcement, joked with the Chief Electoral Officer, Sy Mamabolo, how he wished the mistake Mamabolo made earlier saying these were the 2019 election results was true. 

In his speech, which he gave in his capacity as President of the country, he said, ‘Our people have spoken.’

He said that this election made it plain that ‘the people of South Africa expect their leaders to work together to meet their needs’.

He added: ‘As we take up our seats in Parliament and in the provincial legislatures, let us appreciate that the seats we occupy do not belong to us. They belong to the people.’

Separately, the ANC’s secretary-general, Fikile Mbalula, gave a measured speech, declaring: ‘The outcome is clear: nobody has an outright majority. So we’re talking to everybody.’

These are the words of mature politicians, who have accepted their party’s defeat at the hands of the electorate, and remain committed to South Africa’s constitutional democracy. 

Momentous occasion
Of course, a lot could still happen in the coming days, months and years. 

The populists on the left, and especially the MK Party, have openly threatened unrest and the undermining of South Africa’s democratic institutions.

The ANC’s ideology has not changed. It could decide that the surest way to advance the National Democratic Revolution would be to throw in their lot with the radical populists of the left. 

The ANC has not purged itself of corruption. It could decide on that basis that an alliance with corrupt forces outside of the party might keep the loot flowing a little while longer.

The ANC could enter a coalition with the centrist opposition, only to undermine it in a power-grab in future. 

But those are all what-ifs. 

For now, as the coalition horse-trading gets up to speed in the days ahead, we should reflect on the fact that we are watching a peaceful transition of power unfold. That in itself is a momentous occasion and cause for celebration.

Ivo Vegter is a freelance journalist, columnist and speaker

This article was first published on the Daily Friend.