Steenhuisen's warning about an ANC-EFF coalition is far from fearmongering - News24

In her recent column, Melanie Verwoerd pooh-poohed the threat of an ANC-EFF coalition coming to power next year.

Marius Roodt and Terence Corrigan

In her recent column, Melanie Verwoerd pooh-poohed the threat of an ANC-EFF coalition coming to power next year.

She dismissed remarks by DA leader John Steenhuisen on the BBC programme, HARDtalk, that an alliance between the ANC and its offspring, the EFF, would lead to chaos and economic collapse. Verwoerd went on to say that warning about the risk of the ANC and EFF coming to power was simply "swart gevaar" and "rooi gevaar" repackaged, and that listening to Steenhuisen warning of the consequences of an ANC-EFF coalition reminded her of PW Botha's apartheid-era bluster.

This is ironic in view of the fact that Verwoerd herself alluded to the dangers of a predatory EFF-run state in her 15 February column, "Better the devil you know than the devil you are petrified of".

Verwoerd provides little reason why South Africans should not fear an ANC-EFF coalition. She asserts that most in the senior leadership of the ANC are opposed to cooperation with the EFF. Perhaps this is true, but it is always wise to study a person's or organisation's actions rather than their words.

Contempt for voters 

The ANC and the EFF have recently ousted DA mayors across South Africa, including in three of the country's metros: Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, and Nelson Mandela Bay. They had managed to do it in Tshwane for a short while too, but the DA succeeded in wrestling the capital back. It is clear that there is some appetite within the ANC for a toenadering with the EFF, and it cannot simply be dismissed out of hand.

And the agreement by the ANC and the EFF to back mayors from smaller parties rather than putting forward candidates of their own, shows the contempt in which they hold voters. Is there anyone in this country who believes that the last two candidates backed for Johannesburg mayor – Thapelo Amad and his successor, Kabelo Gwamanda – were chosen by the ANC-EFF because they believed either man was the very best person to solve the very serious problems facing our biggest city? This is about power, not principle, and certainly not "service delivery".

In addition, there is very little substantive ideological divide between the ANC and the EFF. The EFF's seven "non-negotiable" pillars, such as the expropriation of land without compensation, free education and healthcare, and the nationalisation of mines and banks, would find favour within the ANC's more radical wing (and let's face it, among its not-so-radical wings, too).

Don't expect much pushback from the ANC against the implementation of these seven pillars in a putative ANC-EFF government.

Verwoerd also says that the ingredients for a Zimbabwe-style economic collapse are not present in South Africa. Of course, she is correct in pointing out that Zimbabwe and South Africa are quite different. Even before the Zimbabwean economic collapse, South Africa's economy was far larger than Zimbabwe's and much more diversified. South Africa is also a far more diverse society than Zimbabwe, with different political cultures in each country.  

However, to blithely wave away any economic concerns by saying that a Zimbabwean-style collapse cannot happen here is unhelpful. While money printing as happened in Zimbabwe is unlikely for the moment, there is no guarantee that this will remain the case if an ANC-EFF coalition comes to power. Expect more attacks on the independence of the South African Reserve Bank in such a case, and then all bets are off. Indeed, both parties advocate nationalising the Reserve Bank.

Land seizures also cannot be ruled out. While a proposed constitutional amendment empowering the government to seize private property without paying for it did not pass, the Expropriation Bill, currently before the National Council of Provinces, will give the government similar powers. This danger also cannot just be waved away.

Own goals 

Some would argue that South Africa is already in the early stages of economic collapse, given the degradation of infrastructure, whether that is water supply, electricity or railroads.

The recent slide in the value of the rand seems to have begun initially – at least in part – because of concerns by foreign investors of a potential grid collapse (the subsequent slide seems to have been because of South Africa’s support of Russia). Businesses are also finding it harder to function and essential infrastructure continues to fall to pieces, with several large South African companies recently pointing to how infrastructure issues harm profits and growth.

Several other own goals are also serving to weaken the economy, from a continued obsession with race-based laws, and the failure to prepare schoolchildren for a life of work and study in the modern world, to a breakdown in law and order. All these factors eat away at our economic foundations.

To paraphrase Ernest Hemingway: economic collapse happens first slowly and then suddenly. What we are seeing here is a confluence of undiluted venality and ideological obsession, something that the EFF would seem very comfortable with encouraging.

Constitutional governance is, in any event, tenuously balanced in South Africa (and elsewhere: a phenomenon described as the "democratic recession"). The ANC, while paying lip service to constitutionalism, has shown a deep ambiguity towards it, notably through the illegal commandeering of the state via "cadre deployment". Although condemned unambiguously by the Zondo Commission, the ANC, from President Cyril Ramaphosa down, has pledged to continue with it.

The EFF has also shown itself to be deeply contemptuous of constitutional democracy. While it uses the institutions of Parliament as they have been designed to be used (when it suits), it evinces little principled commitment to their functioning. The continued disruptions of parliamentary events with large television audiences, such as various State of the Nation addresses, are conclusive. It shows no attachment to the idea that institutions should limit and moderate state power.

An ANC-EFF coalition could see the ANC indulge its worst anti-democratic instincts, which we know exist within the party. Verwoerd also criticises the DA for what she calls fearmongering and says that the DA should rather tell people what it will do differently. Many would argue that it is already doing that simply by governing.

While the DA's governance record outside of the Western Cape is decidedly mixed, in that province it has generally shown itself to be a party that can govern properly. The DA in the Western Cape is not without its faults, but on the evidence, DA management of municipalities in the province is streets ahead of what the ANC can achieve elsewhere.

Furthermore, when the DA does describe how it will do things differently from the ANC, such as embracing non-racialism and making it clear that there would be no race-based policies under a DA government, there is often much pearl-clutching and gnashing of teeth among the commentariat, who seemingly cannot conceive of anything beyond the ANC juggernaut as their frame of reference.


It is not helpful to dismiss the real concerns people have about a possible ANC-EFF link-up as simply rehashed "swart gevaar" tactics. While many of the problems in South Africa have their roots in apartheid, a growing number exist because of the failures of the ANC government. Sooner or later, post-apartheid politics and analysis have to stand on their own merits and not as a spin-off of what happened under apartheid.

It is no exaggeration to say that the continued mismanagement of South Africa by the ANC, fortified by the instincts of the EFF, poses an existential threat to the country. And that is quite independent of any facile invocation of propaganda from the 1980s.

Perhaps an ANC-EFF coalition will not be the disaster many of us expect. But on the face of the evidence, it will be exactly that. To ignore the likely consequences of this potential alliance would be reckless and irresponsible.

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

Terence Corrigan is a project manager at the Institute of Race Relations, where he specialises in work on property rights, as well as land and mining policy.