South Africa coalition talks update: No easy options for the ANC

 ·6 Jun 2024

Horse-trading among political parties is underway to form a government for South Africa’s seventh administration.

This follows the May 29th elections which saw the African National Congress (ANC) lose its majority in Parliament, as well as the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng and Northern Cape.

Although the ANC is down, it is not out. Whatever the formation of the new government, it will almost certainly involve the ANC.

While the ANC could rule the country without a formal coalition agreement, the party has indicated that this could make governance a tough, uphill battle.

Yesterday, 5 June, the ANC held a media briefing to provide an update on various internal and external discussions taking place.

The ANC revealed that it has thus far held a series of exploratory meetings with the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the Democratic Alliance (DA), the National Freedom Party (NFP), the Patriotic Alliance (PA), and has unsuccessfully attempted to initiate talks with the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party.

Now, the party has less than two weeks before the first sitting of the National Assembly, and its powerful national executive committee (NEC) is meeting today, 6 June, to chart the way forward.

ANC’s first deputy secretary-general, Nomvula Mokonyane, stated that the below-mentioned engagements with opposition parties were brief and would resume only after the ANC’s NEC meeting.

These directions taken at a national level are likely to trickle down to provincial levels where there is no outright majority.

Seventh administration parliament seat composition (/400). Source: IEC

Government of National Unity option

At this stage, the ANC said that it favours the idea of convening a type of Government of National Unity (GNU).

This would encompass forming a government with represented political parties encompassing wide-ranging ideologies, similar to that seen in the post-1994 elections.

“The results indicate that the South Africans want all parties to work together,” ANC spokesperson Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri told journalists.

“The conversation is looking at a government of national unity, because this is what the people of South Africa have said to us: put together a multiparty arrangement that works for the benefit of South Africa,” added Bhengu-Motsiri. 

Some analysts have said that forming a GNU would be a liklelier scenario for the ANC to avoid aligning with a coalition partner that might be unpopular with its supporters.

However, given the wide-ranging ideologies, there are still risks of potential instability and gridlock within such a government due to the necessity of managing multiple partners with diverse interests.

Although talks are still in their infancy, parties like the DA and IFP have already indicated that they will be selective about the parties that they agree to work with, saying that parties that they see “do not uphold the constitution” are deal-breakers.

ANC/DA/IFP and other smaller parties

The ANC, DA, and IFP (a collective 263 out of 400 seats) have confirmed that very broad “initial stage” talks have taken place between the parties; however, they are still in their infancy stages.

DA leader John Steenhuisen said that “parties who respect the rule of law and the Constitution, who seek stability and growth… must have a conversation in a mature way about how do we see the way forward.”

In a speech on Sunday, Steenhuisen explicitly shut the door on the EFF and MK being part of such discussions, saying that the policies of the MK and the EFF amount to an “all-out assault on the Constitution of our country.”

Two options for an ANC/DA/IFP and other smaller party working relationship have been touted: a ‘confidence and supply agreement’ and a coalition agreement.

A confidence and supply agreement is where the parties agree to support the government in motions of confidence and appropriation votes but are otherwise free to vote in favour of their own policies or on conscience on legislative bills.

This could see the ANC keeping executive power with the inclusion of the IFP, while the DA could control the legislature.

A second option, a coalition agreement between them, could see all of these parties entering into the executive, which could tout a more ‘stable’ government given their consolidated agreement.

However, some against this option believe that this could result in alienating some ANC supporters and finding enough common ground on policy would be a challenge.

The DA in particular are seen to be more ideologically distant from the ANC’s other potential coalition partners, which could be sticking points in negotiations. Points of contention between the parties include the National Health Insurance and BBBEE – policy positions that the ANC has prided itself on.

Lecturer in Political Studies at Wits University, Dr Nicole Beardsworth, said that coalition partner preferences would differ among factions within the ANC.

“(Cyril) Ramaphosa and his closest allies are said to favour an oversized coalition with the DA as the most stabilising coalition,” said Beardsworth.

ANC/EFF/MK/PA and other smaller parties

The ANC has confirmed that it has had preliminary talks with both the EFF and PA, however have been unsuccessful in contacting the MKP.

These groupings could also consider a ‘confidence and supply agreement’ or coalition agreement.

However, party leaders, particularly in the EFF and PA, have been more clear about their preference for entering into a coalition rather than the former.

Potential coalition options include an ANC-EFF-PA coalition with a combined 207 out of 400 seats, an ANC-EFF-IFP coalition with 215 out of 400 seats, and an ANC-MK-EFF coalition with 256 out of 400 seats.

The ANC, EFF and PA have a history of forming (sometimes contentious) coalitions at municipal level, such as in Johannesburg, while the MK may be a tougher challenge, given that Zuma has repeatedly said that he would not work with President Cyril “Ramaphosa’s ANC”.

Key policies proposed by EFF and MK Party (if they heed the call for talks) include wide-scale land expropriation without compensation, the nationalisation of key parts of the economy and halting fiscal consolidation, while the PA have remained adamant in their stance on mass deportation (possible points of contention for other partners).

Additionally, the EFF have called for the National Assembly speaker position as well as the finance minister portfolio, while the PA wants home affairs.

This could force the ANC to make significant concessions.

Beardsworth said that these options are backed by different factions of the ANC, which will continue to weight the pros and cons.

“(Deputy President Paul Mashatile)’s faction would be most inclined to work with the EFF, while (party chairperson Gwede Mantashe) seems happier to partner with either EFF or MK,” said Beardsworth.

Read: South Africa’s ‘watershed moment’ – and a very important 2 weeks

Show comments
Subscribe to our daily newsletter