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1 October 2016 12:22 (South Africa)
South Africa

Coalition politics: DA and the EFF – strange bedfellows, but can it work?

  • Marianne Thamm
    marianne-thamm.jpg
    Marianne Thamm
  • South Africa
Photo: Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema (L) and DA Parliamentary Leader Mmusi Maimane are seen during a debate in Parliament on President Jacob Zuma's State of the Nation Address, Wednesday, 18 June 2014. Picture: GCIS/SAPA

In the game of chess, the Stonewall Attack is regarded as the “king” of openings. And if politics is a game of chess, then Julius Malema made the first strategic move in June 2015, announcing at the Daily Maverick Gathering in Johannesburg that the EFF was willing to work in some form of coalition with the DA. If the common goal of the DA and the EFF is to unseat the ANC in key metros the strange coupling might succeed, but will it work for voters? By MARIANNE THAMM.

Ironically, for the purposes of illustration here, the Stonewall Attack begins with White setting out a specific formation of pawns with the aim of capturing the Black king. Should Black fail to react, the attack might be lethal. However, there is a hole in the strategy. Should Black defend correctly the consequences are lethal for White.

In July last year, EFF CIC, Julius Malema made the first move announcing at the Daily Maverick Gathering in Johannesburg that the party would be open to working with other opposition parties in the upcoming local government elections. However, Malema, understanding how this message would be received by supporters, carefully issued a caveat. The EFF would not necessarily form coalitions but “contractual relationships” which would have measurable goals. If these were not met within an agreed time-frame, the deal would be off.

It was a masterstroke. Malema's open invitation to the DA that his party would be prepared, despite the ideological chasm between them, to work towards set goals and deliverables, assuages any fears supporters might have had with regard to the EFF “selling out” to the DA, a party it regards as the bulwark of “white minority capital” among other things.

Malema understood that for DA leader, Mmusi Maimane, the issue is not as clear when it comes to selling the idea of working with the EFF to his members, supporters and potential voters. The EFF's nationalist, socialist and populist ethos is anathema to the average liberal DA supporter or voter.

So much so that before the 2014 national election, Maimane's predecessor, Helen Zille, categorically stated that the DA would not be willing to work with the EFF.

I wish to state categorically that the DA will not enter into a coalition with the EFF under any circumstances. A coalition with the EFF would be unworkable given the huge ideological gulf between our parties. The fact is that the ANC and the EFF are two sides of the same corrupt coin.” Zille said.

Considering these sentiments, it would have been impossible for Maimane, to come out first out of the post with regard to the idea of the DA forming coalitions or partnerships with parties his supporters might view as “unsavoury”, even if this resulted in the toppling of the ANC in those key metros the DA is eyeing in the upcoming election.

It will be easier for Malema to sell the concept to his supporters who fully support the EFF's vision as well as the CIC, than for Maimane to convince his supporters. So, for now, in the opening moves of this game of chess, Malema has the upper hand at least in the mind of potential EFF voters.

While the EFF garnered six percent of the vote in the 2014 general election with the DA winning 22 percent, predictions are that the EFF is likely to rake in at least 12 percent in the August 2016 elections. The ANC's support dropped from just over 65 percent in 2009 to 62 in 2014, rendering it vulnerable in some regions.

Malema has said that the EFF wanted to “teach them [the ANC] a lesson” through a coalition of opposition parties in those areas where it will lose support.

The ANC must be out of power in the local municipalities so that they can begin to self-regulate,” said Malema.

The possibility is not as far-fetched as it might seem. The nature of power and how it is exercised is very different when it comes to local government. Local government, Malema understands, is closest to people, affecting a number of issues that directly impact on our lives; the delivery of electricity and water, the provision of sanitation and municipal health services, roads, public transport parks and firefighting services. It is municipalities that decide on land use, on street trading, on the use of parks, recreational areas and libraries.

In other words, services that matter regardless of greater ideological differences or policy.

It was this that led to the success of the DA in capturing the Cape Metro in 2006 which led ultimately to the party's dominance provincially where it has steadily eroded ANC support.

The success of the DA in the Western Cape is due to the party's securing of a “beachhead” in 2006 when Helen Zille, as DA mayoral candidate, stitched up a seven-party coalition to govern the city. Back then Patricia de Lille's Independent Democrats had opted to form an alliance with the ANC which had secured 81 of the 210 seats on the council. The DA had captured 90 seats.

With no party holding the majority, Zille frantically worked behind the scenes to cobble together a fragile coalition with six smaller parties the African Christian Democratic Party, the Freedom Front Plus, the United Democratic Party, the Universal Party and the Africa Muslim Party. This gave the block 106 seats and Zille was elected as Executive Mayor.

The coalition survived several legal and illegal attempts by the ANC to topple it but in 2007 this initial Multi-Party Government was threatened after the African Muslim Party was expelled for “conspiring” with the ANC. De Lille's Independent Democrats then opted to join the coalition which brought a stability to the multi-party government.

Today De Lille's party no longer exists, having been swallowed by the DA. She is the party’s mayoral candidate for the 2016 local elections. If Zille was playing the Stonewall Attack then Patricia De Lille's ID ended up mortally wounded, being swallowed whole by the DA.

While the ID was viewed more as a regional party, its roots firmly in the Western Cape, this is not the case with the EFF which enjoys growing national support.

Maimane and Malema have found common ground in the National Assembly albeit using vastly different tactics while Maimane has been known to have discussed “from time to time” the matter of coalitions with EFF national chairperson, Dali Mpofu.

Maimane has intimated that he is not unwilling to consider working arrangements with other parties including the EFF but added that any partner would have to share the DA's requirements of constitutionalism, commitment to a free market economy, non-racialism and professionalism.

The DA will concentrate on retaining Cape Town and attempting to win Tshwane, Johannesburg where it aims to push ANC support to below 50 percent as well as Nelson Mandela Bay.

The DA's success at securing a victory through its fragile coalition in 2006 later led to an increase in the party's majority in 2009 when it unseated an ANC provincial government. The party used its successes in Western Cape to sell its brand of open, accountable and largely corruption-free government to the rest of the country.

And it is this brand that some have warned is in danger of being tarnished by any association with the EFF. It is unlikely that these disaffected voters would shift allegiance to the ANC and so there is not much to choose from in the political wasteland outside of the three big parties who dominate the landscape. There is always Bantu Holomisa's UDM but like the IFP it is a party that enjoys regional support.

Whatever the outcome, the possibility of successful coalition governance provides a sufficient threat to the dominant ANC which has enjoyed 21 years in government. And in spite of the major changes the ANC has brought to the country, it has lost much of its liberation lustre under the Jacob Zuma's leadership.

A victory for coalitions in South Africa could be good for multi-party democracy and signal a much-needed maturity for the country's politics which have been plagued by a deluge of corruption scandals, policy flip flops, fruitless expenditure and unaccountable, remote leadership.

If the DA and the EFF can overcome ideological differences and work together at a local level to begin delivering to the people of South Africa, even if it is initially only to show the middle finger to the ANC, it will be good for the country.

The massive challenges – poverty, unemployment, a sluggish economy – require urgent and swift attention. While the ANC might be distracted by palace politics that have crippled its capacity to lead, the need to prove themselves a viable political alternative is bound to focus the energies of the DA and the EFF should they find themselves governing in tandem at a local level. It is the springboard, as the DA has proved, to national growth.

Coalitions are not to be entered into lightly or only because of a shared enemy. However, the signs, for now, are heartening. Political competition is healthy for democracy and it is only through governing that opposition parties begin to understand the real challenges and responsibility of direct power. While there is only one winner in a game that starts with the Stonewall Attack, the game of politics is more fluid and less predictable. And the winners, when it comes to politics, should ultimately be the voters and citizens and not the politicians playing us. DM

Photo: Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema (L) and DA Parliamentary Leader Mmusi Maimane are seen during a debate in Parliament on President Jacob Zuma's State of the Nation Address, Wednesday, 18 June 2014. Picture: GCIS/SAPA.

  • Marianne Thamm
    marianne-thamm.jpg
    Marianne Thamm
  • South Africa

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