South Africa


Nkandla, we have a problem — Moonshot Pact takes shape, aiming at the ANC/EFF in 2024

Nkandla, we have a problem — Moonshot Pact takes shape, aiming at the ANC/EFF in 2024
From left: DA leader John Steenhuisen. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart) | The IFP’s Velenkosini Hlabisa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart) | Spectrum National Party logo. (Image: Facebook) | ActionSA President Herman Mashaba. (Photo: Gallo Images / Luba Lesolle) | United Independent Movement leader Neil de Beer. (Photo: Supplied) | Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Groenewald. (Photo: Leila Dougan) | National Freedom Party logo. (Image: Wikimedia)

The announcement by a group of seven political parties that they will hold a ‘national convention’ to discuss working together ahead of next year’s polls is the first tangible step towards a political bloc that could unseat the ANC from power. While this may be the most serious challenge the ANC has yet faced, there are still many questions and issues this grouping will have to confront. The stated aim of keeping the ‘ANC/EFF coalition out of power’ may in fact backfire.

On Monday, the Democratic Alliance (DA), the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), the Freedom Front Plus (FF+), ActionSA, the National Freedom Party (NFP), the United Independent Movement (UIM) and the relatively new Spectrum National Party (since 2021) announced they were going to hold a national convention in August. They have also confirmed that the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) and Mmusi Maimane’s Build One South Africa (Bosa) will attend as observers and may join at a later stage. It’s understood that other parties may also attend and join later.

It is important to note who is part of this movement, and who is not.

The DA, the IFP, the FF+ and ActionSA have all worked together, and continue to work together in coalitions in several councils across the country.

In the case of the DA, the IFP and the FF+, this cooperation goes back at least to 2016 in Joburg and Tshwane. They already have deep links and the leaders know and understand each other.

One of the parties which has also been a part of this earlier grouping was the ACDP. It is curious that it has not yet agreed to be a part of the national convention.

Another absent party is Cope. It was a part of the coalitions in Joburg and Tshwane until fairly recently. In both those cities, however, Cope has moved to support coalitions where the ANC and the EFF have the power.

Clearly, it will not be a part of this movement.

Also, the NFP has worked with the ANC, both in national government and in councils in KwaZulu-Natal, and appeared to be working against the IFP. Now it may be wanting to move away from the ANC. Or it may just want to play both sides for the moment.

Other smaller parties are also missing. 

Good’s leader, Patricia de Lille, has been an MP for the PAC, a mayor of Cape Town for the DA and is now a member of the Cabinet under the ANC.

It appears she may want to remain in Cabinet. Her potential voters will have to decide whether this means she is working with the ANC. She may battle to define her party’s identity.

Also missing from this grouping is the African Transformation Movement (ATM). Its critics have claimed it is really representing a faction of the ANC, but recently it has been hostile to virtually every ANC measure that has been proposed. Its “loss” of Mzwanele Manyi to the EFF may now mean that it is freer to establish its own identity.

Issues to work around

While many of the parties involved in this could be considered natural coalition partners, and together they may indeed turn out to be a formidable new front in SA politics, there are still issues to work around.

First, it is likely that one of the major problems most parties will have in next year’s elections is trying to distinguish themselves from each other. In other words, how do parties differentiate themselves and get voters to vote for them rather than for someone else? 

The FF+ and the IFP may be able to attract voters based primarily on identity-based elements like language and ethnicity. But the NFP has in the past also campaigned among people who previously voted for the IFP.

Will they now continue to campaign against each other?

The same issue could also pose questions for the DA and ActionSA. Both of these parties attract voters from more diverse backgrounds, often in urban areas. Now they too could have to decide if they can — or how to — work together without losing their own distinct identities.

Another problem is how the various parties can generate and maintain trust between them. They all have leaders who are hugely ambitious. They all represent their own constituencies, but they all want as many votes as possible and are fishing in a very diverse voter pond.

A small misunderstanding, a wrong comment, or even the wrong look at the wrong time during a press conference could lead to ill-feeling.

This has happened before. In 2016, at a fascinating press conference Maimane, then the DA leader, had to appear to be the prime mover in a coalition of opposition parties but dared not eclipse the other leaders in the room. All on TV.

It will only be harder on the national stage now.

There will be other problems. For example, would the NFP be allowed to still work with the ANC in councils in KZN, while being a member of a group of parties formed specifically to keep the ANC out of power?

And if the NFP is allowed to do this, could other parties do it, too? In which case, what is the real point of all of this?

Then there is the sheer scale of this ambition.

The ANC is still the only organisation in the history of South Africa that has managed to unite people across race, language, ethnicity, class and region. This new group will aim to do the same thing, at a time when there is evidence that elements of identity are becoming more important in democratic politics around the world.

Hanging over all of this is a much bigger fundamental question.

If this group is going to work together to unseat the ANC, what else unites it? If they win the elections, and defeat the ANC and the EFF together, then what?

They will all claim to offer better services and a quicker end to load shedding. But voters are likely to ask hard questions about who would really make the decisions and how they would really run the government. And can you really expect parties as different as the FF+ and the IFP to agree on fundamental policy issues?

(It is important here to remind readers that the then Helen Zille-led DA did manage to run Cape Town and later the Western Cape for years while leading a coalition of diverse political players. — Ed)

Within all of this may be other, narrower, agendas.

The first public expression of this idea came from DA leader John Steenhuisen during his victory speech at the party’s conference earlier this year. As he put it at the time, the stated aim was to keep the “ANC/EFF doomsday coalition” out of power.

While there has been much speculation about the ANC and the EFF forming a coalition, it may be that for the ANC, working with a number of smaller parties is a better strategic choice. This would allow the ANC to have a larger number of coalition partners and thus no one party would be able to dictate terms or policy.

However, if the DA is now able to include all of these parties in this movement, that could prevent the ANC from accomplishing that goal, possibly forcing it into the arms of the EFF.

The politics of forming and maintaining coalitions can lead to unpredictable results. And while a movement towards one grand coalition against the ANC and the EFF may lead to a simpler election, the outcomes may turn out to be complicated. One thing is certain, the Moonshot Pact just may turn out to be the most formidable challenge the ANC has faced in 30 years. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Martin Neethling says:

    No doubt this attempt at a multi party front to tackle the ANC during the next election will be fraught with difficulties, so much is clear. Many narrow agendas and personal egos will challenge it. But to counter one point here that Grootes makes regularly, the ANC is not the unifying party he says it is. To state that the “ANC is still the only organisation in the history of SA that has managed to unite people….” is not really true. Yes it was a “broad church” in its opposition to the National Party, and united communists, nationalists, Africanists, and a sprinkling of left wingers, and at the 1994 election enjoyed some support from those in minority groups who’d not supported it before. But it was, as this “moonshot” pact is attempting to do now, a grouping of very different people, not really aligned fundamentally. And since that time has shed all that additional support. It is now a highly polarising group of factions, dependant on the rural vote, with almost no support from anyone within minority communities. Its soviet-inspired NDR is nationalistic, anti-west, exclusionary, and sees almost any South African who does not agree with it as an enemy of sorts.

    • André Pelser says:

      The ANC “unity” across a diverse spectrum was fuelled by the anti-apartheid focus, freedom from racial suppression. The pro-communist/socialist ideology of ANC leaders hid behind this veil – which has dissipated due to state capture and the attendant feeding frenzy of corrupt cadres.
      The opposition can now exploit the abhorrence of this widespread betrayal of the people by the ANC across a broad spectrum of voters – if they are able to show that it is not the West or apartheid that has created the most unequal society in the planet, but the kleptocratic, unbridled greed of the ANC cadres.
      It is always easier to unite against rather than for a cause. The apartheid government used the Swart and Rooi gevaar to attract support , the opposition parties can now unite voters against an ANC that has betrayed the spirit of Ubuntu.

  • Marcela Reynoso says:

    I would love ANC/EFF out of the game, BUT, can we trust any of the above mentioned parties to stay loyal to any agreement?

    • Inga Lawson says:

      That is a big question.
      I also do not see John Steenhuizen as an inspiring or uniting force. There is not on knight on a white horse that is going to ‘rescue South Africa’/America/Antartica….
      But should the right far sighted group of individuals stand up and be counted…
      we the people, will be be behind you like an unstoppable force.
      Give hope and an honest inclusive vision put into practice and you will turn on a powerful engine of energy amongst the most diverse and caring people.
      We will take on the fakers, takers, grafters and killers.
      My father always used to say and I believe it still to hold true: it is a very small minority that terrorises the majority.
      We have allowed that rot to flourish for long enough. From the corporate world, mining houses, hospital management, so called advisors and fake companies doing highly inflated ‘procurement deals’, building mafia, international gangsterism useless managers in positions they know nothing about… the list sounds endless.
      We cannot shrug our shoulders and hope somebody else will pick up this burden.
      If we do not want a civil war as poverty spins even more out of control and the majority has not even hope, to lose, each one of us has to stand up, reach out, join arms and be counted. You and I are not alone.

    • Glyn Morgan says:

      You have no choice but to trust this MoonShot Pact. What is the alternative? Chaos? A bunch of back stabbing micro-parties, each with their own giant ego?

      Oh! Yes, there is an alternative? We could all lie back and let the ANC carry on destroying South Africa.

  • Peter Doble says:

    This looks more like a moonshot using a rope lasso rather than NASA’s latest technology. While the concept may just tilt the status quo of the sitting Stalinist untouchables, international evidence of even two party coalitions realistically governing is so fraught with compromise and inactivity that the very thought of multiple minnows desperately trying to implement their diverse policies is positively mindbending. But hey, who knows there’s a sniff of democracy at least.

  • Francois Smith says:

    What a great initiative and stupidity from Steenhuizen at the same time. The people who are going to determine the next election’s outcome are the more or less 1.5 million dissatisfied ANC voters in primarily urban South Africa. No matter how disgusted they are with the ANC they need to find a political home for their vote. None of these entities in the moonshot pact caters for those voters. The DA may have, but was, at least in the 2021 elections, gunning for the votes they lost to the VF+ instead of gunning for the 1.5 million. There are numerous wards that such coalition could have won in 2021 if the DA went for the black vote, but instead, they contested the VF+ only for both to loose and the ANC to take the seat! John, please listen to the adults in the room, like Groenewald,

    • Martin Neethling says:

      I agree that this swing vote, if that is what it is, is key to the next election outcome. These voters are not short of choices given that SA has more than 600 registered parties. But this ‘black vote’ story is ahistorical. The DA did go after this vote, in 2019, with Maimane in charge. The party was accused of being ANC-light at that time. It backfired, and the party lost votes to VF+, without gaining these black voters. The 2021 municipal elections was only about consolidating. Most of the parties in this moonshot pack in any event have black leaders, so let’s hope that at least some of these urban undecideds use their votes wisely.

  • David Farrell says:

    South Africa’s biggest problem with the moon shot is getting all the ego’ and attitudes into the ticket, most of the politicians mentioned have egos bigger than a Caribbean cruise ship, if only they would listen to us, could work together and we could trust them to stick to commitments, not holding my breath

  • Glyn Morgan says:

    For these small parties to survive till after the elections will depend on how they work IN the MoonShot Allianc. Remember, it is an alliance TO GET THE anc OUT.

    After the election all alliance parties can, and probably will, go their separate ways.

    To reduce the potential friction just vote DA in these elections.

  • Dou Pienaar says:

    Unless I missed it I see no mention of the PA. I find that interetsing.

  • Bob Dubery says:

    Is there not a danger of the problem that the DA has warned about? They like to say that a vote for a small party often ends up being a vote for the ANC. What about here? I find ActionSA distasteful, and VF+ aren’t really interested in soutie immigrants like me. I don’t like Nationalists in general, and that hat fits both IFP and NFP. So now maybe I start thinking that a vote for DA might as well be a vote for ActionSA.

    So this pact really relies on a binary choice for voters and for the parties. Voters have to want the ANC gone as a first, overruling priority. And if the ANC is defeated then the pact parties have to find a way of maintaining their unity instead of parlaying their support into greater influence if they jump ship and put the ANC back in.

    So this pact requires the DA to abandon the idea of an ANC/DA partnership as a lesser of evils.

  • Anne Lloyd-Hughes says:

    Excellent article. Salient points to consider.

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    If everyone is ‘equal’ before the ‘law’ … why is/has the judiciary not taken a strong stand on ‘blue light’ matters ?

  • Brian Doyle says:

    This coalition will only work if egos are left off the table and the DA works together with the other parties and do not try to dominate them. To make it work they will have to draft a manifesto of some sort which they all buy into

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