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