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Multi-Party Charter’s long walk to 2024 election starts with convincing voters the ANC can lose

Multi-Party Charter’s long walk to 2024 election starts with convincing voters the ANC can lose
From left: ACDP leader Kenneth Meshoe. (Photo: Leila Dougan) | IFP leader Velenkosini Hlabisa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach) | DA leader John Steenhuisen. (Photo: Gallo Images / OJ Koloti)

With the Electoral Commission’s public suggestion this week that next year’s polls should be as close to May as possible, we may now be less than seven months away from an incredibly contentious election. While the ANC has already started campaigning through its ‘Manifesto Review’ tour, opposition parties are now adjusting how they work together. Chief among these are the parties who have joined the Multi-Party Charter for South Africa, led (sort of) by the DA. But other groups are also drawing closer together.

In the past few weeks, there have been several significant developments around opposition parties who are planning to work together.

First, the ACDP announced it had decided to join the coalition pact. This was widely expected, considering it has been involved in coalition agreements with other Multi-Party Charter members for many years (it was first part of a DA-led coalition in Cape Town in 2006).

Second, there have been what may be choreographed comments by several political leaders, some of whom went to Germany together to study coalition arrangements there.

After that trip, DA leader John Steenhuisen suggested in the Sunday Times that, “This insight – that coalitions are only stable and effective when they are not fragmented and instead built around a single, strong anchor party – is confirmed by our experience back home.”

He continued, “Coalitions in South Africa have only struggled when they are fragmented…”

Importantly, Steenhuisen remained consistent in not naming the DA (or himself) as the leader of the coalition, but suggested it would play the role of “anchor”.

Velenkosini Hlabisa

Earlier this year he also ensured he was not suggested as the possible leader of such a coalition. At the same time, FF+ leader Pieter Groenewald suggested South Africa was “not ready for a white President”. This appeared to pave the way for IFP leader Velenkosini Hlabisa to be the party’s leadership candidate.

Hlabisa is suddenly in an interesting position and is in the spotlight much more than he was just six months ago.

It is not just that he could be the leader of an opposition coalition, but also because of the death of Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi. As the IFP had previously decided that Buthelezi’s image would be on its posters and T-shirts rather than Hlabisa’s, this may mean Hlabisa can now (finally) come out of his shadow.

One of the consequences of this is that Hlabisa has now taken Buthelezi’s seat in the National Assembly, which may also give him a higher public profile.

Buthelezi’s passing, however, may also mean that those in the IFP who oppose Hlabisa may now feel they can agitate against him – they too no longer need to worry about Buthelezi.

Already the Mail and Guardian has suggested that Hlabisa’s decision to join the National Assembly was to prevent contestation between him and the party’s KZN leader Thami Ntuli.

A basis of this may be that in the IFP there could be more power in the position of KZN premier if the party can win that position in next year’s provincial elections. Of course, this depends on what happens in the national picture as well, and on the internal dynamics of the Multi-Party Charter.

More parties, more viewpoints

But that might not be all – it is possible that still more parties may join this grouping.

While this may be spun as evidence that the movement is growing, it should not be forgotten how each party that joins the Multi-Party Charter may also add to the sheer diversity of views within it.

While this may not be a problem for its members at the moment, it may lead to differences later.

For example, most of the parties in this group appear to have made public gestures of support for Israel in various ways, in contrast to the ANC and EFF’s support for Palestine (this comes as the ANC may be preparing to stop working with the Patriotic Alliance because of its support of Israel).

ANC NEC supports cutting ties with ‘dictatorial’ EFF and pro-Israel PA in municipal coalitions

But they may have very different views on issues like vaccinations, where the ACDP campaigned against them during the Covid-19 pandemic. One problem with including a religious party like the ACDP is that it will strongly hold views on subjects like this and may find it difficult to negotiate should an issue develop on which it differs from the other parties.

Another coalition pact

While the Multi-Party Charter has been working on its formation and trying to oppose the ANC and the EFF, another group of smaller parties has already announced that it is forming a coalition of its own.

As City Press reported on Sunday, a new group of six minority parties has formed what they call the Super Pact. This includes the African People’s Convention, the National Freedom Party, the African Independence Congress, the African Amalgamated Restorative Movement, the Independent Citizens Movement and Cope.

This group appears to be preparing to work together as one party ahead of the elections.

While parties like the NFP and Cope have seats in the National Assembly (the APC and AIC also had seats in the past), it seems these parties may well suffer from the problem many others will have, which is how to create a distinct identity.

Now, working together, this problem is likely to be intensified, not the least because the smaller parties are often formed around the identity (and ego) of their leader. This means that six leaders who are used to running their own operations now have to work together.

Imagine how the leaders of six parties would share just three seats in Parliament.

Also, while it would seem unlikely that this grouping can create momentum, it is not clear why voters would choose them rather than other groups.

While all these dynamics play out, a key question for almost all the parties involved in these discussions is their relationship with the ANC.

In short, the ANC will still be the biggest party after next year’s elections and may be able to pick and choose who it works with. For some smaller parties, the allure of patronage may just be too much to ignore (who can ignore a free generator and free diesel?). This means that even if a smaller party is part of the Multi-Party Charter or another group, it may be hard for them to ignore the ANC.

Perks, Patronage, Power: The incoming coalitions will necessitate more abuse

And, of course, the DA has also itself hinted at a possible coalition with the ANC at some point. But more recently Steenhuisen has appeared to rule that out.

Even the IFP has said that it wants a reconciliation with the ANC, after their difficult and violent history (it also says as a condition of this the ANC must apologise for the violence against the IFP in the 1980s – which is unlikely to happen without an apology in return).

The nature of this “reconciliation” could be very complex.

All this means that there may be an undercurrent of mistrust between all these parties – not one can be sure it won’t be betrayed in the days after the election as someone decides to work with the ANC instead.

The ANC will be well aware of this and could well try and stoke this distrust by holding meetings with some of these parties.

However, the one factor which may be in the favour of these parties is whether they can give voters the impression that it is possible to defeat the ANC.

In the past, some voters may have stayed away because they believed it to be impossible for the ANC to be defeated. If these parties can argue that, if they work together, it is possible to get more votes than the ANC, this voter attitude could change.

It is likely that turnout will be vitally important in this election and possibly the biggest factor. This shows how important the issue of whether people are encouraged to return to the polls may be.

What is clear is that the clock is ticking and the elections are now possibly only around seven to eight months away. And while many people are consulting polls, they are giving very different results.

This may suggest there is a larger number of swing voters than ever before. This means that before the elections all our political parties will have to work harder than ever. DM


Daily Maverick has closed comments on all elections articles for the next two weeks. While we do everything in our power to ensure deliberately false, misleading and hateful commentary does not get published on our site, it’s simply not possible for our small team to have sight of every comment. Given the political dynamics of the moment, we cannot risk malignant actors abusing our platform to manipulate and mislead others. We remain committed to providing you with a platform for dynamic conversation and exchange and trust that you understand our need for circumspection at this sensitive time for our country.

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