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How the Multi-Party Charter could make history at the 2024 polls

How the Multi-Party Charter could make history at the 2024 polls
Multi-Party Charter independent chair William Mervyn Gumede. (Photo: Gallo Images / Mail & Guardian / Oupa Nkosi)

In August, seven opposition political parties in South Africa came together to sign a landmark pre-election coalition agreement. An eighth party later joined — but there hasn’t been much action since. We caught up with the charter’s independent chair, William Mervyn Gumede.

Remind me of the basics: what is the Multi-Party Charter?

It started off as a concept known as the Moonshot Pact, but has since been rebranded as the “Multi-Party Charter 2024”. A number of opposition parties in South Africa have come together to pledge to share power as a coalition after the 2024 elections if they cumulatively beat the ANC in the polls.

The parties that initially signed up in August were the Democratic Alliance, Inkatha Freedom Party, Freedom Front+, ActionSA, Spectrum National Party, United Independent Movement and Independent South African National Civic Organisation. Since then, the African Christian Democratic Party has also joined the Charter.

Speaking to Daily Maverick on Monday, the Multi-Party Charter’s independent chair, Professor William Gumede, said two further parties were currently in discussions about joining.

What does the Charter mean in practical terms?

Gumede confirmed that the relevant political parties will campaign individually ahead of the 2024 elections. In other words, you probably won’t see street posters exhorting you to vote for the Multi-Party Charter, but the usual posters advertising the parties as separate political entities.

You also won’t get to the voting booth and be able to vote for the coalition: you will vote for one party of your choice as normal.

The power-sharing arrangement will kick in after the elections at the provincial and national levels in the event that the coalition receives sufficient votes cumulatively to take power. In other words, the votes will be pooled.

What happens in the Western Cape, where the DA still looks likely to win an outright victory? Would that province then be governed by the coalition?

Gumede says the Western Cape is a bit of a special case because it is already governed by the opposition, so the DA is likely to continue running it alone.

The assumption governing the Multi-Party Charter is that in other contexts, provincially and nationally, there may not be one outright winner. But Gumede says that in the unlikely event that, say, the DA wins more than 50% of the vote nationally — rendering the assistance of its coalition partners unnecessary — the intention would still be for the DA to include the other coalition parties in its subsequent governance.

Will the Charter have a presidential candidate?

This is unclear. Gumede stressed that it is not necessarily the case that in the event of a national electoral victory for the coalition, the leader of the biggest party — in this case, almost certainly the DA — would take power. 

President John Steenhuisen, in other words, is just one option: Gumede says that after the elections, the coalition members will probably “have the option for choosing a leader among themselves who they think is appropriate for the moment in time”.

He added, however, that it is possible that the Charter could also opt for an external candidate, who could potentially be announced as the chosen presidential candidate just before the elections.

But such a person, Gumede says, would have to be an extraordinary individual: someone whose candidacy would create “shock and awe” among the South African public.

“It would have to be someone who has more support than anyone inside the group. Someone who could give an electoral bump by themselves,” he says.

Think … Desmond Tutu meets Siya Kolisi?

Some of the parties in the Charter are absolute minnows. Doesn’t it make more sense for a bigger party like the DA to duke it out alone?

Gumede, who is an internationally respected academic, says the idea that a single party can topple the ANC next year is wishful thinking.

“We are not going to have a Macron-type situation … one individual coming in on a wave of popular support because society is sick and tired: that’s not going to happen. There’s no basis for that in reality. The moment in our country is for coalitions,” Gumede says.

He points out that most of the seasoned politicians in South Africa, regardless of their political stripes, seem to be working off the same assumption. Former ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule is trying to get a coalition together; Cope’s Mosiuoa Lekota is also working on a coalition.

“These veterans of our politics understand that on their own they’re not going to win,” Gumede says.

There are two further aspects to consider. One is that some of the so-called minnows in the coalition have been extraordinarily successful on a regional basis. Isanco’s Eastern Cape offshoot won 18 seats in the local government elections.

The other point is that the mere fact of being in the Multi-Party Charter may confer an electoral advantage on the relevant parties. Gumede says there is some research internationally to suggest a 4-8% “confidence bump” from this effect.

Coalitions in South Africa don’t exactly have a stellar track record. What will hold this one together?

Gumede’s theory is that one of the major causes of coalition failure at the municipal level is policy divergence. What makes this coalition different is that a broad set of policies are being agreed on between the relevant parties in advance of the election.

Having an independent chair and negotiator, in the form of Gumede himself, is intended to be a check against any particular parties throwing their weight around.

At the same time, Gumede acknowledges that there’s not much, legally speaking, binding these parties together. He says this was one of the reasons the signing of the Charter in August by party leaders was held very publicly, to give a sense of accountability to the public.

“If you leave [the coalition], it really has to be something big, otherwise, hopefully, your own constituency will ask questions,” he says.  

Also worth noting: this coalition agreement is intended to cover not just the 2024 elections, but also the next local government polls and the 2029 general elections.

Everything has gone a bit quiet on the Multi-Party Charter front. What’s happening at the moment?

Gumede says all the action is currently taking place out of sight. They are working on getting two further parties “over the line”. (He would not be drawn on which parties these are, but it is likely that one is Mmusi Maimane’s Build One South Africa.)

The leaders of the relevant parties are also working on “trust-building”, which is one of the most significant parts of the political project. They have travelled together to Germany to learn from that country’s coalition track record and were recently in Maputo to meet opposition leaders from all over sub-Saharan Africa.

Parties are also reporting back to their constituencies and structures: in effect, selling the Multi-Party Charter to a wider body which may be less enthusiastic. This was the case with the IFP, where the party’s youth branch initially rejected the coalition.

“They are currently off the political field, but when they get back on, it should be exciting for the public,” Gumede says.

How plausible is success for the Multi-Party Charter?

Some analysts have suggested that South Africa is not ready for this kind of electoral project in a country where so many people cast votes based on tradition, history and loyalty. Others have queried whether the Multi-Party Charter can gain sufficient mass support from black voters to push it over 50% at the polls.

Polling in South Africa is often unreliable, and much will come down to voter turnout. A Brenthurst Foundation poll in October put ANC support at a record low of 41% — but even that survey did not see the Multi-Party Charter coming out with more than 36% of the vote.

Gumede is, unsurprisingly, bullish. He is most optimistic for the coalition’s chances in KwaZulu-Natal, where he says that the pooled votes between the IFP, ActionSA and DA alone could be a game-changer.

“This is a critical election. It’s like 1994 but in a different way,” he says.

“This is a moment where we can still intervene in our country. Things are bad, but we can still intervene. In five years’ time, it will be much more difficult.” DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Richard Bryant says:

    If they put up Thuli Madonsela as the coalition presidential candidate, it would be a real game changer.

  • Louise Wilkins says:

    The first glimmer of hope in a long time.

  • Peter Doble says:

    The country desperately needs a change of direction. But can this disparate group really form a workable coalition? If their policy agendas are so aligned, then why form splinter parties in the first place?

  • The multi party charter action is to get rid of the ANC. It does not shed light on what plans do they have to deal with poverty, job creation, crime, boarder-less situation etc. individual parties themselves don’t even talk about those issues except exposing the ills of the ruling party. There is too much competition among the parties themselves trying to outshine each other, at what stage in the process will they sit down and chart the country’s way forward not their way forward (people are no longer interested in parties bragging about their plans, people want practical solutions). How are they going to empower communities to be off the grid (off grid) not to rely on public entities which are engulfed by favouritism and nepotism. People want to be self sufficient atleast, farm their own beetroot, potatoes, grow their own chickens in the microcosm scales so as to have food everyday. Let’s forget about big plans that are meant for few families. That is the practical solutions we are talking about. Entities providing funding for township economies put serious elimination processes for the ordinary entrepreneurs out there. What will the multi party government do really except winding time to impress each other that they really deserve to be sharing the cake. Lets really cut the crab and engage ANC to stop corruption and to deliver period. We can’t be reinventing the wheels.

    • Josie Rowe-Setz says:

      Agreed. There will be a lot of egos in that room. However the alternative is likely worse….

    • Richard Bryant says:

      You rightly ask the questions regarding the Poland of the multi party coalition to deal with the vital issues you raise. But what are the plans of the ANC. Whatever they’ve done for 30 years has not done a thing in these areas. Take a read of the recent Harvard report on SA. It tells us that the ANC has effectively entrenched spatial apartheid and have excluded our people from the economy compensating them for this failure through social grants. It’s a serious indictment on their greed and corruption.

      I’m sure the multi party coalition will put out a policy document with plans on how to deal with those issues. And if they fail, then we can vote them out. But it’s our best chance. But to keep voting for the ANC with the hope that things might get better is simply an illusion. They’ve had more than adequate opportunity to demonstrate that they can make a better life for all. They have failed and provide not a jot of an idea of how they intend to turn anything around. It time.

    • Dermot Molloy says:

      The ANC have had 30 years to achieve all the good things you talk about! They have proved absolutely incapable of doing this. In fact they have led us down the road of corruption, high levels of crime, unemployment, poverty etc etc To say ‘lets engage ANC to stop corruption & to deliver period” is very naïve. After 30 years the Leopard is not going to change its spots!

    • Ben Lev says:

      It’s true it won’t have all the answers but they have the power to stop the bleeding so the people with the answers (not the politicians) can implement solutions. With the ANC in power, the bleeding won’t stop and any solution just gets killed before it even launches.

  • Raymond Auerbach says:

    I agree – Thuli for President!

  • Ayanda Nonkwelo says:

    “President Steenhuisen”… Ja neh!!!

  • John P says:

    President Steenhuisen will never work but President Madonsela has a great ring to it.

  • Michele Rivarola says:

    Divide and rule, history never seems to teach any effective lessons or humans never seem to learn from it.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    The mirage of the Multiparty Charter that Professor Gumede punts has a lot of pot holes to overcome. We are talking about parties that are in the Gauteng Metros and have practical experience about each other. There are fissures in Tshwane and the Johannesburg Metro between the DA and the ActionSA. The failure of the Multi Party Charter to work in the local government properly together will have serious implications at the national level. The opportunity to build trust must not be missed because you are not going to build trust at national level when it does not exist locally. The other issue that Gumede misses is that the Multi Party Charter parties have different target constituencies even if they do not explicitly say so. The failure to acknowledge this in the creation of the Multi Party Charter has been one of its fundamental flaws. The DA would like to keep its white constituency and to stop bleeding of the Afrikaner votes and they know that they have reached a ceiling with African votes. The Freedom Front Plus knows that it must keep its Afrikaner voters happy and not anger them on the issues that they feel strongly about. The ActionSA is quite aware that it is looking at by and large the African vote that sometimes is pissed off by the DA. You can see the friction in the Gauteng Metros even in Johannesburg. The DA arrogance when it is not even half of the ANC is surprising and the Multi Part Charter will depend on the understanding of constituencies of each party.

    • Richard Bryant says:

      A large part of the reason for fractious politics and local and municipal government is a result of the intransigence and corruption of the ANC at national level. Look at the chaos in NMB. The ANC didn’t like the fact they lost the election at the poles and have done everything possible to destabilise the coalitions that were put together even to the extent of bribing individuals of smaller parties to vote against themselves.

      There’s bound to be a lot of opportunism and ego involved in the one person parties but in the long term, they will evaporate particularly if legislation is passed to make sure they can’t use 0.5% of vote to end up as mayor or speaker as the ANC has accepted in JHB.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Elfas – you are well-meaning but naïve in the extreme. The anc won’t change – it is in their DNA to be rapacious, self-serving, corrupt, inept and treasonous. Forget the old one – that is dead and buried. They have had all the time in the world to make a better life for all but what have they done? They have stolen this country blind, they have trashed and broken just about everything they have laid their hands on, they have further divided the nation on racist lines, they have put their own selfish interest above all and to the detriment of us all etc etc. Their arrogance and smugness knows no bounds. We as the citizens of this country have to be bold and change i.e. vote them out and I have no doubt that other parties can set out their vision and policies for taking us forward. What is clear – voting for the same thieves, predators, scumbags and criminals that is the anc IS beyond stupid!!!

    • Tumelo Moletsane says:

      If the ANC has caused a racial division in the country, then what about the Nats that even had it legislated? Some statements are naive..

      • Martin Absil Absil says:

        The Nats are history for doing what they did while in power. Next year could be the demise of the ANC for doing what they have done while in power. Maybe we should stop living in the past and look forward to a brighter future.

        • frances hardie says:

          Let us look forward to better ways than we have seen and been. Take up the sword of justice, our way forward illuminated by the ideological failures of what has been, and cannot be undone.

  • Peter Forder says:

    I trust that Mr Gumede and all the Multi-Party Charter 2024 members are not so taken up with the “Hows” & “Whys” that they have overlooked the Harvard University’s Growth Lab Report … …
    In other words, ACTION – not Talk – is needed NOW, IMMEDIATELY, PRONTO !!!

    Incidentally, I sent the Harvard University’s Report (all 192 pages) to Messrs. Steenhuizen (DA) and Groenewald (FF+) back on 16th November 2023 … Result: Silence – not even a “Thank you” !!! Hmm !!!

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Thuli for President of this motley crew would work for a lot of people.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    We are all agreed that the country is in serious trouble with a tanking economy as a result of various issues including but not limited to, the electricity crisis, the logistics problem around Transnet and the problems at our ports. All these are as a result of failure to invest and to maintain these public enterprises as well as corruption linked to procurement that persists. The government has set up crises committees involving business to deal with thee problems within the Presidency and we are yet to see good results. The added problem are the fiscal challenges arising out of these problem to address them. One has yet to see a credible plan from the Multi Party Charter that actually outlines the problems in their granular form and the credible proposals to deal with these issues. There is nobody who can argue that the country is where it is as a result of the ANC . It is well and good to agree on values and goals but to craft common policy choices that would pull the country out of the rut is going to be a hell of a job. The Multi Party Charter has yet to put a common vision that the majority of South Africans, Bernie Sanders would say, can believe in. Finding faults and problems is the easiest thing to do. But getting workable solutions within the current fiscal constraints is another matter. It is for this reason that I believe that the Multi Party Charter is hopefully working on solutions that are inclusive and would not leave the poor outside. This is the test.

    • Grumpy Old Man says:

      Cunningham, the only chance the Charter has is to coalesce around values & goals. It’s arguably the most important of all building blocks. You can develop policy later & once you figured you are capable of working with one another!
      I would also argue that the issue of policy or policies is somewhat of a red herring considering where we are right now. If we want to make the lives of our citizens substantially better we gotta fix the basics (& you can throw a whole bunch of things into the basics basket). The fact of the matter is we are in such a deep hole that it’s gonna take at least 10 years before we can look to the future with any real optimism.
      If you take a look at all of the financial metrics – our debt, unemployment, energy availability, transport infrastructure – arguing over policy becomes an exercise in mental masturbation cos actually, once you run out of money, you run out of choices

  • deniser says:

    Go MPC! We want 3 Provinces.
    National a bonus.

  • Robert K says:

    This idea of parties going it alone until after the election, when they will reconvene under the MPC banner to divide the spoils, is unwise. All the members of the MPC should make it clear during electioneering that they are part of the coalition pact so that voters will know that their votes aren’t wasted by voting for a small MPC party. However, an unintended consequence will be that some smaller parties will actually take votes away from large parties such as the DA and IFP. For example, the FF+ might garner a lot of the white vote as white voters know that their votes will count towards defeating a diabolical ANC/EFF pact and the FF+ having a greater say in the overall scheme of things. Unless, of course, if the DA and ANC, and some others, surprise everybody and go into bed together to form a government of national unity.

  • Haroun Abdul says:

    If the coalitions at local government do not have an impact on the livelihood of the most vulnerable people, how will it succeed? There is no guarantee or probability that it will work. In the main premises, everything will be accountable for status and high positions.

  • Berthold Alheit says:

    Fully agree

  • Henry Coppens says:

    It’s all quite simple. You vote for whatever party you want for seats in the general assembly. When there is a vote (a ‘division’) then all those parties in the ‘moonshot pact’ must vote the same way – presumably as per the ‘moonshot’ agreement. If one party tries to be smart, for whatever reason, and break rank by voting, say, for the ANC, that will be their resignation from the pact.

  • Henry Coppens says:

    It’s all quite simple. You vote for the party of your choice for seats in the general assembly. Then when a vote is called, all those members in the parties in the ‘pact’ must vote the same way, especially if there is a challenge to the ANC. If a member or group that are in the pact break ranks to try to get smart, that will be their resingation from the pact.

  • Clive Matthews says:

    I have a lot of faith in this coalition. I believe, next year’s elections will be a referendum on the ANC, so people will look to this coalition to find better leaders

  • Alexis Kriel says:

    Thuli Madonsela has lost credibility. She is obsessed with the Israel-Palestine issue and doesn’t seem to have any ability to balance her extreme views; or to focus on the local issues at hand. Look at her X (Twitter) account – her tweets / and the responses – before you go gung-ho with Thuli. I certainly wouldn’t want her for President.

  • Trevor Gary Schwabe says:

    The best strategies fail due to poor implementation. The Multi-Party Charter (MPC) IS our last chance to save South Africa from total collapse under the ANC government or worse still a coalition of the ANC & EFF. We are becoming a pariah state – we are loosing allies and potential economic support. Of critical importance between now and the election is for the MPC to prove to our population at grass root level that its offers a better future for all under a Multi-Party Coalition Government. While the Charter in text alone is all good and well – mere publishing the Charter is not good enough – the MPC needs to spell it out at every level throughout the country and engender trust in the process. We need activists to drive the message home. Our people want jobs, safety and services in their homes – GO OUT AND TELL HOW YOU ARE GOING TO DO THIS in simple unambiguous terms.

  • JAMES GOODWIN says:

    Many South Africans are holding out for this election but if the ANC come back to govern…. watch the hoards of planes take off at O.R. Tambo. They’re full of passengers heading abroad and tearfully giving up on SA.

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