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IFP open to possibility of government of national unity, says Velenkosini Hlabisa

IFP open to possibility of government of national unity, says Velenkosini Hlabisa
Illustrative image, from left: Former President Jacob Zuma. (Photo: Gallo Images / Volksblad / Mlungisi Louw) | President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Jaco Marais) | DA leader John Steenhuisen. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Kim Ludbrook) | IFP leader Velenkosini Hlabisa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart) | Freedom Front Plus Leader Dr Pieter Groenewald.(Photo: Gallo Images / Beeld / Deaan Vivier) | EFF leader Julius Malema. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sharon Seretlo)

The IFP is fully behind the Multi-Party Charter to get the ANC out of government in next month’s elections. But if no side clinches a majority, a government of national unity is possible, says IFP leader Velenkosini Hlabisa.

‘If circumstances compel, we must go the route of a government of national unity (GNU); the IFP will not object. A GNU will have enough checks and balances against corruption,” IFP leader Velenkosini Hlabisa told the geopolitical risk advisory firm Eurasia Group in an on-the-record call this week.

“A GNU is different from a one-party rule in that where we do not agree [on something], we will ensure it will not get to pass.” 

Hlabisa said while the first prize was to remove the ANC from power, the motivation for a GNU was to ensure South Africa did not come to a standstill after the 29 May elections. And it wouldn’t be the first time: following SA’s first democratic elections in 1994, the IFP and National Party were part of Nelson Mandela’s government of national unity.

“If people vote for us to remove the government that has failed them, it would not be fair to join them to keep them in power,” he said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Elections 2024

If a week is a long time in politics, crunching the permutations in what has been described as South Africa’s most-contested elections yet shows anything could happen. Nimble coalition-making against the clock may be required — the National Assembly must meet within 14 days of the election being declared to swear in MPs and elect the President, according to section 51(1) of the Constitution.

While exact details will only emerge at the hustings, pundits and polls have the Multi-Party Charter (MPC) getting well below 50% of the votes and predict the governing ANC will drop below the majority required to form the next government.

This would mean the MPC would need other coalition partners just to get enough numbers to form a minority government.

If the ANC were to garner 48% as the biggest political party, arrangements with one- and two-seat parties like Al Jama-ah and the African Independent Congress (AIC) could bring it back into the Union Buildings and Parliament.

A bigger ANC drop to, say, 45% or even 43% of the national vote raises the prospect of what the DA calls the doomsday coalition — the ANC and EFF, with supporting roles perhaps from the Patriotic Alliance (PA) or MK party. The ANC would find this coalition permutation a tough call; its cooperation with the EFF in Gauteng metros is rocky at best and pressure is mounting for it to ditch the EFF.

In a scenario where the ANC lands in the mid-40 percentage points, the IFP, which is tracking around 7% nationally, could be the ANC’s coalition answer, particularly if a deal straddles the national government and that of KwaZulu-Natal.

It happened before and worked well for the IFP, which remained in the GNU after National Party leader FW de Klerk pulled out in 1996. It’s the reason Hlabisa, whose IFP is not without factions and pressures, is talking about a government of national unity.

Although in the 1999 elections the IFP lost control of KwaZulu-Natal, it retained the premiership with Lionel Mtshali. In a series of political chess moves, the provincial ANC withdrew its premier candidate after the then IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi declined to become deputy president because this offer from President Thabo Mbeki was conditional on the IFP letting the ANC have the premiership. Buthelezi remained home affairs minister and the ANC’s S’bu Ndebele had to wait until 2004 to become KwaZulu-Natal premier.

Political realities

In 2024, such post-poll political manoeuvring could be more complicated given the impact of the MK Party, headed by ex-president Jacob Zuma. Polls indicate it has made inroads into the ANC’s and IFP’s support, and may clinch as much as 20% support in KwaZulu-Natal — similar to the ANC and IFP polling — and up to 8% nationally.

Hlabisa told the Eurasia Group on Tuesday that the MK Party might be the “disturbance” that assists the ANC to return to power. Still, the MPC was “the first choice”. Already, 14 KwaZulu-Natal municipalities are run by MPC parties — as are 11 of the 30 Western Cape councils — with good working relationships between MPC parties over the past 2½ years.

“But if figures force us the other way round in the province, we will go that way,” said the IFP leader, in a veiled reference to a government of national unity with the ANC.

Hlabisa’s comments don’t necessarily indicate tensions or disagreement in the MPC, or its unravelling; his comments reflect political realities that no one contests elections to lose.

For the DA, getting to power has meant not excluding the possibility of cooperation with the ANC, although this is styled as keeping out the doomsday coalition of the EFF and ANC.

Freedom Front Plus Chief Whip Corné Mulder, also Western Cape premier candidate, on Wednesday criticised the DA’s argument that it must be supported as the biggest party: “Why support multiparty democracy, but in the Western Cape it must become one-party DA rule?” 

The MPC has done much work to iron out kinks over issues. Over the past few weeks, the MPC has held briefings on its plans to provide basic services, to combat crime and to end the rolling power cuts. 

But what few are talking about is the DA’s wrecking ball insistence on getting the top jobs on the back of being the biggest party within the MPC.

Read more in Daily Maverick: How the Multi-Party Charter could make history at the 2024 polls

According to the political grapevine, following the 2021 municipal elections three Northern Cape councils could have gone to an MPC coalition, but did not because of a DA insistence on having the top posts. Many of these discussions were not led by DA leader John Steenhuisen, but DA Federal Council Chairperson Helen Zille who, according to the party’s constitution, is the most powerful person in the party.

Already peeved is the Freedom Front Plus. ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba has said he’s in the elections to win. The IFP would also be ticked off, particularly in its KwaZulu-Natal heartland where it expects to lead any MPC coalition government.

The risk is that even if the MPC parties together could form a g0vernment in KwaZulu-Natal, the deal unravels with the DA’s insistence on its premier candidate. That could effectively shift the IFP to the ANC, not only in the province, but also nationally — enter the GNU.

But in politics and elections, as the saying goes, it ain’t over till the fat lady sings. DM

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