South Africa

ANALYSIS

It’s still a very rocky road to any ANC-DA deal

It’s still a very rocky road to any ANC-DA deal
Illustrative image: ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Leila Dougan) | DA leader John Steenhuisen. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart)

With much frenzied debate about who the ANC will work with, there are hopes in the investor community and the middle classes that the DA will end up as part of the deal. However, it is easy to underestimate just how difficult this will be for the ANC. It is also important to understand the DA’s longer-term goal.

In the past few days, there has been much reportage and commentary about whether the ANC will enter into an agreement with the DA. While business groups won’t explicitly say who they want the ANC to work with, it is clear they would prefer a coalition that does not involve the EFF and MK.

Considering that these parties say they want radical change and an expanded role for the government in SA’s economy, the interests of business groups lie in the other direction.

The value of the rand and confidence in South Africa’s economy is tied to perceptions of who the ANC will work with and it is indeed a decision of utmost importance.

However, the racialised nature of some political discussions leads to angry questions about whether the “markets” can overrule the “wishes of voters”.

Many in South Africa perceive the “markets” as Western and thus white. As the majority of the country’s voters are black and voted for the ANC, the EFF and MK, some may feel we are witnessing “white markets” trying to overrule “black voters”. 

Considering our history, this is a legitimate reaction.

South Africa, however, is not the only country in which the markets can be perceived as having a political influence.

In the UK, Prime Minister Liz Truss was forced to resign, partly (or even mainly) because of the market reaction to a mini budget that included dramatic tax cuts.

To be clear, this was the markets punishing a white Conservative prime minister for being too right wing. These same markets welcomed her successor, Rishi Sunak.

So powerful are the markets in some democracies that Bill Clinton’s adviser James Carville said, “I used to think that if there was reincarnation, I wanted to come back as the president or the pope or as a .400 baseball hitter. But now I would want to come back as the bond market. You can intimidate everybody.”

This may be an indication that while markets don’t vote, they still play a role everywhere in the world. In South Africa, the DA is seen as the markets’ closest ally.

It was always going to be hard for the ANC to work with the DA.

Beneficiaries of apartheid

There are many ways to look at this. 

Through one prism, the ANC represents largely workers and there is now pressure on it to work with employers.

Or, the ANC, which liberated the country, is now being pressured into working with a party supported by some of the people who benefited from apartheid (there is a difficult history in working with the IFP, too — it was part of the homeland system which the ANC opposed).

Even if the DA offers a deal in which it only gains more oversight, for many this might seem like the ANC needs a “white overseer” to be trusted.

All of this is about our past, about the humiliation that our history of pain has brought into our present and the fact our society is still defined by racialised inequality.

This might well inform the DA’s deal.

On the face of it, the “confidence and supply” proposal which seemed to appear in public for the first time on Sunday (as if by magic…) is surely the best possible deal the ANC can get.

In short, this would involve the DA receiving the position of National Assembly Speaker and chairing parliamentary committees. In other words, it would give the DA much more oversight power, while not being in Cabinet.

Considering all other parties are likely to quite reasonably demand seats in Cabinet, this is a deal that would be hard to give up.

It may have been designed in this way specifically so that it is difficult for the ANC to ignore. 

However, it could contain longer-term problems for the ANC.

As former ANC treasurer Mathews Phosa told SAfm on Wednesday, if there was any deal with the DA, the ANC “could kiss the local elections in the next 18 months’ time goodbye”.

Absolution from blame

A “confidence and supply” deal will absolve the DA from any blame should governance problems occur. It would be able to tell its voters that it was not supporting the ANC, it was merely keeping the EFF and MK out of power, and keeping the ANC on the straight and narrow away from the populist left wing).

It prevents the problem of a scandal involving one Cabinet minister reflecting badly on any other ministers, should they be DA members.

It ensures there are no difficult moments when the DA feels it has to withdraw its ministers over a major dispute (for example, the NHI or a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin).

On a cynical and racialised reading of recent events, the great victory for the DA in this election is that it has largely kept the “white vote” together.

Considering its “burning flag” election advert and how it reacted to newer players such as Rise Mzansi that may have taken some of these votes, this could have been the primary aim of this campaign.

The DA may be making a longer-term bet here.

It could assume that the ANC can only lose support from here. In just three years the ANC has to elect a new leader. It is unlikely that such a person will have anything like the broad support that President Cyril Ramaphosa still appears to enjoy

To put this in terms of racial designations, if the DA can keep the “white vote” together while the “black vote” continues to split, it could one day emerge as the biggest party in Parliament.

While this may not allow it to elect one of its own as President, it would still be an immense prize.

This shows how careful the ANC will have to be, with its coalition decisions having critical consequences. DM

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