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2024 ELECTIONS ANALYSIS

Ramaphosa’s GNU call — born out of internal fighting, but still good politics 

Ramaphosa’s GNU call — born out of internal fighting, but still good politics 
Illustrative image: Voters at Itereleng informal settlement polling station. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla) | John Steenhuisen, DA leader. (Photo: Gallo Images/OJ Koloti) | EFF leader Julius Malema. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla) | ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photo: Phill Magakoe / AFP) | uMkhonto Wesizwe leader Jacob Zuma. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla) | Velenkosini Hlabisa, leader of Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). (Photo: Leon Sadiki/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The announcement by ANC leader President Cyril Ramaphosa that his party wants to pursue a Government of National Unity may appear statesmanlike, but could also be a deliberately political ploy. It has the potential to force a variety of the ANC’s rivals into difficult positions, and remove some of the pressure from his party.

The last several days have seen much speculation about whether the ANC will choose to work with the EFF or MK, or with the DA. This has often been presented as a binary choice, and had the potential to force the ANC to choose a direction either towards the Left or the Right, whatever that means these days.

This was always going to be incredibly divisive inside the party, and could well have contained the roots of long-running instability within it.

The announcement now that it will pursue a GNU may well remove some of that pressure by kicking the need to make a choice now, as well placing responsibility on prospective partners too.

It would also be a reminder to many voters of what some might see as the ANC’s finest hour, the way in which it negotiated the transition and worked with other parties after 1994.

Read more in Daily Maverick: GNU dawn for new government — unpacking the good, the bad and the ugly of it all

Of course, as former GNU member Trevor Manuel reminded the nation on Friday morning, that GNU was mandated through the interim constitution, it was part of the deal. There is no such “deal” this time around and no binding requirement for such a government.

Ramaphosa’s statement led to a usual series of questions, about whether such a government is feasible, and who would jump at the chance to join it, and who would avoid it like the plague.

Ramaphosa said such a deal would have to be transparent, with a written agreement, and that parties entering Cabinet would have to have “respect for the Constitution and the rule of law”.

Of course, a written and transparent deal would be crucial to this. Expert after expert has explained how a coalition without a binding agreement is a recipe for disaster.

And metro after metro has displayed this in recent times, as the “cooperation agreements” between the ANC and the EFF have resulted in poor-to-nonexistent service delivery in places like Joburg and Ekurhuleni.

Read more in Daily Maverick: EFF and ANC come to blows in Ekurhuleni amid service delivery questions

However, not every party appears to have respect for the Constitution, at least as the document is currently written.

The EFF has said it wants to change parts of it, in particular the property clause, while MK says it does not believe there should be a Constitution at all.

On a face-value reading this would suggest that if the ANC makes respect for the Constitution a condition, parties with around 24% of the vote would have to be excluded.

(During our last GNU then Democratic Party leader Tony Leon famously refused to join the Cabinet, despite an offer from Nelson Mandela for him to do so. Leon said he felt someone had to launch the idea of political opposition. The result is that that party is now the second-biggest party in our politics. This could be a warning to the ANC of the dangers of allowing some people to stand outside a GNU.)

Already EFF leader Julius Malema has tweeted in apparent response to Ramaphosa’s suggestion that “We can’t share power with the enemy”.

Meanwhile, MK refused to answer questions on Friday morning about whether it would still insist that Ramaphosa be removed as leader of the ANC and as President.

The party’s spokesperson Nhlamulo Ndlela also refused to say whether the party’s candidates would take their seats in Parliament and provincial legislatures, whenever the swearing-in ceremony takes place.

This is because MK is still disputing the outcome of the elections, claiming to have evidence of vote-rigging. It has refused to publish this “evidence” and given no details of its contents.

It appears to becoming clearer that the aim of MK, and its leader, former president Jacob Zuma, is simply to put as much pressure on coalition talks as possible. The fact Zuma has threatened violence may well be a part of this tactic. It makes him harder to ignore, and forces the ANC to consider what would happen if MK is left outside such a government.

Read more in Daily Maverick: DA sets out principles for GNU participation — Constitution first, Sarb independence

This suggestion also puts the DA under pressure.

Should it refuse to join such a Cabinet, it might well be accused of refusing to work constructively with the ANC. Its enemies might claim that it’s refusing to work with a black-led government.

But joining such a GNU would also mean serving in Cabinet with people who may well be implicated in scandal. And the DA would stand accused by some of its supporters of keeping the ANC in power.

There are many other problems with such a proposal.

NPA elephant and bargaining tactics

For example, in all of the coalition discussions that are currently public, there is very little mention of the National Prosecuting Authority. Presumably, Ramaphosa would refuse to weaken its independence. However, some of the ANC’s possible coalition partners might well want favours or special treatment, if they face criminal investigations at some point.

Ramaphosa may wish to state clearly and publicly at some point that the NPA’s independence is sacrosanct.

Meanwhile, there may be some, perhaps smaller parties, that could jump at the chance to join such a GNU.

Their calculations would be very different from the bigger parties like the EFF and the DA, that stand to lose support in 2029 if they work with the ANC.

Parties like the Patriotic Alliance, or the IFP, or Bosa or Rise Mzansi might well feel that actually this is a good deal for them.

For some leaders, a seat in Cabinet or any kind of position in government might be more than they ever dreamed of. For some, position and patronage might be more important than any kind of principle, and be the only negotiating chip that matters.

There might be enough parties here for the ANC to get a coalition which represents well over 50% of the vote, giving it a cushion of not one single party being able to remove it from power.

This might result in one of the best possible scenarios for the ANC, where it is able to make the major decisions, accommodate several people as Cabinet Ministers and deputy ministers, and carry on as before.

And it could quite reasonably justify this outcome by saying that it offered everyone a chance to join the GNU, but only the smaller parties agreed to come inside.

The ANC’s offer of a GNU may sound like the beginning of the end of our coalition negotiations.

Rather, it may simply be the end of the beginning and a different form of coalition call. Much more will happen before a government is formed next week.

If our parties do actually make that deadline. DM

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