Placing a cross next to the DA logo on the 2019 ballot papers — both national and provincial — is the only rational choice for South Africans concerned about the future of our country. For this to become apparent, we need to take a longer-range perspective of politics and identify likely scenarios flowing from different electoral outcomes.
Some influential journalists, and others who purportedly fall into the rational camp, are making erroneous assumptions about the outcome of a strong election victory for the ANC under Cyril Ramaphosa. A strong ANC in Parliament would, they assert, mean an alliance or voting arrangement with the EFF would not be necessary to achieve the ANC’s legislative agenda for the next Parliament, notably changing the Constitution to allow expropriation of property without compensation.
The wording of the constitutional amendment will indicate which faction of the ANC has the upper hand. If the Ramaphosa wing is dominant, the state will not become the owner of expropriated land, which it will if the EFF-leaning faction comes out on top.
The Ramaphosa apologists fail to see that a significantly reduced ANC, even with EFF support, would not muster the 66% majority required to change the Constitution. Assuming most rational people agree that expropriation without compensation is a bad idea, how can they explain their support for a stronger ANC with the votes to achieve such an outcome?
Blocking the constitutional amendment, while a significant victory, would not be sufficient to give rational constitutionalists cause to celebrate for long.
Whether the Constitution is changed or not, the continuation of a strong ANC in power will result in a government paralysed by outdated ideology and unable to face the painful choices that lie ahead. The only difference between the impact of a weak or a strong Ramaphosa on SA’s economy will be the speed and gradient of our decline. The consequences — reduced investment, higher unemployment, more government debt, existential threats to our financial system and so on, are inevitable.
As the next Parliament progresses, Ramaphosa will come under increasing pressure from all sides. Financial markets will expect him to double down on fiscal discipline to reduce debt, introduce regulatory reforms to reduce the cost of doing business, confront the unions in key sectors which are constrained due to their undue influence (think basic education) and deal more effectively with corruption and waste at SOEs and government departments. Reducing government’s wage bill will be high on this agenda, with the overarching necessity to boost economic growth.
If a victorious Ramaphosa pursues this route he will almost certainly face a revolt by the populist/nationalist/communist coalition of forces in the ANC alliance which will slow down the pace of these reforms. This coalition, egged on by the EFF, will demand a diametrically opposite set of policies and there is no guarantee this would not result in an early recall of Ramaphosa, followed by the country’s rapid descent towards a Zimbabwe or Venezuela scenario.
The country cannot afford another five years of economic decline. The threat of popular uprisings and social disorder cannot be ignored. A weakened police may be incapable of dealing with them without resorting to repressive violence and intimidation. A descent into tyranny is then a very real possibility.
To avoid this unpleasant scenario, the ANC will need to split with the breakaway rational constitutionalists, forming a coalition with the DA and other like-minded smaller parties.
This is where a vote for the DA in 2019 becomes so important. The bigger the DA after the election, the fewer ANC MPs would have to break away to enable the new coalition to obtain a comfortable majority in Parliament. This coalition would be able to take the country in a new direction, even though it would face severe short-term headwinds.
As we saw with the motion of no confidence in former president Jacob Zuma last year, when approximately 35 ANC MPs voted for it, there is a small, but probably growing minority within the ANC which is deeply concerned about the direction the country could be heading towards if the populist/nationalist/communist wing prevails.
Helen Zille began speaking of a realignment of our politics a decade ago. Her prescience was to see that a new two-party system needed to emerge, along the traditional left/right fault lines apparent in most liberal democracies. This two-party system can only emerge once the ANC has split into its two main poles, one siding with the DA and the open market constitutionalists, the other with the EFF and the socialist, statist radical economic transformationalists.
The socio-economic reforms required to shift the country in the right direction can only be achieved by the former grouping. The DA must have the dominant position in this grouping, as it needs the strength to win the important arguments around necessary reform measures. An enlarged DA is also vital to head off the threat of a left-leaning coalition led by EFF radicals winning at the polls.
This will have to be planned very carefully before the motion of no confidence is tabled. An election would take place within three months of the dissolution of Parliament. The new grouping might well take the form of a new party which sheds the baggage of history. A new combined list of candidates must be agreed, and probably the key Cabinet positions too.
With a victory for this new party at the polls, say in 2022, the realignment of SA’s politics will have crossed a critical milestone, setting South Africa on a brighter path. DM
Toby Chance is a DA Member of Parliament, and Shadow Minister for Small Business Development.