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Who will lead the country in 2024? – musings on coalitions and our limited electoral choices


Dr Onkgopotse JJ Tabane is the Editor of Leadership Magazine and Anchor of Power to Truth on ENCA. He holds a PhD in media studies from Wits University. He is CEO of a communications company Sgwili Media Group and is Author of Lets Talk Frankly. He is also a trustee of the Love Life Trust, The UWC Foundation as well as Chair of the UWC Media Society.

A national coalition government is a distinct possibility, but if the current dysfunctional coalitions in the metros are anything to go by, then the country will be forced to the edge of a precipice.

The collapsed motion of no confidence and the reversed overturning of government in Johannesburg raised the alarm about coalition governments. 

At the same time the 2024 national elections are being touted as a watershed moment for our constitutional democracy. Unlike previous elections where the outcome of the national elections was a foregone conclusion, the next elections point to an increased likelihood of a coalition government as national support for the ruling party steadily erodes.

More than ever there is an earnest search for leadership that can rise above political affiliation, and develop and implement solutions that will significantly improve governance and address the challenges we are facing.  

What is noteworthy is that South Africans of all political affiliations and hues are unanimous on one thing: all is not well in South Africa and urgent intervention is required to arrest and address those challenges.

Should the reality of coalition dawn, the big question is: who will lead the country in 2024?

Young talent

The overwhelmingly large youth population can be a catalyst for innovation and growth, or it can be a timebomb. It is therefore important that the country’s new leadership should have the ability to harness the latent potential of this cohort and channel their energies to play a proactive role in leadership.

All the opposition parties have done a good job in presenting an alternative young leadership. This is a welcome break from the older cadre of leadership, which has up to now been a defining part of the South African political landscape.

In a surprising move, ANC branches in Mpumalanga have nominated Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola for deputy president at the elective conference in December 2022. If he accepts and is voted in as deputy president of the ANC, chances are that he might ascend to the position of President of the ANC in 2029 or even earlier. Does he fit the mould? Well, he is young and educated and articulates issues that resonate with young people. He seems to have the qualities of a good leader: non-populist, educated and articulates issues as they are.

While the public is outraged by the state’s perceived slow pace in fighting corruption and prosecuting those implicated in the Zondo Report, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and other law enforcement agencies, including the Special Investigating Unit (SIU), and now that the NPA’s Investigating Directorate will become permanent, is making steady progress in tackling corruption under the ministry’s auspices.  

Read in Daily Maverick: “Stronger together: Opposition coalitions to unseat the ANC may mix surprising flavours

The wheels of justice may not be turning as rapidly as many expect, but they are turning, despite the immense political pressure within his own party.

Nevertheless it remains to be seen if the branches will follow through in December and throw their weight behind Lamola and nominate other younger leaders to contest key leadership positions. Equally, it would be instructive to note whether the delegates will have an appetite for voting in relatively “untested and inexperienced” younger delegates and ousting the older leaders who are more household names. There is reason to worry about this because it has become increasingly clear that the leadership race at these sessions is not about the contestation of ideas or policies, but more about personalities. Still, within the ANC there are some who believe the chairperson position should also be occupied by the energetic deputy minister of finance and the secretary position by former Youth League president and current transport minister Fikile Mbalula. If the ANC does not govern come 2024 all this talent will be headed for the opposition benches if they decide to stay in politics.

Non-ruling party possibilities

Outside of the ANC, leaders who may become a factor in governance include former DA Leader Mmusi Maimane, who recently launched a new political party, Build One SA (Bosa), and indicated his availability to run for president when the electoral reforms are effected. Given the Electoral Act passed by Parliament recently it is clear that he will have to go toe-to-toe with established political parties and can really only hope to have a few seats that he can use as leverage.

Maimane rose meteorically through the DA’s ranks to become one of its youngest leaders. This is partly indicative of his political astuteness. As to whether he will be able to bring his oratory skills to bear to woo a promises-weary electorate to vote for Bosa, remains to be seen, while his party seems to have been launched too late in the day. He is no stranger to national politics despite his fallout with the DA leadership.

EFF commander in chief Julius Malema is no stranger to South African politics either. His party amassed 11% of the national vote in the last elections and he is upping the ante to become a force to be reckoned with. 

His party’s audacious policies that promise to alleviate poverty appeal to marginalised, poor and unemployed young black people. His party is the most successful offshoot of the ANC since 1994 and is sure to be a factor in any coalition permutation. He has already shown mastery in how he played his hand in coalition manoeuvring in the local government sphere, making EFF a powerful power broker. Hate him or like him, he is one to watch in the post-ANC era.

The DA’s John Steenhuisen has taken the reins of a party that has established a formidable presence in the Western Cape and a growing number of metros across the country. Despite its liberal orientation and non-racialism ethos, the DA has been haemorrhaging black senior leadership at a worrying rate, losing them to emerging parties such as Herman Mashaba’s ActionSA. The elephant in the room is that it needs to convince much of the black population in South Africa that it is a viable alternative to the ANC. This is a tall order, as evidenced by the mass exodus of its black leadership and lingering perceptions that it might implement neo-apartheid policies should it assume power. 

Read in Daily Maverick: “Coalitions, Collusions, Collisions: ANC’s renewed efforts with ActionSA inject extra energy into the political biosphere

The DA’s association with groupings that are perceived to pursue the economic status quo at the expense of the majority has not helped to endear it to black voters either. It will have to revisit the idea of a black leader if it is to be a factor in a coalition government. It needs a new political temperament and it is doubtful that it can achieve this under Steenhuisen. A new leader is likely to be elected before 2024 to salvage what is left of the national electoral fortunes of the DA.

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ActionSA is using this void left by the DA to create a new party that has attracted a captive audience in its early days of local government elections. It is the youngest political party to run in the local government elections and has a lot of potential attributed to Mashaba’s purported success during his short tenure as mayor of Johannesburg. 

ActionSA’s nationalistic fervour and unashamed embrace of the free-market system curries favour equally with those who find themselves on the margins of the mainstream economy and those frustrated with the current policies. Mashaba’s presence as a factor cannot be ignored given its great showing in the metros during the last local government elections. Its firm stance not to work with the ANC may keep it out of government for a while, since it will not have the flexibility of forming a strategic alliance with the ruling party. Our body politic requires the maturity to work with arch-enemies for the sake of the people – imagine if Nelson Mandela had refused to work with the Nationalists as a matter of principle. Would we have had a peaceful transition?

Whether we like it or not, the ANC will have a direct impact on our lives whether they win or lose in the next national elections. It remains a formidable player in South Africa’s politics despite its internal challenges. The battle for the mayoral chain in the City of Johannesburg is a case in point, demonstrating the extent to which the party can still influence the choice of leadership even if it is not in power. Needless to say, the ANC’s massive influence has a huge impact on governance and service delivery.

The outlook for a presidential hopeful

Any candidate who assumes the highest office in the land will have a mountain of priorities to deliver on their to-do list. It is not only what the individual may desire to do, but the individual in question, particularly those deployed to the Union Buildings by their political office, will have to work and manoeuvre within the constraints of their party policy manifesto.

There is little doubt that a national coalition government could become a reality we all have to contend with. The parties involved would have to overcome party political dogma and work towards a common vision to rebuild South Africa.

If the current dysfunctional coalition governments in the metros are anything to go by, then the country will be forced to the edge of a precipice, when such a government laden with the seeds of conflict and egos takes over the reins of power.

It is therefore instructive that political parties urgently address the seeds of discord within the coalition government and ensure that the debilitating dissonance that characterises these formations are not repeated in national government. This will come down to the kind of leaders each of the significant power brokers put forward to represent them on the national stage. There are interesting times ahead, given these limited choices. DM



Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Robert Pegg says:

    Most people are afraid of change and will vote for a political party they know, in the hope that things will get better. It will be an interesting time to see how coalitions will work seeing the performance of politicians in recent times. Whoever gets into power, at least people are now informed enough to watch that they do not abuse that power. This is all thanks to journalists who report the trutch.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    A very good commentary on the current state of political parties in the country and a good prognosis for 2024. The comment on the rigidity of the ActionSA is very much spot on as the South African political landscape fragments. Maimane lost time by going around campaigning on nonsensical issues that really are not going to move the needle and lost momentum and will not be a factor in the South African politics anymore unless he finds accommodation with ActionSA.
    The issue that JJ Tabane has not touched that of mobilisation of minorities such as the Afrikaners within the FF Plus that hurt the DA as well as the coloured vote by the Patriotic Alliance and Good eating into the DA and ANC constituency a point Mbeki has raised. This is what Mahmood refers to as the rise of permanent minorities. The other issue he has not touched is the mobilisation on religious lines by ACDP and the new party of Moegoeng as well as the Muslim Party, Al Jamaah. These may have an effect on main political parties. The other issue he has not touched is the effect of operation Dudula and immigration question on the outcomes of the 2024 elections and the new social mobilisation around service delivery issues and what parties would be winners and losers on these issues. Eskom will be on the ballot in 2024 and its impact on the ANC. He has raised the political parties but not touched the burning issues including the gender-based violence and how they will play out.

  • Johan Buys says:

    We need something like the UDF of old. Disparate communities and groups united against a common enemy. Now the common enemy is the ANC, but these tools bicker about their own egos and minor differences. The opposition parties open their mouths to change what foot they will shoot themselves in next. They play EXACTLY the game the ANC wants them to – almost as if the SSA has a hand in the chaos…

  • Glyn Morgan says:

    Good article, except this “haemorrhaging black senior leadership”. How many? Maybe 3 in the last year. Just another media overused yak, no substance but heck, it sounds as tho’ the writer knows what he is talking about.

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