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The 2024 Moonshot Pact represents the waning of right-wing neoliberalism in SA

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James Ngculu is an ANC veteran having served as a Commissar of Umkhonto we Sizwe. He is an activist and author. Dr Seelan Naidoo is principal associate at Public Ethos Consulting. He holds a master's in Decision-making, Knowledge and Values from Stellenbosch University, and a PhD in Organisation Studies and Cultural Theory from the University of St Gallen. He is an associated researcher of the Centre for Humanities Research at the University of the Western Cape. He writes in his personal capacity.

Given the contours of post-apartheid politics, characterised by a left-right schism, the Moonshot Pact represents the consolidation of the minority right wing in South Africa.

The Moonshot Pact is a DA-led political alliance that came about in response to the upcoming 2024 national and provincial election. Its proceedings are chaired by Prof William Gumede. Its tenets are set out in a formal agreement titled “A Multi-Party Charter for South Africa” that was first signed in August 2023.

In addition to the DA, the initial signatories are the IFP, ActionSA, the FF+, Isanco, the UIM and the SNP. Four parties joined later: the ACDP, the EPP, the UCDP and the UNP.

Read more in Daily Maverick: SA gets a glimpse of a Multi-Party Charter coalition post the May elections and it’s not pretty

Our aim in this article is to analyse the Moonshot Pact in terms of its political and ideological implications. These aspects have not been treated sufficiently in our public discourse.

We peel back the layers of this political onion by responding to two questions. A question of political pragmatism: can the Moonshot Pact cohere after the important 2024 election? And a question of political ideology: what ideas and values underpin the Moonshot Pact?

We do this by (1) analysing the content of the MPC agreement, (2) by considering the political structuring of the Pact, and (3) by interpreting what the Pact represents ideologically in the South African political context.

The MPC agreement

The agreement is the source document for analysing the Moonshot Pact. It is a legal contract and thus binding on its signatories.

Noteworthy is that it is a contract in perpetuity rather than being a limited-term contract. Therefore, the broad intention of the agreement is for a long-term political formation that is intended to hold for all foreseeable elections.

The stated mission of the Pact is described under point 7 “Declaration of Intent”:

“Our mission is to unseat the ANC, keep out the EFF, and usher in a multi-party government following the 2024 National and Provincial Elections.”

Furthermore, Point 7.1.2. prohibits “any agreements with the ANC, EFF or any rival formations”.

Therefore, the point of departure for the Pact is a negative one — it is an anti-ANC alliance.

A source of contradiction in the agreement is evident in point 8.1.3. (under the section on the Principles of Sharing Public Power), which states that a “collective manifesto” will only be drawn up after the 2024 election.

That the Pact parties will contest the election with their own manifestos and then dissolve them all into a “collective Pact manifesto” after the election smacks of duplicity. How much of what is being promised to the various parties’ voters now will be relinquished by the Pact parties afterwards? Why not draw up a collective Moonshot manifesto before the 2024 election?

This flies in the face of Prof Gumede’s recent statement in support of “pre-election coalition pacts, stating that they are more stable and it is easier for voters to choose because they know exactly what they will be getting after the elections” (our emphasis).

The Moonshot Pact has clarified what it is against politically, however, it has not clearly stated what it stands for in the specific terms expected in a policy manifesto. Contrary to Gumede’s spin, it is a manifesto-less political formation. Voters do not know what they will be getting from it.

Nevertheless, the “governing principles” of the Pact in section 5 do contain important value statements that shed more light on where it stands. In addition to the usual principles that are included in all South African manifestos (respect for the law, accountability and transparency, capable governance), the Moonshot Pact prioritises values that will not be found in the manifestos of left-wing parties. Examples include an insistence on decentralised governance, a higher place and role for the private sector in society, and a greater emphasis on private activity in an open market economy.

All of the above indicates that the MPC agreement gives a policy blank cheque to the DA and its inner circle. In this sense, the Moonshot Pact agreement places the DA/ActionSA/FF+ core at the helm of a perpetual alliance with smaller, more expendable parties that are yoked to its large controlling interest.

The MPC agreement constructs an oxcart to the Moon! However, the cart is too heavily occupied, and the oxen are too weak.

Political structuring

There were many attempts by the apartheid regime to draw its allies and apologists into politically structured groupings. The Bantustans, the Kwazulu-Natal Indaba, the South African Indian Council (Saic), and the tricameral system illustrate the ultimate failure of apartheid-era pacts. That is the fate of sham “alliances” that have no shared principles except to shore up the political interests of one partner while the other pseudo-partners play the stooge.

The Moonshot Pact both resembles and differs from these apartheid-era pacts.

From the onset, the DA has been the initiator and prime mover of the Pact. At its centre are the DA, ActionSA, and the FF-Plus which have a long history of working together where they hold seats. They have found each other palatable as coalition partners, and it is safe to assume a high degree of congruence in their political beliefs and values.

However, the other eight parties are not only there on political principle. These tiny parties seek to piggyback on the airtime and brand effects of the well-funded Moonshot marketing campaign. In exchange, they enhance the optics of the Pact as broad and growing because it now includes eight more than the original three parties.

The Moonshot Pact thus resembles the numerical trick that was attempted extensively by the apartheid regime to confuse the number of “parties” at the table with their actual levels of representation among the people.

The Pact agreement is structured largely in proportion to the votes that will be obtained by each party. This seems fair, however, it does effectively give “controlling interest” to the DA over most coalition situations that may arise after an election.

Together, the parties to the Moonshot Pact won 28% of the national vote in the 2019 election, with the DA declining to 21% and the other parties holding 7%. As the bulky partner, the DA certainly needs the Pact to mitigate its recent declines. And the smaller parties to the Pact would view it as an opportunity to mitigate the narrowness of their support bases and the regionality of their political reach.

Crucial to understanding the Pact is the recognition that the DA intends to retain this controlling interest even if it were to lose votes at the national and provincial levels. The Pact is structured to produce a win-win for the DA in the 2024 election.

This is a sign that, while the DA is ostensibly aiming to lead a victorious coalition into the Union Buildings, it is actually preparing for a further fall in its share of the vote in 2024.

What does this mean for the minnows of the Moonshot Pact?

While the Pact creates a limelight for them, it carries the risk of eroding their own political identities and relevance. This tension is an inescapable conundrum for all multi-party formations.

A second dimension of risk — and reward — follows from the observation that the parties to the Pact are largely each other’s voting complements. That is, they tend to exchange votes between themselves, and much less so with the ANC and the EFF.

Therefore, it is safe to conclude that the smaller parties would have avoided a Pact if the DA was rising rather than waning since they would only lose votes to the DA in that scenario. By entering into the 2024 agreement, the smaller parties are thus also betting that the DA will lose votes to them.

Recent polls and public commentary suggest that the assumption of a DA decline both at national level and in the Western Cape in 2024 is a reasonable one to make.

A third factor, more of risk than reward, has to do with the quality of coalition politics that tends to emerge very soon after elections — the ugly politics of too many oversized egos caught in a confined space. The experience of years of DA-led coalitions in Joburg, Ekurhuleni, and Tshwane provide empirical evidence of the poor results produced by them in South Africa.

The shared assumption that the DA will lose seats in 2024 exposes a fourth tension in the Pact. After the 2024 election, if the Pact’s share of the vote remains under 30%, it will have to navigate a process of bargaining for deployments which will become tense if the DA tries to hold onto seats and positions that it ought to hand over to its small yet growing partners.

However, the Pact agreement relaxes this expectation in ways that once again benefit the DA, either way. It does so by introducing factors (e.g. who has the “best candidate”) other than the proportion of votes obtained (see point 8.1.5. of the agreement).

The political structuring of the Moonshot Pact makes pragmatic sense in light of the DA’s declining fortunes. However, it is fraught with risk and burdened by its historical incapacity to govern well by coalition.

Political ideology

Ideology refers to the foundational ideas, beliefs, and values that parties hold, espouse, and practice. All political parties are informed by a political ideology.

For example, left-wing ideology typically involves an emphasis on social well-being, a large role for government, with increased taxes on the wealthy to achieve social outcomes such as greater equality, better living standards for the poor, and improved conditions for workers.

Right-wing ideology typically involves an emphasis on less government, restricted public welfare services, a greater emphasis on individual initiative and markets, a large role for the private sector, lower taxes on the wealthy, and favours limitations on worker rights and conditions of employment.

The South African electorate is deeply divided into left-developmental and right-conservative political streams. However, the weight of national elections since 1994 has been decidedly to the left with about 70% going to left parties, and about 30% to parties on the right.

Given the contours of post-apartheid politics, characterised by this left-right schism, the Moonshot Pact represents the consolidation of the minority right wing in South Africa.

This is not only because it is so explicitly anti-left. More substantively, the Pact represents right-wing ideology because it emphasises “private sector growth” and the “open market” while glossing over their extreme levels of concentration and their spectacular detractions from the public good.

The core Pact parties have opposed National Health Insurance and sought to reduce minimum wages. They have condoned outright xenophobia in their ranks. They remain shtum on Israel’s decades-long, illegal occupation of Palestine. They equivocate over the horrific carnage and even deny the genocide that the state of Israel is perpetrating now in Gaza.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Middle East crisis news hub

The Pact’s conservatism is underpinned by a deep desire to maintain an economic status quo that is the most unequal in the world, but which apparently favours the fortunes of their supporters and their private interests. The implication of this grounding tenet is that the Pact will ultimately choose to maintain inequality in South Africa, should equality come at any cost to their outsized economic interests.

That is why the Pact agreement gives silver-bullet status to “economic growth” and de-emphasises transformative policies like affirmative action, de-concentration of the economy, and land restitution which can increase equality irrespective of growth.

There can be no doubt that the Moonshot Pact represents right-wing political ideology in South Africa.

However, the Pact agreement is written differently. The wording of the agreement seeks to deflect from, and even hide the DA/ActionSA/FF+ commitment to right-wing conservatism. The Pact is thus embedded in an ideology that it holds but tries to camouflage. It is premised on an unspoken but implied resistance to transformative social change in South Africa.

Many public accounts suggest that the core Pact parties also have a serious race problem. Helen Zille’s apologetics on South Africa’s colonisation, John Steenhuisen’s repeated racial gaffes, among many others, are deeply offensive signals to black South Africans.

However, the charge of racism against the DA goes beyond these behavioural spillages. The DA has also excluded African citizens from public sector employment in the Western Cape and in the City of Cape Town where it governs by majority. And it has done the same where it has governed by coalition, in the cities of Tshwane, Joburg, and Ekhurhuleni.

For example, only 12% of managerial posts in the Western Cape Provincial Government (WCPG) are occupied by Africans, despite making up 39% of the population of the Western Cape.

The DA’s race problem is ironic given that it depends on so-called coloured voters to maintain its majority in the Western Cape. However, this has not given the DA the political security that it so desires in the Western Cape. Instead, it has produced a backlash of a coloured identity politics which has turned on the DA because of a sense of having been betrayed and abandoned to worsening conditions in those communities, while white communities bask in the DA’s largesse.

In our analysis, the ideological bedrock of the DA is its commitment to neoliberalism. The DA quacks liberal, but it walks a profoundly neoliberal path.

The difference between liberalism and neoliberalism is one of kind rather than degree.

At a minimum, liberalism involves a commitment to the idea that the greatest public good is best obtained through the pursuit of individual interests. Put another way, the aim of liberalism is “the greatest public good” and “the pursuit of individual interests” is regarded as the best means to that end.

Neoliberalism reverses this means-end relationship. It emphasises private individual and corporate interests and relegates the public good. Therefore, neoliberal ideology is not a variation of liberalism — it is a reversal of liberal values.

It is not that neoliberals place no value on the public good at all. Rather, it is more accurate to say that where private economic interests come into conflict with the public interest, neoliberal logic will favour private interests. That is why neoliberalism is profoundly conservative of current distributions of wealth and income, and this is even more pronounced when inequality is as high as it is in South Africa.

Conclusion

The Moonshot Pact offers immediate opportunities for the Pact parties. However, it suffers from serious risks and contradictions that do not bode well for its performance in the 2024 elections and for its longevity beyond that test.

We find scant reason to believe that its incarnation as the Moonshot Pact will produce better governance results than the DA’s other coalitions. If DA-led coalitions could have governed well, they would have already done so.

Ideologically, the Moonshot Pact is unmasked as the waning face of right-wing neoliberalism in South Africa, a trend that we welcome in the interest of building an effective social democracy on the more generous and virtuous political values of the majority left-wing in South Africa. DM

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  • T'Plana Hath says:

    Good grief. What rock do you live under that you are still calling it the Moonshot Pact? Could you 𝘉𝘌 more out of touch? (My emphasis).
    Weak sauce.

    • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

      Not really, this analysis is based on the proposed pact contract vs behavior of the political parties and history.
      The parties need to move to plans of operation strategy which will practically provide details of specifics on how social ills will be dealt with.
      The wealth distribution and landownership are the stark issues that will be the elephant in the boardroom of the members based on what they currently represent now.
      All parties need to honestly study these critical views now rather than later, they need to hit the ground running.
      It helps to have a critic in the house.

      • Steve Davidson says:

        Especially blatant ANC ones? And when these twerps start mentioning ‘neo-liberalism’ then you know ‘where they’re coming from’. Surprised they didn’t note that the reason the so-called coloureds in the Cape are pissed off is because the province and the city of Cape Town are forced to pander to the needs of the economic migrants who have run away from the pathetic and populistic (there’s a good word for you) management of the ANC there – and everywhere else in the country. And just like the other pseudo intellectual Ismail Lagardien, their racism against white people is always just bubbling below the surface, don’t you think?? Detestable people, in the Cape where the DA are doing an absolutely incredible job against huge odds caused by these two’s heroes in the ANC.

  • Willem Boshoff says:

    So, how’s that “virtuous political values of the majority left-wing in South Africa” been playing out? Fat cadres and starving voters, neh? Easy to write this academic opinion piece but the proof is in the pudding: by far the majority of clean audits and highest levels of service delivery are in DA-led municipalities. The large-scale semigration to the Western Cape is people voting with their feet (which, ironically, may work against the DA when ballots are cast, as South Africans still tend to vote along identity lines).

    • J vN says:

      The authors of the 1st year Marxist Studies drivel above don’t understand many, many things. Living as they do in the 1880s, and with such profoundly feeble intellects, one of the countless things that is lost on them, is that they simply cannot fathom why people always flee from the socialist paradises that they are idiotically espousing, to capitalist countries. Same applies to the Western Cape. There is no flood of refugees from the Western Cape to ANC feces-holes like the Eastern Cape.

      Go figure.

  • Malcolm McManus says:

    The way I see it, is everything the ANC mouthpiece tells you it stands for is a lie. Although the poorest of the poor voters will be hearing what the ANC manifesto says, they shouldn’t listen because its all lies anyway. The MPC is the best thing that could have happened in recent political times. It gives South Africa hope. With the “right wing” DA pulling the strings, it can only be better than the epic disaster we currently have with the ANC hoodlums.

  • Greg Mitchell says:

    Characterization of parties in terms of ‘left’ and ‘right’ is so last century…

  • robby 77 says:

    No way, written by an ex-commissar? Who would have thought such communist drivvel would make it to this publication? The commissar and his stooge non-ghostwriter unmask their support for left wing world class thievery and failure.

  • B M says:

    Let’s consider SA as an unhealthy country. Medicine is typical treatment for illness. While it is true that health and prosperity are not the absence of illness, when you are ill, you want to treat both the cause and the symptoms. Medicine is about removing illness, not promoting health.

    The MPC is proclaiming itself as the medicine to treat the illness: the corrupt ANC and criminal EFF. They, correctly in my opinion, identify that there is no healing if the ANC remains in power. Sure, they will have to do something to improve the health of the country post elections, but the quickest path to prosperity is to take the medicine to remove the illness.

    To assert that you should not get medicine because it doesn’t make you healthy stupidity. To assert that taking medicine precludes actions to make you healthy once you are no longer ill is also stupidity. In fact, when you are not ill, it is easier to make healthy decisions. When you are ill, it is easier to make unhealthy decisions.

    When SA has rid itself of the illness, we will find our lives are better, and we can focus on positive and constructive actions. But first, we need to stop the rot.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    When you say “right wing” you can only mean “truly multi racial”

    My word if you still support the ANC after all the damage your party has done to the country – and literally shoved in all our faces – you are either making money from them or there is something seriously wrong with you. So unbelievably sad.

    • Amadeus Figaro says:

      I always laugh at right wing labelling. When it comes to the racial right, the only self avowed race nationalist party is the EFF.

  • Greeff Kotzé says:

    A rather disingenuous analysis? Here’s one concrete example that illustrates that succinctly: the IFP is mentioned exactly once, when the full membership of the MPC is laid out. After that, not a peep, except to, presumably, lump them together with “these tiny parties”. Yet much more is made of the FF+ and ActionSA’s roles as supposedly the inner core of the MPC. But the FF+ has 10 MPs, while the IFP has 14. ActionSA is yet to have any. The IFP governs several municipalities on their own with a simple majority, and several more as the leading coalition partner — neither the FF+ or ActionSA can claim that.

    Conclusion: the authors are cherry-picking to push a singular and one-sided view.

  • Denise Smit says:

    ANC propaganda supported by DM

  • Level Head says:

    We were warned that there would be a load of BS written in the lead up to the election. I think this article is leading the charge. I’m surprised it got through the DM comments community.

  • Steven Serrao says:

    Authors are simply pushing their own agendas; no viable effort was made to form these conclusions that are – STRONGLY WORDED – and lack any rationale to properly support it. Biased and misleading article from DM and the authors clearly have something to gain from pushing the ANC manifesto through a (PREVIOUSLY) respected news source.

  • Ben Harper says:

    And THIS DM is why you are losing support and paid subscribers

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