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In the best interest of SA, the ANC should form a government of national unity with the DA and IFP

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Dr Kaizer M. Nyatsumba is a former Associate Editor of The Independent in London, a Business Rescue Practitioner, a Chartered Director (SA), an academic, the author of ‘On The Precipice’ and ‘The Transformation and Turnaround of Employers’ Federation SEIFSA’, and the Managing Director of KMN Consulting.

A constitutionalist entity like the ANC can hardly get into bed with an entity like the MK party, which is a constitutional wrecking ball.

The ANC – which has long been a prisoner of internal competing ideologies – at last has a golden opportunity to reorganise itself and emerge as a coherent, social democratic party. 

Ironically, this opportunity is presented by the party’s humiliation in the recent national and provincial elections, where it emerged with 40,18% of the vote. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Elections dashboard

In 2019, the party secured 57.7% of the vote largely because of a tremendous amount of goodwill towards President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was by far its main asset at the time. Now, five years later, Ramaphosa has become a liability for the organisation, notwithstanding the fact that he remains more popular than his counterparts in other parties.

The loss will not have come as much of a surprise to the ANC leadership. Indeed, the writing was on the wall, as its own internal surveys would have told it. That is why, in an unprecedented move, the ANC called on all its former leaders to assist during the election campaign. 

Notwithstanding their own past failures, like former president Thabo Mbeki’s stance on HIV/Aids in South Africa and support for the undemocratic government in Zimbabwe, these past leaders were required to help mobilise the masses to vote for the ANC.

Also unprecedented was Ramaphosa’s blatant abuse of the national broadcaster, on the eve of the elections, to trumpet the putative successes of the ruling ANC over the past three decades. 

Before that, he took the unusual step of signing a flawed piece of legislation, the National Health Insurance Act, in front of TV cameras. 

This was in addition to Cabinet ministers like Sindisiwe Chikunga and others abusing public resources by repeatedly flighting radio and TV ads to extol their respective ministries’ supposed successes over the past 30 years. Thankfully, none of it worked, so deep was the electorate’s disillusionment. 

Mbeki was the first to acknowledge, in an interview with me almost three decades ago, that a time would come when the different schools of thought in the ANC – long considered to be a broad church – would hive off and form their own political parties. 

These, Mbeki said at the time, would include socialist entities and others which would be supporters of the free market. I am not sure if, in his thinking, he also anticipated the organisation’s fracturing in later years into corrupt populists and a smaller group which would continue to be driven by a desire to serve the country.

Some of us have long anticipated this moment, but it took much longer to arrive. 

The splits

Although three political organisations have since been born out of the ANC, the Congress of the People was the least successful precisely because it was not ideologically far removed from the ANC. Instead, it was ANC-lite, born out of anger following Mbeki’s recall as president in 2008. 

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), on the other hand, has been reasonably successful because it had a different ideological positioning from its mother body – and benefited from the personal charisma of its leader, Julius Malema.

Although it speaks a language not dissimilar to the EFF’s, Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto Wesizwe party (MKP) is merely a hodgepodge of malcontents who are aggrieved both by the ANC’s half-hearted attempts at renewal and the accompanying lily-livered efforts to wean itself from corruption, and by the non-Nguni Ramaphosa’s rise to the organisation’s presidency in 2017.

This is a motley crew of individuals who are mobilised not by any coherent policy or ideology,  but by the Zuma personality cult and Zulu tribalism. 

Overdue defeat

Naturally, our former governing party will be aggrieved by its humiliation in these elections. The truth, however, is that the ANC’s electoral defeat was long overdue. 

Drunk on power, the organisation had become arrogant and consumed by its internal battles, and had come to take the electorate too much for granted. 

Sadly, Ramaphosa pursued the illusion of party unity instead of offering real leadership to the country. 

He recoiled from taking the tough decisions which needed to be made to take South Africa forward, apparently in the mistaken belief that he could please everybody inside and outside his organisation.

Ironically, it is only now that it has been cut down to size that the ANC can truly cleanse itself, decide on a course of action to take the country forward and ditch its obsession with cadre deployment, which has denied many experienced and suitably qualified individuals of opportunities because they were not cadres or pliable men and women. 

Decoding the message

Consistent with the literature on turnaround strategies, the ANC has had to shrink – admittedly against its will – in order to grow, provided that it has learnt a lesson from its past and properly understood and internalised the message delivered by the fed-up electorate. 

Its future depends on it. 

Should it properly decode the message from the electorate and learn from its past mistakes, it may yet grow to challenge for power. Failure to do so will inevitably lead to it continuing to shrink even further in years to come.

Confronting the ANC now is the need for it to choose wisely as it decides on coalition partners. 

Given the fact that the ANC and the EFF are ideological polar opposites, and that the latter is beholden to anarchy, there is no sense in considering that organisation for a coalition. Not only would such a coalition not be in the country’s best interests,  but it would also be inimical to the ANC’s own chances of future social and electoral recovery.

Zuma’s MKP is even worse, given that it has made a series of hair-raising statements against our constitutional dispensation and the rights that flow from it. A constitutionalist entity like the ANC can hardly get into bed with an entity like the MKP, which is a constitutional wrecking ball. 

Democratic Alliance and the IFP

That leaves the Democratic Alliance (DA), which is the least bad option. That is not because the DA is perfect. Far from it. 

Thanks to the influences of Tony Leon, Helen Zille and John Steenhuisen over the years, that party unashamedly represents predominantly white interests and stands opposed to the kind of real transformation that remains vital in our country today. 

Thanks, in part, to the ANC’s failures in government, in recent years some of the DA’s supporters have been dismissive of black success and even openly racist. All one has to do to see their crude views on present-day South Africa is to read their comments at the end of news and analytical articles on the online publication, Daily Maverick.

That notwithstanding, the DA remains the only viable alternative for the ANC as a coalition partner, if only because it is a defender of our Constitution. 

However, although the ANC and the DA alone can comfortably form a national coalition, I would strongly recommend the inclusion of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) in a Government of National Unity (GNU). 

After all, those are the parties which constituted the GNU after our founding democratic elections in 1994 (for all intents and purposes, the DA is the same creature as the New National Party of that year).

National and provincial coalitions

These parties can also form a stable coalition in Gauteng and, with the help of smaller parties like the National Freedom Party and ActionSA, also in KwaZulu-Natal. Except for the latter two, all these parties have the liability of a negative legacy.

Those of us with long memories still remember the havoc wreaked by the IFP in the aforementioned provinces ahead of the 1994 elections, and the dangerous brinkmanship by the late Mangosuthu Buthelezi at a time when we were eagerly looking forward to our first democratic elections.

In the country’s interest, it is important that, although none is perfect, these three parties come together to form coalition governments nationally as well as in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. 

Because of the DA’s right-wing credentials, some in the ANC will be vehemently opposed to a coalition with that party. They will have to be persuaded to see reason. 

Should these individuals remain implacably opposed to it, they would have available to them the opportunity of joining either MKP or the EFF, thus strengthening the chances of internal cohesion and meaningful renewal for the ANC. 

Other parties

Those in Cosatu and the SACP, who have long advocated the formation of a workers’ party that would contest elections on its own, now have the opportunity to translate that vision into reality. 

Hopefully, in the next election, parties like ActionSA, Build One South Africa and Rise Mzansi – which should be more established by then – will perform better and challenge for inclusion in future coalition governments. In fact, ideally, the three of them, which are more ideologically aligned, should merge and form a single party. 

It is most unfortunate that, thanks to egos, everybody wants to be a leader of his little party. The country would be better served by the three of them coming together to form a future contender for power. DM

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