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Democracy 2024 (Day Four) – 15 days to reshape a country

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Ferial Haffajee is Daily Maverick Associate Editor. In her long and storied career, she has been editor-in-chief of both City Press and Mail & Guardian.

The latest indications are that the ANC favours a government of national unity.

It’s Day 4 of the 15 days South Africa has had since the announcement of results to reshape our country. It’s a very short timeframe.

As Roelf Meyer, who, with President Cyril Ramaphosa, negotiated the transition from apartheid to democracy, told us in an interview, they had 18 months to get it right.

So, spare a thought for all the negotiators. It’s a time for cool heads to prevail.

On Wednesday, the ANC announced it was talking to all represented parties – but that only MK had blue-ticked its conversation openers

I had an editor once who often said the real test of the ANC’s commitment to democracy would only come if and when it slipped below 50% in a national election.

That moment has come, and until now, its behaviour has been exemplary.  

The party accepted the results and said the voters had spoken.

President Ramaphosa warmly thanked the IEC for its work leading up to the announcement of the results on Sunday, June 4, even though it delivered the worst possible news for his party.

This was the polar opposite of the threatening stance taken by his predecessor and MK party boss, Jacob Zuma, who had warned the electoral body not to finalise results until he said so. Then he tried to gatecrash the results evening midway through Ramaphosa’s speech. (He was prevented from entering the building.)

Read more in Daily Maverick: Democracy 2024 (Day Two) – 15 days to reshape a country

“The results indicate that South Africans want all parties to work together because no party received an absolute majority to form a government alone at the national level in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal,” said the ANC in a statement on Wednesday.

“The ANC has taken the position that we must act in the interest of our country and its people, and work to build a national consensus on the form of government that is best suited to move South Africa forward at this moment in our history. 

“The ANC is keen and determined to engage all parties and unite the broadest range of sectors of our population behind the urgent need to move our country out of the current potential electoral stalemate.”

Spokesperson Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri said the ANC was driven by the imperative to maintain national unity. 

This suggests the ANC is leaning toward a government of national unity (GNU) where all parties that received more than a threshold percentage of votes enter talks to form such a system. One benefit is that parties retain their policies and identities.

The GNU was the model favoured by parties thrashing out the transition to democracy in 1994, and it worked for a time, although not without a fair amount of drama and tension. 

Talks will begin to flesh out what the percentage threshold should be and how to set the rules of the game so that the GNU is not hobbled by delays and differences.

Johannesburg is run by a local “government of local unity”, which now seems to be working better than previous coalition arrangements, which saw the city change mayors four times since 2021. The challenge is that the parties are so busy managing the coalition that service delivery has gone down the drain. The same shouldn’t be allowed to happen at a national level. 

By not responding to the ANC’s advances, the MK party appears to be defining itself outside the processes of government formation. 

On Tuesday, 4 June, outside the court where Jabulani Khumalo – who claims to be the rightful leader of the MK party – is taking legal action against Zuma, the former president said the party might boycott the swearing-in of new members of Parliament. 

In KZN, the province where MK has a near majority, the latest news is that the ANC, IFP and DA need the buy-in of the New Freedom Party’s Cynthia Shinga to form a government and outfox the new green wave. 

The talks to form a national and two provincial governments are exciting. However, we caution once again that much may change in the hours and days to come. DM



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