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Democracy 2024 (Day Seven) — 12 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 centre holds as enough parties give a national unity government the thumbs-up.

You can breathe a little easier. Since South Africa’s shape-shifting election result was officially declared last week, our democratic quotient has been remarkably normal. That shows some resilience in our institutions and systems, which should temper the national anxiety.

For one, three institutions have held firm in the face of former president and uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK) leader Jacob Zuma’s efforts to turn things upside down. The Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) calmly went ahead with the results announcement on 9 June. Then, on Monday, Parliament wrote to MK saying the sitting of Parliament to swear in new MPs would go ahead without them.

Parliament’s spokesperson, Moloto Mothapo, told the new party’s MPs that if they didn’t plan to attend the sitting, Parliament would cancel their flights and accommodation as it didn’t have money to waste. “We remain dedicated to ensuring that the established democratic processes and procedures are upheld in accordance with the laws and Constitution of our country,” he said.

On Monday, Chief Justice Raymond Zondo announced the date of the first sitting of the National Assembly. It will be on June 14 (rather than June 16). He also wouldn’t let any bloviating cause a vacuum in our democracy. The Constitution sets down strict time limits between an election and the first parliamentary sitting.

Zondo will preside over the sitting when it elects a Speaker and South Africa’s President.

Those three institutions — the IEC, Parliament and the Constitutional Court — have proven stronger than the wild rhetoric of MK, which also announced that it would urgently petition the Constitutional Court to interdict the sitting. I don’t think it will succeed.

Talks to form what my colleague Marianne Merten says here will be formally called a national unity government (rather than a government of national unity) are going ahead. This graphic shows who’s in and out and where parties stood on Monday, June 10. We will update it every day if things move.

What you can read from the graphic is that the five parties which are in have a sufficient majority to form a government. The EFF and Al Jama-ah won’t be part of a unity government that includes the DA. MK is out of the National Assembly and the government, but its axed leader, Jabulani Khumalo, has said he will take up his seat.

Six smaller parties led by the UDM’s Bantu Holomisa wrote to Zondo requesting he postpone the first sitting. They have failed.

South Africa urgently needs a centre to hold it together so things don’t fall apart. This doesn’t mean being “centrist” on the political spectrum or conservative. A country of such yawning inequality and with our history could never afford a conservative polity. However, our country needs a Constitutionalist Centre where institutions practise their independence and do their work and where politicians work together in a government that puts people first (above outdated ideologies and petty grievances).

Monday, June 10, was a day of the centre. It’s early days. Things can move substantially, but the past week should give you some comfort about our country’s resilience. DM

*The column’s title has been amended to reflect that the first sitting of the National Assembly will be on Friday, June 14.  

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  • Margi Jensen says:

    Thank you Ferial for clear concise updates each day. Much appreciated!

  • Tim Bester says:

    Where does the South African Communist Party fit in? Will the African Nationals finally sheke them for their coat tails? Hope so…we have no need of them.

    • Rama Chandra says:

      They said they wouldn’t work with the DA, so they are presumably out. I wouldn’t have voted for the DA myself, but they certainly have been effective at getting the worst elements of the other parties out of the picture. The Patriotic Alliance would be much better replaced by Mmusi Maimane’s BOSA.

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