A coalition between South Africa’s ruling party and the main opposition, which have been bitter opponents for three decades even though they’ve both largely pursued centrist policies, is the tie-up most favoured by registered voters, a survey showed.
The African National Congress took power in 1994 after decades of fighting against White minority rule.
The Democratic Alliance emerged from the Democratic Party, a liberal movement that opposed apartheid from within parliament at a time when only White citizens could vote and stand for office.
Despite its protestations, South Africa’s second-biggest political party has been derided by the ANC as representing the interests of the White, moneyed elite.
The Social Research Foundation interviewed 3,200 registered voters in July, and a further 1,517 in March, and both rounds identified similar attitudes toward political alliances.
The prospect of a coalition was expected and welcomed by 47.8% of respondents, while 32.7% were sympathetic to the concept and 11.5% were lukewarm. About 7.5% strongly opposed the idea.
For White DA voters, a tie-up with the ANC would represent the crossing of a “historical Rubicon” and could be considered if it was in the country’s best interests, while ANC voters could be attracted by the DA’s record of governing South Africa’s towns and cities better, Frans Cronje, the SRF’s chairman said at a presentation in Johannesburg on Thursday.
Among ANC voters, “time and time again, it appears that 25% or 30% of voters answer questions in the same way that a DA voter would answer,” he said.
Almost a third of registered voters surveyed said the two biggest parties should govern together if, as predicted by several polls, the ANC loses its absolute majority for the first time in next year’s elections due to public outrage over power cuts, crime and poverty.
The next most popular tie-up was between the ANC and the populist Economic Freedom Fighters at 19%.
An alliance between the two main parties was favoured by 55% of DA voters and 21% of ANC supporters. A third of ANC voters preferred a tie-up with the EFF. A grouping of all three parties was backed by 14.9% of all respondents and 23% of ANC voters.
The DA is currently pursuing a grand coalition of opposition parties that excludes the EFF in a bid to unseat the ANC. If that fails, working with the ANC could be considered, DA leader John Steenhuisen said in an interview this week.
“We may have to be pragmatic as a party in terms of what’s in the best interest of the country,” he said. “We’d have to go back to our voters and ask them, and we may end up being in a least-worst option in terms of doing some form of agreement.”
While the ANC has been cool on allying with the DA, it hasn’t completely ruled it out. The ruling party has worked with the EFF to take control of municipalities in Gauteng, South Africa’s economic hub.
The ANC won 57.5% of the vote in the last national elections in 2019, while the DA garnered 20.8% and the EFF 10.8%. South Africa uses a proportional representation system.
The survey also found that the faction-riven ANC’s fortunes are heavily dependent on President Cyril Ramaphosa, with his deputy, Paul Mashatile, garnering little public support.
“Ramaphosa’s popularity is immense” in the ANC, with 59% of its supporter backing him, Cronje said.
“He will one day go, and the guy taking over is orders of magnitude lower than him.”
A previous SRF survey showed 39% of ANC voters would vote for a breakaway party formed by Ramaphosa.
The latest survey shows the ANC may obtain just over half the vote next year.
If it slips marginally below that, it may cobble together a coalition with several small parties, said Cronje, who warned that an outcome that leads to a less stable government could damage voters’ confidence in democracy.
“Do not wish for the collapse of the ANC if you don’t know what you are going to replace it with,” Cronje said in an address to the Free Market Foundation, a Johannesburg-based think tank. “Don’t try and stampede it out of power.”