South Africa

Ramaphosa not going anywhere as ANC begins coalition talks

South Africa’s ruling ANC has begun talks with rivals to form a government after losing a parliamentary majority it had held since Nelson Mandela led it to power at the end of apartheid in 1994. 

Fikile Mbalula, the party’s secretary-general, said at a press conference on Sunday that the ANC is open to talking to any party but will not entertain demands from some that President Cyril Ramaphosa step down as a precondition. 

“We are talking to everybody,” Mbalula said. “A coalition is a consequence; when you don’t have a majority, you do that.”

The ANC’s slump to just over 40% of the vote comes after years of economic mismanagement and corruption saddled the country with one of the world’s highest unemployment rates and weak growth.

The electoral shake-up has pushed Africa’s most-industrialized nation into uncharted territory with the ANC now likely to be forced to rely on cooperation from bitter rivals if it is to retain power. 

With ballots from 99.9% of voting districts counted in the May 29 election, the ANC got a 40.2% share, down from 57.5% in 2019.

The main opposition Democratic Alliance secured 21.8%, while a party led by a former ANC and national president, Jacob Zuma, garnered 14.6% just five months after its launch. 

Still, Mbalula said, the party will assess all options including failing to come to a coalition agreement, which could necessitate a rerun of the election. It won’t, however, entertain demands by Zuma’s uMkhonto weSizwe party that the price of its support is Ramaphosa’s exit from office.

“Ramaphosa is the president of the ANC and if you come with a demand that he must step down, you must forget,” he said.

“No political party will dictate terms like that to us,” Mbalula said the ANC’s top leaders will meet on Tuesday to review what the talks with rivals have yielded.

The country’s Electoral Commission said it will officially announce the results on Sunday evening, notwithstanding Zuma’s demand that they delay to review allegations of voter irregularities made by his party and some others.

While no evidence of those irregularities has been provided, the MKP said it’s considering calling for a rerun of the vote and is taking legal advice on the matter.

Under the constitution, South Africa’s National Assembly must convene within 14 days to elect a speaker and a president after the declaration of the election outcome.

While Zuma and the leaders of other political parties have been seen at the counting centre near Johannesburg, Ramaphosa is yet to make an appearance. He is due to attend the official announcement ceremony later on Sunday.

The extent of the ANC’s loss leaves it with the choice of turning to the DA, which Ramaphosa’s allies favour or seeking an alliance on the left with either Zuma’s party, known as the MKP, or the populist EFF.

The DA agreed on Sunday to open talks with other parties to avoid what it refers to as a Doomsday Coalition — one that would group the ANC with Zuma’s party and the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters.

“The DA’s Federal Executive has unanimously adopted a resolution to initiate exploratory talks with other political parties that share a commitment to the South African constitution to identify options for the formation of governments at the national and provincial level where no party has obtained an outright majority,” DA leader John Steenhuisen said in an address broadcast on YouTube. 

While he didn’t specify which parties it will talk to he said elements of the manifestos of the EFF and MKP contravened the constitution.

DA leaders are leaning toward seeking a formal coalition with the ANC in which they would receive some cabinet posts and control of several parliamentary portfolio committees, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified as the talks aren’t public.

Some DA leaders oppose the idea, the people said, and a decision has yet to be taken. 

Steenhuizen said it has set up a team to negotiate with other parties that will include Tony Leon, a former party leader, Helen Zille, the chairwoman of the Federal Executive, and Siviwe Gwarube, who served as the party’s chief whip in parliament, overseeing the DA’s lawmakers.

The Inkatha Freedom Party, a small party that’s been working with the DA, also organized a gathering of its national executive committee on Sunday. 

EFF leader Julius Malema, who established the party in 2013 after he was expelled from the ANC, said he’s open to cooperating with it.

The ANC is considering a wide range of options that would allow it to work with rivals, with people familiar with the situation saying the possibility of appointing a finance minister from outside of the party is being considered.

The president is permitted to appoint two people to cabinet who are not members of parliament.

An alliance with the DA would be welcomed by financial markets as it would likely see the acceleration of economic reforms and privatization initiatives that Ramaphosa has begun to put in place.

It could also see chronic power and water shortages tackled and action taken to improve the woeful performance of the country’s freight rail and port networks. 

“The ANC has been in power for too long and has been too complacent,” William Gumede, a political analyst and founder of the Democracy Works Foundation, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television.

“I think now, for the first time since 1994, we will actually see some kind of accountability, some kind of urgency to deal with all these structural issues.”

If the ANC chooses to form a minority government, it will still need the support of a rival to appoint a president, as that position is voted on by parliament.


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