Divided ANC debates South Africa's future government

AFP , Thursday 6 Jun 2024

South Africa's ruling ANC was holding internal party talks Thursday to decide who to ally with to form a government, after failing to win an outright majority in last week's general election.

South African pr sident Cyril Ramaphosa, center, meets with senior officials of his African National
South African pr sident Cyril Ramaphosa, center, meets with senior officials of his African National Congress party during the ANC s National Executive Committee Thursday, June 6, 2024 in Johannesburg, South Africa. AP


President Cyril Ramaphosa's African National Congress won 40 percent of the vote -- its lowest score ever -- and, for the first time since the advent of democracy in 1994, needs the backing of other parties.

"What are you doing here?" Ramaphosa quipped to reporters, as he arrived at a hotel on the outskirts of Johannesburg where the ANC's decision-making body was meeting. "Are you that worried?"

Seven hours later, there was still no answer.

The party of late anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela is divided over who to share power with, analysts say. It will have only 159 members in the 400-seat National Assembly, down from 230 in 2019.

Discussions started in the morning and were still ongoing well into the afternoon.

On Wednesday, ANC spokeswoman Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri said the top leadership favoured forming a broad coalition for a government of national unity.

"We want to bring everybody on board because South Africans want us to work together for their sake," ANC secretary general Fikile Mbalula told reporters on Thursday.

But observers say this might be hard to pull off given radical differences between some groups that should be part of it.

"I cannot... see how it can really work," analyst and author Susan Booysen told AFP.

"There is just so much bad blood and ill feeling between different political parties."

Among them are the centre-right Democratic Alliance (DA), which won 87 seats with a liberal, free-market agenda, and the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which secured 39 lawmakers and supports land redistribution and the nationalisation of key economic sectors.

Bhengu-Motsiri said the ANC was in discussions also with the Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), which will hold 17 seats, and the anti-immigration Patriotic Alliance (PA) that will have nine.

The ANC also "repeatedly" reached out to former president Jacob Zuma's uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party, which won 14.6 percent of the vote and 58 seats, but received no response.

Zuma, a former ANC chief, has long been bitter about the way he was ousted under a cloud of corruption allegations in 2018.

The MK, which was only established late last year, has rejected the election results and said it would not back an ANC-led government if Ramaphosa remains at the helm.

But the president's party plans to keep him.



Analyst Daniel Silke said the ANC was likely floating the idea of a "broad church" government to appease some members before veering towards a narrower coalition if national unity talks failed.

Many within the party oppose a deal with the DA, which is favoured by investors and the business community but has policies at odds with the ANC's left-wing traditions.

Reports suggesting the ANC was considering forming a minority government with external backing from the DA caused a "huge outcry", said Booysen.

Outside the hotel where the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) was meeting, about a dozen protesters held signs reading "Not in our name. #NotwiththeDA".

"They want to take key ministries and once they have them they will reverse the progressive policies," Panuel Maduna, a protesting ANC member, said of the DA.

The South African Communist Party, an historic ally of the ANC, also said it was against any arrangement with "neo-liberal forces", while metalworkers trade union NUMSA on Thursday described a potential deal with the DA as "the final betrayal of the working class".

Together the ANC and the DA would hold a comfortable majority in parliament.

Any agreement with the EFF would instead require the support of at least another party.

The new parliament is to meet in less than two weeks and one of its first tasks will be to elect a president to form a new government.

The ANC retains the respect of many South Africans for its leading role in overthrowing white-minority rule.

Its progressive social welfare and black economic empowerment policies are credited by supporters with helping millions of black families out of poverty.

But many voters deserted it at the ballot amid widespread discontent at high unemployment, rampant crime, graft scandals and power shortages.

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