ANC in a tight position as it must decide on government coalition to shape SA's future


South Africa's African National Congress (ANC) faces a dilemma after losing its parliamentary majority in the recent election. The ANC needs to find a coalition partner to secure a majority in parliament, supporting its choice of president and legislative plans. One option is to strike a deal with the centre-right Democratic Alliance (DA), which won 22% of the vote. However, this would be politically risky as the DA's critics accuse it of trying to protect the economic privileges built up during the racist system of apartheid.

Alternatively, the ANC could work with two radical parties that broke away from it, former President Jacob Zuma's uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party and Julius Malema's Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). These parties share the same constituency, the black majority, and their combined vote comes to 65%. President Cyril Ramaphosa has made it clear that any coalition agreement would have to be within the framework of the current constitution.

One major obstacle to a deal is the DA's fierce opposition to the ANC's efforts to create a welfare state, especially a government-funded national health service. The DA believes in the free market, opposes a minimum wage, and wants to reduce red tape. It is vehemently opposed to the ANC's black economic empowerment policies, seeing them as discriminating against racial minorities and leading to the enrichment of the ANC's business cronies.

ANC chairman Gwede Mantashe has ruled out a coalition with the DA, but some local media suggest President Ramaphosa is willing to enter into a coalition with the DA. To overcome racial sensitivities, other parties, such as the mainly black Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the Good party, could be included to form a Government of National Unity (GNU).

The recently formed party of former South African President Jacob Zuma, uMkhonto we Sizwe, caused a shock by coming third in the election. The ANC's other option is to form a coalition with MK, which was the big winner of the election by securing third spot with 15% of the vote in the first election it contested. However, MK is demanding a fresh poll, alleging that it got even more votes but the final result was rigged. The electoral commission has rejected the allegation, and MK has not yet presented any evidence for its claim.

The chasm between it and the ANC is wide, wider than with any other party, partly because of the personal animosity between Mr. Zuma and Mr. Ramaphosa, who ousted him as the country's leader. MK wants the constitution to be torn up so that South Africa becomes an "unfettered parliamentary democracy," something the ANC has ruled out. At first glance, this also rules out the EFF, as it too is demanding a constitutional amendment so that white-owned land can be expropriated without compensation.

The ANC and EFF together have 198 seats, just short of the 201 seats needed for a parliamentary majority, so a smaller party would have to be brought into a coalition. Or they could team up with Mr. Zuma's MK, which also supports land expropriation and says there is a need to distribute farmland on an "equal basis among the farming population". But to change the constitution, a two-thirds majority is needed, and again the ANC, EFF, and MK fall just short of the 267 seats needed - they have 256 seats between them.

While the ANC is opposed to constitutional amendments, it accepts that the current land-ownership patterns need to be tackled. Former President Kgalema Motlanthe, a close ally of Mr. Ramaphosa, said the "land question" was a "source of national grievance." His comments suggest there could be room for agreement with the EFF, and possibly even MK, on the issue.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) strongly opposes a deal between its three rivals, saying it would be a "Doomsday Coalition" that would turn South Africa into a "Zimbabwe or Venezuela." "The Doomsday Coalition will plunge this country into ethnic and racial conflict the likes of which it has never witnessed before," the party says.

Some ANC officials hold the opposite view, arguing that stability would be threatened if MK is excluded, given its electoral success and the political volatility of KwaZulu-Natal. ANC leaders in Gauteng are said to favor a deal with the EFF, but their hand has been considerably weakened by the fact that the two parties do not have enough seats for a parliamentary majority.

The ANC is considering the option of forming a minority government, while signing a confidence-and-supply agreement with the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Inkatha Freedom Party, a mainly black party with support in KwaZulu-Natal. This could help the ANC out of its dilemma of choosing a coalition partner, and it may also suit the DA, as a coalition with the ANC could cause it to lose support to parties to its right.

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