OPINIONISTA: South Africa is in a mess — it’s time for coalition politics

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The success of coalition politics here and abroad clearly debunks the myth about ideology — the fact is, many people have no clue of what that is and frankly, they don’t care. What matters to them are bread and butter issues.

South Africa is being held captive by factional battles and policy differences within the ruling party. This is influenced by external forces using these factions for their own agendas and interests. We are merely pawns in their chess game.

The much-vaunted new dawn has been nothing but different players of the same team, representing different interests — and not poor South Africans, who continue to suffer. The economy continues to decline; just a few days ago President Ramaphosa told us to brace ourselves for more job losses. Investor confidence is at its lowest. Poverty and inequality are on the rise. Clearly, we can’t continue like this. We need a new approach and thinking from patriotic people who are prepared to look beyond their party colours.

President Ramaphosa will have to choose between the ANC and South Africa. If he thinks that he can succeed in reforming both, he’s making a big mistake. The biggest risks that continue to strangle our economy are Eskom and land policy. As long as there’s ambiguity and uncertainty in the market about these two issues, investors will not touch South Africa.

Ramaphosa will have to unbundle Eskom and allow independent power producers to enter the fray in order to break the monopoly, so that competition will benefit the consumers. The reality is that unions and the South African Communist Party will never allow this to happen. This decision puts Ramaphosa in a compromised position and he doesn’t have a spine to do the right thing, which is becoming his downfall.

Second, the populist narrative on the land question is hurting our economy. It’s surprising that Ramaphosa and the ANC have not learnt anything from Zimbabwe.

The land question in South Africa must be addressed and there’s no question about that. The government must provide financial support and necessary skills to black farmers in order to make sure agricultural land transferred to them remains and continues to be productive. We must also deal with spatial integration by transferring land to landless people, and not just dot the landscape by building free houses. We don’t need to amend section 25 of our Constitution, we just need to implement it.

Historic alliances

South Africa has seen a number of mergers and alliances in its transitional period, some of them unthinkable.

The Democratic Party (DP) and New National Party (NNP) formed the Democratic Alliance (DA) in 1999/2000; floor-crossing led to the establishment of the Independent Democrats (ID) in 2003; the breakaway of the New National Party (NNP) to join the African National Congress (ANC) in 2004; and the seven-party coalition government in the City of Cape Town in 2006, which included the DA, United Democratic Movement (UDM), Freedom Front Plus (FF+) and subsequently the ID, to mention some.

This clearly debunks the myth about ideology. The fact is, many people have no clue of what that is and frankly, they don’t care. What matters to them are bread and butter issues. I’m not suggesting that ideology or policies do not matter, they certainly do. But I find it hypocritical when people use this argument as an excuse for why certain parties cannot co-govern. Germany is a good example of how parties who are completely different ideologically — the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), with its sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) also known as CDU/CSU — decided to put the interests of their country first and formed a government.

Three different scenarios for the future

With the ANC receiving fewer than 60% of the votes nationally for the first time since 1994 in the last general elections, it’s inevitable that South Africa has entered an era of coalitions. Here are the three likely scenarios — and my preferred one.

ANC/EFF — it is a known fact that the ANC is controlled by those who have branches, namely DD Mabuza and Ace Magashule. The textbook, boardroom and armchair politicians have no numbers. If it wasn’t for Mabuza, Ramaphosa was not going to be the ANC president. That’s why I find it puzzling when those who voted for the ANC, claiming to strengthen Ramaphosa, are surprised that they also strengthened Mabuza. We can’t afford an EFF/ANC coalition in this context. It is far more dangerous for South Africa.

DA/ANC — Let’s assume Ramaphosa’s ANC breaks away and forms a coalition with the DA — it sounds plausible and it’s what many people have been calling for. It is also true that there’s very little difference between the DA and ANC in policies. The problem with both groups is that they are so out of touch with reality. They are perceived to be aloof and focused on textbook politics instead of activist and grassroots politics. Because there’s very little that separates them, another danger is that they cannot keep each other on their toes.

DA/EFF — This might sound crazy, but this is what is needed by South Africa currently. Many South Africans have lost hope to a point where they’ve got nothing left to lose and that’s very dangerous. This coalition can bring instability and chaos if not managed. The EFF is giving South Africans hope, the DA, on the other hand, can use its good track record in government and pragmatism to strike the balance. These parties can hold each other accountable while ensuring that we build bridges in race relations. We can tap into skilled EFF youth and the DA’s experience in government to make the country work.

Besides, the ANC has overstayed its welcome. DM


In other news…

July 18 marks Nelson Mandela day. All over the country, South African citizens devote 67 minutes to charitable causes in memory of Madiba. It’s a great initiative and one of those few occasions in South Africa where we come together as a nation in pursuit of a common cause. An annual 67 minutes isn’t going to cut it though.

In the words of Madiba: “A critical, independent and investigative free press is the lifeblood of any democracy.”

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