ANC sees IFP as top rival, shrugs off Zuma’s party

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By S’thembile Cele

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress sees the rival Inkatha Freedom Party as a bigger electoral threat, and dismissed former President Jacob Zuma’s new organization as “a nuisance.”

The ANC is preparing for elections in two months and opinion polls show the party will lose its parliamentary majority for the first time since coming to power three decades ago. Surveys published over the past month suggest the participation by Zuma’s uMkhonto weSizwe Party in the vote may reduce the ANC’s share of the electorate to less than 50%.

One of the battleground regions in the vote will be the second-most populous province of KwaZulu-Natal, a Zuma stronghold that’s also the Zulu nationalist IFP’s main support base. The ANC is campaigning to retain power in the province, though there’s a risk it will end up being governed by the IFP, ANC Chairman Gwede Mantashe said in an interview.

“I see IFP as more of a formidable threat than MK,” Mantashe said in an interview at Bloomberg’s offices in Johannesburg on Tuesday. “That’s why I describe MK as more of a nuisance. It’ll be a nuisance that will take some votes from us, it’ll take some votes from the IFP and it’ll take votes from smaller parties.”

The outcome of the vote in KwaZulu-Natal — the biggest contributor to South African gross domestic product after Gauteng province — will be key to determining whether the ANC is forced into forming a national coalition government after the election. Investors are anxious that if the ANC’s share of the ballot falls significantly below 50%, it may be forced into doing a deal with one of its larger rivals like the populist Economic Freedom Fighters — which is expected to attract 5%-10% of the vote — though that scenario is seen as unlikely.

Political analysts including Melanie Verwoerd have posited the IFP as a potential coalition partner for the ANC should there be no outright winner of the vote, even though the IFP has signed a cooperation accord with 10 other opposition parties that precludes it from working with the ruling party. The two parties previously shared power in a government of national unity that was formed during the transition from the apartheid era to a democratic government.

One possible permutation may be for the IFP to agree to support the ANC nationally and that it be given control of KwaZulu-Natal province in exchange. While Zuma’s MKP has gained support in the province since its formation in September 2023, Mantashe said there’s no prospect of it winning power there.

“I would be surprised if it happened,” he said. “If there’s a change of government there, it will be the IFP or will remain with the ANC.”

Read More: South Africa’s IFP Vows to Put Citizens First to Cut Joblessness

Mantashe wouldn’t be drawn on which opposition entity the ANC might look to do a deal with, saying his party is campaigning to win the election. He also criticized the effectiveness of coalition governments, citing the fact that metropolitan municipalities that are ruled by more than one party such as Tshwane — which includes the capital, Pretoria —  have struggled to provide basic services like potable water.

“In South Africa, society is not ready for coalitions,” he said. “They don’t work in local government.”

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© 2024 Bloomberg L.P.