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Dr. Theuns Eloff, former Executive Director of the FW de Klerk Foundation, former vice-chancellor of North-West University, and a renowned negotiator, is perhaps best known for being the first Afrikaans “dominee” (minister) to negotiate with the ANC in Dakar during their exile. He subsequently led the secretariat at the multi-party negotiations in Kempton Park that preceded the 1994 elections. In this interview with BizNews, he reflects on the ANC’s 30 years in power, asserting that the ruling party has ‘basically buggered it up’ and is incapable of self-correction. While acknowledging that some voters still support the ANC due to the ‘Gogo-effect,’ he notes that black South Africans increasingly realise the ANC’s inability to fulfil its promises. Dr. Eloff predicts that the ANC will secure between 48% and 52% of the vote in the 2024 election, allowing them to maintain power with support from minority parties in Parliament if they fall below the 50% threshold. He predicts a gradual three-phase transition away from ANC rule, believing it would be better for stability where power seeps away in Gauteng and Kwazulu-Natal to the opposition which would limit the ruling party’s ability for patronage. He also comments on the Multi-Party Charter and says he believes they could collectively garner 40% of the vote in 2024. Dr. Eloff criticised business and religious leaders for being just too scared to oppose ANC policies in public and called for a federation, similar to the UDF of the past, to take South Africa across the ANC Rubicon. – Linda van Tilburg
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Relevant timestamps from the interview
- 00:09 – Introductions
- 00:56 – Dr Theuns Eloff on the statement he made about it being the time for South Africans to cross the Rubicon and what he means by that
- 04:47 – On if he expects the electorate to not turn away from the ANC
- 09:37 – What will happen to President Ramaphosa
- 12:08 – The Multi party Charter and advice going forward
- 17:26 – If enough is being done by civil society to bring about transformation in the country
- 21:37 – Conclusions
Excerpts from the Interview
ANC basically buggered up 30 years of rule
The ANC has been in power for almost 30 years, and they’ve had a good run at it, and they’ve basically buggered it up. That’s the short version. The longer version, perhaps, is that although there had been some gains in the early years of our democracy and even in the early days of Thabo Mbeki’s presidency and obviously then Jacob Zuma and after him Cyril Ramaphosa, things have just gone from bad to worse. Many of the things we associate with the bad things in South Africa, we blame on Zuma and he has a lot to answer for. But, some of the things started happening already in the Mbeki era, and here I am thinking specifically of cadre deployment, racial transformation and black economic empowerment. Zuma took those things to a higher level, as we know and unfortunately, with President Ramaphosa coming in first as leader of the ANC and then as President of South Africa, we had all hoped that he would act decisively with leadership but for whatever reason, it’s still a mystery to many of us, that has not happened. What has happened is that the ANC has internal strife and it’s often ideological, but not anymore. There’s some ideology at the economic level, but it’s mostly about materialism, positions, money, who can steal more, who can be involved in corrupt networks and that hasn’t stopped. Although the macro state capture of the Jacob Zuma era has to some extent subsided, it’s been replaced or even been supplemented by endemic corruption in the civil service and many provinces and local governments.
The ANC is not able self-correct
I’ve been quite vocal about this. I wrote an article in 2020 where I asked the question, ‘Can the ANC self-correct?’ I gave a few examples of what is possible if there would be strong leadership, if there would be lifestyle audits, if there would be the implementation of the Zondo Commission recommendations. About two months ago, when I looked at the article, I wrote about it again and I said, ‘Well, if that had happened, we might have had a different situation, but today it’s even worse.’ Therefore, I concluded that the ANC, even if some leaders wanted it, will not be able to correct itself and that goes for the government to a large extent, too. So, we are in a very bad situation at the moment and the reaction of the governing party to many things comes down to two basic things. The one is more centralisation and control, even though they don’t have the ability and the competence to control anything. Secondly, more racial transformation because their policies had failed, and they want to force the minorities out of their positions. I think that’s why it may not be able to correct itself and that’s why I think it’s time for political change.
Black South Africans are realising the ANC are not able to fulfil their promises
Well, obviously, it remains to be seen at the polling booths in 2024. I think if you read not only the formal media but also social media, we can see a realisation amongst black South Africans that the ANC has not been able to do what it has promised.. Service delivery is non-existent, and I think that the sort of most visible and tangible proof of that is that we are back at stage six load shedding. Now, for some reason, for some time the Minister of Electricity said that we will see the end of load shedding soon. I never believed that because the system is the problem, and the system won’t be rectified quickly. Every time we have load shedding and we lose productivity and Transnet is not transporting stuff and the economy is struggling, most South Africans, even those at the lower levels of education will understand this is the ANC’s fault. I do think that there is still what someone called the Gogo effect, that some ANC middle-aged people wouldn’t vote for anyone else because they would think that their gogo or their mother or grandmother would be disappointed. But I think a younger generation is saying more and more, ‘Look, we didn’t sign up for this. We want change.’ I had a discussion the other day with a young black leader of an NGO and he said, ‘We know who’s responsible? You don’t need to tell us who is responsible. We know exactly that the ANC is responsible for the mess we’re in.’
Predicting a three-phase transition of power in SA, ANC staggering from disaster to disaster, loses KZN and Gauteng in 2024
So, I think there’s hope that the electorate [will start turning away from the ANC] even though the ANC still has a stranglehold on many institutions. We’ve seen it in business. We’ve seen it in the churches. I think slowly but surely, it’s going to go the other way. It might not be that we have a victory for the opposition in the 2024 elections, but I do think that we will make progress. This is conjecture on my side and it’s a gut feeling as these scenarios always are. I sense that the ANC will get between 48 and 52% of the vote in 2029 and if it gets less than 50%, it will form a coalition with the smaller parties, the hangers-on or the rats and mice in Parliament, the Al Jama-ahs of the world, Good and so on. It will keep on staggering from disaster to disaster because it doesn’t have the capacity to govern better. Because of that and because the ANC is a rural-based party more and more. If they do get 48%, it will mean that the two urban areas, Kwazulu-Natal and Gauteng could go to an opposition. There could possibly be a DA or a Multi-party Charter opposition in Gauteng, and in KZN it could be an IFP opposition. So, that would be the first phase of what I call a three-phase transition. The second phase would be that a mere two years after that, we’ll have the local government elections and because the ANC would have lost patronage of provincial government and money and tenders and corruption in Gauteng and Kwazulu-Natal, the chances are very good that Johannesburg, Pretoria, Ekurhuleni and eThekwini-Durban would go decisively to the opposition, and that would be the second phase of the transition. The third phase would be the ANC falling below 35% in 2029 and it will be relegated as a rural-based party. I think this is a more realistic scenario than the opposition getting 51%. But let’s say that the days of miracles have not yet passed, it may be that there’s a black swan event and it happens, but I think that the scenario of a three-phase transition is probably more realistic.
It would be a mistake for the ANC to get rid of Ramaphosa
I think he almost got a new lease on life with the old BRICS episode and with th Russia escapade because he was in the international limelight. I think it suits his style better, to be a reconciler, and be up there and that’s good. But the problem is that nothing has changed on the ground. So, there are two scenarios here. The ANC could either get rid of him before the 2024 election and let Paul Mashatile run with that. That would, I think, be a mistake because Ramaphosa has always been more popular than the ANC and I think they will be stupid to do that. On the other hand, if they do badly in the 2024 election, then even if they win by a margin or through a coalition, they may get rid of him. Someone must take the blame, and then bring Mashatile in. That would also be a mistake. Obviously, it would be good for the opposition. I don’t think Paul Mashatile has the expertise or the knowledge to help a country pick itself up and help the ANC to be a better governing party. So, my scenario of a loss of the two provinces and thereafter some of the metros I think remains and it’s probably even a stronger scenario song or possibility than if Ramaphosa stays. The one thing that happens to parties and it happened to the National Party. In the last five years of their tenure, they were removed from reality and removed from what was happening on the ground. One of the ministers who later was a member of the ANC said to me, what happened to us is what’s happening to Cyril Ramaphosa. I think it’s largely to do with the people who surround themselves, people who keep him away from reality, tell him what they think he would like to know and they don’t do him a service.
Multi-Party Charter started the end of the ANC, could get close to 40% in 2024
Well, I think they did very well to bring Professor William Committee in as the permanent chair of that process. My information is that he’s played a very important role, a calming role with all the egos in the room. Even at the first meeting. I think he also, if not initiated, at least supported the name change from the DA name of Moonshot Pact to the Multi-party Charter, which I think will make it much easier for other parties to join and also will probably enhance the buy-in and the ownership of all seven parties in that process. With him there, I have a bit more confidence that the Multi-Party Charter people could do well. it’s also true that some of the smaller parties like the United Independent Movement or ISANCO could probably gain in stature just by being part of that process. So, they may get a few votes that they wouldn’t have otherwise. I, however, also feel that if you look at South African politics, there’s basically a far left, left, the centre and not much on the right. So, if you look at the centre there are parties who are part of the centre but who are not part of the Multi-Party Charter and some of them may join. I am thinking of someone like Mmusi Maimane or Gayton McKenzie of the Patriotic Alliance. I think Zongeso Zibi of Rise Mzansi would probably not join the Charter. Although he would agree with most of the principles, he has a different target audience. He specifically said in public that he is focusing on targeting disgruntled ANC voters and the youth, the unregistered and the youth who had not yet voted. That’s a different pool of voters than what the charter would go for. I think that’s actually a good thing. But I do think that whatever happens in the 2024 election, Rise Mzansi, BOSA of Musi Maimane and the PA of Gayton McKenzie are part of the centre. There are also individual ANC members who are part of the centre. They can’t cross the Rubicon yet; they may do it later. Then you’ve got the left of the ANC and the EFF and PAC and so on, the far left ideologically. I think that the multiparty charter has started a process to build the centre. That’s the first point and secondly, if they play their cards right and they’re wise and do not alienate other parties outside the charter but inside the centre like the PA or like Rising Mzansi, the opposition parties, excluding the EFF and the ANC rats and mice in Parliament, they could get close to 40% in 2024. I don’t think that’s wishful thinking. That’s a real possibility. If that happens it will be a great signal to South Africans generally and it will be the first phase of the transition. If that happens, it probably automatically means that Gauteng and Kwazulu-Natal could go to the Multi-Party Charter or to the coalitions, which means the first phase of the transition would have happened. I know that the Charter parties must tell their supporters we are going for a win, we are going for a bust, 51% and I think their supporters expect nothing less. But looking at it objectively, as things stand now, that would be highly unlikely.
A slow death for the ANC would be better for the country, another five years rule won’t kill us
I think in a certain sense that perhaps for the country a three-phase transition is not a bad one because let’s say the ANC gets 32% of the vote, and even with the EFF possibility of a coalition, they can’t get to even 45%. There may be members of the ANC who would refuse to accept this outcome, and that could lead to political instability and even violence. So, a slower transition could probably be better for the country. Some people say we can’t afford another five years. I’m not part of the Armageddon sort of theory that at some point the country is so bad that it’s gone. I think we are far, far from that. Things are bad, but another five years won’t kill us. If we can get a peaceful transition, as we had in ’94 through that, a sort of phased transition, I think it’s a good thing. I think the multiparty charter started the process of possible opposition coalitions and other centrist parties that could get rid of the ANC by 2029.
Business and Church leaders are too scared to publicly oppose the ANC
On average, I don’t think so [that they are doing enough to bring about transformation in SA]. Let me take you back to when in the late eighties, and early nineties, an organisation that I was part of, a Consultative Business Movement tried to form a movement of business leaders, initially companies to just be in dialogue between the business community and all the opposition parties, the mass democratic movement at that time. Companies were generally too afraid to stick out their necks for that. So, what we did is we actually asked 40 individual business leaders, sometimes with the knowledge of the companies and sometimes not even that, to form the CBM. The CBM became a very, very successful organisation in helping to facilitate that change. We were the secretariat of the peace process. We were the Secretariat at CODESA, the administration at the multiparty process. But at that time, the National Party government was too strong and business people with companies were just too scared. Exactly the same thing happens today. Many companies are too scared to oppose the ANC in public. They would rather try to help the government; they say they help the country and perhaps they do, but I don’t believe it’s going to work because what I said in the beginning about the ANC being incapable of doing things, they’re incompetent. When those great plans are being thought out, on the ground, there’s neither the willingness nor the capacity to carry out these plans. So, I don’t think business is doing enough. They would say that they are doing that, but I don’t think that’s enough. With the churches we find the same that church leaders, perhaps except some, are very hesitant and they use the same thing that the churches in the 1980s and 90s said, ‘We don’t want to become politically involved.’ Now, whether one likes it or not, the country is in trouble and I think the churches should take a stand. Some church leaders do. NGOs are slightly more independent, and not as dependent on the government for funding. So, they come out, but they are not really coordinated. The Unions, you’ve got Cosatu still siding with the ANC. Zwelinzima Vavi of SADTU recently joined the EFF in their protest. You have FEDUSA and Solidarity who may be part of this and then you’ve got academics and you have professional people.
A call for a federation, similar to the UDF to cross the ANC Rubicon
I believe if the Charter process, as well as the opposition parties like Rise Mzansi and BOSA, which is showing some traction, those types of people will come together because there are many organisation initiatives. I think the weakness is that they are all working separately. I sense that if one could get a meeting of all those initiatives together and say let’s form a kind of a federation, then you’re close to the UDF. Not as substantial as the UDF but it’s a different time. The problem with some of these organisations however and Songezo Zibi said it well at one meeting. I won’t mention the name of the organisation, but one of those that was formed in reaction to the Zuma debacle. He said the problem with this organisation is that the minority of those people want to defend our democracy at all costs against whomever. The majority of organisations there wanted to defend our democracy as long as the ANC stayed in power. They haven’t realised that the ANC is the problem with our democracy and I hope that this phased transition will also give them the perspective and the light that the problem is that we must cross the ANC Rubicon. They’ve had their chance. It is an organisation on the downfall and it won’t turn around.
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