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As South Africa prepares for the 2024 national and provincial elections, there is widespread speculation about the ruling ANC’s prospects for remaining in power. If the ANC fails to maintain its majority, there is speculation about which parties it might consider forming a coalition with. Former ANC Member of Parliament, South African Ambassador to Ireland, and current columnist and political analyst, Melanie Verwoerd, reveals that there is growing talk within the ANC about the possibility of seeking a coalition with the Democratic Alliance and the Inkatha Freedom Party. Verwoerd told BizNews the ANC National Executive is, despite the fear-mongering of the DA, not interested in a coalition with the Economic Freedom Fighters. Julius Malema, she says, “is the guy whose party storms onto the stage while the president is talking in parliament. They don’t like that kind of chaos and disruption.” Verwoerd said coalitions after 2024 need not be formal, they could be formed to pass money bills. She also commented on a possible IFP Presidency which she said would be “chaos.” According to Verwoerd, South Africans remain remarkably loyal to the ANC, despite their anger. Many continue to vote for the ANC due to the lack of viable alternatives. She stated that if the ANC continues to win, it would serve as a strong indictment against opposition parties. – Linda van Tilburg
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Relevant timestamps from the interview
- 00:09 – Introductions
- 00:54 – Melanie Verwoerd on the ANC’s election campaign
- 05:05 – Ramaphosa’s statements during the election campaign and whether it resonate with South Africans
- 07:58 – ANC’s election projections
- 11:29 – Possibilities of coalition with either the DA or the IFP
- 14:18 – The dangers of a coalition with the ANC
- 16:19 – President Ramaphosa’s future
- 18:32 – International investors and Paul Mashatile
- 21:52 – What to expect in the next 12 months
- 24:35 – Running on a tight budget
- 26:15 – Conclusions
Excerpts from the Interview
If ANC keeps on winning it is a strong indictment of the opposition
The latest polling shows that the ANC hovers around 50% if there is a high turnout. It’s interesting because of the proportional system we have; either a very high turnout or a low turnout benefits the ANC. In both of these scenarios, they get very close to 50%. This is partly because the ANC’s base is rural. Increasingly, it has a rural base. People in South Africa are incredibly loyal to the ANC, particularly those who say, “Yes, I’m very angry at them, but I was born into the ANC, my parents were ANC, so I’ll stay with the ANC.”
Another factor is the lack of alternatives. There aren’t really any substantial alternatives. My belief is very strongly that people focus on and criticise the ANC, as they should, and I do too, but ultimately, the fact that the ANC keeps winning is also a very strong indictment of the opposition. They have not been able to convince the majority of voters, especially black voters in this country, to believe they can switch allegiance.
If you look at the profile of the majority of voters in this country, who are black voters, there aren’t really any alternatives for them. They don’t believe that the DA is multiracial enough in terms of their leadership profiles. So, they’re not going down that route.
If EFF can succeed in registering younger voters, they could become official opposition
The older people, so everybody over 35 and even 30 a little bit is not comfortable with the EFF. They don’t like Malema, they don’t trust him. The under-35s are a completely different story. If the EFF can succeed in registering the young people and get them to turn up on the day, we can see a very interesting outcome. Not in the sense that the EFF will take over, but they could very well then become the official opposition. But we don’t see anything like that happening yet. Young people are not interested, they’re not registering yet, and they certainly didn’t turn up at the last election to vote. Those over 30 don’t trust Malema.
ANC considering IFP/DA coalition if they fall below 45%, not keen on ‘flip-flopper’ Malema
There is some talk, which is interesting, that I’m hearing more and more in the ANC. It’s not formal talk, but rather informal discussions around the possibility of forming a DA/IFP/ANC coalition if they need a strong coalition partner, which would be interesting. I would obviously solve their problems in KZN for them with the IFP and then the DA could provide the necessary numbers. I don’t particularly think it’s a bad thing to give some of the tricky delivery portfolios to the DA and let them handle it. I think the IFP, they have some really interesting and good leaders. This is only really a scenario if the ANC falls below 45% and they really need some numbers and they don’t want to just go with one party.
They are not keen, contrary to what the press tries to write about of course, what the DA is pushing. They are not keen on an EFF coalition Many within the ANC express their reservations about it, including the majority of the ANC’s national executive. They are also nervous about Malema. They don’t like that this is the guy whose party storms the president while he’s talking in parliament, storms onto the stage. They don’t like that kind of chaos and disruption. They know that Malema is particularly difficult, he’s unreliable, he flip-flops, that’s their favourite word for him, that he’s a real flip-flopper. So, they’re not keen on an EFF coalition and the DA is using it more as a fear tactic with voters, but it’s not really a truthful narrative of what’s going on in the ANC at the moment.
Everything is up for grabs once power is involved
You can’t be sure about a lot of things in politics, but the one thing I’m sure about is that everything is up for grabs once power is involved. So, even the parties who are saying now that they won’t ever go with the ANC if there’s really a chance of being in cabinet and having some sense of power or influence, they will be in there. I don’t think you can ever say no, nobody will ever join the alliance with the ANC and remember it will be a coalition. It won’t be that they have to join the ANC. It will be a coalition and they’ll put up their pre-conditions and so on. I mean, even the DA, if you listen carefully to John Steenhuisen, he’s never said that he won’t go into a coalition with the ANC. He’s never said it. He’s very careful not to say that. He tiptoes around it, but he’s never said I will not categorically say that as far as I’m aware at least. I think any political party, if the deal is right, and this is where Ramaphosa can be very important, I think that the deal will be made. That is a good thing.
International investors just want stability; don’t see Mashatile as a threat
The one thing that I know from international investors and talking to them, the one thing that scares them, they don’t particularly care as international investors who the president of South Africa is, or which party is in government. What they care about is stability and that there’s no chaos. The one thing I know is that if we end up with a minority coalition, which is a fragmentation like we have a Johannesburg level now with the council, where you have a multitude of tiny little parties on the edge. One party withdraws in the morning, the government falls inside. That’s going to be chaos on a national level. We can’t afford it. We’ve seen what that does to Johannesburg. Our politicians are not mature enough to manage a coalition like that. That will be chaos. I have absolutely no question mark around that. So, it is far better that we have a majority, strong majority party, and then smaller coalition partners if we do need to go into coalitions. In that sense, with Ramaphosa there, that could work. I’m not convinced that anything else which is far more fragmented in the opposition sphere can work.
Coalition need not be formal, deals could be made to pass money bills
What happens in coalition governments far more often than not, the minority party in the coalition gets destroyed at the next election. That is partly because they can’t push their own policies, they’re not as visible as they’d like to be, so they become involved in the messiness of the biggest party. It’s very challenging for them, it will be.
On the other hand, there is this carrot of power and being able to do something and having a few very nice cabinet positions. They will bargain hard, there’s no question about it because they will be aware of the risk that’s in it for them. Then, of course, there’s always the risk that they can pull out, just out of the coalitions. Just one thing that we must remember. If the ANC gets high enough, you don’t need an absolute majority to govern. That’s quite important to remember. The first thing is the president needs to be elected in parliament and for that, you need a majority of those present. You don’t even need an absolute majority there. So, if they can convince a few parties that at least Ramaphosa is the most important person, assuming it’s him, they could get that. The only time they really need an absolute majority is to pass money bills. So, they could also make a deal to say, you don’t have to come into a formal coalition, but we’ll give you certain benefits, committee chairs, maybe one or two cabinet positions, but you have to then agree to vote with us on the money bills so that the budget and the money bills do pass. So, you don’t need an absolute majority. This is why the numbers become quite important, and I think we just need to remember that as well. There are many options in this coalition arrangement.
Ramaphosa won’t serve out a second term
If you’d asked me a couple of months ago, I would have said, no, I don’t think he’s staying long. I’m still not convinced that he’ll serve out his full second term. He looked to me like a man who looked a bit better recently, but for a long time, he looked to me like somebody who’d had enough.
But I do think if he leaves now, it will be at a low point for him. It won’t be great. I have no doubt that he will take us unless there is some catastrophic thing that happens and he will take the country through the elections. How long he would stay after that, I think, is a question mark. I think that will depend on when he believes his successor is ready and it’s going to be a personal choice. I don’t believe it’s going to be an acrimonious thing. Nothing is suggesting that in the ANC at the moment, as was clearly the case when it was building up to this election. I think what we’ll see and if he decides to leave or if he starts sensing that there is a move to get rid of him, I think that he will leave. I have no doubt that Ramaphosa will not be one of those who will dig his heels in and let this become an unpleasant fight that will damage the country. I am 100% convinced whenever the handover happens that he will hand it over in a correct manner.
Opposition president, IFP would be chaos
Should you suddenly face the issue of a minority coalition; If you look at the opposition parties, if you accept that you don’t want Malema, then, John Steenhuisen will not be accepted by the majority of people in this country. Who are you looking at then? Pieter Groenewald from the Free Front Plus – no; the IFP – that would be chaos. So, who are you looking at then? Maybe somebody like Zongesi Zibi from Rise Mzansi but then you are sitting with the Johannesburg scenario of the leader of the country with maybe a 1% vote which won’t be the right thing to do in terms of democratic principles.
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