Electoral alliances to dominate South Africa’s elections, not parties or individuals – Prof William Gumede

With the campaign season for South Africa’s national and provincial elections kicking off, The Multi-Party Charter, a coalition of opposition parties, including the official opposition in Parliament, the Democratic Alliance, has entered the election season with a subdued start. In an interview with BizNews, the chair of the MPC, Prof. William Gumede, explained that the newly formed coalition is in the process of seeking approvals from its members, building trust, and expressing openness to welcoming other parties that respect the Constitution into their fold. Prof. Gumede emphasised that South Africa is witnessing the conclusion of the liberation politics era, ushering in a new age of coalitions. He said that the election outcome will no longer be solely dictated by individual parties; instead, a coalition-based approach among like-minded groups is emerging as a defining feature of South African politics. Prof. Gumede also made a case for pre-election coalition pacts, stating that they are more stable and it is easier for voters to choose because they know exactly what they will be getting after the elections. He said the 2024 elections are going to be the ANC against coalitions.  – Linda van Tilburg

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:11 – Introduction to the Multi-Party Charter
  • 00:41 – The End of the Liberation Era
  • 08:43 – Campaigning under the Multi-Party Charter
  • 10:27 – Voting for the Coalition
  • 11:22 – Leadership in the Coalition
  • 14:43 – Expanding the Multi-Party Charter
  • 19:39 – The ANC vs. the Coalitions
  • 24:20 – Conclusions

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Edited excerpts from the interview


End of Liberation Politics era: A new phase of coalition

Coalition policies and coalitions are going to be critical in the next phase of South African politics. We are entering a new phase, or closing a chapter, with the upcoming provincial and national elections, which will mark the end of the liberation era of South Africa’s modern politics. The liberation era began in 1994 at the end of formal apartheid when the ANC won the 1994 elections and ushered in what I would call the liberation era. The ANC has dominated the last three decades, controlling society, our politics, the economy, and more.

However, due to misgovernance, consistent corruption, lack of delivery, breakdown of law and order, and service delivery issues, the ANC is failing. There are also pockets of South Africa that have failed.

The end of the liberation era of our politics is near. Post-liberation politics will be dominated by coalition politics. Although the ANC has failed and disappointed over the last three decades, it is still a very powerful organisation.

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South Africa is not ready for a single party to take over from the ANC 

It must be noted that no single opposition party on its own will be able to unseat the ANC. Secondly, no single individual will be able to unseat the ANC either. We’ve seen a mushrooming of new opposition parties and individuals, personality-dominated parties, and other opposition parties. However, our politics, I believe, is not yet ready for a single individual to take over from the ANC.

If we look at examples overseas like Ireland when Mary Robertson in the 90s became the Irish leader. She was independent and had mass support across Ireland. Or, in Chile in 2022, when they also had a leader who came out of nowhere with mass support and became the leader and even Macron, during his first term in France who was an individual and had mass support. We are not there as a country yet.

But we are in an interim phase with coalition politics and coalition government is becoming the norm. The multi-party charter is an extraordinary new thing in South Africa’s modern politics because this is the first time a pre-electoral national coalition and provincial coalition is being put together. Normally, coalitions are fought and cobbled together after the elections. When there’s no single party or individual party that gets the most votes, coalitions will be formed. We’ve seen it at a local government level.

Coalitions formed before elections are more stable 

The problem with coalitions which are normally formed together after elections is that they are very brittle because the parties have to decide to integrate policies in a matter of a week. They fought each other beforehand and they are not aligned and they don’t speak the same language. They have to fight over who gets what. Pre-electoral coalitions are a bit rarer in South Africa but also in the world. But the exciting thing about pre-electoral coalitions is that once they are formed, they are more stable because of all the hard work and the agreements formed before the elections.

So, where are we now with the Multi-party Charter? We have agreements between the political parties, but we also have the basics: the principles of policy agreements and conflict mechanisms. That’s already three things we have established. It’s very, very significant because normally coalitions fail. Coalitions that are put together after an election normally fail due to lack of policy alignment, lack of dispute mechanism that’s pre-agreed on, and also lack of principles of government and how they would govern together. The Multi-party Charter has worked out all these issues.

Understanding the Lower Visibility of the Multi-Party Charter in the Election Campaign

A lot of people ask me about that and say, ‘Well, actually we don’t see any action in the public arena.’ We’ve seen in December, Jacob Zuma formed a new party, Umkhonto we Sizwe, and they were all over social media. We’ve also seen Roger Jardine form his movement that was all over social media. So, what is happening with the multi-party charter?

Since the agreement of the parties to come together and the core agreements, there has been a period of trust-building, which is quite an important period when you put political agreements together. It’s a time to build trust and for the leaders to get to know each other. That’s a core part of political cooperation. Trust-building is very important in all other cooperation. But it’s also a very important factor when leaders agree at a national level for those agreements to trickle down to their parties, to be adopted and accepted by their parties, and to be supported.

These sorts of processes in political parties often take a bit of time. So, what has happened in the last couple of months is the big agreements have been filtered down to the party level, to the lower levels, and the parties are adopting those agreements. The trust-building initiative is going to be important.

A super political party that offers multiple solutions, an exciting choice for voters 

The exciting thing about this new platform and having a coalition like this, a pre-election coalition, is that it makes it much more exciting for voters. It will be easier for voters. Let’s just say we’ve got nine members in a coalition. If a voter can decide between the nine parties, they may not like the DA, but they may like ActionSA, or they may not like either of them. They could go for the Freedom Front Plus, and so on.

They would know that at the end of the day, after the elections, the votes would be pooled and the group would govern collectively. That’s the exciting part. In the past, the challenge when you have a dominant political party like the ANC, and you have a splintered opposition, is that opposition parties have fractured. They don’t band together. Even if a voter has a problem with the political parties and says ‘Well, actually, none of the opposition parties work for me. They don’t appeal to me.’ If you put it collectively, one policy of one of the nine may appeal to you, and then another policy of another party of the group will appeal to you.

Put them together, you almost have a super political party that offers multiple things to multiple people.

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MPC favours Presidential ‘shock and awe’ presidential candidate,  a mix between Tutu and Kolisi

The parties will campaign under their leadership and umbrella individually, but they have two other options. One of the options would be for them to elect a leader among themselves to be the president. This leader is not necessarily from the biggest party in the coalition. That’s very unique in South African politics. If we look at coalitions at the local level, often it is the biggest party that determines the leaders. So, part of the groundbreaking compromises in this agreement is that the parties could choose among themselves and decide that a leader of maybe one of the smaller parties would be the appropriate president of the country. That’s the first option.

The second option is that they can choose someone from outside the group who is not a member, who’s not in politics, to be the president. Now, there are very clear criteria for that. If they go this route, it would be someone who would have a bigger profile, so to speak, than the individual leaders currently. So the individual leaders won’t have to build that person up.

It must almost be a shock-and-awe candidate from a societal point of view. The public must be surprised. A shock-and-awe good person, like a mix between Siya Kolisi and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, just to give you an idea.

To manage a coalition, a national coalition or even a provincial coalition, the person will also have to have emotional intelligence because these are big coalitions and will have to have the kind of people management competence to deal with very strong leaders. And then this leader must inspire confidence among the broad base of South African citizens. There is a very formal process for how this would happen, a pre-agreed process.

Conversations continue to bring parties who respect the Constitution into the fold

The conversation aims to bring as many like-minded parties into the fold. This is very critical. Now that the group has agreed on basic policy positions, it becomes easier to invite others in, because there is a criteria for entry. The policy positions that they’ve agreed on become the criteria for entry.

One of the policy agreements is the constitution. You may say, ‘Oh, well, the constitution is obvious,’ but it’s not as obvious in the South African context. One of the reasons why we as a country have struggled with the rule of law is because so many people contest our constitution. They don’t recognise our constitution. Many South Africans don’t. There are parallel competing constitutions.

There’s the ANC culture.  It’s a constitution almost on its own, competing to outbid our national constitution. In some rural areas, there’s customary law that competes against our constitution. If you’re a woman in a rural area, you are not considered equal because of customary law and some sectors are outside our constitution, like the taxi industry, where people don’t follow the constitution or our law.

So, it is quite important to have the constitution as the key policy and to implement it. It’s just one of the principles that bind the group together.

Appeal to opposition parties ‘who respect the Constitution’ not to split the opposition vote

This is not a moment in South Africa’s political history for individuals or standalone parties to win elections. That’s not going to be the case. Even though the ANC is declining, individual parties in my view are going to really, really struggle. So it is better for these parties, whether it’s Rise Mzansi or Bosa of Mr Maimane, to be part of our coalition. Our problem with our politics right now is that there are too many different groups, political parties and individuals forming parties and they splinter the opposition, and that will allow, if you have a sort of a splintered opposition field, allow the ANC to return because the opposition is splintered. That is why the effort to build a multi-party charter of opposition coalition.

So, my appeal then to the opposition parties that are abiding by our constitutional values is to be part of a coalition rather than to fight in the elections or stand alone. I mean, if you look, for example, at some of the people that come out of the ANC, that’s been forming parties like Ace Magashule or even Jacob Zuma, all of them also realise the basic fact that they may have to be in coalitions. That is why Ace Magashule is trying to build his coalition, a different coalition with Zuma, MK and other kinds of parties.

We’ve also seen how COPE and parties around in that space are forming, forming their own coalition called The South African Rainbow Alliance (SARA). So really it is, we are in a coalition politics moment in the country, which would mean for an ordinary voter it really would be more prudent to vote for a coalition rather than a standalone individual or personality or party. I think that really is, for me, the 2024 elections are going to be about the ANC versus the coalitions, and the main coalition is the Multi-Party Charter.

Jacob Zuma wants to be the kingmaker and negotiate a Presidential pardon 

I don’t think that Jacob Zuma is aiming to become the next president, but he is aiming to be the kingmaker. The MK party can bring the ANC down below 40% in Kwazulu-Natal. It will then become very difficult for the ANC to form a coalition, even with smaller parties. So, that’s a real danger. Jacob Zuma’s power with the ANC will be elevated because he could potentially become a kingmaker if the MK gets about four or 5% of the vote. I think what Jacob Zuma probably wants is a presidential pardon in return for being the kingmaker. So, not necessarily to be in government and he is disqualified in any way because he has served a jail term. He cannot be an elected representative or a president of the country.

A presidential pardon from the ANC will be absolutely key for Jacob Zuma to participate in public politics. Jacob Zuma may also have been driven by revenge politics against Ramaphosa. Ramaphosa led the effort to get Jacob Zuma out of the ANC. If the ANC drops below 50%, it would be almost sweet revenge for Jacob Zuma, because if the ANC splits or drops below 50%, it’s very likely that they will ask President Ramaphosa to leave voluntarily or they would force him out because he would then be the first president in ANC’s post-1994 history to bring the ANC below 50%. I think that would be sweet revenge for Jacob Zuma if Jacob Zuma becomes the kingmaker and MK gets enough votes to help bring down the ANC. Those are the two motivations for Jacob Zuma: to be the kingmaker which could force the ANC to give him a presidential pardon as part of the conditions to part with the ANC, and secondly, to take revenge against Ramaphosa.

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