SA’s “centre” unites in historic pact

After two weeks of tense negotiations, Democratic Alliance (DA) leader John Steenhuisen announced today (Friday) that an agreement has been signed by his party, the African National Congress (ANC) and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) to enter into national government, as well as provincial government in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. In this interview with BizNews, Ray Hartley of The Brenthurst Foundation calls it “a day of tremendous hope”. He describes it as “the good scenario…where there is a gravitation towards the centre and parties that support the Constitution, the rule of law, and boosting economic growth, come together to try and take the country forward”. However, he describes the volatile situation in KwaZulu-Natal as “very worrying” and says: “There is the question of what will MK do finding itself out in the cold in KZN where I think it expected, after getting 45%, to be in government”. As for the future of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Hartley comments: “They haven’t played it well and…I just sense that they’re in somewhat of disarray.”

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Highlights from the interview

In an interview with Chris Steyn, Ray Hartley from The Brenthurst Foundation discussed the formation of a Government of National Unity (GNU) in South Africa following two weeks of tense negotiations. The agreement, announced by the DA’s John Steenhuisen, includes key positions such as the re-election of President Ramaphosa, the DA securing the Deputy Speaker role, and Thoko Didiza as Speaker. Hartley views this development as a positive step towards centrist governance, emphasizing values like the rule of law and economic growth. He believes this coalition is preferable to an alternative alliance between the ANC, MK Party, and EFF, which he deems would have been disastrous.

Hartley highlighted multi-tiered agreements at the metropolitan, provincial, and national levels, noting significant changes in Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg, Tshwane, and Gqeberha. He mentioned that the IFP would play a dominant role in KwaZulu-Natal. However, he warned that the MK Party, with 45% support in KZN, would remain a formidable opposition.

Regarding the EFF, Hartley criticized their approach, suggesting they missed an opportunity to align with the ANC. Despite potential challenges and instability, Hartley expressed hope that this coalition could lead to improved governance and economic outcomes, provided the parties remain committed to cooperation and maturity in decision-making.

Edited transcript of the interview ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

00:00:11:15 – 00:00:25:07 Chris Steyn:
After two weeks of very tense negotiations, an agreement has been reached on the formation of a Government of National Unity for South Africa. We get the latest from Ray Hartley of The Brenthurst Foundation. Welcome, Ray.

00:00:25:09 – 00:00:54:19 Ray Hartley:
So, it looks like we now have a formal deal. For the first time, one of the parties has actually announced in some detail what it’s all about because the DA’s John Steenhuisen has just held a press conference in which he explained that there is a deal that has been signed that includes today’s proceedings, the election of the President, the Speaker, and the Deputy Speaker.

00:00:54:21 – 00:01:27:05 Ray Hartley:
So, President Ramaphosa is likely to be re-elected. The DA will get the Deputy Speaker position, and the election of Thoko Didiza as Speaker is underway. But what was quite interesting is that he went further and said that there was an agreement on a bunch of other things, which include some values and even some sort of governance priorities, for example, to step up the fight against corruption and other things.

00:01:27:07 – 00:01:28:22 Ray Hartley:
So, it was quite an interesting press conference.

00:01:29:02 – 00:01:38:06 Chris Steyn:
The deal as it stands, do you believe this is the best possible deal that the country could have had made for it?

00:01:38:08 – 00:02:05:14 Ray Hartley:
Yeah, I think that we undertook a scenarios exercise. More than a year ago, we produced a book called The Good, Bad, and Ugly. And this is pretty much the good scenario. It’s where there is a gravitation towards the centre and parties that support the Constitution, the rule of law, and boosting economic growth

00:02:05:16 – 00:02:21:20 Ray Hartley:
come together to try and take the country forward. So, yeah, of all the scenarios that we had, this is the best one by far. The alternative, the ANC and the MK Party and the EFF, I think would have been disastrous for the country.

00:02:22:01 – 00:02:33:08 Chris Steyn:
Talking about former president Jacob Zuma’s MK Party, there have been some dramatic developments in coalition negotiations in his province, KZN. Tell us about it, Ray.

00:02:33:10 – 00:03:05:06 Ray Hartley:
Yeah, what seems to be quite interesting is that this is a multi-tiered agreement. I think it starts in the metros actually. In Ekurhuleni, the mayor there has already fired the EFF MEC for Finance. Sure sign that that coalition is over and is likely to be replaced by an ANC-DA and perhaps others coalition. The same will happen in Johannesburg. The same in Tshwane and in Gqeberha.

00:03:06:00 – 00:03:31:18 Ray Hartley:
I’m not sure about other municipalities. And then it will kick up to the provincial level where the DA supported the candidacy of Panyaza Lesufi, who has just been elected Premier there, and will be getting some seats along with the IFP, I understand, on the provincial administration there, on the MEC list Provincial Cabinet.

00:03:31:20 – 00:03:55:23 Ray Hartley:
And the same will be true in KwaZulu-Natal, where the IFP will be the dominant player and will get the premiership and there will be sharing there. So this and also I think they took the ANC over the 50% mark in Northern Cape, although they only required really a very small number of votes to do that.

00:03:56:01 – 00:04:16:09 Ray Hartley:
Or legislators. So it’s quite a sweeping change for the country and it does offer the promise of resolving a lot of failed coalition attempts across all three, well across two tiers of government and now also national.

00:04:16:14 – 00:04:19:09 Chris Steyn:
What does this mean for the future of MK now?

00:04:19:11 – 00:04:52:06 Ray Hartley:
I think the KwaZulu-Natal situation is very worrying. The MK Party with 45% cannot be lightly dismissed. There will be an extremely powerful opposition party. It will take… You know, we still need to see what happens with the election of the Premier because it is by secret ballot and it will require absolute discipline for the IFP candidate to be elected because the coalition partners there have 41 votes to 39.

00:04:52:06 – 00:05:15:08 Ray Hartley:
So with one person switching sides, you would have a hung parliament situation. With two, it would go the other way. And as I said, secret ballot. So it’s not, nothing is set in stone yet. Much more complex situation. There is the question of what will MK do finding itself out in the cold in KZN where

00:05:15:08 – 00:05:19:20 Ray Hartley:
I think it expected after getting 45%, to be in government.

Read more: The formal GNU agreement – and how The Economist sees SA’s ‘second transition’

00:05:21:00 – 00:05:38:12
Chris Steyn:
And what about the Economic Freedom Fighters? They have now formed a caucus, a Progressive Caucus with some smaller parties, Al Jama-ah, the African Transformation Movement, the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania, the United Democratic Movement, and United Africans Transformation.

00:05:38:13 – 00:06:09:12
Ray Hartley:
Yeah. I mean, I think that the EFF has played this whole thing incredibly badly. You know, there was an opportunity for them post the election to really charm the ANC and to say, you know, don’t forget us. We’re all liberation pals here. And, you know, don’t choose the others, choose to go with us. Instead, they chose to be disruptive and difficult. They’ve issued statements on the spur of the moment.

00:06:09:14 – 00:06:35:20
Ray Hartley:
Some of them I don’t think were thought through very carefully, utterly rejecting the GNU and so on. And they continue to play it badly now. I don’t think that these smaller parties are going to save the EFF or contribute anything to the EFF. They have very small representation in Parliament, and it doesn’t really make for them having a majority in any situation.

00:06:35:20 – 00:07:00:19
Ray Hartley:
I think far more sensible would be for the EFF to get together with the MK Party and then they would have 25% and they could add some of these other parties and maybe get up to 28% or so. It’s still a minority but a sizeable one. So they haven’t played it well and I don’t think they, you know, I just sense that they’re in somewhat of disarray.

00:07:00:23 – 00:07:08:01
Chris Steyn:
Ray, would you describe today as a day of hope for South Africa after so many years of despair?

00:07:08:10 – 00:07:30:07
Ray Hartley:
I think it’s… Yeah, I think it’s a day of tremendous hope. I mean, if you remember that since 1948, there’ve been two parties governing South Africa on their own, the National Party and then the ANC. This is the first time we’ve actually got a situation where, you know, parties are going to have to cooperate in government. The early signs are very good.

00:07:30:09 – 00:08:03:11
Ray Hartley:
I think that in the period leading up to this, the DA has, you know, stepped away from a very aggressive approach, oppositionist approach, which it has built over the years and projected itself as a team player. And I think the ANC has shown some maturity in understanding the threat that exists on the other side and in those coalitions and has made a very sound decision to go with the centre.

00:08:03:12 – 00:08:17:08
Ray Hartley:
So I think it’s the best hope we could have. I don’t see any other scenario where we would have a chance of finally addressing economic growth, corruption, and sorting out governments.

00:08:17:10 – 00:08:27:16
Chris Steyn:
Just looking at that agreement, it does seem that our leaders have reached a level of maturity that so many people have hoped for and called for.

00:08:27:18 – 00:08:52:17
Ray Hartley:
Yeah, I think so. I mean, you know, this is really the easy part. You know, the difficult part comes when there is a strong disagreement over something, whether it be foreign policy or, you know, a decision not to allow Parliament to investigate a scandal, things like those which really could crop up going forward.

00:08:52:17 – 00:09:16:14
Ray Hartley:
And I think that there is the potential for a major scandal to erupt around Paul Mashatile, who is likely to be deputy president, and I think that could be quite a testing moment for this coalition. You know, if the ANC decides to do what it has done before and close ranks and shut down criticism and so on.

00:09:16:16 – 00:09:24:22
Ray Hartley:
It’s going to be very awkward, I think, in the coalition government. So those testing moments will arise, and we’ll see what happens.

00:09:25:00 – 00:09:38:00
Chris Steyn:
Yes, there are likely to be formidable challenges, and there is concern internationally that even this ideal Government of Unity might not be as stable as it needs to be.

00:09:38:06 – 00:10:09:00
Ray Hartley:
Yeah, I mean, I don’t think it’s as stable as a majority government where you can, in a single caucus, make all your decisions and execute. So yes, there is this question of can it overcome these obstacles. But I think that if it does, and if it overcomes, let’s say, 75% of them, then we’re definitely on a much better road towards improving governance delivery and sorting out the economy.

00:10:09:02 – 00:10:17:19
Chris Steyn:
Judging by the agreement, these parties are intent on doing everything they can to make it last. Is that how you see it, Ray?

00:10:17:21 – 00:10:54:10
Ray Hartley:
Yeah, I think so. And I think that the way the other parties have played it, especially the MK Party and the EFF, really leaves the ANC with no choice but to make this work. Because the option of going back there, I mean, I think the last couple of weeks, these parties have shown themselves to be extremely difficult, hard to work with, very contentious in the public space, over-demanding when it comes to what they want, given their share of the vote, and so on.

00:10:54:12 – 00:11:03:09
Ray Hartley:
So there isn’t really an alternative but to make this work, which I think is a pretty good impetus for the beginning of this coalition government.

00:11:03:11 – 00:11:15:14
Chris Steyn:
Thank you. That was Ray Hartley of The Brenthurst Foundation speaking to BizNews after an agreement was reached on the formation of a Government of National Unity for South Africa. And I’m Chris Steyn.

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