“Smaller acts of sabotage” by Zuma’s MK Party can’t be ruled out – Langelihle Malimela, S&P Global Risk

As President Cyril Ramaphosa’s new cabinet finds its feet, the question now is how it will navigate power-sharing dynamics after losing its parliamentary majority. Langelihle Malimela from S&P Global Risk told Biznews that he thinks President Ramaphosa is going to get “a lot of support” from opposition political parties for his economic policies. “It is an outcome,” he said, “that probably plays into Ramaphosa’s hands from a policy point of view.” However, Malimela warned that the Umkhonto we Sizwe party (MKP) of Jacob Zuma poses a risk to the new Government of National Unity (GNU). He pointed out that the slim majority in KwaZulu-Natal means any disruptions at the provincial level could have national repercussions. Malimela also does not rule out targeted acts of sabotage by the MKP, “intended to cause disruption, intended to send a message, put strangleholds on the economy, shutting down main arteries, disrupting port activity, even communications capabilities.”

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Extended transcript of the interview  ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Linda van Tilburg (00:03.27)

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa announced his new cabinet, sparking interest in how the African National Congress, or the ANC, will navigate power-sharing dynamics after losing its parliamentary majority in the May 29 elections. Joining us to discuss the cabinet’s challenges and political risks is Langelihle Malimela, the head of country risk for sub-Saharan Africa at S&P Global Risk.

Linda van Tilburg (00:37.446)
So what are your thoughts on the composition of the new government of national unity?

Langa Malimela (00:44.467)
Well, it took long enough. I think it was obviously a very difficult process. I remember when we were first talking about when everything would happen, a lot of clients were concerned about the timing of everything. In past elections, following the inauguration, it’s been a matter of sort of four days to a week or so, and then you have a cabinet announcement. But obviously, this was no ordinary outcome in terms of South Africa’s recent history where elections are concerned. Hence, it’s taken the better part of two weeks to come up with a cabinet announcement after the inauguration.

It was quite clear that there was quite a bit of brinkmanship and maybe even animosity between the main protagonists, the Democratic Alliance and the African National Congress, in reaching this point where a cabinet could be announced. But I think in many ways, this is the outcome that once the election result was clear, Cyril Ramaphosa probably would have wanted. He’s manoeuvred and managed all sorts of political chicanery to get to the outcome that probably suits him best from a policy point of view.

Linda van Tilburg (02:10.214)

There are a couple of surprises in that cabinet. Let me look at some of them. John Steenhuisen, the DA leader, Minister of Agriculture. Angie Motshekga, previously in charge of education, now the defense minister. So how do you interpret these moves?

Langa Malimela (02:27.987)

I think, when we previously discussed what was likely to happen in this government of national unity, this grand coalition, what shape it might take, there was early thinking that the executive would virtually entirely be left up to the African National Congress with the Democratic Alliance then seeking support in taking control of the legislature. You would have this strengthened and galvanised oversight function within the legislature with speaker positions and heads of committee positions going to the DA and allowing the ANC to dominate the executive and run its own programs. That has not materialised. Now you’ve got these appointments, some of which you’ve mentioned, which do come as somewhat of a surprise. 

There was a lot of feeling that the DA and John Steenhuisen were pushing for a deputy presidency-type role, which I’m not entirely sure about. I think deputy presidents in South Africa, certainly in the post-Thabo Mbeki era, have a somewhat ceremonial position with a lot of real discretion as to the powers that have been left up to the President. The real meaty stuff is in some of these senior ministerial posts, of which agriculture is one.

 I think it’s quite interesting that on one hand, you had Ramaphosa wanting to shrink the cabinet, that’s part of the broad reform agenda, to bring down state spending, but that’s not been possible because you’ve had, by last count, 11 parties wanting to be part of the executive. Not all of them, it turns out, actually managed to get a post, a ministerial or a deputy ministerial post. But what’s happened is that some departments have been unbundled. Electricity and Energy have been combined into a department and Mineral Resources is another department which will remain under former Minerals and Energy Minister and ANC Chairperson, Gwede Mantashe. Electricity and Energy will go to Kgosientsho, who’s done a commendable job as Electricity Minister since that post was created in January 2023.

Agriculture is an interesting one because it used to be agriculture, land reform, rural development, and land reform. The land reform and rural development aspect has been separated from the agriculture aspect. You’ve got the leader of the Pan-Africanist Congress head of the rural development and land reform department. The Democratic Alliance leader, John Steenhuisen, is the leader of the Agriculture Department. Those two people are going to have to find ways to work together, yet they come from parties. When it comes to issues of agrarian reform, they could not be more ideologically far apart. That’s an interesting one and it probably speaks to a wider dilemma in terms of what we are looking for in understanding how this government of national unity is going to work.

It seems as though the political theatrics are over, it’s time for the mechanics and delivery in terms of the key policy areas that really have an impact on South Africans’ lives. In many cases, it’s going to take some time for things to really get going. That is just one example within the broader agriculture and land reform industry and narrative and broad agenda, post-democratic agenda of agrarian reform and South African land reform, of how to overcome ideological challenges and deliver on the more practical side.

The metrics are all pointing in the right direction in terms of the electricity availability factor. There are positive signs. In those broad areas, you’re probably going to find the DA and ANC finding it easier to work together. With Transnet getting the ports to function better and getting the right maintenance done expeditiously, mining exports, which suffered around 11% in 2023, can start to improve and look at an upward trajectory again.

Linda van Tilburg (07:21.286)

What investors are looking for is stability. How do you anticipate the coalition government would manage policy decisions and governance given that they are so diverse? How stable is this government of national unity going to be?

Langa Malimela (07:38.675)

I think that there are areas where the DA and the ANC, who again are the main players, are going to find it relatively easy to find each other and to cooperate and to work together. This is an outcome that probably plays into Ramaphosa’s hands from a policy point of view, generally speaking. When we came in in 2018 on a reform ticket on an institution building, business-friendly, investment-attracting agenda, to some extent that faced a significant amount of internal resistance within the ANC. Now that the ANC has suffered quite a significant blow, losing 17 percentage points in support between 2019, which was his first election as president, and 2024, that resistance is now external, pushing in. Those that left, like former President Jacob Zuma, who formed his own party, probably have residual support, even remaining within the ANC and still some sympathy within there. 

Ramaphosa has all of that to navigate, but I think that on the main issues, he is really going to get a lot of support. Towards the end of the last administration, we’ve seen an increasing desire to partner with the private sector in certain key areas where the government is aware of its shortcomings. I’m talking about the functioning of key state enterprises, for example, the Durban port, the terminal 2 in Durban, being put out to tender in terms of operation and maintenance. We now have a standalone entity in terms of Eskom and its transmission capacity, with a wider remit in terms of where that transmission company can source power from.

There’s a lot of cynicism about why there hasn’t been load shedding in South Africa for three or four months around the election. But to be fair, we all expected the vote counting to take place in the dark because we thought the lights would go out immediately once the final vote was cast. But here we are, a month plus after the election, there’s been no load shedding still. There is stability within the system, it seems.

The metrics are all pointing in the right direction in terms of the electricity availability factor. There are positive signs. In those broad areas, you’re probably going to find the DA and ANC finding it easier to work together. With Transnet getting the ports to function better and getting the right maintenance done expeditiously, mining exports, which suffered around 11% in 2023, can start to improve and look at an upward trajectory again.

Linda van Tilburg (11:23.494)

Well, can we look at the parties that find themselves outside the government of national unity, the Economic Freedom Fighters? They are well known in parliament and what they get up to there. But specifically, Jacob Zuma’s MK party, which is now in parliament and is not ruling in KwaZulu-Natal because of a coalition there. What kind of political risk is there related to the MK party?

Langa Malimela (11:51.027)

I think that in terms of the Economic Freedom Fighters, the reputation they’ve got in terms of how they participate in parliament, those days are perhaps gone. The Economic Freedom Fighters suffered a difficult election. The birth of Umkhonto we Sizwe, which is Jacob Zuma’s party you mentioned, was devastating for the African National Congress, but it was also devastating for the Economic Freedom Fighters. Listening to them after the election and looking at their statements, one gets a sense of a change in tack and how they intend to go about things. I don’t see them being that disruptive, rambunctious force in parliament anymore. I think they’re going to try to be constructive. I think they’re going to try to be far more strategic and certainly will look for every opportunity to work with the new MK party and any other radical parties within parliament.

The risk with the formation of MK, when you look at it vis-a-vis the formation of the government of national unity, is that the government of national unity functions at the national, provincial, and local government levels. The horse trading, the distribution of power and positions, impacts all those areas. The government of national unity partners are in government in KwaZulu-Natal as much as they are at the national level. However, in KwaZulu-Natal, their majority is one seat. They have 41 seats out of 80, and then you’ve got something like 38 seats with Jacob Zuma’s party, and those numbers (I’m speaking under correction), but it is a very thin margin in KwaZulu-Natal, where by far the party with the most votes, the single party with the most votes, is Jacob Zuma’s party. 

That means disruptions that Zuma is able to cause at the provincial level can have national implications because they can disrupt the balance of power at the national level where the IFP leader, for example, is now the Minister of Cooperative Governance. So, what machinations are then used to disrupt the local premier in KwaZulu-Natal, who’s an IFP secretary-general? This is part again of the distribution of power and the haggling and so on that’s gone on. What disruptions happen locally in KZN where that majority is so thin can have instability repercussions at a national level. The form that that takes may not be so clear yet.

But those are the kinds of things we’re looking for to see the extent to which the cement can really dry around this agreement and proper governance can take place, hopefully with little social disruption. The accountability that comes with this election outcome is welcome because historically, within government, the accountability has been low, with high levels of corruption at all levels of government. The checks and balances built into the system, intended to be emboldened when you have an outcome like this in a power-sharing agreement, are welcome. But it’ll take some time for the dust to settle and for the actual mechanics of day-to-day governance and getting the economy back on a solid track to take hold.

Linda van Tilburg (16:08.774)

If you look at Senzo Mchunu, a confidant of President Ramaphosa, who has the police portfolio, is that move indicative of efforts to strengthen the police or the influence over the police, particularly in light of the violence we had in July 2021, where the police appeared not to have acted soon enough? Should we read anything into that?

Langa Malimela (16:36.307)

It is perhaps early days. You’ve got an outgoing police minister, who’s from KwaZulu-Natal, a KwaZulu-Natal stalwart of the ANC. You’ve got an incoming minister of police who is from KwaZulu-Natal, a stalwart of the ANC, a former premier of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal. A Strong figure, he commands a lot of support and knows KwaZulu-Natal well. There’s no coincidence that you’ve had two consecutive KwaZulu-Natal-based ministers of police at the national level. 

You referred to July 2021. Obviously, that is an occasion where the former president, Jacob Zuma, is arrested. He’s sent to prison on a Wednesday and by Friday, things fall apart. There’s significant looting, rioting right through that weekend and it goes on for the better part of 10 days. It led to a very poor response by the police. Since then, there have been a lot of important moves that we think are effective in terms of understanding what went wrong, and why the police response was so poor.

There was no national security advisor at the time, or he was on sick leave. There’s a national security advisor now to Cyril  Ramaphosa. He’s a very experienced person in the form of Sidney Mufamadi, who himself is a former minister of police under the Mandela administration. A seasoned ANC securicrat, but strong administrator and institution builder. Sidney Mufumadi is working in the presidency now and, as far as I know, will continue in that role.

Also, the State Security Agency has, since July 2021, been reporting directly to the president. The Department of State Security, its key unit and functioning capabilities have now been brought straight into the presidency. Not everybody was entirely happy about that in terms of civil society, the concentration of power in the presidency of such a crucial function. But what it did do was depoliticise intelligence and give those people working in the presidency in terms of responding to such events, much greater power. That’s all to say that the likes of the events we saw in July 2021 are very unlikely to occur again.

But that doesn’t mean with Zuma functioning in Durban, certain smaller acts, targeted acts of sabotage intended to cause disruption, intended to send a message, put strangleholds on the economy, shutting down main arteries, disrupting port activity, even communications capabilities are not going to happen. We think that type of thing, smaller but more impactful events like that, are likely as the MK, which is new but outside the tent, seeks to express itself.

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