DA should reject an ANC coalition to maintain its integrity: Van Staden

The election is over, and coalition negotiations are underway. The notion that South Africa has only two options—an ANC-DA or ANC-EFF coalition—is misleading. An ANC-DA coalition will likely fail due to fundamental differences, particularly regarding corruption. The DA should either stay in opposition or consider a confidence and supply arrangement, allowing the ANC to govern without EFF influence, while preserving its integrity and opposition strength. Other alternatives exist beyond the perceived false dichotomy.

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By Martin Van Staden*

The election is over. Arguably the next most important phase is now underway: coalition negotiations. But the narrative that South Africa only has two options, being an ANC-DA or ANC-EFF government, is dangerously misleading. 

I have spent an unjustifiable amount of time over the past two weeks repeating the same message to some DA supporters online, which I repeat here: 

It is untrue that an ANC-DA or an ANC-EFF coalition are the only two options on the table. It is a false dichotomy. An ANC-DA coalition will collapse within months – it cannot work. For this reason, the DA must remain on the opposition benches if it cannot form a new government with the Multi-Party Charter. 

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If the DA decides to go into a coalition with the ANC, justified by claiming it is necessary to keep the EFF or uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) out of government, the party will not survive the marriage.  

Even though some DA voters are becoming more accepting of the idea of such a coalition, it will fail. And when it does, in 2029 they will only remember the DA as the party that was unable to stand tall during a key political moment. 

Coalition will not survive 

The coalition will not survive for reasons I have already explored. However, it comes down to this: the DA has been South Africa’s premier ‘anti-corruption’ party for almost three decades, while the ANC has been South Africa’s premier corrupt party during the same period.  

The ANC will not stop being corrupt. Saint Cyril himself did not manage to scratch the surface on rooting out corruption. Despite the best efforts of the ‘reform’ faction in the ANC, Jacob Zuma was sent to one of the newest, most comfortable prisons in the country, and kept in its medical ward. (He’s so frail that he started a new political party and hit the campaign trail shortly after release!) 

Try as it might, the DA will not be able to tackle corruption in any real sense while it is the junior partner in Cabinet. The ANC will stand in the way, all the way. 

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Ideally, the DA would be able to ignore this. After all, the point of an ANC-DA coalition is to keep the EFF out of power, not to fight ANC corruption. But the DA will not be able to ignore it, because the DA has chosen to place principles like honour and integrity very high up in its hierarchy of values.  

This means that, at some point, after Ramaphosa has said “no” to the DA partners in the coalition for the umpteenth time in the months following the coalition’s formation, the DA will resign from the coalition. 

I am convinced that this is what will happen. 

Once it has happened, the DA will be severely weakened. It will have trouble regrouping back into a viable opposition formation. Its voters will have a very difficult time forgiving it for this escapade. 

The risk is too great.  

The DA has become an opposition force of note – said to be the strongest opposition South Africa has ever had in its history. This is something worth preserving. If there is to be an ANC-DA coalition, this formidable opposition will crumble. 

The alternatives 

So, what alternatives are there? I summarise three key options below: 

  • The DA could offer the ANC a confidence and supply arrangement under which the DA stays out of government, instead remaining in opposition. In exchange for the ANC not going into a coalition with the EFF or MK, the DA would (1) vote for the ANC’s presidential candidate, (2) keep the ANC Cabinet in government during no-confidence votes, and (3) approve the ANC’s annual state budgets. This turns the ANC into a minority government with strictly limited opposition support. 

(This, to coin a term, is ‘thin’ confidence and supply. Some, like Hermann Pretorius, have suggested a ‘thick’ confidence and supply arrangement, whereby a fourth element is added to the arrangement: (4) the DA gets to chair various important parliamentary committees.) 

  • The DA could remain in the opposition. This is simple. Nothing obliges the DA to form a coalition with or provide confidence to anyone. If South Africa wants another term of ANC rule – even if the ANC goes into a coalition with the EFF or MK – then the DA should not second-guess the democratic will of the people. It could remain a worthy voice for the opposition constituency in Parliament. 
  • The entire MPC could go into a coalition with the ANC. In terms of this coalition, Cabinet portfolios should be split 50/50, independent of the vote share of the ANC or MPC. The DA cannot negotiate for such a deal alone because it is only with the MPC that the opposition vote share stands close to rivalling the ANC vote share. 

This shows that there are at least three options that exist outside of the ‘ANC-DA coalition or ANC-EFF coalition’ dichotomy.  

This false dichotomy is dangerous because it has convinced well-meaning but naïve DA voters to accept such a reckless move from their party on the basis that ‘it is the only way to avoid an ANC-EFF coalition.’ This dichotomy is a lie, and those who are guilty of spreading this lie should feel ashamed. 

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Opposition voters (the EFF and MK are not part of the opposition) should continue to put pressure on their chosen parties to avoid coalescing with the ANC under all circumstances – at least until the ANC does some introspection and sorts out its authoritarian socialism and corruption. Other options are available. 

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*Martin van Staden is the Head of Policy at the Free Market Foundation and former Deputy Head of Policy Research at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR).

This article was first published by Daily Friend and is republished with permission.