ANC invokes Madiba in pursuit of government of national unity

South Africa’s ANC plans a national unity government after failing to win a majority in the recent election, necessitating support from opposition parties. President Ramaphosa emphasised national unity, though the prospect of leftist parties joining the government has worried investors. Coalition talks are ongoing, with differing views among opposition leaders.

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By S’thembile Cele

The top leadership of South Africa’s African National Congress said it will seek to form a government of national unity with opposition groups after last week’s election failed to produce an outright winner.

“This moment calls for the broadest unity of the people of South Africa,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said after a meeting of the ANC’s decision-making National Executive Committee east of Johannesburg on Thursday. “They expect us to find common ground, to overcome our differences and to act together for the good of everyone.”

The ANC won marginally more than 40% support in the May 29 vote, ceding its parliamentary majority for the first time since apartheid ended three decades ago. That means it will have to secure the support of at least one of its three main rivals to retain power: the business-friendly Democratic Alliance, the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters and former President Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto weSizwe Party, or MKP.

The prospect of leftist parties like the EFF being included in the government has unnerved investors, with the rand weakening immediately after Ramaphosa’s speech late Thursday. It traded 0.3% stronger at 18.9214 per dollar at 8:18 a.m. on Friday morning.

“Markets may be concerned about the inclusion of the EFF, but the ANC and DA have the numerical strength to vote against potentially unproductive left​-​leaning policy proposals,” Barclays Plc Economist Michael Kafe said in a research note on Friday.

Ramaphosa said constructive talks have already been held with parties including the EFF, DA, Inkatha Freedom Party, the National Freedom Party and Patriotic Alliance. He called for a national dialog to unite the nation around common goals, while warning that the ANC would isolate those who sought “to cause chaos and instability and division” — a thinly veiled warning to Zuma and the MKP, who have rejected the elections results. 

“The principles we will collaborate with parties on are based on advancing the building of a united nation,” the president said. “All parties must commit to shared values, nation-building and social cohesion. These values include upholding the constitution of South Africa and the rule of law.”

The ANC faces an uphill battle in getting its rivals to work together. DA leader John Steenhuisen has ruled out working with either the EFF or MKP, which both favor nationalizing mines and banks, while Zuma’s party has said it will only work with the ANC if Ramaphosa is replaced — a condition that’s been rejected outright.

EFF leader Julius Malema is scheduled to hold a briefing at midday on Friday, when he’s expected to comment on the government of national unity proposal. Last week, he said the EFF would prefer to enter a coalition.

“We are not Mandela, we don’t do government of national unity,” he said in response to a question from Bloomberg on June 1. “We want coalition. We don’t want a government of national unity. We will end up with wrong people.”

Nelson Mandela led a government of national unity after South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994 that included the National Party, which ruled the country during apartheid. It lasted until 1997, when the NP walked out. The difference between then and now is that whereas three decades ago the ANC won an outright majority and could form a government without the opposition, a walk out by a larger party now would collapse the government.

The DA will await further comment by the EFF on Ramaphosa’s proposals before deciding on its own response, party officials said, asking not to be identified because they’re not authorised to speak to the media.  

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