🔒 RW Johnson: GNU’s bad faith bargaining hid the tapping of Ramaphosa’s probable successor

The GNU and provincial unity governments, led by the ANC, have caused widespread dissatisfaction due to their bad faith in power-sharing, as evidenced by the unequal distribution of ministerial positions with the DA. This has led to political disillusionment, decreased election turnout, and potential violence. The ANC’s actions have undermined democracy, perpetuated corruption, and nullified voters’ desire for change.

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By RW Johnson ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Why are we all so underwhelmed by the GNU and its concomitant governments of provincial unity ? The fact is that the ANC has conducted this power-sharing exercise in bad faith – as a result of which there is likely to be little real change. Yet the one thing that the polling data shrieked out loud was that a large majority of voters was desperate for change. The result is likely to be even further political disillusion and depression- and even lower election turnouts, quite possibly punctuated by irruptions of violence. 

Look at what happened. The ANC signed a national statement of intent with the DA and IFP, committing itself to a sharing out of ministerial portfolios proportionate to the vote shares of the various parties. On that basis the DA agreed to support the election of Ramaphosa as President and Thoko Didiza as Speaker. Once that was done the ANC proceeded to double-cross the DA. Initially it offered the DA just three ministries out of 31. Proportionality would mean that the ratio of DA ministries to ANC ministries should have been 35% to 65%, but here was the ANC offering the DA less than 10%. 

A period of negotiation then followed at the end of which there emerged an executive cabinet of 34, including 6 DA ministers, an ANC President and Deputy-President plus 20 ANC ministers. So the ratio of DA ministers to ANC ministers was not to be 35:65 but 23:77, with an ANC president and deputy president on top of that. Thus of the whole cabinet of 34 the DA makes up under 18%. Even without considering that the PA, Good and PAC ministers are virtual ANC proxies this guarantees that the DA will be heavily outvoted in any cabinet decision. 

Something very similar has been going on in Gauteng. Here the ratio of DA to ANC votes was 45:55. Once again the DA fulfilled its side of the bargain by voting Panyaza Lesufi back in as premier but Lesufi tried to force a distribution of executive posts on a 30:70 basis. He also refused to reveal which ministries the DA might have – a sure sign that he was going to offer them the scraps. Again, a gross act of bad faith. As Ferial Haffajee wrote in the Daily Maverick: “ANC provincial bosses did not want to give up health, education, infrastructure, transport or any portfolio where rent extraction or patronage have become political culture”. Ultimately, Lesufi handed three portfolios to minor parties – having pre-emptively stripped those ministries of their key functions. He then reappointed to the portfolios that matter exactly the same old team of crooks in whom the electorate had just voted no confidence.

It is worth emphasising just how shocking a denial of democracy this was. In the election the Gauteng ANC fell from 50.2% to 34.6% of the vote. Lesufi got re-elected as premier on the basis of a promise to observe party proportionality in the distribution of executive posts – and then double-crossed the DA and the voters. The result is that the ANC will retain all meaningful power in Gauteng, thus nullifying the wishes of voters who clearly wanted change. The result will be continuing theft, corruption, infrastructural decay and poor service delivery. One might think that President Ramaphosa and the ANC leadership would be concerned at the terrible implications for Gauteng, the country’s most populous and economically central province but in effect they have decided to sacrifice it in order to placate Lesufi and his corrupt mafia. 

Solly Mapaila, the SACP leader, has launched a tirade against the DA participation in the national government, vowing to defend democracy against DA “bullying” but, quite transparently, the threat to democracy comes from the ANC. In the polls ENCA conducted in the election run-up we asked voters whether they thought the ANC would give up power if it lost the elections. A majority of all races said they wouldn’t. That is a majority among all races does not believe that the ANC are democrats. This disgraceful performance in Gauteng should be compared with the situation in KwaZulu-Natal where the IFP Premier, Thami Ntuli, shared out the executive posts fairly. The DA, having won 13.36% of the provincial vote, got two powerful ministries – Finance and Public Works. This sets up the DA for an all-out fight against the construction mafia and other extortionists in the province.

The ANC not only double-crossed the DA in the number of national ministries it was allocated but it also made publicly clear that it didn’t trust the DA. This was evident in the ANC’s determination to exclude the DA from any posts in the economics cluster, in the way that Land Reform and Rural Development was removed from Agriculture before a DA minister could take over there, and in the fact that DA ministers have been appointed to the basket-case ministries of Home Affairs and Basic Education. What this means is that DA ministers will have little chance of carrying out any real substantial change. 

This should not have been so. After all, the DA has run by far the cleanest and economically most successful provincial government in the country, in the Western Cape. The city of Cape Town, which the DA runs, has a far superior credit rating to any other metro city in the country because it is financially far better run than the others. And the DA takes a rightly severe line against any corruption or dishonesty found in its ranks, while the ANC parliamentary party includes many obvious crooks. These are all publicly known facts. There is simply no reasonable basis on which the ANC can distrust the DA.

Of course, the accusation is that the DA is racist, that it wants to re-install white supremacy and that it is the old National Party in disguise. But it really is time for the ANC, at least when it gets down to the sober business of making up a governmental team, to admit that this is all nonsense. The DA is by far the most multi-racial party in South Africa. Its lineage descends from the Progressive Party, not the Nats. It opposed apartheid throughout its existence and it has absolutely no ambition to restore white supremacy. One doesn’t have to be a DA supporter to acknowledge this. One just has to be a grown-up.

Really, all that sort of cheap rhetoric should have been left at the door when the parties signed their statement of intent. The only possible basis for co-operation was that each of the signatories recognised that the other signatories, whatever their political differences, were equally committed to the country’s best interests. And if that was so the DA’s participation in the economic ministries should have been welcomed, not shunned.

This leaves the question, of course, of why the DA agreed to be treated so shabbily. Surely it doesn’t have such low self-esteem that it accepts that it can’t be trusted and that it has to accept a clearly unfair deal ? Does it feel so much “white guilt” that it thinks it only fair that a white-led party should be poorly treated ? Or was the DA just so excited by the thought of entering government at last that it was willing to leave its self-respect at the door ? 

Read more: Mashaba on being outside the GNU; his Joburg Mayoral predecessor, SA’s new T&I boss Tao

The DA might retort that it had to accept the deal as it is because the alternative was to see the ANC turn to the EFF and MKP as its partners. But that was not real. Both the EFF and MKP had made it plain that they wanted Ramaphosa’s head. And it’s perfectly obvious that inviting these parties in would create a festival of looting and doom any possibility of the ANC surviving or recovering. To be sure, there are many on the ANC’s national executive who would feel more comfortable with the MKP and EFF but that is mainly a reflection of how far the cancer of corruption has progressed  within the ANC. The remaining ANC leaders who care about such things would find it deeply painful if the Mandela “miracle” was to end in disaster and ignominy before the whole world. 

Perhaps more significant is that the DA placed almost complete reliance upon the mutually signed Statement of Intent, while African politics has never proceeded essentially by documents. Instead the key question is who has power and once that is known others arrange themselves so as to receive patronage from the powerful. In that sense the DA’s fateful mistake was to vote Ramaphosa back into the Presidency and Lesufi into the Premiership – ie. to surrender supreme executive power to them – and then to expect that they would then get fairly treated in terms of an abstract formula written on a piece of paper. 

For the moment Ramaphosa or Lesufi had power they came under pressure from the clients and factions within their own party (their “own community”), all demanding positions and rewards – and their demands naturally received greater preference than anything the DA might say. This is essentially why the DA got such a lousy deal at national level and in Gauteng where, rightly, they walked away. 

But the key lesson is that the DA must require a complete deal, including ministerial positions, ministries etc – before they vote any ANC person into power. Even that will not, of course, prevent either factional pressures within the ANC or ANC leaders attempting to renege on their agreements, but it will make such double-crosses that much more difficult.

However, one must also look at all this in a longer term perspective. The exact details of the national deal between the ANC and the DA may be less significant than the fact that there was a deal, that the Ramaphosa faction, at least, recognised that the DA was a better and more responsible partner than the wild men of the EFF and MKP. This could be of long-term significance. 

But the DA has much to lose. If their participation in the GNU bears little fruit the result could be a major, possibly even fatal setback for the South African liberal tradition. It is, after all, quite clear that the ANC intends to continue exactly as before and that the DA will not be allowed to have any impact at all on economic policy, BEE, affirmative action, the illiberal labour laws, the mining industry, the SOEs and much else besides. What is badly needed is a DA leader who can conjure up the poetry and history of the liberal tradition and project that tradition into the future in a telling way so that at least the country is offered an alternative vision of how things could be. Currently, this is lacking. Meanwhile the criminal networks within the ANC and the government will continue just as before. All of which means that the electorate may well conclude that the 2024 election changed nothing. Unless the DA has some decisive changes to show by 2026 it will be in real trouble.

The larger context, however, is the inevitable decline of the ANC. This has proceeded by successive splits – first the UDM and Cope, neither of which did much damage, but then the EFF, which was really the break-away of the ANC Youth League, a very significant loss. But everyone knew that in Africa a really significant split would have to be on ethnic lines, and with the rise of the MKP, that finally occurred. But the process is not yet over: it is clear that the rump ANC is still bitterly divided between those who would rather ally with the populist looters of the EFF and MKP and those who realise that that is the road to perdition. It would seem that the Gauteng ANC is in the hands of the populist looters and that Luthuli House cannot control them.  Further splits are possible. The discipline that once held the ANC together has largely gone. In the old days no provincial elite would have so cavalierly defied the ANC leadership and nor could an ANC veteran like Zuma so easily found a rival party.

Meanwhile the ANC continues to lose its urban base. In 2024 60% of its vote came from rural areas. Its strongholds now are Limpopo and the Eastern Cape. In the Western Cape it is now under 20% and in Cape Town it has long ceased to matter. Pretoria is in DA hands and the ANC collapse in KwaZulu-Natal means that Durban’s political future is uncertain. It seems entirely possible that the 2026 municipal elections will see the ANC tide recede even further in the big cities. 

By 2026, however, the struggle for the presidential succession in the ANC will be well under way.  It is likely that a populist candidate such as Paul Mashatile will hold out the prospect of the ANC reuniting with the EFF and MKP. For many this could hold considerable emotional appeal, though it is already very difficult to imagine how these disparate elements could be reunited. But there is bound also to be a more modernist, Ramaphosa candidate. 

This is likely to be Ronald Lamola, the young shooting star of the ANC. Although once Julius Malema’s deputy in the ANCYL Lamola was a strong backer of Ramaphosa in 2017 and a bitter critic of Jacob Zuma. He only became an MP in 2019 but immediately became Minister of Justice. Because everyone was so preoccupied with the formation of the GNU it largely escaped attention that Lamola, now the Foreign Minister at the young age of 40, was the big winner in the cabinet re-shuffle. It seems likely that Ramaphosa is deliberately positioning Lamola as his dauphin. A struggle between Mashatile and Lamola seems inevitable and this too will create further divisions.

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