The Coalition Dilemma: How not to re-empower a wounded ANC – Dr Piet Croucamp

A flurry of negotiations has taken place over the last couple of days as political parties started coalition talks after the 2021 local government elections resulted in 66 hung councils with the ANC dipping below 50% of voter support for the first time in post-apartheid South Africa. Political analyst, Dr Piet Croucamp from North-West University, says the challenge of opposition parties is not to re-empower the ANC as the governing party is on course to lose the national election in 2024 unless, “they do something really, really radical”. Dr Croucamp also weighs in on the stellar rise of Herman Mashaba and the EFF as a toxic coalition partner. – Linda van Tilburg

Dr Piet Croucamp on finding a strategy to form coalitions without re-empowering the ANC:

Well, I think most of these parties are now in a rather tight spot. Once the ANC dips below 50% of national support, it changes the whole political game. Now, political parties look to the future as a possibility of unseating the ANC. In the past, you participated in the election – especially local government elections – you won a number of seats and then you had another election where the ANC would win and you would manage your affairs accordingly. In other words, your strategy, the individuals who will lead the party against the scenario of the future… but it was always a scenario with the ANC at the heart. Now, South Africans, the ANC and most opposition political parties must get their head around: how do you restructure yourselves and the political landscape with a future without the ANC? The DA and most of these political parties don’t want to re-empower the ANC over the next two and a half years until there’s another national election where they suspect the ANC will come in below 50 [%]. So, if you’re going into any form of coalition agreement with the ANC, which can make them look good or better, you actually undermine the likeliness of the ANC dipping below 50% again. And that changes the philosophy behind coalitions completely.

On the lure of power for opposition parties:

The Good Party, we had high expectations for them but they were neither here nor there in this election. And what one could argue is that maybe her (Patricia de Lille’s) involvement with the ANC in the cabinet compromised her ability, especially around Cape Town, where you’ve seen how badly the ANC has done there. So, that stigma of the ANC, obviously in the Western Cape, doesn’t work and she’s a member of that cabinet. On the other hand, the Patriotic Alliance of Gayton McKenzie has done exceptionally well. I think they’re surprised with how well they’ve done. Those votes would have gone to the GOOD party if it wasn’t for Gayton McKenzie. McKinsey made the point at the beginning, “We will not work with the ANC.” He might change his mind now, but he said we will not work with the ANC. In the Western Cape, that works well; and in Gauteng, in Ennerdale and around the areas where the PA has also done well, there’s always negative feelings towards the ANC because of the horrendous management of Soweto. You will see in Soweto, for instance, which is not far from most of these former coloured areas, ActionSA has done tremendously well. They’ve got more than 19% of the vote among black South Africans. This is because of the negativity towards the ANC. You have to capitalise on that. And I think the PA has capitalised on that to a certain degree, ActionSA has capitalised on that but because Patricia de Lille was too close to the ANC.

On the ANC’s top 6 not wanting to see ‘compromised individuals’ merge with the EFF:

Coalitions will mostly be pragmatic. I think the political parties with a low standing – in other words, small support – would love to become part of any coalition because that gives them some form of authority in local government. The bigger ones – the EFF, Action South Africa, the DA – they will be very reluctant to go into any form of coalition that will strengthen the ANC; even the EFF wouldn’t want to do that. I can imagine that if there’s not a coalition between the DA, Action South Africa and some of the smaller parties, we might end up with a number of minority governments and that’s going to be very difficult. You cannot pass a budget with a minority government. It’s going to be extremely difficult to form an executive committee if you have a minority government. So ,we have two weeks to sort this problem out and I don’t think two weeks will be enough. I can’t imagine we will get our house in order within the next two weeks to solve this problem. As it is, I think, in Pretoria, there’s a DA–Action SA coalition, and in Johannesburg, it’s going to be a lot more difficult. The kingmakers here will be the EFF. The ANC is very reluctant to get into bed with the EFF. There’s a seriously compromised division of individuals within the ANC that, to some extent, feel a political affinity with the EFF and if you go into some sort of a compromise or a coalition with them, it is very likely those two, call it ideas, set of ideas may merge and cause further instability within the ANC. So, from the top management – I know the top six, –they are very reluctant to go into any agreement with the EFF but if it means that it’s the only way to access power and authority, they might compromise on that, too. I can only see an agreement between the EFF and the ANC; and Action South Africa, the DA and the smaller parties. Those are the two natural coalition forces, I could see.

Hung Council. For more of Zapiro’s magic, visit

On the EFF as a coalition partner that demands access to tenders:

I think the fear of the ANC is somewhere else. It is that the EFF will demand the Speaker position, for instance, it could even be that they demand a softening of the ANC stance on land; they already said so. But, I believe there’s another area that is much more damaging for the ANC, and that is what has happened in Johannesburg when Herman Mashaba had a coalition with the EFF. They demand access to tenders, they demand access to infrastructure that distributes the resources of the state, they want to get involved in a distributed network of the state and that’s what becomes really, really dangerous. They’re not stupid. They know where the real authority lies and that is the ability to go to communities and say, we bring you this or we bring you that, and that’s what they want. Normally in coalitions, the minority parties don’t get directly involved in that. However, the EFF demanded to do so under Herman Mashaba and will do so again. In the past, that is where massive corruption took place in Johannesburg and you cannot avoid it. Once you are involved with the EFF, once you are in bed with them, you cannot avoid their involvement in the tenders and the distributed networks of the resource base of the municipality, and that is the real danger for most coalition partners.

On the DA’s reluctance to work with Herman Mashaba:

He (Herman Mashaba) has already said that [ActionSA] is willing to talk to the DA. The DA, for some other reason, is very reluctant to talk to him again. I think it’s with the eye on 2024. ActionSA stood in only six areas of South Africa and they got more votes than the Freedom Front. They took votes away from the DA, from the ANC, but also from the EFF. In Soweto, they took some votes away from even the EFF. This means in terms of demographics and class, they seem to have the broadest possible base of representation. If they just continue doing what they do now and just do that well, they will overtake the DA as the second biggest party in South Africa by far in the 2024 election. So, if the DA goes into a coalition with them, they actually strengthen a political party, which they know will be the main contender, apart from the ANC, the main contender in 2024. The question that they [should] ask themselves is: do we want to be part of this coalition, do we want to strengthen our opposition to 2024? I don’t think they will have much chance of avoiding it but that’s a big fear.

On the rise of Herman Mashaba who is doing something very, very right:

Well, he’s been around for about a year. Nobody saw this coming. There was one survey which indicated he might have significant support. Obviously, he’s doing something very, very right. I think the thing that he does right is, there is a little bit of xenophobia to his argument. This idea that foreigners are coming into South Africa and they occupy a socio-economic or economic space in South Africa. In the informal settlements and Soweto, that works well because it is true. Remember, South Africa has massive unemployment and this massive unemployment leads to a large, informal economy and its experience; people who come from outside as a direct opposition. It’s very difficult to compete with the level of pricing of foreigners coming in through South Africa. And I think that has touched a nerve.

But much more important is that if you’re a South African, a black South African, and you are ANC and extremely unhappy with service delivery, you’re extremely unhappy with corruption. Most people make the mistake of not reading the extent of dissatisfaction and anger about corruption in South Africa because poor people think the reason why they are poor is because of corruption. They accept that they do get a grant from the government but the reason why they cannot find jobs and their circumstances are so dismal, it’s got to do with corruption. What Herman Mashaba says is, first of all, “I will stop the corruption.” But the most important thing is, for most black South Africans, there was just no alternative.

Cope is not an alternative, the DA alienated them; the Freedom Front has a very specific support base. It was the black middle class and the private sector who was angry to be excluded from the patronage of the ANC, the liberation movement, and with its experience of 67% of all board members in South Africa are white males and they were trapped into these firewalls between the white males on one side, and the exclusion from the liberation movement on the other side. They’re angry. But most South Africans do not fall into that category. They don’t fit into it and they were looking for an alternative.

Herman Mashaba is the first politician after Cope, which buggered it up with the way they manage their leadership squabbles. It is the first alternative for a lot of black South Africans. There’s no stigma to him. It is a black political party and somebody [who is] against corruption and somebody who touches a nerve in the informal political economy, which is massive in South Africa. The informal economy of SA is between eight and 13% of our GDP. It’s a massive political economy, focused on these informal settlements and in townships. So, the concentration there might be 25%, 50%, 40% in some areas. And he spoke to them directly. That’s where he got his support base.

On whether President Cyril Ramaphosa’s leadership will be challenged:

Well, there must be a contender first. Next year, at the end of December in the leadership election, we know Lindiwe Sisulu is interested. The deputy-president, David Mabuza, might have an interest but he’s lost so much support within the ANC, he is not a contender anymore. Lindiwe Sisulu is not really a candidate. There’s just nobody else. They will have to go with him to 2024. The important thing, I think, has been said so many times before. In 2019, we know that on the national ballot, the ANC got 600,000 more votes than on the provincial ballot, and that was all attributed to the presence of Cyril Ramaphosa. There is the feeling that without him, we will definitely lose the election. With him, we are in big trouble. I don’t think he’s going to go anywhere.

On the 2024 elections and whether Herman Mashaba could be president:

In this election, only 14% of the eligible voters in South Africa voted for the ANC; only 14% of the people between 18 and 108 who are allowed to vote. That tells you something about the legitimacy of the ANC as a political force. It is waning and they know that…

If I’m the ANC, I will expect to lose the next election because unless they do something really, really radical, it is not possible to turn the economy around in two and a half years.It is not possible to get unemployment below 30% in two and half years. It is not possible to broaden the tax base sufficiently to make a big change in people’s lives in the next two and a half years. They will have to go into the election with the hand they have now and that is not very strong.

Parties will come together to capture. It is possible we will have a coalition government and, if nothing changes, Herman Mashaba could be the next president of South Africa. There is a future without the ANC but whether that will be a better future, that’s another question. It can become incredibly unstable. It could mean violence plays a much bigger role in that election. Remember, if the ANC has everything to lose, they will put everything in the fight, too. It is not certain where we are heading [but] it is change we are heading [towards].

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