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Perhaps it’s a sign of the times that a very sizeable portion of the media is, either intentionally or inadvertently, leading people down the path of long-continued ANC rule. Sets one wondering whether the more things change, the more they stay the same; could this be a mirror image of the NP’s decline when political analysts, either intentionally or unconsciously, interpreted South African politics in a way that prolonged the status quo? Fear of change can do strange things to one. Anthea Jeffery offers, in the Daily Friend, an alternative, using a powerful wildlife analogy that resonates with rational thinkers and keen observers of political animals. It’s not even a long game, just over three years. That’s if the stronger opposition parties can avoid sleeping with the enemy and rally together like wild dogs to finish off the wounded buffalo next time around. Could 2024 be the killing season, ushering in long-awaited, sensible reform? Read this seductive argument. – Chris Bateman
The wild dogs should NOT lie down with the buffalo
By Anthea Jeffery*
Many South Africans have been waiting, says incoming IRR CEO John Endres, for ‘a single mighty lion to bring down the old buffalo that is the ANC, together with its little calf, the EFF’. The great risk, however, is that this great lion may never appear. By contrast, the country now has a formidable pack of wild dogs that have already done much to harry the buffalo and put him on the run.
This reality is rarely acknowledged, but it matters enormously. Across the African continent, wild dogs are enormously effective predators with significantly higher kill ratios than lions, leopards, or cheetahs. What last week’s local government election shows, moreover, is the success of the wild dog pack in catching the old buffalo and bringing it down.
Says Endres: ‘The wild dogs include the DA, Action SA, the Freedom Front Plus, the ACDP, the IFP, and other smaller parties.’ These parties may disagree sharply on many more minor points, from immigration to abortion and capital punishment. But what they have in common is a strong commitment to a market economy, property rights, investment-driven growth, the rule of law, and fundamental civil liberties such as free speech.
Also common to these parties is a profound rejection of cadre deployment, corruption, expropriation without compensation (EWC), and the callous incompetence of ANC (mis)rule. All stand too against the Marxist ideology of the SACP/ANC alliance and its attempt to impose a communist ‘nirvana’ on the country.
How the wild dogs now respond to the downed buffalo is enormously important for the future. Explains outgoing IRR CEO Frans Cronje: ‘Given the parlous state of the economy, divisions in the ANC, its stubborn refusal to entertain reforms, and the prospects of a global economic crash, the wild dog pack could kill the downed buffalo in the election of 2024. It would then come to power as a reformist coalition and introduce the policy measures needed to stage an economic turnaround. That election is just 900-odd days away, meaning that a realistic horizon for reform is now tantalisingly close.’
However, this prospect of real reform will largely evaporate if many in the media succeed in their apparent aim of getting the wild dog pack – and particularly its strongest member, the DA – to lie down with the buffalo and help it back on to its feet.
Media pressure for a DA-ANC coalition
Since the IEC announced the election results last Thursday, many in the media have pushed for the DA to enter into coalitions with the ANC in hung metros and councils. Most of these commentators have claimed that this is what voters want to increase stability, lower tension, and promote reform. Some have gone so far as to suggest that the DA’s refusal to prop up the ANC in this way is a sign of its ‘selfishness’ and refusal to put the country first.
A Sunday Times editorial last weekend urged a new spirit of ‘co-operation for the public good’ in the form of ‘an ANC-DA rapprochement’. An opinion piece in the paper that same day added that ‘a coalition of the two parties [ANC and DA] represents the best prospect for stability’.
Another opinion article in the same issue of the Sunday Times claimed that ‘the voters want the parties to work together’. It recommended ‘a grand coalition between the DA and the ANC’ to ‘bring about the stability that’s needed for economic progress and help cool down the heated political temperature in the country’. By contrast, if the DA persisted in refusing to work with the ANC, this would be ‘not only selfish but shortsighted’.
A further opinion piece in News24.com the following day urged the DA to form a coalition with the ANC to avoid the latter being ‘forced into power deals’ with the EFF. An ANC-EFF deal would ‘be a major setback for CR’s reform agenda in the ANC’. It would also unravel all President Cyril Ramaphosa’s hard work in shaping an EWC constitutional amendment that not only ‘promotes social justice’ but also ‘protects the economy’.
A subsequent opinion piece in the Daily Maverick urged ‘the ANC and the DA to bite the bullet and agree to be the primary coalition in local government’. This was vital because ‘the future of the country was on the line’. In addition, ‘both parties had lost big chunks of their support’, showing that voters wanted both to ‘eat humble pie’.
Another opinion piece published over the weekend said that ‘many in the DA would find attractive a coalition with a single partner that shares many of its values, the ANC’. On this basis, the DA could become ‘the leading partner in Tshwane and the ANC the leading partner in Johannesburg’ (an idea that also featured on the front page of the Sunday Times).
A more recent article in the Financial Mail claims that ‘the policy differences between [the ANC and the DA] are paper thin. The ANC is the DA with a liberation background. The DA…is the ANC without former president Jacob Zuma and his corrupt Radical Economic Transformation (RET) friends’. The DA should therefore ‘stop being so precious’ and work together with the ANC to prevent the latter ‘being pushed by the EFF to adopt ruinous policies’ and ‘a wacko ideology’.
Ignoring what the voters want
The implication from these articles is that the DA owes it to South Africa to do a deal with the ANC. If it selfishly declines to do so, it will be to blame for instability, political tensions, and the state custodianship over land and other ruinous policies the ANC would otherwise avoid. But this ignores the fact that the EFF learnt these policies from the ANC itself – and that the ANC has long been seeking to implement them without any EFF help.
If it fails to work with the ANC, the DA will supposedly also be to blame for the collapse of the president’s ‘New Dawn’. Yet all the new laws embraced by the Ramaphosa administration since 2018 – including the proposed EWC constitutional amendment with the ANC’s very own demand for state custodianship – have been calculated to advance the socialist aims of the ANC’s own ‘wacko ideology’. This, of course, is the national democratic revolution (NDR) the ANC espoused in 1969 and to which it still regularly recommits itself.
Perhaps the most astonishing media claim is that an ANC-DA coalition is what voters have shown they want. What the election results in fact reveal is massive public disillusionment and anger with the ANC and a strong desire to punish the ruling party for its incompetence and corruption.
This anger helps explain why only 30% of all eligible voters turned up to cast their ballots. Moreover, of those who chose to vote, only 46% supported the ANC. For the first time since 1994 – and despite all the manifest advantages of incumbency – the ANC’s share of the vote fell below 50%. In the three metros Gauteng, it failed to gain even 40%, winning a mere 34% in Johannesburg.
A DA deal with the ANC would show contempt for voter views. It would put the ANC straight back into power in four metros and many other hung municipalities where voters clearly opted to keep the ANC out.
‘Re-running’ the local elections
Having been rebuffed by the DA and other potential coalition partners, the ANC is busy developing another way of gaining power in the 66 councils that have no outright winner.
Jeff Radebe, a prominent member of the SACP’s politburo and a cabinet minister for many years, has spelt out the ANC’s thinking. If a stable coalition cannot be formed and a council fails to meet, ‘the provincial government will take over that municipality…and within 90 days they will be forced to have a rerun of the elections in those municipalities’.
The advantage to the ANC of re-running local elections on a staggered basis is that voters may despair of achieving any real change, while the ruling party will be able to concentrate its resources on securing majority support in one municipality after another. These factors will help it counter the drubbing it received across the country last week.
Ramaphosa has echoed Radebe’s view, saying that ‘if coalition negotiations fail, legislation will kick in’ and ‘the law will have to be applied if parties fail to establish credible governments’.
The law in question is Section 159 of the Constitution (dealing with the terms of office of municipal councils), read together with Section 139. The latter section authorises the dissolution of a municipal council unable to perform its functions and the appointment of a provincial administrator to run the municipality until a fresh council election is held within 90 days.
These dissolution provisions provide the ANC with a powerful instrument of control over hung metros and other municipalities. They also give the ruling party strong reason to avoid – or prematurely terminate – any coalition it cannot dominate.
Contrary to media assumptions, coalitions with the ANC are thus likely to be inherently unstable. If the ANC cannot get its way at any point, it can prevent the relevant council from adopting a budget or taking some other important decision. Since eight out of nine provinces are under ANC control, in most instances a provincial ANC cadre will then be able to take over and run the municipality until the necessary resources for an ANC victory in a re-run election have been marshalled.
If the ANC’s abuse of power is too obvious – as it was in Tshwane in 2020 when the Gauteng administration dissolved the DA-led municipal council after ANC and EFF councillors had repeatedly failed to attend council meetings to prevent a quorum being attained – then the courts may intervene (as the Constitutional Court did in this instance). However, a failure to conclude or uphold a coalition agreement will generally be more difficult to challenge in the courts. Section 139 of the Constitution thus gives the ANC significant incentives to avoid entering or maintaining constructive coalitions.
The wild dog pack should focus on keeping the buffalo down
Many in the media seem intent on splintering the wild dog pack and using its strongest member to restore the ANC to power in hung councils – even though this is not what voters want.
Both the wild dogs and the country’s disenchanted electorate should be alert to this risk. The wild dog pack has a good chance – the best since 1994 – to defeat the buffalo and its calf and drive both out of power in fewer than three years.
This is the vital prize that opposition parties operating as a wild dog pack now have within their grasp. They should not break ranks or be distracted from their determined pursuit of the downed buffalo. To do so would allow the ANC and EFF to remain in power for another five destructive years from May 2024. It would also be an enormous betrayal of the trust that voters have shown in the combined strength and value of the pack.
- Dr Anthea Jeffery holds law degrees from Wits, Cambridge and London universities, and is the Head of Policy Research at the IRR. She has authored 11 books, including People’s War: New Light on the Struggle for South Africa and BEE: Helping or Hurting? She has also written extensively on property rights, land reform, the mining sector, the proposed National Health Insurance (NHI) system, and a growth-focused alternative to BEE.
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