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Opposition parties in the country all have lofty ideals of outright winning more than 50% of the vote in 2024’s national elections, thereby becoming a new governing party unhindered by the constraints complicated coalition arrangements inevitably present. While parties looking to dethrone the ANC as the majority party may campaign on this pretext, South Africa may be too diverse, too fractured, too distrusting of handing over the reins to one single political entity again, for this to ever materialise. Every political pundit BizNews has spoken to recently believes two things. One, that come 2024 the ANC will be pushed below 50% (even the governing party’s own discussion document at the recent policy conference references this distinct possibility). Two, that South Africa’s future political landscape involves parties working together in an umbrella-style coalition. By just how much the ANC will be pushed under that all-important 50% electoral threshold is the question. Will it be enough to relate it to the opposition benches? But there remains other critical questions too. Will the dearth in election turnout be reversed in 2024, inspired by something or someone new? Can a coalition of parties guided by a common understanding and on common principles, representing South Africa’s diversity, emerge to take the country out of its steep decline? In the piece below, Nicholas Woode-Smith opines that to unseat the ANC requires unity from those opposition parties fishing for our votes. Throw into the mix the fact that independent candidates will be tossing their names into the ring for the first time in a national election and you have a smorgasbord of potential outcomes. – Michael Appel
Opposition coalition only solution for SA
South Africa’s crisis is multifaceted and affecting its people in all aspects of their lives. Unemployment denies people jobs. Eskom fails to keep the lights on. Crime threatens our lives and livelihoods. And, at the helm of these problems, either causing them or blocking the solutions, is the African National Congress (ANC) as the ruling party.
With the election of President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2018, there was renewed hope that the ANC would be able to reform, abandon its corrupt ways and implement the changes needed to save South Africa from its various crises and problems.
The ANC can’t save South Africa
The last few years have proven that this was a vain hope. Ramaphosa was no solution for the ANC. Not even a band-aid. Corruption continues to wreck every level of government, municipalities remain ungoverned and destitute, unemployment still rises, Eskom keeps collapsing and we’re still prisoners in our own homes because of the fear of crime.
It is clear that no solution for South Africa’s woes can come from the ANC in its current form. It’s too weighed down by corruption, avarice, outdated ideologies and resentment. And, its current dominant position in South African politics provides it with no incentive to ever perform better.
Why should the ANC curb its corruption when its dishonest officials actively profit from the corruption? It benefits the ANC for South Africa to be rife with corruption, lack of accountability and institutional decay.
Furthermore, the ANC is held back by immense amounts of ideological baggage. Too many ANC officials and members are still avid communists, Marxists, and socialists. Despite all historical evidence and logic to the contrary, they hold onto ideas and policies that actively lead to poverty, stagnation, and collapse. This sort of ideological fanaticism should have been undone decades ago. But it still remains, despite all evidence of the policy failures that stem from this bankrupt ideology.
No single party can save South Africa
The ANC is inherently corrupt. It is bogged down with terrible ideas. It sees no reason to change as it keeps on winning elections despite all this. No solution will come from the ANC. That leaves the opposition parties to attempt to save South Africa.
No single party can replace the ANC, however. Despite performing well in the Western Cape, the Democratic Alliance (DA) has struggled to consistently make headway in other provinces. When it does, it usually runs into problems with personal politics, sabotage and struggles to form sustainable coalitions.
The DA currently has 84 seats to the ANC’s 230 in the National Assembly. It is, by far, the 2nd largest party in South Africa. It is the logical candidate to unseat the ANC. But every election has proven that the DA does not have what it takes to overthrow the ANC.
Repeatedly, the DA has run into leadership problems, marketing mistakes and identity crises. Its aim to become a mass party that appeals to as many voters as possible backfired and alienated many of its core voter base. Other parties, like the Freedom Front Plus (VF+) benefited from this in the last election.
South Africa is a diverse country with many different areas, cultures, groups, interests, and priorities governing people’s political decision-making. No single party can truly appeal to all these people.
When a single party tries to take the lion’s share of the votes, they only serve to alienate their core voters through becoming too generalised and wishy-washy. And, even more dangerously, they risk damaging relations with other parties that could serve better as allies rather than competitors.
The solution is a coalition
The solution to South Africa is not the ruling party nor a single opposition party. The solution is a coalition of opposition parties with common values, united to achieve a common goal.
Coalitions exist and have existed in South Africa before. They are often plagued by infighting, personal vendettas and inefficiency. But this is does not truly detract from the fact that they are needed. A coalition allows many parties that appeal to a broad array of voters to pool their resources and influence together to achieve a mutual purpose.
Many parties have more in common than not, with a few differences in focus or policy to differentiate them. There is no fundamental reason why the DA, VF+, ASA, ACDP, IFP, COPE and a host of other parties can’t work together towards a better future.
To voters, opposition parties are often interchangeable. So, when they see the parties fighting – especially when they’re in a coalition together – it seems like infighting and causes voter apathy. This needs to end. Opposition parties need to end the bickering, take their concerns behind closed doors, and present a united front to voters.
Often, these fights are caused by either going into a coalition with the wrong party and those with incompatible values (like the Economic Freedom Fighters), or because some officials have short-sighted petty agendas or vendettas. These can and need to end.
At the end of the day, the goal is to unseat the ANC and any other dangerous political party that wants to drive South Africa towards ruin. To achieve this, we need unity. Alone, the DA’s 84 seats won’t do much. But, coupled with the VF+’s 10, the IFP’s 14, and however many seats other compatible parties achieve in the next national election, the opposition has a real shot at driving the ANC below 50% and achieving a majority coalition.
All that is required is that these parties realise their common goals, work together, put up a unified front to signal to voters that a vote for one of the coalition members is a vote for a solution, and keep their conflicts to a minimum and in private.
There is only one solution to South Africa’s problems – unseating the ANC. And only a coalition of reasonable parties can accomplish that.
Nicholas Woode-Smith is an economic historian, political analyst, and author from Cape Town
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Cyril Ramaphosa: The Audio Biography
Listen to the story of Cyril Ramaphosa's rise to presidential power, narrated by our very own Alec Hogg.