Can the ANC and DA forge an unlikely alliance? – Katzenellenbogen on SA’s grand coalition debate

Jonathan Katzenellenbogen explores the possibility and desirability of a grand coalition between South Africa’s two major political parties, the ANC and the DA. While such an alliance may seem unlikely, it has the potential to reshape the country’s political landscape, instil confidence, and revive the struggling economy. Katzenellenbogen examines the driving forces behind such a coalition, including the ANC’s need to retain power and the DA’s aspiration to gain national influence. With polls indicating that the ANC may struggle to secure a majority in the upcoming elections, the prospect of a coalition becomes increasingly relevant. However, both parties are likely to be hesitant in discussing such a deal before the 2024 election.


Could there be an ANC-DA coalition?

By Jonathan Katzenellenbogen*

A grand coalition between the ANC and the DA seems extremely remote, but is it possible and desirable?

Such a pact stands the chance of changing the landscape of South African politics, boosting confidence, and turning around the economy. There is also the chance that the DA would see itself hopelessly outmanoeuvred in such an arrangement, that the deal would quickly break down, and leave the ANC to cobble together a coalition with radical parties.

What would propel the ANC and the DA into a deal is the quest for power. It might be the only way for the ANC to stay in power, and for the DA to have a share of power at national level.

The polls show that the ANC will probably struggle to obtain above 50 percent of the vote at next year’s elections and may have to rely on other parties to stay in power. If it falls short of a majority by about five percent it would probably reach out to the smaller parties. But if it is ten percent short, it might reach out to the DA.

While some ANC factions might prefer the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) as a partner, a coalition with the DA is likely to be far more stable. And the EFF might not have sufficient support to play the role of kingmaker.

Ahead of the 2024 election, neither the ANC nor the DA is likely to be keen to discuss a possible deal.

The DA only launched the idea of a ‘Moonshot Pact’ between like-minded parties two months ago. It would be considered treachery if the DA were to abandon this idea and promote the idea of a coalition with the ANC. And if the ANC were to discuss the idea in depth, it would be an admission of weakness.

Read more: Coalition talks collapse in Johannesburg as Action SA blames DA for shattering its own Moonshot Pact

On the ANC radar

The hint that such a coalition is on the ANC radar came from the head of the Veterans’ League, Snuki Zikalala, a few months ago.

‘I think that the EFF is done,’ Zikalala is quoted in the Daily Maverick as saying.

‘The only issue is that there is a red line with the DA. Their issue is that of racism. So if they are able to sort this out, then maybe we could work with them.’

For some time the DA has said that it would only go into a coalition with the ANC to keep the EFF out of government.

What is of note is that when Zikalala mentioned the idea it was not immediately shot down by any ANC leader or the DA. The DA’s proviso that any agreement with the ANC would have to prevent the EFF coming into power is not really a deal-breaker. The DA would merely have to insist that it had done a deal, as the alternative for the ANC would be a deal with the EFF. And should the occasion arise for a coalition, Zikalala’s remarks about DA racism might be dropped, paving the way for a deal.

Frans Cronje, head of the Social Research Foundation, SRF, says a deal between the country’s two largest parties would make great sense. He says that polls done by the Foundation show that a sizeable share of supporters of both parties would favour such an arrangement, which could form the core of a moderate centre.

Cronje points out that the grand coalition would be an easy deal to make, as it would only involve two parties, rather than a multiple of smaller ones.

Read more: Despite economic woes there is still place for optimism – Katzenellenbogen

Skills and a support base

Further, he argues that the ANC has skills and a support base that the DA does not have. The ANC has run the Treasury and has diplomatic links to other African countries and beyond. Both the unions and the national government civil service are aligned to the ANC and would not listen to the DA, he argues.

And this is the only real chance the DA may have of obtaining power at national level. ‘This is an emerging market society. If you want to do big politics, then it is about power, and you have to get into government and wade your way through. Sitting outside does some good, but you do not move the dial at the macro level,’ he says.

Pursuing the idea of a Moonshot Pact of like-minded parties with liberal ideas is a worthy cause, but the maths is not there to take this coalition into power.

There would be immense problems for the ANC coalition at the start. Although many of its supporters might be moderate and pragmatic, at its heart the ANC is a pro-Russian party of liberation, racial nationalism and a controlled economy. The DA is a liberal-democratic party committed to free markets and non-racialism.

Large sections of both parties might support an ANC deal as a pragmatic arrangement to deal with a national economic crisis. After all, some of the big push factors behind grand coalitions which bring together the two largest ideologically-opposed parties are national emergencies like war and depression.

So the idea could be sold to the unions and communists in the ANC as well as liberals in the DA as a response to a national crisis. But there would have to be big compromises at the outset. What would be the big trades?

Would the DA be prepared for empowerment policies to be retained in exchange for mass privatisation?

Read more: Lessons to apply: slow and steady will win the race in South Africa’s coalition negotiations

Tough measures

The DA would have to insist on tough measures to ensure that cases of corruption are fully prosecuted.

A well-structured coalition agreement, favoured by the DA, to stipulate the distribution of positions, an agenda, and procedures in the event of conflicts would help keep the deal on course.

It is unlikely that the DA would be able to obtain cabinet posts that really matter like those dealing with finance, foreign policy, and public enterprises. The DA might be in power, but powerless to do anything. But having around 25 percent of the vote against the ANC’s 40 percent would give it leverage.

As a best-case scenario for the DA, the grand coalition could be a means to influence the ANC, reduce corruption, push for reform, and gain support. As a worst-case scenario, the ANC would run rings around the DA, which would not be in a position to do anything about the country’s big problems.

Hanging heavily over all thoughts of coalition arrangements is the heavy loss suffered by the Liberal Democrats in the UK after five years in government with the Conservatives. The party lost 49 of its 57 seats in Parliament after five years in power with the Conservatives.

Massive experiment

Grand coalitions work better in countries like Germany where there are no wide differences between the two largest parties. It would be a massive experiment in South Africa.

But that is not a reason not to do the deal. That should depend on the circumstances and on whether or not the country can be pushed toward a fundamental change in direction.

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*Jonathan Katzenellenbogen is a Johannesburg-based freelance financial journalist.

This article was first published by Daily Friend and is republished with permission

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