Sitting with me on a plane to Cape Town last week, the new IRR CEO, John Endres, came up with the story about the buffalo and a pack of wild dogs to explain what happened in the recent local government poll.

As John tells it, for a very long time there has been a powerful old buffalo bull dominating the African savannah. As the bull aged, it became ever more bad tempered and destructive. The residents of the savannah, who had once been very fond of the bull, came to fear it and grew angry at it and began to hope that a lion might come along and kill it.

They became so obsessed with looking for a lion that might be equal to the task that they completely failed to notice the pack of wild dogs that had begun to harry the old buffalo. Wild dogs are rare and incredible predators with the highest kill ratio of any African predator – meaning that once they begin to pursue their prey they are more likely than lions, leopards, and cheetahs to bring it down. What happened in the recent election is that the wild dog pack caught up with the old buffalo and brought it down.

That is how you must understand what happened over the past week and what may continue to happen over the next decade. The ANC is the old buffalo (and the EFF the calf living under its protection). Together they make up an essentially Marxist camp dominating the left of our political spectrum, preferring state economic direction over a market economy, redistribution over growth, expropriation over property rights and corruption and official malfeasance over the rule of law.

The wild dogs are a new (small capitals) ‘united democratic front’ occupying the centre and centre-right of the spectrum. Their ranks stretch from the furthest evangelical reaches of the ACDP to the Afrikaner nationalism of the FF+, the ethnocentrism of the IFP, through the liberal centre of the DA, and into the black conservatism of Herman Mashaba’s ASA. A plethora of even smaller parties hang around the fringes of this front.

Supportive of capitalism

Collectively they make up an essentially conservative camp supportive of capitalism, a market economy, property rights, investment-driven growth, freedom of speech, and the rule of law.

That camp now commands around 35% of the vote (depending on how you define the camp), up from roughly 20% in 2004 – with the ANC/EFF bloc commanding 57%, down from 69% at its peak in 2004.

The break-up of the DA in 2019 was a good and necessary thing to secure the stability of the ‘wild-dog’ camp. Up to that point the DA had become the collection point for much of the serious opposition to the ANC. Afrikaner nationalists, evangelical Christians, and black conservatives were coalescing in the DA, giving rise to terrible internal party strife and conflict.

The DA was, and is again in many respects, a classical liberal party (don’t mistake this for American liberalism) and classical liberals have too many differences with conservatives let alone evangelical conservatives to subsist in the same tent. The ‘wild-dogs’ might all agree on the importance of core issues such property rights, a market economy, private enterprise, and the rule of law, but they will fiercely disagree on controversial secondary issues such as abortion, ethnic nationalism, the death penalty, and vaccines.

It was necessary to foment them splitting off into their own tents, where each could be their own boss, championing whatever secondary issues are important to them while not compromising the common ground they share in pursuing core issues.

Splintering heralded the opposite

The mainstream media at the time read that splintering as the break-up of any serious opposition to the ANC, when in fact that splintering heralded the opposite.

In the greater scheme it matters little if a person voted for pack party A, B, C, or D – those voters were essentially saying the same thing; that they reject the Marxist economics and racial divisiveness of the ANC and want a more pragmatic economic offering that brings South Africans together.

It is our view now that – 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 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 tantalisingly close.  

Dogs will fight over things, it is what they do. So don’t worry much if you see your dog growling at one of the others. They will now and then fight over the strips of flesh torn from the buffalo.

But you must become very concerned if you see a dog turn on one of the others and seek to do it real harm, especially if the fight is over the colour of a dog. Such internal division will see the pack lose focus on the downed buffalo and may then even allow the buffalo to escape – an unforgivable betrayal of the faith voters have invested in the broader pack, as it would be equivalent to installing the corrupt ANC/EFF leadership in power for at least another five years.   

Joining the reform table

As for the ANC, there is still an avenue open to it joining the reform table. But that would require first a show of good faith in expelling corrupt leaders and abandoning destructive policies such as expropriation without compensation. That is the minimum to ask for, surely, before accepting Mr Ramaphosa’s bona fides that his party wishes to join with those working towards reform. 

I have little doubt that pack members will entertain his envoys if he meets these terms (apparently, we are directing these and other negotiations…we also know where Jimmy Hoffa lies buried, that Shelley Garland is a real person, and who killed President Kennedy). Short of that, however, the ANC remains an essentially criminal network pursuing very destructive economic policies and it would be inappropriate to give it a reform table seat.

Disgracefully, earlier this week News24 suggested in an editorial that if this led to the ANC joining up with the EFF to destroy the country then opposition parties and especially the DA should be blamed, as they could have joined up with the ANC in coalition. That is way off the mark.

The ANC and the EFF are already working hand in glove on expropriation and have common cause in keeping state capture suspects out of jail. If they consummate that dalliance and use expropriation legislation to sink South Africa’s economy and democracy, that is on them alone. But it need not play out that way.

If any decency remains

The ANC is free to stay in opposition and freeze the EFF out of government and will surely do so if any decency remains within its ranks and if it aspires to have a future say in reform decisions.       

In 2012, my colleagues and I predicted that ANC support would fall below 50% in 2024. That has now happened, and two years earlier than our prediction. By working together over the next two and half years the parties that brought it down last week might kill the old ANC buffalo in the national election of 2024 and thereafter form a new, reformist, government.

If they do there is hope for South Africa. The pack politicians must not fluff it – an opportunity like this may not come again.    


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Frans Cronje was educated at St John’s College in Houghton and holds a PHD in scenario planning. He has been at the IRR for 15 years and established its Centre for Risk Analysis as a scenario focused research unit servicing the strategic intelligence needs of corporate and government clients. It uses deep-dive data analysis and first hand political and policy information to advise groups with interests in South Africa on the likely long term economic, social, and political evolution of the country. He has advised several hundred South African corporations, foreign investors, and policy shapers. He is the author of two books on South Africa’s future and scenarios from those books have been presented to an estimated 30 000 people. He writes a weekly column for Rapport and teaches scenario based strategy at the business school of the University of the Free State.