There is great excitement about the possibility of a coalition of ‘wild dog’ parties excluding the African National Congress (ANC) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) after the 2024 election. However, it is equally possible that the ANC will remain in government. Two of the most likely ways this could happen is either with the support of the EFF, or with the support of the DA (Democratic Alliance).
In a parliamentary democracy like South Africa, the government of the day requires two things: the confidence of the majority of Parliament, and the approval of budgets. When either of these falls away, the government falls apart, often precipitating a fresh election or, if the parties can pull it off, a new coalition agreement.
If the ANC is pushed below 50% in 2024, it will nonetheless wish to remain in power. To do so, even as a minority party, it will require the confidence of Parliament and its budgets would need to be adopted. This means it will either need another party or parties to push it over the 50% line, or it will need a looser arrangement of ‘confidence and supply’.
The horror of an ANC/EFF coalition
A formal coalition between the ANC and the EFF is distinctly unappealing. It would give us EFF ministers and EFF chairpersons of committees in Parliament. This would well and truly spell the beginning of the end of South Africa’s young democracy. Radical socialist parties are often voted into government, but rarely allow themselves to be voted out.
As Ayn Rand is reputed to have observed, ‘You can easily vote your way into socialism, but you must shoot your way out.’ No reasonable South African wants this, but it becomes a possibility when a party like the EFF is granted access to the levers of power.
The ANC and the EFF are effectively the same political party ideologically. It is not unlikely that the EFF was formed by the ANC as a place to store the far left of the South African electorate. The ANC cannot overtly occupy the far-left camp itself if it hopes to retain the support and patronage of its domestic and international benefactors.
But even though the ANC and EFF are destined to be together, South Africans must deny, or at least delay, destiny as far as their agency allows.
The ANC and EFF bring out the worst in each other. The EFF awakens the ANC’s latent totalitarian leftist impulses – which is why you will never hear ANC and EFF members of Parliament disagreeing in principle in parliamentary committees about curbing freedom of expression or depriving people of property – and the ANC is the EFF’s ticket to making its socialist fantasies practical reality.
The ANC and EFF must be kept apart functionally, even though they are ideologically akin.
The possibility of a confidence and supply arrangement with the DA
How can this be done?
The ANC will need a different party to secure confidence and supply in Parliament. Unless it can cobble together a collection of smaller, unreliable partners, the clear candidate is the DA.
This is not ideal. No reasonable opposition voter wants to see the ANC continue in government, and certainly not with the help of the DA. Liberals, certainly, are not keen on this, after decades of the ANC’s criminal misrule and after decades of propping the DA up as an alternative.
It is still the case that the DA must, under no circumstances, be drawn into a coalition with the ANC. If it does enter into such a coalition, the DA would take a costly gamble. One of the likely potential downsides is that it could cease to be a real opposition party and, with time, turn into nothing more than an ANC puppet. Another likely downside is that it will be subsumed into the ANC’s agenda and, like the National Party during the Government of National Unity in the 1990s, fade into irrelevance.
If the DA and the wild dog coalition parties together cannot muster more than 50% of the vote in 2024, the DA must thus remain on the opposition benches and stay outside of government for as long as the ANC is in government.
But in this case, if the ANC and the EFF together obtain 50% of the vote, which is plausible, the DA would be well-positioned to enter into a confidence and supply arrangement with the ANC.
In such an arrangement, the DA would remain an opposition party in every sense of the word: it would criticise, scrutinise, and offer an alternative to the ANC.
At the same time, however, the DA would (depending on the numbers) either abstain from motions of no confidence against the ANC government or vote against such motions. It would certainly not bring such motions. It would, additionally, when it is time for the budget to be approved, vote in favour of approving it.
It must be empathetically understood that this does not mean the DA becomes a part of the ANC government. It will have no ministers or official posts in government. But it will allow the ANC to remain in government if it means the EFF is kept out.
Effectively, the ANC will be a minority government; and if it ends up forming a coalition with the EFF, the confidence and supply arrangement with the DA must come to an end.
But it is likely that the ANC would prefer a DA confidence and supply arrangement rather than an EFF coalition. With the former, the ANC keeps all ministerial positions and committee chairpersons. With the latter, the EFF will expect positions in government. Ultimately, this would mean the ANC must share its criminal patronage networks, which the party will wish to avoid.
The recent political turmoil in Ekurhuleni might be illustrative of this. A DA-led coalition government was removed but, when the time came for a new government to be installed, the ANC and EFF failed to come to terms.
The Centre for Risk Analysis, in its weekly client risk alert on 14 November, hypothesised that the ANC might have had concerns that if it did deal with the EFF in Ekurhuleni, it could be the beginning of a “reverse-takeover” of the former by the latter. Nicholas Lorimer in turn writes that “the local ANC region can’t give up the mayorship to the competing EFF patronage network, because to do so would collapse its own network of patronage.”
A confidence and supply arrangement with the ANC is something the DA must actively consider (as opposed to a coalition with the ANC – or worse yet, a coalition with the EFF – which it must actively reject). Plan for the worst outcome while pushing for the best outcome.
The first prize, of course, remains a win for the wild dog coalition that completely excludes both the ANC and EFF. It must be the wild dog coalition’s top priority to bring the ANC and EFF together under 50% of the seats in Parliament. This means these parties must stop fighting amongst each other.
But if this first prize is not attained, and the ANC’s only option is to form a coalition with the EFF, the DA should consider making itself available for a confidence and supply arrangement.
If this happens, the DA must play with open cards with its voters, and not try to hide it or avoid speaking of it.
The DA must explain to voters precisely what a confidence and supply arrangement is and how it fundamentally differs from a coalition agreement. It must explain that it is not supporting the ANC, but rather keeping the EFF and its destructive brand of radical socialism out of government.
More than that, the DA must not start playing nice with the ANC. It must double down on its anti-ANC criticism and campaigns. It must certainly continue to vote against every bad ANC bill introduced in Parliament, except appropriation bills (the budget) and motions of no confidence.
Who knows how long such an arrangement could last or whether it would be enough to keep the EFF out? What is certain is that every reasonable effort must be made to keep the EFF away from power. Let us hope the sacrifice will not be too great.
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