The possibility of the DA and the ANC forming a ‘grand’ coalition after next year’s election is once again being spoken about by a number of the country’s commentators.
It is generally accepted wisdom that the ANC will fall under 50% next year (this writer does not believe that it is the foregone conclusion many others do, but an ANC below 50% is no longer highly improbable, as it once was). This means that the party will need the support of another party (or parties) to stay in power.
Although an ANC-EFF coalition has been seen as more likely by some observers, this seems to be a possibility that is becoming more remote. The two parties have been working together in a number of municipalities across the country, particularly in Gauteng. However, in recent weeks it has become clear that there are tensions between them, with senior figures in the ANC, including the secretary-general, Fikile Mbalula, coming out against the possibility of an ANC-EFF coalition.
It now seems that the ANC itself could be more open to a coalition with the DA rather than the EFF, despite the fact that, in ideological terms, the EFF and the ANC are much more similar. Mbalula himself said this recently, although he seems uncomfortable with the idea of such a coalition at national level, with the parties likely to work better at local government level.
Recently-elected leader of the ANC Veterans’ League, Snuki Zikalala, said that the party should consider a coalition with the DA, but not even think about forming one with the EFF.
There have also been claims that the ANC and DA are close to agreeing on a formal coalition ahead of next year’s elections. This has, however, been refuted by DA leader, John Steenhuisen.
Outside the ANC, there are also people who think that a coalition between the DA and the ANC could be the tonic South Africa needs. In a recent article, Adriaan Basson, the editor of News24, wrote that a DA-ANC coalition could be what South Africa needs, saying that such a ‘grand’ coalition could be the governance arrangement that could save the listing SS South Africa.
However, the DA should approach any alliance with the ANC with great caution. Actually, to be frank, the DA should not even consider going into coalition with the ANC. Any agreement between the ANC and the DA is likely to see the DA substantially weakened.
A blow for South Africa
A DA that is substantially weaker than it is now would be a blow for South Africa. While there is much to criticise, it is the only large party which is explicitly and implicitly truly committed to non-racialism and the broader South African project. It is also the only major party committed to the free market. Again, while there is much to criticise in free market capitalism, it has been much more successful, historically, in lifting people out of poverty than the failed economic policies which the ANC and the EFF continue to cling to.
But why would a DA-ANC coalition weaken the DA?
The ANC has been in coalitions in South Africa before and the parties that have partnered with it emerge substantially weaker.
For example, following the 1994 election, the interim Constitution in place at the time gave parties which had won more than a certain proportion of the vote cabinet or other positions. The interim document said that any party which won more than 20% of the vote was entitled to a Deputy President position. The National Party did manage more than 20% in 1994, meaning that FW de Klerk, the party leader, became Deputy President. The IFP, which won more than 10% of the vote, was entitled to cabinet positions in this ‘Government of National Unity’.
The IFP and NP both found that it was a government of ‘unity’ in name only, with the ANC rarely taking into account what its partners wanted.
This saw the NP and IFP both damaged electorally, the NP fatally so.
The IFP also saw its vote share decrease sharply, and it was forced into coalition in KwaZulu-Natal with the ANC in 1999, having won enough support to govern the province alone in 1994. The party is only now starting to see its vote share once again increase, after having haemorrhaged support in successive elections since 1994.
The experience of the African Independent Congress (AIC) is also relevant here. The AIC was formed in 2005 to protest against the decision to place the town of Matatiele and surrounds under the administration of the Eastern Cape, rather than KwaZulu-Natal.
The AIC has gone into a coalition with the ANC in a number of municipalities across the country. In 2016 it notably partnered with the ANC in Ekurhuleni after the ANC had narrowly not won a majority on the East Rand. One of the AIC’s conditions for going into coalition with the ANC was that talks about Matatiele’s reincorporation into KwaZulu-Natal be held. Unsurprisingly, Matatiele is no closer to being made part of KwaZulu-Natal again, even though the AIC is a relatively reliable coalition partner for the ANC.
It is not only in South Africa that the junior partner in a coalition comes off worst. The experience of the Liberal Democrats in the UK is also instructive. In 2010 neither of the two big parties – Conservatives (also known as the Tories) and Labour ̶ managed to win a majority, with Westminster being hung, a relatively rare occurrence.
The Lib Dems, which had won 57 seats out of the 650 in the country’s Parliament, went into coalition with the Tories, with the leader of the Lib Dems, Nick Clegg, becoming Deputy Prime Minister, and a number of other Lib Dem MPs getting posts in the British cabinet.
However, this coalition proved to be a disaster for the Lib Dems. The party had to renege on a number of campaign promises that it had made, and the 2015 election saw the party win only eight seats, while the Tories secured a majority. The Lib Dems have still not recovered electorally, and won only eleven seats in the most recent British election held in 2019.
If the DA had to go into coalition with the ANC, its experience would likely be similar. The DA is unlikely to be able to influence the ANC to implement the reforms which the country needs to get onto a track of rapid economic growth. The ANC would, for example, likely ignore DA demands to scrap (or at least reform) BEE, or labour laws, among others. It’s unlikely that the ANC would accede to more devolution of power to the provinces, as the DA would like. In addition, the ANC would also probably hold on to something like cadre deployment, which is one of the core issues eating into South Africa’s foundations.
In short, the DA is unlikely to secure any key concessions if it goes into coalition with the ANC. At the same time, many of the ANC’s governance failures will increasingly also be seen as DA failures, in the minds of the voters.
The ANC, despite its size, is a dying party. The DA would do itself a disservice in acting as a life raft or a life support system for it.
The only agreement that the DA should consider going into the with the ANC is a ‘confidence-and-supply’ agreement, as my former colleague, Martin van Staden, has also previously proposed. Here the DA could ensure that governance is stable, by supporting the ANC only on, for example, budget votes, and on other issues only on a case-by-case basis.
The DA should resist any temptation of going into a coalition with the ANC. Doing so would not only be a disservice to the DA itself, but also to the people of South Africa.
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