Whether alone or in coalition, the ANC will struggle to pursue its legislative agenda. 

‘The best government is that which governs least’, goes an old motto, often misattributed to Henry David Thoreau

It is on this basis that advocates of small government and free markets often argue that legislative bodies without outright majorities, in which it is hard to pass legislation, are a good thing for the body politic.

It is worth quoting the reasoning behind that motto, in the first edition of the United States Magazine and Democratic Review of 1837: ‘Government should have as little as possible to do with the general business and interests of the people. If it once undertake these functions as its rightful province of action, it is impossible to say to it “thus far shalt thou go, and no farther.” It will be impossible to confine it to the public interests of the commonwealth. It will be perpetually tampering with private interests, and sending forth seeds of corruption which will result in the demoralization of the society.’

Monopoly on power

Hitherto, in post-1994 South Africa, the ANC has had a monopoly on power. 

The executive has largely written the laws, and Parliament, being dominated by the same party that ran the executive, largely rubber-stamped them. Public consultation was merely a formality, routinely ignored. 

What resistance there has been to the ruling party’s legislative agenda was either indirect – such as through negative financial market reactions – or via the judiciary.

All this will change, now. One way or another, the ANC will have to form a government, either as a minority government, or in a confidence-and-supply agreement with the official opposition, or by drawing one or more parties into a governing coalition.

Confidence and supply

Hermann Pretorius has set out an excellent case for why the DA should not enter into a coalition with the ANC, and should either make a confidence-and-supply agreement or leave the ANC to govern as a minority.

I agree. Going into a full coalition with the ANC risks destroying the DA, and will cede the role of official opposition to the MK Party. 

Since coalition partners would be expected to pursue a joint legislative agenda, it is unlikely that a coalition between two parties that are ideological opposites, as the ANC and DA are, could survive long. The same is true for a ‘government of national unity’ that draws in a few additional parties merely to sweeten the unpalatability of an ANC deal with the DA alone.

By contrast, an agreement for the DA to support the ANC in no-confidence and budget votes will give the minority government a guarantee of stability and sustainability, while the DA remains in opposition from where it can play a strengthened oversight role. 

Legislative agenda

However it forms a government, the ANC will no longer be able to rely on a majority in the National Assembly to ride roughshod over opposition to the laws it wants promulgated.

The National Health Insurance Act, for example, would never have become law under whatever post-2024 government we get, since all parties other than the ANC objected to it for one reason or another. 

We all know where the ANC’s legislative agenda is headed: the incremental achievement of a socialist revolution. In future, the party will have to canvass support for all its laws from at least some of the other parties in Parliament.

This means it may find it harder to gain enough support for the more extreme parts of its agenda, such as expropriation, a basic income grant, prescribed assets or hijacking monetary policy.

Ironically, while it may find that conservative and liberal parties vote against it because it goes too far to the left, it may encounter opposition to its policies from the EFF and MK for not going far enough.

The new composition of the National Assembly also means that bills introduced by opposition parties will have a better chance of surviving a vote. That might give opposition parties the opportunity to enact some of their manifesto objectives, such as labour market reform or abolishing cadre deployment.

Check on power

In any well-functioning society, the fact that it is harder to pass laws without first canvassing broad support is an important check on power. 

In South Africa, it will force the government to be more cognisant of public submissions, and to amend unworkable laws, overbroad laws, or policies with negative unintended consequences before they are signed into law. 

It won’t stop South Africa’s gradual slide towards socialism – only an electoral victory for an anti-socialist opposition can do that – but it will at least slow it down and mitigate the most egregious uses and abuses of government power. 

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR.

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Ivo Vegter is a freelance journalist, columnist and speaker who loves debunking myths and misconceptions, and addresses topics from the perspective of individual liberty and free markets.