Governance scenarios in South Africa: growth vs stability?
Two possible national coalitions (ANC-DA-IFP or ANC-MK) are a choice between economic growth and stability, with KZN as the sacrificial lamb.
5 June 2024

The electoral commission’s announcement of South Africa’s 29 May election results on Sunday was a watershed moment in the country’s political and developmental journey. At 58%, voter turnout hit a new low, reflecting a dissatisfaction with politics that has, since 2008, delivered increased poverty, inequality and unemployment.

The ongoing crisis in the governing African National Congress (ANC) saw the ruling party’s support plunge 17 percentage points from 57% in 2019 to 40%. The results are unprecedented, yet the ANC and President Cyril Ramaphosa accepted the loss of the party’s majority without threats of extra-constitutional measures or violence.

Africa is replete with incumbent elites’ efforts to cling to power by any means possible. The decision by the continent’s oldest liberation movement heading its largest economy to accept the electoral outcome will bolster democratic forces elsewhere.

To be sure, the ANC will continue to govern as the largest single party until our next elections in 2029, but it is a spent force.

The ANC’s decision to accept the outcome will do much to bolster democratic forces elsewhere

The established opposition parties didn’t do well either, largely maintaining current levels of support. The ANC’s splintering has determined politics over the past 30 years. Instead of opposition growth, each split has translated into reduced voter turnout and lower levels of support for the ANC.

This time, it was with the emergence of the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party of former president Jacob Zuma, which raked in 14% of the national tally and an incredible 45% of votes cast in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). This achievement defies most mainstream analyses of politics in South Africa.

Two considerations make MK’s emergence troubling. First, the complex combination of ethnicity and big-man politics. Together, they informed MK’s surge of support at the expense of the ANC. At the same time, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), nominally the political expression of Zulu nationalism, also marginally increased its support, suggesting that simplistic views of ethnicity don’t necessarily inform political allegiance.

South Africa’s intelligence community will undoubtedly be mulling the security implications of political coalitions that exclude MK. Some might argue that this could make KZN ungovernable, but that may be misjudging the widespread July 2021 riots and looting following Zuma’s incarceration. Instead of an organised counter-revolution, much of the violence was opportunistic, meaning MK’s disruptive potential may be less than anticipated.

The reality is that Zuma wants to head the provincial government and consolidate his power base in KZN. That could mean the province is governed quite differently from the values and principles enshrined in the Constitution.

Two factors make this very troubling. First, the confluence between crime, patronage, and politics is well established in the province, particularly in the taxi industry, but also in land management, which forms part of the Ingonyama Trust. The trust controls around 30% of KZN territory.

A vicious tussle within the Zulu royal family eventually saw Ramaphosa crown Misuzulu kaZwelithini as Zulu king last year, only for the Pretoria High Court to rule this invalid on procedural grounds. The court ordered an inquiry into the objections from the king’s half-brother, Prince Simakade Zulu, who says he’s the rightful heir. The ruling is now under appeal.

Second is the confluence of tribal politics with a political faction that looted the state, stands accused of corruption, and is intent on evading justice. The undoubted intent of Zuma’s supporters is to blunt the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA) legal inquiries following the Zondo state capture commission.

In anticipation of the election results, Ramaphosa legislated the establishment of the NPA’s Investigating Directorate Against Corruption. The directorate can hire investigators for corruption-related matters, including state capture inquiries, which will now face a hostile environment in Parliament with 71 fewer ANC members and 58 new MK members.

Decisions made in the next two weeks will determine the country’s economic and developmental future for several years. Once that’s done, Parliament must elect a new president, probably Ramaphosa, according to the ANC. This will be a game of power politics, disinformation, threats and money. Given the extent of compromise required, the results would leave all parties – and likely voters – unhappy.

Are we headed for a national coalition between the ANC and say, the Democratic Alliance (DA) or MK that also applies at provincial level? Or will we see different coalitions at national and provincial levels, particularly in Gauteng and KZN? Or some type of all-inclusive government of national unity?

The trade-offs are stark. Technically, the ANC could govern in the rural provinces of Northern Cape (with the support of a marginal party), North West, Free State, Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Mpumalanga. The key challenges are in KZN and Gauteng, which together with the Western Cape, represent South Africa’s economic and population heartland.

A national agreement between the ANC and MK ensures political stability but low economic growth. In this scenario, legal impunity for state capture accused would be achieved through indirect means such as constraints on funding, refusal to proceed with investigations, etc. Confidence in the economy and foreign direct investment would probably decline, and implications for the rule of law would be dire.

A national agreement between the ANC and DA would comfortably govern Gauteng, provide investor confidence and eventually more robust growth, but carries the threat of instability, particularly in KZN. In this arrangement, the NPA pursues accountability for state capture.

Depending on your view of MK’s potential for violence, an ANC-DA coalition could either allow MK to run KZN, likely with the EFF and a group of smaller parties, or form an alliance with the IFP and others. An ANC-DA-IFP partnership in KZN would deliver 48.4%, marginally more than the 47.6% in an MK-EFF coalition. Alliance partners in either configuration could only govern with smaller parties’ backing, making KZN unstable whichever choice is made, unless a national unity government emerges.

The two national coalitions (ANC-DA-IFP or ANC-MK) are a choice between economic growth and stability, between the long-term or the need to avoid short-term ructions, with KZN as the sacrificial lamb.

If taken seriously, the result is probably a government of national unity, the third ‘national coalition’ configuration comprising the ANC, DA, MK, EFF, IFP and possibly even the Patriotic Alliance. Gauteng would effectively be run by a DA-led coalition and KZN by an MK-led coalition.

Several holy cows will be slaughtered in the next few days, and the subsequent agreements may appear to bridge seemingly irreconcilable differences between the ANC, MK, DA and EFF. They may also deliver different coalitions to the back-of-the-envelope options outlined above.

Trust building is crucial in negotiating and managing coalition governments, particularly in a fraught political and information technology landscape. Trust must be built around fulfilling South Africa’s post-1994 promise of a constitutional democracy committed to combatting inequality and advancing accountability and the rule of law.

This article was originally published by ISS Today on 4 June 2024.

Image: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

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