Welcome to the era of coalition politics


We are about to see a few very odd political couples getting married at the altar of democracy.

With the final votes still being tallied on Thursday night, one thing was clear: in certain key metros, particularly Tshwane and Johannesburg, no party was assured of an outright majority and would possibly need the support of smaller parties to govern.

All eyes were on the EFF, whose leader Julius Malema promised South Africa that he would not return the ANC to power in places where it obtained less than 50% of the vote – his reason being that the people would have rejected the 104-year-old liberation movement and he would play no role in undermining that decision.

However, that would leave him with only the DA as the other option in many cases. This marriage of a young, radical, left-wing party with a moderate collection of liberals, if it happens, will be enormously confusing and set to challenge the policies of both parties. South African politics, if it’s at all possible, would become even more interesting.

There’s one coalition solution that many analysts often overlook, however, and that’s the DA and the ANC joining up to govern. Don’t laugh, it could work. In many respects, the DA has tried to model itself on what it thinks the ANC should be anyway. They might be good influences on each other.

If you really put them side by side, the moderate DA and economically centrist ANC are more like each other than either one is like the extremist EFF.

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Regardless of who gets to call the shots, the EFF ran a very effective campaign and deserve all the accolades for growing at a rate that any new party would envy. Malema and his fighters spoke the language of the disenchanted voter, and were often far wittier, more incisive and able to “stay on message” than either of their larger and far older rivals.

The DA ran a cheeky campaign, choosing to fixate at times on the legacy of the ANC’s late hero, Nelson Mandela. Only speculation can surround whether or not this approach helped or hindered them, but anecdotal evidence would suggest it left more of a bad taste in more mouths than it hit the right spot. The DA was at its best when it focused on trumpeting its governance successes in its strongholds in the Western Cape and its sole municipality in Gauteng, Midvaal. It was also strongest when it pointed to its record on opposing the rot that has set in under President Jacob Zuma.

As for the ANC’s campaign, it was little short of a disaster from the start. The fact that it will end up with more than 50% of the vote overall is thanks in the main to the loyalty the party’s voters still have to one of the strongest political brands in Africa and even the rest of the world. Tshwane burned, political candidates were mowed down with automatic weapons and the whole of Vuwani showed government the middle finger.

Zuma’s desperate attempt to resort to racial politics was pathetic and took us backwards. It undid the work of his predecessor, Mandela, and only played into the hands of the DA and their audacious and bizarre “Tata would have voted for us” message.

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Zuma was no doubt trying only to save his own skin, once again at the expense of the country, and even, ultimately, his party and its more than two-decade nation-building project. The ANC’s own polls had no doubt showed him that his party would be punished at the polls for his numerous personal blunders and the blatant abuse of power of his administration. Calling the DA “snakes” and a party that had backed or even been responsible for apartheid (against historical facts, by the way) was the best he could come up with in response.

Fortunately, others in his party continued to show dignity and refused to stoop to such a base level to cling to power. Hats off to them, and it is sad that excellent ANC leaders such as Joburg Mayor Parks Tau and Gauteng Premier David Makhura may be affected adversely by ANC voters either changing their vote or boycotting the polls in what many termed “a referendum on Zuma”.

Returning to the theme of coalitions, whatever happens – whether it’s the DA or the EFF calling the kingmaker shots on who gets to rule in the places where the ANC has lost majorities where it was previously assured of it – both parties are likely to have one, very similar demand: that Jacob Zuma must go.

Let’s see how big a sticking point that might turn out to be. But it seems that even the ANC’s voters, particularly those in urban areas, now want to see that happening too.eff