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South Africa’s ruling party faces coalition conundrum

Johannesburg, South Africa - People are pictured voting at a polling station in Soweto in Johannesburg, South Africa, on May 29, 2024.

Johannesburg, South Africa - People are pictured voting at a polling station in Soweto in Johannesburg, South Africa, on May 29, 2024.

Handout / Latin America News Agency

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress, led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, scored its worst election result in 30 years last week, forcing the party into tricky coalition talks. The ANC took just 40% of the vote, down from 58% in 2019 and below the party’s worst-case projections, as support waned due to high corruption, unemployment, and crime. Nelson Mandela’s former party now faces a choice between potential partners for building a coalition, all with a heavy price.

Leading contenders are the Democratic Alliance with 22% of the vote and the uMkhonto weSizwe party, aka MK, with 15%. However, ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe indicatedan alliance with the DA is difficult due to policy differences, particularly on affirmative and universal healthcare. The DA wants toend the ANC’s racial quota system for employers and opposes the recently-passed universal healthcare act but says it is willing to work with the ANC.

The MK is also prepared to work with the ANC, but not if it’s led by Ramaphosa – a difficult starting position for talks. In addition, both the MK and a third possible partner, the Economic Freedom Fighters, campaigned on putting all land under state control and nationalizing mines and banks, issues that make foreign investors and many South Africans nervous.

The EFF is not a viable coalition party by itself since it obtained only 9% of the vote, which would fall just short of a majority for a coalition with the ANC. It is also considered “too erratic in its orientation, too in your face, and too unreasonable in its policy demands,”according to political analyst Susan Booysen.

Eurasia Group analyst Ziyanda Stuurman says she’s now watching provincial-level leaders, whose support or opposition to a coalition with the DA will prove determinative.

“Ramaphosa and his camp will need support from them for an ANC-DA governance model, or he could face a fast-moving rejection of his plans to form and lead a new government, and his allies may be swept out of power in a revolt against their leadership of the party,” she explained.

The new parliamentmust be sworn in within two weeks, and the president will then be chosen. Sources say that Ramaphosa is unlikely to resign despite the historically poor results, but we’ll be watching to see what deal he cuts to try and survive.


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