The most common argument for contemplating a DA/ANC coalition is that it would be far preferable to the ANC coalescing with the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), writes the author. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Esa Alexander).
Martin van Staden writes there is a better option available then for the DA to consider entering a formal coalition with the ANC on 2024.
It is concerning that anyone inside the DA is considering entering a formal coalition with the ANC in 2024 – assuring the DA of electoral death – when there is a better alternative on the table: confidence and supply.
The most common argument for contemplating a DA/ANC coalition is that it would be far preferable to the ANC coalescing with the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), given the unimaginable destruction such a coalition would bring to the economy and the Constitution.
But DA voters, or indeed voters of any consistent opposition party, are not likely to forgive the party if it were to sign a coalition agreement with the ANC. In practice, this means that if the DA does decide to go down the coalition route, it will have, at most, only one parliamentary term to convince its supporters that such a coalition government could turn things around for the better.
Because when the 2029 election rolls around, I would be surprised if the DA retains anything more than nominal parliamentary representation.
This would be a massive gamble.
Parties like the EFF or Patriotic Alliance do not run the same risk because they have never been consistent opposition parties. Broadly, they share the values of the ANC – largely left-wing in economics, regarding government as a fair vehicle for self-enrichment, and resenting civil society for doing what government ostensibly ‘must’ – but have been unimpressed by ANC incompetence. This kind of ‘opposition’ is superficial.
In contrast, coalescing with the ANC poses a real risk to the real opposition: the DA, the Inkatha Freedom Party, the Freedom Front Plus, the African Christian Democratic Party, Action SA, and a handful of others. These parties have a fundamentally different vision for South Africa from the ANC. Their voters, therefore rightly expect their chosen representatives to stay far away from close cooperation with the ANC.
Entering a coalition would mean DA ministers will become associated with ANC corruption (which the former will not be able to stop), and the ANC will get an opportunity to influence the policies and political posture of the DA indirectly. The cherry on top is that such a coalition will likely not last a full term: it is all but guaranteed that the DA will leave the coalition in a huff once the realisation sets in that the ANC lacks both the desire and the ability to reform.
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At that stage, the damage will already have been done to the DA or other opposition party that has coalesced with the ANC. They will be tainted at the 2029 election, and it will be challenging to convince opposition voters that they were ‘unaware’, going into the coalition, that the ANC would not engage in good faith.
If the ANC could not allow André de Ruyter to make modest positive changes in a single state-owned enterprise, it will assuredly not allow DA Cabinet ministers to bring about real reform.
Confidence and supply agreements
But the coalition is not the only institution available to the real opposition if their primary goal is to keep the EFF away from the gravy train that is the central government.
The DA could agree that it will offer the ANC ‘confidence and supply’, and no more, during the 2024-2029 parliamentary term.
In terms of such an agreement, the DA commits to not bring or vote in favour of a motion of no confidence in the ANC-appointed Cabinet. The DA additionally commits to vote in favour of the ANC-appointed finance minister’s annual budgets. In all other respects, the DA remains in opposition to the ANC and its corrupt cadres and will vote against all other ANC bills or proposals it does not agree with.
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The ANC, in turn, will agree that it will not enter into a coalition with the EFF or any other party likely to drag it in the direction of Orwellian dystopia.
Such a loose arrangement, in other words, stops the possibility of an EFF/ANC coalition while also safeguarding the DA from becoming complicit in the ANC’s corruption and mismanagement of government.
To be sure, the party would still need to explain confidence and supply to its supporters, as it might still be interpreted as a different form of coalition. But the DA would, at least, be able to guarantee its own independence from the ANC by not having policy indirectly dictated to it through Cabinet and would be able to maintain a sanitary distance from ANC criminality.
Undermining the project
Coalition politics is in the infant stage of its development in South Africa. Indeed, confidence and supply have not even registered as a possibility distinct from coalition agreements. Practices, conventions, customs, and institutions will gradually start to enter the public domain as this new era of South African politics becomes entrenched.
The first prize, of course, remains that the ‘wild dogs’ – the reformist opposition parties that fundamentally (not artificially) oppose the ANC – will collectively gain an outright majority in the 2024 election, and put the ‘old buffalo’ ANC out of government entirely.
This has to be the opposition’s priority, meaning it must seek to win over undecided voters and voters who have recently abandoned the ANC. Even considering a coalition with the ANC undermines this project fatally.
Martin van Staden is Deputy Head of Policy Research at the Institute of Race Relations.
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