South Africa’s ANC coalition conundrum leaves supporters on edge

By Thomson Reuters Jun 6, 2024 | 10:48 AM

By Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and Sfundo Parakozov

SOWETO, South Africa (Reuters) – Sinah Molokwane, a lifelong member of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress, is struggling to accept that her party will be sharing power for the first time since it ended white minority rule 30 years ago.

ANC leaders held talks on Thursday on potential partners for a new government after voters angered by economic stagnation, high unemployment, crime and power blackouts ended a majority it has held since 1994, leaving it little choice but to try and forge a coalition with its rivals.

It could bring in parties as diverse as the Marxist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the pro-business, white-led Democratic Alliance (DA).

But for many ANC rank and file members the prospect of an alliance including the DA is unpalatable, reflecting divisions within the party’s factions over who to partner with.

“I am wondering who is going to be with the ANC (in the coalition)…So, I’m just worried about that but hopefully (it’s) not the DA,” said 52-year-old Molokwane, a resident of Johannesburg’s Soweto township and a member of the ANC’s women’s league.

Outside the ANC’s leaders’ meeting, a small group of people demonstrated with yellow signs reading “Not in Our Names. NotWithTheDA.”

A deal with the DA is favoured by the business community and global investors, but some ANC supporters see it as a potential throwback to South Africa’s painful past.

“We wouldn’t want to see the white minority running the country again after what they did to us during apartheid,” said Rosebella Joyi, a 90 year-old ANC supporter from East London, a city in the southeast.

In a country with a history of codified racism where white South Africans make up just 7% of the population of 62 million, the DA has struggled to shake off an image as a party of white privilege – a notion that its leaders firmly reject.

Western Cape – the province the DA has controlled since 2009 – has done measurably better than the rest of South Africa. It boasts the country’s lowest jobless rate. Its main city Cape Town is a major tourist destination. Even the country’s notorious power cuts are less severe.

Still, ANC supporters like Virginia Hili, 58, from East London are wary.

“We know that economic stability is important, and we see that Cape Town is better when it comes to job opportunities,” she said.

“But we don’t know what the ANC will promise the DA in return for its support,” added Hili, who could not be drawn into specifying the potential concessions she was concerned the DA might get.


Mindful of alienating its support base, the ANC said on Wednesday it was leaning towards a government of national unity including several parties, even though internal party documents label such an option as a highly unstable alliance unlikely to last long.

A narrower coalition with the DA that would have given it top parliamentary jobs was rejected outright by the party leadership, party officials said.

The ANC will have 159 seats out of 400 in the new National Assembly, while the DA will have 87.

The populist uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), led by former president Jacob Zuma, will have 58 seats, the EFF 39, the socially conservative Inkatha Freedom Party 17 and the far-right Patriotic Alliance nine.

All of these potential partners present complications for the ANC.

Zuma, whose MK party finished a surprising third in the May 29 vote, was forced to quit as president in 2018 following a series of corruption scandals. He was later jailed for contempt of court after refusing to participate in an inquiry into corruption and was barred from running for parliament.

He is now an implacable rival of President Cyril Ramaphosa, and the ANC said he had rebuffed its approaches to talk.

Political analysts believe the EFF, led by Julius Malema, a former leader of the ANC’s youth wing, may be the most natural fit for the ANC.

But they warn that EFF policy proposals, including nationalising mines and banks and seizing white-owned land for redistribution to Black farmers, could tank the economy.

The EFF leader’s history of bitter feuds with the ANC could lead to instability were Malema’s party brought in to help govern, ANC supporter Molokwane said.

“I don’t know if there would be peace,” said Molokwane. “It’s tough. I don’t know what is going to happen.”

(Additional reporting by Johnnie Isaac in East London; Writing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo; Editing by Joe Bavier and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)