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Leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance John Steenhuisen, right, shakes hands with ANC's Chairman Gwede Mantashe. Alamy Stock Photo
Historic slump

South Africa's ANC having 'talks about talks' in effort to form coalition after losing majority

The ANC won just over 40% of the vote in Wednesday’s election, losing its long-held dominance over South African politics.

HUMBLED BY A historic election result this week, South Africa’s African National Congress has been talking to all other political parties in an effort to form a coalition government, after it lost its 30-year majority, a top party official has said.

ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula said the party was open to all negotiations, even with the main opposition, the centre-right Democratic Alliance, which has led the chorus of criticism of the ANC for years but is viewed by many analysts as the most stable coalition option for South Africa.

“The results send a clear message to the ANC,” Mbalula said.

“We wish to assure the people of South Africa that we have heard them. We have heard their concerns, their frustrations and their dissatisfaction.”

The ANC won just over 40% of the vote in Wednesday’s election, losing its long-held dominance over South African politics. The ANC won roughly 58% in 2019. 

The ANC remained the biggest party but it means the country will probably have to form a coalition government for the first time since it achieved democracy with the end of the apartheid system in 1994.

The DA won the second most votes with 21% and the two parties would hold a majority together and be able to govern.

That does not mean it will be easy to marry them, with Mbalula conceding that the two were like “oil and water” considering their ideological differences.

But he indicated that the ANC could be flexible. The ANC was talking to everyone, Mbalula said, with two other main opposition parties and several smaller ones all in the mix.

A coalition could involve several parties to foster unity.

Mbalula said that the ANC was only beginning “talks about talks”.

“There is no party we are not going to talk to,” Mbalula said. “We are looking at the scenarios, we are looking at the options.”

The election results were to be formally declared later on Sunday by the Independent Electoral Commission, a rubber-stamping of an outcome that was already clear.

There is some time pressure for coalition talks to progress and for the uncertainty to be minimised, given South Africa’s new parliament needs to sit for the first time and elect a president within 14 days of the election results being declared.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, the leader of the ANC, is seeking a second and final term.

South Africa is a leading voice for its continent and the developing world on the global stage and will take over the presidency of the Group of 20 rich and developing nations late this year. It is the only African nation in that group.

“Everyone is looking to see if South Africa can weather the storm and come out the other side,” political analyst Oscar van Heerden said on the eNCA news network.

The ANC is the party that led South Africa out of the brutal apartheid system of racial segregation under Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela.

This election saw an unprecedented slump in its support, with voters seen to be deserting the party due to its failure to solve widespread poverty and extremely high unemployment levels, as well as problems with the delivery of basic government services to many in a nation of 62 million.

“The elections have humbled us, they have brought us where we are,” Mbalula said, adding the ANC respected the will of the South African people. “We have heard them,” he said.

Mbalula said the ANC would not consider the demands by the MK Party of former president Jacob Zuma that Ramaphosa step down as a condition for talks.

“No political party will dictate terms to us, the ANC. They will not. You come to us with that demand, forget (it),” Mbalula said.

Amid many options, the ANC could also join with MK and the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters, although they have been cast as partners that would make investors uneasy.

Both have pledged to nationalise parts of South Africa’s economy, including its gold and platinum mines, among the world’s biggest producers.

Van Heerden said an ANC-DA coalition would “possibly give stability” but there were some within the ANC who would oppose it.

Other smaller parties could be involved to dilute it and make it more palatable for the ANC, some commentators said.

“The DA has approached the ANC as the enemy over many, many years,” van Heerden said.

“The next few days is going to be a very difficult period. People will have to be mature behind closed doors.”

Includes reporting from Press Association and AFP. 

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