ANC Considers National Unity Government Following Election Defeat

South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) has proposed forming a government of national unity after losing its parliamentary majority in last week’s elections. The ANC announced it has reached out to all parties, though negotiations are still in progress.

“The results indicate that South Africans want all parties to work together,” ANC spokesperson Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri told journalists.

The ANC secured about 40% of the vote, followed by the center-right Democratic Alliance (DA) with 22%, former President Jacob Zuma’s MK party with 15%, and the radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) with 9%. This election marks the first time the ANC has lost its majority since Nelson Mandela led it to victory in the first democratic elections after the end of apartheid in 1994.

South Africa’s proportional representation system requires any governing coalition to exceed 50% of the vote. Bhengu-Motsiri confirmed that the ANC has initiated discussions with the DA, the EFF, and other smaller parties. Despite reaching out to the MK, there has been no positive response.

The ANC aims to resolve coalition talks quickly, as parliament convenes in less than two weeks. The primary task will be electing a president to form the next government.

Forming a government of national unity would help the ANC avoid the dilemma of choosing coalition partners. A coalition with the DA might upset ANC activists, who view the DA as representing white minority interests, a claim the DA denies. The DA also opposes two of the ANC’s core policies: the black empowerment program, which seeks to give black people an economic stake post-apartheid, and the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill, which promises universal healthcare.

Collaborating with radical offshoots like the MK or the EFF could alarm the business community, as both advocate for policies such as seizing white-owned land without compensation and nationalizing the mining sector. Additionally, there is significant animosity between the ANC and the MK due to personal conflicts between President Cyril Ramaphosa and Jacob Zuma, whom Ramaphosa replaced as ANC leader in 2018.

Zuma has expressed willingness to work with the ANC if a new leader is chosen, but the ANC has stated that President Ramaphosa’s position is non-negotiable.

Despite these challenges, Bhengu-Motsiri remains optimistic. “We believe that despite any differences we may have, working together as South Africans, we can seize this moment to usher our country into a new era of hope,” she said. The final decision on the coalition will be made by the ANC’s national executive committee, which meets on Thursday.

South Africa has experience with a government of national unity. Following the 1994 elections, Mandela’s ANC worked with the National Party, which had implemented apartheid, and the Inkatha Freedom Party, a conservative party with a Zulu base that had frequently clashed with ANC supporters, resulting in thousands of deaths.

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Piers Potter


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