ANC/DA Coalition in our future
The political landscape in SA is changing with the two main opposition parties, the DA and the EFF gaining ground. A logical outcome may be a ruling coalition between the two centrist parties, the ANC and the DA with the populist EFF as the opposition. We may see moves in this direction with the 2016 municipal elections in the Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay Metropoles being the testing ground.
When the ANC took power in 1994, it was a broad church with many competing ideologies and interests. While the SACP had a strong communist bent, supporting nationalisation and redistribution; and the Cosatu faction focused strongly on protecting workers’ rights; it was the liberal business-friendly core of the alliance that won the day. Over subsequent years, government’s economic policies focused on fiscal discipline, reduced corporate tax rates, exchange control liberalisation, inflation targeting and limited privatisation (key amongst this was Telkom). This created a very business-friendly environment in SA which, combined with rising commodity prices and falling interest rates, led to healthy economic growth and asset value appreciation.
Some steps were taken to satisfy the populist faction amongst the alliance, including social security grants and the roll-out of utilities (especially electrification). Black economic empowerment (BEE), which could have been a successful tool for redistributing wealth to the poor, largely failed in this regard. Instead, it was very successful at creating a black middle class in SA and led to a large number of new billionaires and multi-millionaires. The largest populist failure in the country has been the lack of employment creation, with current unemployment levels of 26.4% on the narrow definition (which excludes discouraged job seekers) and 36.1% on the broad definition.
President Jacob Zuma’s election was strongly supported by the ANC Youth League (ANCYL), the SACP and Cosatu (which are all on the more populist side of the alliance) in the hopes that his government would push the populist agenda more aggressively. Many people within these groupings became disillusioned by the lack of delivery on this front (exacerbated by falling commodity prices and a weakened economy). In the wake of this, cracks started appearing in the alliance with the EFF breaking away and taking meaningful support away from the ANCYL and NUMSA splitting from Cosatu.
These more recent breakaways from the tripartite alliance are different from past splits like the UDM and Cope in that they were based on more than just disillusionment or personality cults. The new breakaways have fundamentally different policy positions to the ruling party and although such policy positions exist within the broader alliance church, they are unlikely to be executed by government in its current form. As such, it may be much more difficult to attract these groupings back into the alliance (as was done with UDM and Cope supporters), without compromising aggressively on policy, which is unlikely, in my opinion.
For the first time in SA politics, we have a sizeable political party with largely populist policies in the form of the EFF. For the first time, disillusioned voters (the poor, the unemployed and the young) have a political home that espouses policies that cater specifically to them and are not watered down or drowned out by alternative policies (as within the alliance). For the first time, the tripartite alliance faces a real populist threat. If the EFF can graduate from its current disruptive, anti-ANC, anti-Zuma stance to a disciplined party with highly developed grassroots organisational structures and a hopeful message for the masses, the tripartite alliance could be in serious trouble. This could be further exacerbated if the EFF joins with NUMSA with its strong support and structures.
For more than 20 years, SA has been governed by a centrist, business-friendly alliance with its major opposition (the DA) being a centrist, business-friendly party. There is very little to choose between ANC and DA policy and voters that choose one or to the other do not do so because of major policy differences, in my opinion. They do so because of historical reasons and distrust (often with racial undertones), because of good delivery (child and old age grants, utility roll-out, etc) or because of lack of delivery (unemployment, crime, loadshedding).
It is quite strange in a country with high unemployment, huge inequality and large levels of poverty for centrist, business-friendly parties to attract more than 85% of the popular vote. In many countries with high inequality like Bhutan, Brazil, Colombia, Georgia, Ghana, Liberia, The Phillipines, Thailand and Venezuela there is a much greater plurality of political parties with a strong populist component (either ruling or in opposition). Even in developed countries, populist or labour parties play a greater role than they do in SA. It is just a matter of time, in my opinion, before the situation in SA changes with a populist/labour grouping offsetting a centrist business-friendly grouping.
SA will be holding municipal elections in 2016 and this may provide us with a taste of what is to come in our future. In the 2011 municipal elections, the ANC’s support in the Nelson Mandela Metropole was only 53% (down from 67% in 2006), while in the Johannesburg Metropole it declined from 63% to 59%. In the 2014 general election, the ANC’s support in Johannesburg further declined to 52% while it dipped below 50% in Nelson Mandela Bay. It is highly likely (in my opinion) that the ANC will garner fewer votes in these municipalities next year than it needs to achieve an outright majority. As a result, it will either have to hand over control or, more likely, have to find coalition partners.
In my view, it is unlikely that the DA and EFF will form coalitions to rule either of the Johannesburg or Nelson Mandela Metropoles if the ANC achieves less than 50% of the vote. The ideological differences are too wide. The ANC may want to woo the EFF to retain control and as a possible precursor to welcoming them back into the alliance church eventually. However, if the rhetoric and actions of the EFF are anything to go by, this is unlikely to succeed. It would also be unwise for the EFF to entertain this, considering its strong growth potential and ideological differences. That leaves the ANC and the DA, two centrist, business-friendly groupings that have a history of coalition (at least in part) with the ANC and New National Party (many of whose supporters now find themselves in the DA) ruling the Western Cape as a coalition after the 2004 elections. The most likely outcome of the ANC not achieving a majority is for it to reach out to the DA. The DA may choose to play hardball initially, but in the end I believe it will opt to become part of the government of these municipalities whilst aiming to retain its independence.
Once the DA becomes part of government in more municipalities and if it is seen to do a good job, this could assist it in building greater support towards the 2019 general elections. The EFF does not need to be part of municipal government to gain support, in my opinion, although it could help the party to build its skills and credentials. More important for the EFF is to build its organisational structures, attract other populist groupings into its fold and to gain experience. This could make it a formidable threat in 2019.
If the DA and the EFF continue to gain support as is likely, considering the dynamics of the country and delivery concerns within the ruling party, the 2019 general election may be a closely fought affair. There could be a serious risk for the ANC to lose outright control of provinces such as Gauteng (54% of vote in 2014) and the Northern Cape (64% of vote in 2014). Once again, it may be forced to reach out to opposition parties to form coalitions and once again, the DA would be top of the list, in my opinion.
There are steps that the ANC can take to avoid the loss of support and control that appears likely at the moment. Firstly, delivery needs to improve and soon. Loadshedding would have to be a thing of the past well before the 2016 elections as this is the major risk to its support, in my opinion. There would have to be positive moves on the employment front and it is imperative that the National Development Plan starts to make inroads in 2015 already. Corruption concerns would have to be addressed and an increasing number of “insiders” would have to start speaking out. Despite the fact that President Zuma has been key in building ANC support in Kwazulu Natal (with ANC support increasing from 47% in 2004 to 65% in 2014), he may be a liability in other strongly contested areas. It may be necessary for the ruling party to clearly spell out succession planning and for him to take a back seat during electioneering in those areas. Although this may be a non-starter, the most effective way in which the alliance could reduce losses in its support would be to woo the EFF back into the alliance. However, this could only be achieved if it were to make concessions on policy and positions. This, in turn, could boost the prospects of the DA.
The political landscape in SA is a very interesting and dynamic one. It is poised to improve our outlook as a country, in my opinion. Increased political competition is inevitable and should lead to improved delivery, whether it is from an ANC government feeling the pressure, whether it is because of new talent being included in government through coalitions or whether control shifts in certain areas. I am excited.
Are you excited by the political machinations in SA? Do you see the ANC losing outright control of municipalities and provinces? Do you think an ANC/DA coalition is likely or pie-in-the-sky? Do you foresee a rise in populism in our country? I would love to hear your feedback.
In the mean time, keep your talking straight!