Analysis: South Africa’s unity Government must harmonize wildly different visions

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (Reuters) – Talks on forming a post-election government in South Africa will require parties to come together with contradictory goals such as seizing farms and mines owned by whites, abandoning Black empowerment policies and tearing apart the constitution.

The ability of the African National Congress to take decisions, and the policy priorities for the next five-years will be determined by how well it can harmonise these opposing and divergent visions.

The election will also test Nelson Mandela’s 1994 dream of a “rainbow nation at ease with itself”, as politicians attempt to navigate past ethnic and racial animosities that were exposed in the may 29th election.

Piers Pigou is the Southern Africa Programme Director at the Institute for Security Studies. He said, “It’s politics on steroids.” It suggests that we are entering a messy and fluid period.

The ANC, which ruled without opposition for 30 years but lost its majority in the last election with only 40% of the vote, is racing to reach an agreement with its rivals to form a unity cabinet to stay in power.

There are several ways to structure the government. It is up to Friday’s first session of parliament to decide. Cyril Ramaphosa said last week that his party preferred a government of unity, which would involve a number of parties rather than a formal alliance with just one or two.

In the two weeks following the election, the parties, instead of seeking a common ground, have hardened their positions and traded insults.

Gwede Mantashe, ANC chairperson last week, attributed the third-place finish of Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto we Sizwe party to “Zulu tribealism”. This prompted a backlash by Zulus and MKs who called the remark he made “dangerous” and “offensive.”

Zuma claims widespread fraud against election observers, and other parties that are deemed fair.


Mandela, the 1994 leader who was the last to establish a national-unity government. The former liberation leader, unlike Ramaphosa did not do this because of political necessity. He did it to reassure the nation that apartheid had divided them and no group would be marginalised again.

The election held last month revealed that South Africa is no less divided on ethnic and racial grounds than it was three decades ago.

Oscar van Heerden is an ANC insider and senior research fellow at University of Johannesburg. He said that the parties who did well in the election campaigned with a very narrow nationalistic identity.

He said that the poll had set back progress toward “a united and non-racial Society”.

Nhlamulo Ndlhela, MK spokesman, told Reuters that he rejected this view and criticized Mantashe’s “divisive remarks”.

The MK still won nearly half the votes in Zuma’s Zulu heartland, Kwazulu-Natal. Meanwhile, the Democratic Alliance remains the largest opposition party, with 22%.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a far-left party, has the strongest support from urban Blacks. However, rural Blacks are loyal to the ANC. With 2% of the vote, The Patriotic Alliance campaigned for coloured people (as South Africans who are mixed race are known).

Investors consider a simple alliance of the ANC with the pro-business DA to be the most beneficial for the market. ANC officials, however, told Reuters that ANC heavyweights had rejected such an option. Some of them – like executive committee member Mathews Phosa – see the DA party as one of white privilege and a loser in the long run.

The ANC instead tries to dilute the DA’s influence in any coalition through smaller parties joining.

Nicole Beardsworth is a research fellow at the University of Witwatersrand. She said that if Ramaphosa simply formed a coalition with DA, it would be suicide for their unity.

She said that the ANC has always been a wide church. It includes neoliberals such as Ramaphosa, and a left wing including the Communist Party of South Africa and the Congress of South African Trade Unions. Both have expressed concerns over a deal with DA.

“They need to bring in… smaller and more radical parties to balance out the demands of the left of ANC.”

Finding a consensus to end the paralysis, and create a functioning government that can kick-start South Africa’s flagging economic is a difficult task.

Daniel Silke, an independent analyst, said: “That is where it all comes down to.” It makes it extremely difficult to formulate coherent policy.

ANC and EFF, for example, have committed themselves to expropriating land owned by whites for poor Black farmers. The DA is opposed to this policy. The DA wants Black empowerment policies to be scrapped, which have mainly enriched a political elite of Blacks. This is a redline for the ANC.

Zuma’s MK and the EFF both want to revamp the constitution. The former wants to give all land, mines, and water to the state. The MK party wants to replace the constitution with one which gives more power to traditional leaders.

Zuma’s party has said that Ramaphosa has to step down. This condition has been rejected by Ramaphosa.

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