The Kingmaker: Malema holds the balance of power as race drives parties to coalitions

The EFF will be widely courted but says it can’t betray its voters. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

The EFF will be widely courted but says it can’t betray its voters. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)


When Jacob Zuma ousted Thabo Mbeki as ANC president in 2007, Julius Malema claimed credit for the victory, though his claim was dubious and could, at best, be partial.

But as South Africa entered into a new era of coalition politics this week, the name of the Economic Freedom (EFF) leader was on a lot of significant lips.

“Where is Juju?” demanded one mid-ranking politician from another party, breaking away from one of many furtive meetings on the fringes of the floor of the central results centre in Pretoria. “We need to talk to him before too many other people.”

Malema, though, was not on the floor, and those with a sudden desire to speak to him had to wait.

“In the last meeting we took a decision that there is no possibility of working with the ANC,” Malema said by phone. When it came to working with the Democratic Alliance, however, he turned very circumspect.

“We won’t rule out a coalition with the opposition,” was as near as he would come to being pinned down.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane was ever so slightly more circumspect – though hardly more welcoming to the idea of working with the ANC.

“It’s more likely that we’ll work with an opposition party because we can’t tell people ‘change’ and then retain the status quo.
That would be the antithesis of our message.”

There was “lots we still need to decide”, Maimane said, even though most votes had already been counted.

Malema used almost identical language to that of Maimane. “If our people take the ANC under 50% they are saying ‘we are tired’. You can’t go and put them [the ANC] in through the back door.”

Malema said the election results amount to “a loud whispering from our people”.

When it came to talking about one another, other leaders of the DA and the EFF suddenly found they had important business elsewhere.

Smaller parties, meanwhile, were waiting for Big Blue and Big Red to figure out just what they intended to do.

“We will be on standby tomorrow, once the results are out,” said United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa. “Whoever wants to talk to us, we will be ready.”

The DA and EFF did not seem to have much use for other parties, Holomisa said, and he too had no clear idea of what they would end up doing – except that neither would work with the ANC. And in that he delighted, as the wages of the party’s hubris. “It will be a lesson for the ANC on how to work with the opposition, like [Nelson] Mandela did.”

The theme of new-found ANC “arrogance” echoed everywhere.

“We have non-negotiable policies and if we go into any coalition we’ll make sure they are not compromised. But we are not going into coalition with the ANC because of their arrogance and they have persecuted us for whatever we do,” said Mgcini Tshwaku, EFF national elections deployee to Nelson Mandela Bay.

At the time the ANC continued to insist that it had retained control of the metro centred on Port Elizabeth.

As trends became more and more clear on Thursday, opposition politicians outside the big two grew more pensive. Because the numbers were stacking up in ways that would make a bad coalition an extinction event for smaller parties – while the right alliance could be very significant come the next national election.

The United Front (UF) had a terrible showing, leaving the movement largely funded by the National Union of Metalworkers looking for any relationship that would get it into the council in what should be its heartland – the automotive-industry focused Nelson Mandela Bay.

“Any coalition will be based on our policies and principles, which are directed at issues such as stopping outsourcing of municipal services. Those are the conditions and if anyone wants to talk to us it will be based on that,” said UF regional secretary in the metro Mkhuseli Mtsila.

The unexpected weakness of the ANC beyond the immediate result injected a sudden craftiness into the dealings of the opposition overall.

In township after township the election results indicated that where the DA grew its vote, it was at the expense of other opposition parties more often than at the expense of the ANC. The EFF, too, chipped away at parties smaller than itself, although it did a better job at separating the ANC from former supporters than the DA, especially in Limpopo and Mpumulanga.

Though they denied it, representatives of smaller parties were presented with a vision of the future that includes their extinction, either by being swallowed by red or blue, or by petering-out support.

At the same time the numbers also hinted at great future opportunity for the opposition. Split votes, low turnout in strongholds, and dramatic shifts in some wards showed ANC supporters with mixed feelings about their party of choice.

There were also signs of ANC stagnation. In some wards the ANC maintained its vote numerically, but saw its percentages eroded through new registrations and higher turnout. Contrary signals, of ANC growth, were few and far between.

With numbers still coming in thick and fast there were already mutterings about attempts, mainly from the ANC, to influence EFF candidates and branches with financial incentives. None of those doing the muttering would speak on the record, however. But privately, one EFF member sneered at what he called such attempts. “It’s their biggest mistake,” he said of ANC overtures. “We are revolutionaries.”

ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa did not rule out the possibility of the ANC entering into coalition discussions with opposition parties. “Coalition is the product of results. The counting is continuing. Things can still change.”

He said the ANC might not perform well because “people take it for granted that because the ANC is big, it will win elections.”

He dismissed suggestions that the decline in support for the ANC was a vote of no confidence.

“This is not an anti-ANC vote. The decline can be because people were unhappy. We must own up, acknowledge [our mistakes] and self-correct,”² said Kodwa.

Independent takes ANC seat

The ANC’s failure to renew a membership card and parachuting in an “outside candidate” has caused them to lose another ward in KwaZulu-Natal.

In January ANC member Phillip Dlamini was killed at a SACP meeting in Inchanga where the party was nominating a candidate for the same ward that has just been won by independent candidate Petros Nxumalo. According to election results in ward four of Inchanga near Durban he was the firm favourite, raking up over half of the votes. Electoral disputes have plagued the ANC in the province, in some cases leading to political assassinations.

“The biggest problem is not the ANC; it’s the criminals inside the party who believe they can run things as they want. This party was meant to serve the people and that is what I will be doing,” he said. – Athandiwe Saba

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo

Matuma Letsoalo is the political editor of the Mail & Guardian. He joined the newspaper in 2003 and has won numerous awards since then, including the regional award for Vodacom Journalist of the Year in the economics and finance category in 2015, SA Journalist of the Year in 2011, the Mondi Shanduka SA Story of the Year award in 2008 and CNN African Journalist of the Year – MKO Abiola Print Journalism in 2004.
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    • Phillip de Wet

      Phillip de Wet

      Phillip de Wet writes about politics, society, economics, and the areas where these collide. He has never been anything other than a journalist, though he has been involved in starting new newspapers, magazines and websites, a suspiciously large percentage of which are no longer in business. PGP fingerprint: CF74 7B0F F037 ACB9 779C 902B 793C 8781 4548 D165
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