/ 16 August 2023

Steenhuisen: Moonshot pact is not anti-ANC

John Steenhuisen 3088 Dv
DA leader John Steenhuisen. Photo by Delwyn Verasamy/M&G

Democratic Alliance (DA) leader John Steenhuisen has backtracked from his initial posture on the “moonshot pact”, saying that the alliance with other political parties is not about unseating the ANC. 

Steenhuisen has previously said the moonshot pact was geared towards unseating the ANC and preventing a coalition between the governing party and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) after the 2024 general elections. 

His change in tone could be motivated by the DA’s potential coalition partners, who have warned that it can’t be centred on the ANC and the EFF. 

“This cannot and must not be a purely anti-ANC project. It must be a pro-South African project,” Steenhuisen told the media at the start of a national conference on the moonshot pact in Kempton Park, east of Johannesburg.

This contrasts with what he said when he mooted the pact after being re-elected as DA leader in April, suggesting it as a way to mitigate against the threat of an ANC-EFF alliance. 

“I want to be unequivocal about the DA’s view on this — the day that an ANC-EFF government takes over will be doomsday for South Africa. An EFF doomsday will make the collapse of Zimbabwe look like a dress rehearsal and will leave all South Africans destitute — black, coloured, white and Indian,” Steenhuisen said then.

This week’s national convention is the result of several months of talks among opposition parties about securing a coalition agreement ahead of the 2024 national and provincial vote to dislodge the ANC from power.

The Mail & Guardian recently reported that the DA was under pressure from its coalition partners to publicly denounce any association with the ANC. The parties had also taken issue with the DA claiming the moonshot pact as its project. 

The DA’s coalition partners had emphasised that there was mistrust between themselves and the official opposition. 

On Wednesday, Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) leader Velenkosi Hlabisa told the media that the national convention was about South Africa and its people. 

“This is not an anti ruling-party club; our reason for convening here is much more important. We do not hate the ANC, we hate what they have done to South Africa,” Hlabisa said.

Other leaders took a similar stance, saying that the parties needed to go beyond simply opposing the ANC and provide voters with a viable alternative in the 2024 elections.

Formerly a civil society movement and now part of the moonshot pact initiative, the United Independent Movement (UIM) also said its agenda could not be structured around the ANC. 

“We are not here to pick a fight to make any other party public enemy number one, but we are here to make the public number one. Our diversity makes us a great nation. It is in this diversity we will find a union,” said its president, Neil de Beer.

The nature of the coalition among the parties is expected to dominate talks during the closed sittings, along with rules of engagement on how they will relate to each other during the election campaign.

The parties will probably also debate the expansion of the coalition to include other small and emerging parties, such as Mmusi Maimane’s Build One South Africa, Songezo Zibi’s Rise Mzansi, Bongani Baloyi’s Xiluva and the controversial Patriotic Alliance led by Gayton McKenzie. 

Speaking at the media briefing, William Gumede, the independent chair mediating the talks, said the willingness of opposition party leaders to allow outsiders in showed maturity and was a critical moment for South Africa. 

“This is a historical moment, it is one of the few processes in the world where an agreement is put together — a coalition before the elections,” said Gumede.

The convention has brought together ActionSA, Freedom Front Plus, IFP, UIM, the Independent South African National Civic Organisation and the Spectrum National Party to discuss possible options for the moonshot pact in the build-up to the 2024 elections. 

“Ask whether we are collectively providing solutions to issues like unemployment, load-shedding and crime,” Steenhuisen said at the conference.

“If the answer is ‘yes’ — if these parties emerge with an agreement not only to defeat the ANC but to rescue South Africa — then I ask that you judge it as a success.”

Gumede said the initial round of discussions was progressing favourably, with the parties agreeing on a name for the pact — the Multi Party Charter — and a party vision. 

“The big issue was obviously the name. The ‘moonshot pact’ was a bone of contention. Many parties wanted a name, because a name is key, and an identity. The name was a big obstacle to getting an agreement. The name that was accepted was a consensus,” Gumede said.