/ 2 June 2024

Ramaphosa won’t resign despite historic ANC electoral loss, seeks coalition with DA

Gettyimages 2153995685 594x594
In 2023, under president Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa ranked 94 out of 165 countries in economic freedom. This is the lowest since 1994, according to the Economic Freedom of the World Report. (Leon Sadiki/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

President Cyril Ramaphosa does not intend to resign as ANC leader despite leading the party to the historic loss of an electoral majority it has held for 30 years, the Mail & Guardian has learned.

Though he is bitterly disappointed that the ANC barely polled 40 percent, sources close to Ramaphosa said he reasons that “much is at stake” and South Africa is in need of political maturity that can provide stable governance after voters tore up the odds by making his predecessor Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto weSizwe party the third biggest in the country.

The only route to that stability, for Ramaphosa and his closest allies within the ANC, is through a working arrangement with the Democratic Alliance.

The party’s Gauteng leadership and younger members of the ANC national executive committee have thus far favoured the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) as a coalition partner but this thinking has lost some of its currency with a far lower share of the vote than in 2019.

Several high-ranking ANC sources have confirmed to the Mail & Guardian that they are advocating such a tie-up to create a centrist government, and would not countenance any concessions to Zuma’s MK party.  

Some suggested there is an in-principle agreement between the two biggest parties that they will work together. 

“There is alignment. It is a question of ironing out details,” one said.

The question is what form precisely such a pact will take.

It places the DA squarely before an existential dilemma it has seen coming for a while, arguably even before its highly accurate internal polling system foretold the possibility of the MK winning up to 14 percent of Wednesday’s vote.

There are two options. The first is a full-blown coalition in which the official opposition becomes the junior partner.

The second is a narrowly-structured pact where the DA agrees to cooperate on particular steps required for the government to function, notably the election of the president in the National Assembly and the passing of the national budget.

In return, the DA would secure key positions within parliament that would allow it to hold the executive to account. In any haggling of this nature, it is almost certain to demand greater devolution of powers to provinces. 

Cooperation has long been cast as an impossible ideological meeting which ignores the divides within both the ANC and the DA, the latter having for several chapters of its recent history struggled to reconcile divergent positions on black economic empowerment, to name but one issue.

Two members of the ANC’s provincial executive committee in the Eastern Cape said Ramaphosa was adamant that forming a coalition with the opposition was the “pragmatic” option. 

The province catapulted Ramaphosa to the ANC presidency in December 2017, including his re-election to the party’s top position five years later. 

However, there is a rebellion within the ANC in the same province over the president’s choice to go with the DA instead of the EFF or the MK party.

“The agreement the president is going with is for the ANC to form a government and the DA takes the legislature, including the speaker of the National Assembly and chairing the parliamentary portfolio committees,” said one PEC member, who asked to remain anonymous.  

But another PEC official reiterated that the ANC “would lose its base” — that is, the black working class in townships and rural areas — should the party adopt Ramaphosa’s strategy. 

“Going into bed with the DA will ensure the ANC sleeps forever and does not rise. The EFF and MK will be the biggest beneficiaries,” the insider asserted. 

DA MPs featuring near the top of the party’s list have said they doubt that this second option, known to be favoured by federal executive chair Helen Zille, would allow it to stem the excesses of the ANC executive.

They noted that even when ANC portfolio committees have been chaired by people prepared to take a non-partisan stance, this has had little real effect. 

DA leaders, who are due to attend an all-day meeting of the federal executive on Sunday, also reported that there have been calls for a conventional coalition with the ANC from within their constituencies.

For now, however, it appears – from what has informally been placed before the ANC – that the DA is leaning towards option two. 

It entails concessions from the ANC on key pieces of legislation, including the National Health Insurance Act – signed by the president a fortnight before voting day. 

While the DA was expected to flesh out its gambit at Sunday’s meeting, the top seven of the ANC were meeting on Saturday afternoon to find clarity on its position. From there, it would need concurrence from the National Executive Committee of the ANC to pave the way for formal talks between the parties. 

Sources within the ruling party described the MK’s election day coup as a “factional split” which has been coming for some time. Several suggested that ANC structures in the province were effectively playing both sides on, and just before, voting day.

EFF president Juliius Malema on Saturday told a media briefing that his party would not impose the removal of Ramaphosa as a pre-condition for participation in a coalition with the ANC.

Malema said the EFF would not “get involved” in the ANC’s internal leadership battles and would not make any call for him to resign as president of the party or the country.

It would be happy to work with either the ANC or with MK in the provinces or nationally, he said.

The presidency has declined to comment.