/ 7 June 2024

It’s a GNU party and (almost) everybody is invited

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Crucial talks: ANC national executive committee members at a meeting in Johannesburg on Thursday to thrash out the way forward. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

The ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) sat on Thursday to confirm who to include in its proposed government of national unity (GNU) and how it would work, paving the way for the next round of talks with other political parties.

The meeting was still under way at the time of writing, considering the broad mandate that would be given to the ANC’s negotiating team, but secretary general Fikile Mbalula said earlier in the day that it had narrowed its options to a government of national unity.

The ANC team tasked to meet with other parties — it met the Democratic Alliance, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), the Economic Freedom Fighters and the Patriotic Alliance in the first round — would do so again on Friday, he said.

Speaking before the NEC meeting, held in Johannesburg, Mbalula said the only party they had not met was Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto weSizwe, which took 14.58% of the vote nationally and 44.35% in KwaZulu-Natal.

“It has been very difficult to try and reach out and we drew a blank. It will depend on this meeting whether we will still meet them but, like we said, we are open to talking to everybody,” he said.

“It’s very difficult to talk to people there because, when you talk to them, they tell you that they are still waiting for uBaba [Zuma] and you can’t find uBaba, but we are open to speaking to the MK party.”

The ANC has taken the unusual step of inviting the media to attend ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa’s closing address to the NEC meeting — set to take place after the time of writing — an indication of the intense propaganda battle that has been raging to attempt to sway the outcome.

A number of prominent ANC figures, including Zweli Mkhize and Lindiwe Sisulu, have penned articles calling on the party to resist a relationship with the Democratic Alliance (DA), in a multiparty government.

The ANC has also come under pressure from its alliance partners, labour federation Cosatu and the South African Communist Party (SACP), which warned against a coalition with the DA and the MK party.

SACP general secretary Solly Mapaila told reporters in Johannesburg on Wednesday that the alliance supported a minority coalition with government of national unity features, without the participation of the DA.

Mapaila said they characterised the MK party as being “counterrevolutionary”.

The SACP was also against seeking a coalition arrangement with the MK party, whose origins, it said, can be traced back to “factionalism, the corruption of state capture and resistance to accountability”.

On Thursday, Mbalula said there was an no agreement to work with the DA but that the negotiations would be informed by the readiness of parties to participate in a new government and to accept the goodwill of the people.

He said that the ANC had resolved to look at different models for governing, rather than looking at certain parties.

The ANC national working committee on Wednesday had not taken a clear decision on which way it would proceed and instead presented three proposals to the decision-making body.

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A group of ANC members hold a protest against the party going in with the Democratic Alliance outside the venue. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

“It is not just a question of talking about a coalition, without having a model, it is a question of saying, ‘Do we have a model in this country, through a national dialogue, that will take South Africa forward, preserving and safeguarding the interests of political parties in a particular way, without [the] political demise and [loss of] identity of political parties?” Mbalula said.

“Talks about talks continue and we are now moving to a stage, having received a mandate from the NEC, to hold hard negotiations where we look at the options, including the technicalities. 

“The GNU that we talk about might be different from 1994, so the devil is in the details. The technical team, in terms of negotiating, will receive a broad mandate.” 

Before the NEC meeting on Thursday, a group of ANC protesters, led by Zuma’s daughter Thuthukile, said the DA was not an option the ANC should consider.

Mbalula said the protest was “unfortunate” and “misplaced” because this was a time for “sober minds”. 

The ANC is not the only party facing a major ideological hurdle as a result of the elections.

If the DA began the week with a red line against any coalition with the EFF, this has started unravelling in recent days, sources close to the process said.

The problem for the DA is that the MK party’s 44.35% vote share in KwaZulu-Natal precludes any exclusive pact between itself, the IFP and the ANC. A bigger coalition is needed and the EFF, with its 9.52% of votes, brings the numbers.

Bringing in the EFF would also help the ANC’s negotiators around the fact that, for a wide swathe of the party, going into government with a liberal party they view as protecting white minority interests is ideological blasphemy.

Hence Mbalula’s statement that the ANC had reached out to all parties, including the MK party, which — predictably — ignored the olive branch.

But sources within the ANC’s senior ranks said there had been a concerted push for a pact with Zuma’s party and this speaks of the divisions that persist in the party and suggest Ramaphosa’s opponents have been emboldened, not chastened, by the loss of its majority.

Privately, ANC members close to him have said any such alignment was a no-go for them.

“If they go there, I’m gone,” one told the Mail & Guardian.

Another dilemma for the DA, and this is one it was mulling even before votes were cast, remains whether to accept cabinet seats as a minority partner in a coalition or opt for a so-called confidence-and-supply agreement, which would see it hold key positions in parliament. 

In this proposal, the EFF — and possibly the United Democratic Movement — would enter into the executive, alongside the ANC.

It would see the ANC spared ideological embarrassment — and a loss of support from Cosatu and the SACP, which have both said they could not countenance a coalition with the DA.

“But the problem is, it can really use parliament to obstruct whatever the ANC sets out to do,” a source said.

Another senior ANC source said the danger of giving other parties control of the National Assembly chair and committees was that, with reduced numbers, its leaders were also left open to embarrassment from the floor.

Early this week, the ANC met the EFF to understand what the party could bring to the table. 

The Red Berets did not hesitate to reiterate their stance — demanding the position of finance minister for party deputy president Floyd Shivambu, and the speaker position, sources close to the negotiations have said.

The EFF has not made the removal of Ramaphosa a precondition for participation in a coalition agreement but its insistence on holding the finance and speaker positions could prove an obstacle for further cooperation with the ANC.

What role it eventually plays will also be determined by how the ANC chooses to placate investors — who have been rattled by the EFF’s nationalisation policies — while at the same time keeping its own supporters onside with the agreement it secures.

IFP president Velenkosini Hlabisa was unwilling to comment on what his party’s non-negotiables were, and what it was asking in return for backing the ANC nationally, should it accept its overtures.

The IFP is understood to want the premiership of KwaZulu-Natal from any coalition agreement in which it participates.

Hlabisa did not confirm which parties the party’s representatives had spoken to.

He said the IFP’s team had started talks with a variety of parties on Monday and it was expected to report back on Friday, but that the timelines would be “informed by progress”.

“There is no-one we are not talking to,” he said. 

“We do not have an exclusive approach when engaging parties.”

The DA’s KwaZulu-Natal leader Francois Rodgers said they had set up a provincial task team which was acting in conjunction with its national office and had held several meetings with other parties in the province.

“It’s very early days in those discussions, but ultimately, we have to get to a solution where we put together a government at national and provincial level,” Rodgers said.