/ 25 June 2024

Tentative progress towards GNU government deal

Gnu (1)
All smiles: The ANC’s Gwede Mantashe shakes hands with Helen Zille of the Democratic Alliance as ANC bigwig Nomvula Mokonyane looks on. Photo: Supplied

Negotiations between the ANC and the Democratic Alliance towards a government of national unity (GNU) continued on Monday, after hitting the rough in recent days over the number of posts in the executive that would go to the DA.

A source close to the process confirmed that a meeting took place on Monday between chief negotiators from the two parties, saying it yielded some progress towards resolving a deadlock on cabinet positions that has persisted for days.

Another simply said the talks were ongoing. Other sources also suggested the historic process was not out of the woods yet.

The standoff between the ANC and the DA has delayed not only President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement of his new cabinet, but prevented Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi from naming his provincial executive.

It concerns the number of key positions the DA should be given in return for entering into  government with the ANC, and sparing the party a tie-up with the Economic Freedom Fighters and former president Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto weSizwe party, now the third biggest in the land.

Sources on Monday confirmed the authenticity of a leaked letter in which Helen Zille, the DA’s former leader and current chairperson of its federal council, put across a demand of 11 critical positions in return for staying the course.

“It is also reasonable and fair that the DA should have representation across cabinet clusters,” read the letter, which referred to the party’s vote share, while stating that it remained committed to being part of a government that could deliver demonstrable change.

“We have a mandate from 3.5 million voters to do so, and it would be a betrayal of them and of all the people of South Africa if we were to enter a government in which we are inhibited from delivering,” the missive, addressed to ANC secretary general Fikile Mbalula, added.

The positions the DA demanded included the deputy presidency and the ministries of trade and industry, transport, public works and administration, higher education, justice, home affairs and international relations and cooperation.

The latter, in particular, is a no-go zone given the ANC and DA’s starkly divergent policies, notably on the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East.

The DA’s expectations have been anchored in its position as the second biggest party — with roughly 22% of votes cast to the ANC’s 40% — and a statement of intent to form a government of national unity.

The text was signed by the DA in the nick of time, about 90 minutes into the first sitting of the National Assembly 10 days ago where MPs then proceeded to re-elect Ramaphosa and vote for Thoko Didiza and Annelie Lotriet as consensus candidate for speaker and deputy speaker respectively.

Since then, the two biggest parties have been at odds as to the number of seats the DA should rightly fill in the executive. The DA has based its demands on the wording of the statement of intent — itself the subject of much to and fro — which states that the make-up of the executive should ‘’broadly’ reflect the number of seats each party won in the May vote.

The ANC has made clear that it holds a different view.

More precisely, senior ANC leaders have said that nothing in the text could outweigh the Constitution, which makes appointing the cabinet strictly the president’s prerogative.

A source close to the negotiating process described the DA’s bargaining as tone deaf, adding that it risked upending a historic pact for power-sharing after an election that brought a dramatic end to the ANC’s outright majority.

The same source suggested that the DA’s donors would not at this point in the game allow the party to walk away from the power-sharing pact.

Mbalula issued a statement on Monday accusing the DA of negotiating in bad faith.

The ANC “notes with concern that some parties have been making outlandish and outrageous demands for specific cabinet positions in the media”, Mbalula said.

“Negotiating through leaking demands to the media is an act of bad faith and this practice will not help the cause of any party,” he said. 

“It is only the president who has the final say on the appointment of his cabinet. The GNU cannot be held to ransom by any single party. The people need a government to be established sooner, rather than later.”

For his part, Ramaphosa on Monday said in his weekly newsletter that power-sharing should proceed along the interests of the country, not any particular party’s demands for positions.

“South Africans are watching. We should not waste our energies on those who stand in the way of our country’s progress or lose momentum over differences that can be resolved,” he wrote.

“South Africans made clear with their votes in last month’s elections that they want their elected representatives to put aside narrow interests and work together to build the country.

“To do so, the GNU cannot be preoccupied with jockeying for positions, tussles over appointments or squabbles within and between parties.”