/ 21 June 2024

Coalition talks have barely begun and the DA’s Helen Zille is already calling the manager

Gettyimages 2157580004 (1)
Bossy: ANC secretary general Fikile Mbalula will find that the DA’s Helen Zille is ready to call the shots. Photo Jeffrey Abrahams/Getty Images


Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa has been inaugurated as president of our fair Republic for the second time to begin serving his final five-year term of office.

A lot has changed in the past five years since Ramaphosa’s first inauguration as our commander-in-chief.

This time around, Cyril made it over the line and onto the stage at the Union Buildings not courtesy of an ANC majority, but with the support of his former political opponents.

Some of Ramaphosa’s former comrades are now heading for the uMkhonto weSinkwa party seats in the National Assembly and the provincial legislatures — previously occupied by his new allies.

Ramaphosa has also changed.

Cupcake appears to have lost his patience with our political class, along with the ANC’s parliamentary majority.

There was no more Mister Nice Guy as Ramaphosa laid down the law for those in — and outside — his government of national unity: either get with the programme or get out of the way.

Extended coalition negotiations and a national dialogue lie ahead, but Ramaphosa’s speech was probably the most steely he has made since he replaced Jacob Zuma in 2018 — and it set a very different tone for his final term in office.

Five years, comrades.

The words of former ANC secretary general Ace Magashule must be echoing in his successor Fikile Mbalula’s head after a week and a bit of attempting to put together a government of national unity.

Magashule’s most quotable quote came in a call on the radical economic transformation (RET) faction in the ANC back in January 2018 to defy the new leadership under Ramaphosa and take up political trench warfare until the next conference.

Ace got retrenched and the RETs found out that five years is a lifetime in politics.

Mbalula is about to discover the same.

It’s not just the fact that Mbaks and his comrades will be sharing power (and plum cabinet posts) with the Democratic Alliance (DA) and others for the next five years, rather than hogging it themselves.

Or the fact that running a party machine that depends on the dispensing of patronage to operate will be far more difficult to bring back from the intensive care unit. It now has the lowest capacity to hand out tenders, contracts or positions than at any time since 1994.

The ANC battled going into the 29  May election, less able to promise returns on investment of our tenderpreneur class — one hears they spent their money elsewhere in KwaZulu-Natal.

The number of ministries it will control by the time the coalition negotiations are over will be far fewer than it was in 2019. 

Factor in the increased scrutiny and oversight that will — hopefully — come with multi-party executives and parliamentary committees with teeth, and a lean five years lie ahead from a backdoor funding point of view.

There are more immediate dramas to deal with than the long-term loss of the ability to grease the wheels of the ANC’s election machine come 2026 and 2029 for Mbalula to deal with.

The ink on the “Statement of Intent of the 2024 Government of National Unity” was hardly dry and DA federal chairperson Helen Zille was already calling the manager over the decision to invite the Patriotic Alliance to the coalition table.

Zille hit the TV screen with a late-night Karen over Gayton McKenzie signing up for five years in Ramaphosa’s cabinet; the proposed division of seats among coalition partners and Mbalula’s (alleged) inability to read the document he co-signed with her.

According to Helen, the DA has to sign off on any new members joining the unity government, and she claims they have veto powers — despite the fact that Cyril has bigger numbers and had invited all parties to come and join at the same time as her party.

The president hadn’t been inaugurated yet and Helen was already dictating who sits next to John Steenhuisen in the cabinet for the next five years — only days after agreeing to participate in a unity government in the first place.

It’s a bit like 1652, actually.

One minute, it’s a request for some lemons and a couple of barrels of fresh water, the next, there’s three centuries of land dispossession and apartheid colonialism to deal with.

Invite Helen to join your government of national unity and the next minute it’s her who is calling the shots as to who can and cannot participate in it; determining who gets what in your cabinet and telling you that it’s her coalition — and not yours.

Not exactly the start to the next half a decade — it sounds so much longer when it’s said that way — Mbalula would have hoped for.

Five years, comrades.