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ANC’s flirtation with the DA imperils SA’s foreign policy

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People queue outside an IEC voting station in Makhaza Khayelitsha. South Africans headed to the polls for their seventh democratic general election since apartheid ended in 1994. Over 27 million South Africans aged 18 and above registered for the elections. – Picture: Ayanda Ndamane / Independent Newspapers / May 29, 2024

By Reneva Fourie

A significant battle for control over the country’s policy-making arena is under way. The ANC’s underwhelming 40 percent performance at a national level means it needs to form a coalition to govern.

The business sector strongly advocates for the ANC to form a coalition government with the DA and some signatories to the multi-party pact. However, within the ANC and its alliance partners, there is a preference for co-governance with political parties that share similar pro-poor policy positions.

The situation may be more complex than it appears. South Africa may have experienced a soft coup attempt. This attempt at regime change carried out through the electoral process aimed to oust a political party that supports workers and the poor and replace it with a government amenable to rolling back the progress regarding worker rights and public services. The outcome of the coalition will determine the success of regime change.

Facilitating a popular insurrection or getting people to turn against their governments rather than financing military coups is the new preferred method of regime change.

The two-pronged approach is usually championed by pro-Western political parties in alliance with seemingly progressive non-governmental organisations. Such an approach entails discrediting the governing party (negative campaign) while pushing the people to the polls (positive campaign). The hope is that people will become sufficiently disillusioned and vote for the opposition party in large numbers.

Should achieving power through the ballot fail, civilian disobedience is advanced to create an illusion that the government has no control.

While acknowledging subjective factors that contributed to the ANC’s demise, such as corruption, power outages and deteriorating water quality, there are factors outside of its control that underpinned its downfall.

International and domestic capital invested significant resources into discrediting the party. “Rescue South Africa” or similar phrases were punted by opposition parties, the media and intellectuals despite the tremendous gains since 1994, the successful navigation of Covid-19, governance being relatively effective and business operating as usual.

Furthermore, millions were poured into the election campaign to elevate the opposition, particularly the DA, despite its dismal failure in municipalities under its control and its pro-white skewed service delivery practices in the Western Cape.

The strategy worked relatively well. The ANC lost a whopping 71 seats in Parliament. However, the regime change effort was only partially successful. It was intended that, as DA leader John Steenhuisen declared, the multi-party pact would collectively get more than 50 percent. Steenhuisen confirmed that the DA facilitated funding for the smaller parties, hoping they would garner more votes. Given the failure, regime change now wants to enter via the back door through a coalition.

One fundamental aspect that drives the regime change effort is the hope that the ANC’s coercion into coalition politics would dilute the country’s key foreign policy objectives. The country’s foreign policy will likely stay the same if the ANC forms a coalition with policy-aligned parties. However, if the ANC enters into a coalition with the DA, the government’s non-aligned stance and positions on issues such as Palestine and BRICS+ might be sacrificed on the altar of expediency.

Despite the DA having only 87 seats in Parliament compared to the ANC’s 159, its financial backers hold significant sway, necessitating flexibility by the ANC.

There is little convergence between the foreign policy of the DA and that of the ANC. When the DA refers to “building relationships with all mutually beneficial countries and not being paralysed in historic loyalties”, it implies alignment with our historical colonialists, now current imperialist countries.

Due to its non-aligned position, our government has successfully maintained relations with the US and countries in Europe while maintaining a posture against imperialist domination and promoting fairness at an international level. However, the DA values the US above the UN and serves as its mouthpiece in South Africa.

The US has a long history of attempting to influence South Africa’s foreign and trade relations. In the past, the US government supported the apartheid regime and political parties like the IFP. Consequently, the US was one of the last countries to impose sanctions, and this only occurred due to significant domestic pressure from its citizens. During our negotiated transition, the US unsuccessfully attempted to impose a federal state.

Since then, the US has continued to try to influence our policy trajectory.

South Africa is regarded as a pivotal state due to its mineral wealth, strategic location, position as the largest economy in Africa, and being one of the most influential countries in the global South.

In its 2022 “US Strategy toward sub-Saharan Africa”, which represents a reframing of Africa’s importance to US national security interest, it advocates free market economies (that is, no regulation by government, for example, to curtail high prices, ensure quality control or impose fair worker conditions).

Having identified Africa as a major site of “great-power competition”, it also states limiting China and Russia’s influence over sub-Saharan African countries as a critical objective. Accordingly, the US has applied many soft and hard tactics to goad South Africa’s compliance.

The DA and its multi-party pact partners have fundamentally endorsed the US’s long-standing advocacy of a free-market economy and federalism for our country. However, beyond being one of five Western countries that wrote to President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2019 to dictate our governance approach, the US aggressively tried to influence South Africa’s stance on the Ukraine/Russia matter.

During the review of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), the US threatened South Africa with exclusion. It wanted South Africa to ongoing aggression against the people in the Donbas region, Nato’s continued expansionism and arming of the Ukrainian government, and impose non-UN-endorsed sanctions against Russia. To justify exclusion from Agoa, US ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, in May 2023, falsely accused us of clandestinely selling arms to Russia.

Steenhuisen seized the opportunity to demonstrate his allegiance to the US. After visiting Ukraine in May 2022 as a gesture of support and several trips to the US, he eagerly exploited the allegations of weapons sales. Steenhuisen has done a great job proving himself to be a helpful US stooge.

Another policy difference is on the issue of Palestine. The DA’s historical pro-Israel stance is well-known. A coalition with the Zionist-funded DA will require that the government temper its human rights stance regarding the Palestinians.

The May 29 elections were a powerful demonstration of democracy. The widespread sentiment that “the people have spoken” resonates nationwide. However, an excessive amount of financial resources has been deployed to influence the election results, raising questions about the authenticity of the outcomes as a genuine reflection of the public’s voice.

Ultimately, the composition of the coalition government will define who wields the authority – the populace or financial influence.

Dr Reneva Fourie is a policy analyst specialising in governance, development and security