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Building unity in divided provinces a complex task

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The new KwaZulu-Natal GPU legislature, standing, from left: Martin Meyer, Public Works and Infrastructure; Francois Rodgers, Finance; Siboniso Duma, Transport and Human Settlements; Sipho Hlomuka, Education; Mntomuhle Khawula, Sport, Arts and Culture. Seated from left: Rev Thulasizwe Buthelezi, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs; Thembeni kaMadlopha-Mthethwa, Agriculture and Rural Development; Nomagugu Simelane, Health; KZN Premier Thami Ntuli; Mbali Chinga, Social Development; and Rev Musa Zondi, Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs. – Picture: Doctor Ngcobo / Independent Newspapers

By Bheki Mngomezulu

The results of the 2024 general election at national level set South Africa on a new path. With the ANC obtaining a mere 40 percent of the votes in an unprecedented result, the country was forced to either form a coalition government or a Government of National Unity (GNU).

At its special national executive committee meeting, the ANC deliberated for hours trying to reach a consensus on the form of collaboration the party would sell to other political parties.

Eventually, it opted for a GNU. Since then, various political parties have been engaged in debates to decide whether they would join the GNU.

Provinces like Gauteng and KZN saw the ANC performing badly. In Gauteng, the ANC obtained just over 34 percent of the votes. This was far better than the ANC’s dismal performance in KZN where it came third with a mere 17 percent. This saw the ANC getting only 14 seats against the uMkhonto weSizwe Party’s (MKP’s) 37 and the IFP’s 15 seats.

Two things stood out in these critical provinces. In Gauteng, with a slight majority, the ANC, led by Panyaza Lesufi, was given a mandate to form a government of provincial unity (GPU). This saw various political parties forming part of the provincial government under the leadership of the ANC. Such an arrangement was a fair decision since the ANC had obtained most of the votes even if it failed to meet the required 50-plus-one threshold.

Intriguingly, the same did not happen in KZN. Although the MKP had the highest number of votes, it was the ANC that led coalition talks with other political parties.

Eventually, the ANC was joined by the IFP with 15 seats, the DA with 11 and the NFP with one. This gave the collective a majority of 41 seats, leaving the MKP with 37 seats, or 39 if we add the EFF’s two seats.

The figures were reflected in the election of KZN’s office bearers.

Premier Thami Ntuli and speaker Nontembeko Boyce won by 41 votes to 39 votes obtained by their competitors Inkosi Chiliza and Melvin Dirks who represented the MKP.

Following his swearing in, Ntuli appointed a provincial cabinet which excluded the MKP and the EFF. There were four MECs from the IFP, three from the ANC, two from the DA and one from the NFP.

It remains debatable if this is the “government of provincial unity” as it has been defined or if it is a “minority coalition”. Even if the latter concept were to be used, it would not stick since the EFF is not included.

A grand coalition would have been formed by the MKP and the IFP. But because the IFP had struck a deal with the ANC and the DA at the national level, the writing was on the wall about how things would pan out at the provincial level.

This was despite IFP leader Velenkosini Hlabisa announcing, during his media briefing, that agreements at the national level would have no bearing at the provincial level.

In Gauteng, Lesufi easily consolidated his power and accommodated the DA in the deputy speaker position as part of the deal struck at national level.

What emerged soon after the formation of the Gauteng legislature was the MKP statement that its members who assisted the ANC and the DA in securing victories would be disciplined.

The reason was that they had defied a mandate the MKP gave them.

With the MKP having decided that its 58 members would be sworn in as members of the National Assembly, we can anticipate what their mandate will be. They will be instructed not to support either the ANC or the DA. Instead, they are more likely to vote with the EFF.

The complaint by the MKP and 25 other political parties about irregularities which they identified during the election will have a negative impact on the stability of the GNU and provincial legislatures.

The MKP has indicated that once it has exhausted all internal processes in presenting its case and those of the other parties, it will approach the international courts to rule on its complaints.

Until the final decision is taken on these matters, the trust deficit among various political parties will continue unabated. In the process, this will negatively affect service delivery.

The developments point to some of the political dynamics we can expect in the GNU and the GPU. It remains to be seen if there will be stability in the governments.

What is also interesting is that the ANC and the DA who were the main drivers of the talks in forming the unity governments seem to have divergent views on what the agreements entail.

When the ANC proudly announced that the Patriotic Alliance and the PAC had joined the GNU, Helen Zille raised concern, arguing that according to the DA’s agreement with the ANC, no new partner shall be accepted without the parties agreeing to that.

Another point worth ventilating is service delivery. Looking at the composition of the provincial cabinets, it remains unclear if the focus shall be on service delivery or on maintaining relations among members of the GNU and the GPU.

If the GPU is the case, the electorate’s interests will take a back seat.

* Prof Bheki Mngomezulu is Director of the Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy (CANRAD) at the Nelson Mandela University.

** The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of The African