Menu Close

GNU talks must not be used to settle political scores

Add to my bookmarks
ClosePlease login

No account yet? Register

Share This Article:

ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa at the party’s National Executive Committee meeting held at the Birchwood Conference Centre outside Johannesburg on Thursday. Ramaphosa informed the nation that the ANC’s national chairperson Gwede Mantashe is leading the party’s talks with other political parties on the formation of a proposed Government of National Unity. – Picture: Itumeleng English/ Independent Newspapers / Taken June 6, 2024

By Bheki Mngomezulu

The announcement of the 2024 general election results on Sunday, June 2, by the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) wherein no political party obtained the required 50-plus-one threshold needed to constitute government, meant that political parties must begin talking to one another to discuss future governance arrangements.

The discussions need political negotiators who have a sound mind and are visionaries. They should be able to see the bigger picture beyond the immediate benefits.

Any party that goes into negotiations of this nature unprepared is bound to make wrong decisions which will come back to haunt it. Unfortunately, it is not only the party that suffers from the consequences of its actions. The country falls victim to such wrong decisions.

Another important factor to note is that some political parties make certain decisions that are irrational and entirely driven by vendetta against other political parties. They enter into arrangements, not to serve the country but to settle political scores.

This is dangerous in many ways. First, it achieves only a temporary goal of meeting the constitutional requirement to form a government within two weeks of the election.

Second, at times, the parties that enter into such governance arrangements do so because they have a “common enemy” – the party they either want to remove from power or prevent from ascending to power. Once that goal has been achieved, there is nothing more that keeps such coalition partners together.

Another danger with arrangements of convenience is that they do not serve the interests of either the electorate or the country. As soon as the temporary goals have been achieved and the power-sharing deals begin to disintegrate, the country and the people become victims.

South Africa is no exception in this regard. Those who are involved in the talks should be mindful of the broader context that has been presented above. Should they fail to do so, South Africa can easily descend into political chaos.

If that were to happen, it would be regrettable and an indictment on them. The country’s experience with dysfunctional municipalities should serve as a source of reference when the politicians decide South Africa’s political future.

In the recently concluded election, the ANC dropped below the 50 percent mark which many of us had predicted. Unfortunately, the analysis-based prediction was dismissed by the political leadership and those who support the ANC so blindly that they deny even something too obvious not to see. We were vindicated by the results.

Although the ANC came nowhere close to the 50-plus-one threshold, it obtained 40.2 percent of the votes. In its bid to continue to participate in the governance of South Africa, it has embarked on a process to talk to various political parties about the possibility of forming a coalition.

When this option seemed difficult, on Thursday, the ANC national executive committee resolved to negotiate for a Government of National Unity (GNU). In so doing, the ANC hopes to draw from the country’s experiment with this form of government in 1994.

There are a few things the ANC must guard against. Given the sour relations between President Cyril Ramaphosa and former president Jacob Zuma, the ANC must not use the GNU talks to settle the score between itself and the uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MKP).

During the campaign period, a lot was said by ANC leaders about Zuma and his MKP, which was unnecessary. Now that the election is over, the two parties must find each other and put the country first.

For the ANC to strike a deal with the DA and the IFP simply because it wants to punish the MKP would not benefit South Africa. In KZN, the MKP is the leading party. The worst that could happen would be for the ANC “to isolate those who want to cause chaos”, as Ramaphosa said, and relegate the MKP to the opposition benches.

This would assist the ANC in the short term but would have serious long-term negative consequences. Voters would feel aggrieved by such action since many of them voted for the MKP.

Second, policy positions between the ANC and the DA are irreconcilable. Forming a GNU of convenience that is premised on political expediency would be a recipe for disaster for the country.

Another danger with a careless GNU is that it could further divide the ANC. If DA leader John Steenhuisen were to become South Africa’s deputy president, Paul Mashatile’s position would be in limbo. Those who support him in the ANC would cry foul.

Moreover, in making any GNU decision, the ANC must be mindful of the fate of the its alliance with Cosatu, the SACP and SA National Civic Organisation. Some within these alliance partners have expressed their discomfort about giving the DA more power in the government.

Last, the IEC declared the results while 26 parties had lodged complaints under Section 55. The decision has complicated coalition talks. There is a trust deficit among political parties and their relationship with the electoral body. If the talks result in a GNU that is frowned upon by some aggrieved parties, South Africa could face a constitutional dilemma.

Should some or all the parties that have a seat or seats in the National Assembly and in the Provincial Legislative Assemblies decide to boycott the swearing-in ceremonies, South Africa might be heading for an untenable situation.

This could either force a fresh election when the country is struggling financially or trigger political turmoil. We have examples of such developments in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and many others. South Africa does not need that.

The GNU could be an option. But even this option is problematic in two ways. First, parties aggrieved about the results would feel let down. Second, the allocation of positions could be used to settle political scores.

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