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Negotiation politics to play a key role in KZN outcome

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By Dirk Kotzé

It is possible to predict that KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) will become the signature of the 2024 national and provincial elections. It is the only province where four parties are in an intense battle and the provincial election’s outcome is exceptionally difficult to predict.

The IFP-branded election bus for the 2024 National and Provincial Election Campaign was launched on Saturday in Durban. – Picture: Supplied

Symptomatic of the situation is the fact that the ANC, EFF and IFP launched their elections manifestos in the same stadium in KZN. South Africa’s electoral system of proportional party representation (with a minuscule independent component now also present) implies that the most populous provinces are also politically the most influential. As the second most populous one after Gauteng, it is therefore important how the elections in KZN are concluded.

During the years of former president Jacob Zuma (2009-2018), KZN was the biggest province in the ANC’s context. The city of eThekwini was also its biggest region in the country. At the same time, KZN is the most important province for the IFP, because most of its supporters are there. The DA also sees the province as its most important base after Gauteng and the Western Cape.

Since late last year, a game-changer emerged in the form of the uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MKP). It will be in direct competition with the ANC, EFF and, to a lesser degree, the IFP and DA. The dynamics will be unique at a provincial level in the South African context.

Several opinion polls sketched a potential political landscape in the province which place the MKP slightly ahead of the ANC, close to the IFP and DA, and the EFF a bit lower down.

In addition to the polls, for the purpose of developing a preview of the likely results, the long-term trends of the past can also be taken into consideration.

In the case of the ANC, before 2004, its support level was below 40 percent. The turning point was around 2005 when then-president Thabo Mbeki dismissed Zuma as national deputy president. At that point, the ANC’s support in KZN started to increase significantly, to about 46 percent. When Zuma became president after the 2009 election, the ANC’s support in KZN rocketed to 63 percent. After his demise in 2018, the ANC’s provincial support in 2019 sharply dropped by 10 percent and local government support by 16 percent in 2021.

The IFP was the reverse mirror image of the ANC. The ANC’s growth during the Zuma years was the IFP’s period of decline. It was exacerbated by the break-away of the National Freedom Party from the IFP and felt especially in the 2011 and 2014 elections. Ever since the 2016 local government election, the IFP has been in a revival phase.

KwaZulu-Natal is the third most important province for the DA. Its federal leader, John Steenhuisen, originates from the province. Since the 2004 provincial election, the party has increased its support gradually in all the elections, to about 13 percent. More recently, the party entered into a co-operation agreement with the IFP for local government elections and it produced good results in many by-elections.

Recent opinion polls suggest a marked increase for the DA that will take it closer to the IFP and ANC. It is possibly explained by the DA’s agenda to present itself as the service delivery saviour of the province, given the fact that the quality of governance in eThekwini and many other centres has visibly deteriorated and could not recover from several natural disasters.

The EFF also has KZN in its visor. During the 2019 provincial election the party – when the ANC lost 10 percent support – the EFF increased its support by 8 percent and, in the following 2021 local government election, by 5 percent. The fact that the national launch of its election manifesto in 2024 was at the Moses Mabhida stadium in KZN is understood as a clear statement of intent to make the province a priority for it. Unfortunately for the EFF, the emergence of the MKP can spoil it for the EFF.

What happens in KZN with the MKP will determine whether it will also play a national role. Except for Mpumalanga, most observers do not expect it to be a major factor in the other provinces. In that respect, it resembles very much the history of the IFP. Two considerations will determine the party’s future: the presence of Zuma and the emotions it evokes of the historical significance of uMkhonto we Sizwe.

Its formation late last year initially did not draw much attention. Only when Zuma announced his association with the party on December 16, 2023, the same day in 1961 when the ANC’s paramilitary wing uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) announced its existence and launched sabotage attacks, did it became a big attraction. Its name and logo gave notice of a contest between the party and the ANC about who can control the historical legacy of one of the most important liberation symbols. The same predicament for the ANC happened in 2008 when Cope was formed, and both claimed ownership of the Freedom Charter.

The MK movement of 1961 symbolised the radicalism of the ANC in the form of the armed Struggle and the ANC’s exile history before 1990. President Cyril Ramaphosa does not have any direct association with it, because he was not in exile. Zuma, on the other hand, can make a claim to it. The Zuma statement on December 16, exploited this distinction and claimed that the Ramaphosa leadership of the ANC are negating the ANC’s traditional values, while he wants to restore them in the ANC by using the MKP.

The ANC-MK battle in KZN is, therefore, about the soul of the ANC, at least for the people in the province. The announcement by the minister of justice this week, that inquiries would be instituted to investigate the deaths many years ago of former ANC president Chief Albert Luthuli and a prominent lawyer, Griffiths Mxenge, both from KZN, can be linked to this narrative. Both are ANC heroes of the pre-1990 era and this step is a clear indication of how the Ramaphosa leadership want to embrace KZN historical figures in the process of countering the MK narrative.

What can we expect from the election results?

A provincial coalition government is almost inevitable. The main question is who will constitute it. An ANC-IFP combination is one possibility but on its own, it might not reach a majority. The same will be the case with a DA-IFP combination as well as an MK-EFF combination. One possibility, therefore, is a combination of two big parties and several smaller ones. In such a situation, it boils down to the question of who the most astute negotiators are and whether some confidential commitments were made before the election. Time for negotiations will be limited because the provincial premier must be elected not later than 14 days after the election results are declared.

Not more than five days later, the premier must be inaugurated and soon thereafter, the provincial executive must be announced.

Negotiation politics will therefore be a key requirement.

Professor Dirk Kotzé is based in the Department of Political Sciences, Unisa