South Africa’s political landscape shifts as weakened ANC reaches out to rivals

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President Cyril Ramaphosa

Top officials in South Africa’s African National Congress have had initial talks with representatives of five other parties over a coalition or other agreement to form a government, but no decision has been made and the talks are at an early stage, the ANC said Wednesday.

South Africa faced an election deadlock after the long-ruling ANC lost its 30-year majority in an election last week but no party managed to overtake it. The ANC remained the biggest party.

ANC spokesperson Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri told reporters that there had been “exploratory” talks with the main opposition Democratic Alliance, the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters and three other smaller parties. She said the ANC had “repeatedly” reached out to the new MK Party of former President Jacob Zuma for talks, but there had been “no positive response.”

Zuma is a former ANC leader who has turned his back on the party and become fiercely critical of current President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The ANC has framed the discussions with other parties as an attempt to form a government of “national unity” and a formal coalition is not the only option, it said.

It could bring many parties into the agreement and not just those who can reach a majority with their combined share of the vote. The ANC could also still form a minority government and Bhengu-Motsiri said the ANC might even consider taking its place on the opposition benches if that was best for the country.

The ANC says it is open to engaging with any one of the more than 50 parties that contested last week’s election to find a solution. Parliament must sit by June 16 to elect a president — with Ramaphosa seeking a second term — and an agreement of some sort needs to be in place for that to happen.

“We have been meeting with all parties that are keen to contribute ideas on how we can collectively move our country forward to form a government that ensures national unity and stability,” said Bhengu-Motsiri.

The ANC only managed to secure 159 of the 400 parliamentary seats in its worst-ever electoral showing. It is followed by the Democratic Alliance with 87 seats, uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MK Party) with 58 seats, the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters with 39 seats and the Inkatha Freedom Party with 17 seats.

Analysts have warned that the ANC risks alienating some of its key, traditional base by going into a coalition with the three main opposition parties. Two of them, the Economic Freedom Fighters and the MK Party, were formed in 2013 and 2023, respectively, after their founding leaders broke away from the ANC.

The MK Party performed well in the elections, becoming the third biggest with 14% of the national vote and stealing away a significant number of traditional ANC voters in its first ever election nearly six month after it was formed.

The prospect of the ANC going into coalition with the DA is expected to face opposition from some of the ANC’s members and alliance partners including the Congress of South African Unions (Cosatu) and the South African Communist Party.

“What’s key is that a coalition be led by the ANC and President Ramaphosa, be progressive, biased towards the needs of working class communities, defend the rights of workers, grow the economy and create jobs, tackle crime and corruption, invest in public services and unite the nation,” said Cosatu spokesman Matthew Parks.

Possible tensions ahead of the talks between the ANC and the MK Party were already apparent as election results became clear, with MK Party spokesman telling The Associated Press that the party would “not negotiate with the ANC of Cyril Ramaphosa”.

A senior ANC member and former Defence Minister Siphiwe Nyanda is among those who have publicly warned the ANC against going into a coalition with Zuma’s MK Party.

“Now that Zuma has inflicted so much damage on the ANC from the outside there is a rush to bring him back by his accomplices who are still embedded in the leadership of the ANC, so that he can finish his job of destroying the once proud liberation movement of the oppressed people of South Africa,” Nyanda said in a statement. AP.


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