‘Dear John’: Analyst says the stakes are high and frustration is creeping in

ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa’s ‘Dear John’ letter to DA leader John Steenhuisen has got tongues wagging, but an analyst says it’s all part of the negotiation process. IOL graphic

ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa’s ‘Dear John’ letter to DA leader John Steenhuisen has got tongues wagging, but an analyst says it’s all part of the negotiation process. IOL graphic

Published Jun 28, 2024


As the political scene in South Africa continues to light up in the aftermath of the May 29 general elections, many are still digesting the leaked letter written by President Cyril Ramaphosa to DA leader John Steenhuisen.

In the general elections held last month, the ANC received its worst election result since the end of apartheid 30 years ago in South Africa. The party garnered 40% of the vote, resulting in the loss of its absolute majority in Parliament

IOL last week reported that Ramaphosa had officially begun his second term after his party formed a government of national unity (GNU) which includes its long-standing rival, the Democratic Alliance (DA), along with other smaller parties such as the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the Patriotic Alliance (PA).

The formulation of the government seemed well on course, until letters started emerging this week, being exchanged between the DA and the ANC.

President Cyril Ramaphosa was last week sworn in by Chief Justice Raymond Zondo at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Picture: Phando Jikelo / Parliament of SA

The letters are part of the tough negotiations for Cabinet posts in the seventh administration, and friction has developed between the main protagonists in the GNU, the ANC and the DA.

Ramaphosa’s letter to Steenhuisen, whom he addressed as “Dear John” has got tongues wagging, as the ANC president seemed exasperated with the back and forth over positions in Cabinet.

In part, Ramaphosa’s scathing letter to Steenhuisen reads: “You have said that you would like new portfolios to be allocated to the DA out of the options of Sports, Arts and Culture, Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform, or Public Service and Administration.

“You go on to say that you are certain that assigning two additional portfolios to the DA, which would take your quantum and cabinet from six to eight, would satisfy clause 16 of the Statement of Intent by better reflecting the will of the people as expressed in the electoral outcomes, while also taking into account the national interest.

“I regard your approach in moving the goalposts as a continuation of what was articulated in your Federal Chair's letter of 22 June 2024 on issues such as "sealed mandates" of ministries, through which the DA seemed to want to set up a parallel government that would operate outside the framework and parameters of the constitution-based method and protocols of running the government of the Republic of South Africa,” said Ramaphosa.

The letter by DA federal chair Helen Zille to the ANC also set tongues wagging earlier this week. File Picture: Ayanda Ndamane / Independent Newspapers

In an interview with broadcaster Newzroom Afrika, political analyst Dr Ongama Mtimka said Ramaphosa’s ventilation is characteristics of such high-stakes negotiations.

“What I am reading from there (the letter) is that the stakes are high, the emotions are high and it is getting frustrating. But this is the nature of negotiations. I think the political parties are managing a number of things here, one is the substance of what they are talking about, getting to have a Cabinet. However, there is an internal gaze from the political parties themselves,” he said.

“For the ANC, those internally within it are looking at this process with a view to judge the elites, especially the president as to how much are they going to concede to the demands of the DA.

“The DA, on the other hand, is also managing its own internal dynamics, the elites within the DA wanting to show that they are not selling out, as it were. That makes the stage to be very tense. In the end, it is much about who gets what, as the optics of what it looks like politically. Does it look like one party has strong-armed the other?” said Mtimka.

In the latest development, IOL reported on Friday that Ramaphosa has called a Joint Sitting of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) for the opening of Parliament and the president’s delivery of the opening of Parliament address.

Ramaphosa has called for the opening of Parliament to take place on July 18, as a platform for him to outline the priorities of the seventh administration.

“The president has asked that Parliament convene in terms of Section 84(2)(d) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, read with Rule (13)(1)(a) of the joint rules of Parliament,” said Ramaphosa’s spokesperson Vincent Magwenya on Friday.