Dissecting the positives of the GNU and the dangers it will face

The pros and cons of GNU

The pros and cons of GNU

Published Jun 20, 2024


By Stef Terblanche

Much has been said and written about South Africa’s new Government of National Unity (GNU). The pros and cons have been weighed up and there are those who support it and those who don’t.

With the inauguration of President Cyril Ramaphosa, it seems like it’s fait accompli, or mission accomplished. But there still is plenty that can go wrong, and plenty to be tweaked Nonetheless, there’s much to be said for this GNU originally consisting of the ANC, the DA and the IFP, with the reported belated addition of Patricia de Lille’s GOOD party, Gayton McKenzie’s PA and possibly also the FF+.

And in this very movable and fluid political feast where new developments occur at every turn, the PAC has now also joined the GNU with the aim of promoting its land redistribution policy, the first left-wing party to join.

Still, all things considered, the GNU probably is the best option for South Africa at this juncture. Here’s why:

- What has emerged is a promising governing alternative to what we had before, so far pushing for stability and good governance, and praised around the world. It has also resulted in bringing confidence to the markets and among investors, while support here at home seems to be substantial.

- Having the two biggest political parties in the GNU also provides numerical strength in Parliament well beyond the reach of any opposition formation, a prerequisite for political stability and continuity in both the executive and legislative spheres. It leaves much less room for frequent defections and new coalition formations as we have seen at local government level.

- And while the two biggest parties have a long adversarial history in fierce opposition to each other, both seem to realise South Africa has reached a point of no return that requires cooperative governance, concessions and compromise that put the best outcomes for the people and not for parties first. Together they can harness the political will and strength to achieve just that. And should they deadlock in disagreement over any matter, the moderate and experienced IFP is ideally positioned to step in as a third-party mediator while a process for conflict-resolution has already been agreed to, and a more comprehensive mechanism is to be established.

- The participating parties have put themselves and their credibility on the line to the point where they have much to lose and nothing to gain if they allow the GNU to unravel and fall apart.

- Much of the strength of the GNU lies in the fact that the different participating parties bring varied constituencies together in the governing fold, covering almost the full gamut of our racial, ethnic and socio-economic diversity for the first time in South Africa, and in stark contrast to the opposition formations about to take shape in Parliament, led by the MK party and the EFF.

- Another major plus point of the GNU is that the free rein enjoyed by the ANC when it was the majority governing party and which led to significant abuses and corruption, are over. No party to the GNU will be able to get away with such behaviour anymore as the different participating parties will be policing each other – in effect a new layer of checks and balances that should produce cleaner government, better policy implementation, and more focused and improved delivery.

So, what are the potential weaknesses and threats to the GNU? The most obvious one of course is that the parties could frequently fail to find agreement on key issues and policies, starting right now with the allocation of executive and legislative positions and powers. A gridlocked Cabinet or National Assembly will be of little use to the long- suffering people of South Africa.

There’s also hidden danger within the GNU itself in the underlying dynamics of political parties that have long been aggressive adversaries of each other – while seemingly strong on the surface right now, the GNU is going to walk a political tightrope until it is more securely established. Making matters worse is that it will be navigating uncharted waters at first.

The ANC has called on more smaller parties to join the GNU. This is positive from the point of view that it will further strengthen the GNU in Parliament possibly to the point where it will have a two-thirds majority, enough to alter the Constitution unilaterally as a bloc. It’s also positive in that it will bring about the widest representation and cooperative governance, as was envisaged.

But it has a downside too in that it could make the GNU large and unwieldy, and complicate consensus decision-making with such diversity and so many voices wanting to be heard. And it could prevent the trimming of the Cabinet promised by President Ramaphosa and rather bloat it further as each participating party makes demands for power and positions.

Most or all of them may have to be accommodated, and it seems there’s a late rush to join prompted by the dangling carrot of jobs and big pay checks and perks. Too many parties in the GNU leading to constant squabbling, various impasses, and frequent defections, could prove to be its Achilles heel.

On the opposition side a rather disparate collection of parties is forming what they call the Progressive Caucus, a loose alliance of opposition parties led by the two biggest ones, namely the EFF and, once they are sworn in as MPs, Jacob Zuma’s MK party.

While they lack the numbers to derail GNU initiatives as things stand now, they are likely to make considerable noise and disrupt legislative and committee proceedings in much the same way the EFF used to do in the previous administration.

On top of this comes Zuma’s particular brand of grudge and revenge politics aimed at achieving the demise of Ramaphosa and the ANC. That could produce endless interruptions and delays in the political business of the nation.

Zuma has also promised the launch of an extra-parliamentary Patriotic Front. This has an ominous ring to it when one thinks back to July 2021, especially in respect of KwaZulu-Natal where the MK has a following of almost 50% of the province’s voters. The sorry implication is that Zuma has only his own selfish revenge at heart, and not the best interests of the entire nation.

Both the MK and EFF are unfortunately playing the race card to try and undermine the GNU, and are blaming its formation on that devious ‘white monopoly capital’ – a concept devised in defence of Zuma, the Guptas and state capture by that discredited lilywhite British PR firm Bell Pottinger during the height of the looting of the South African state.

In the final analysis, South Africa has emerged with what seems like a good political deal and there’s much to be pleased about and much to positively anticipate from a seemingly brighter future. But we should not forget that there are inherent challenges and potential weaknesses that could upset the smooth flow of things, while lurking in the shadows are forces hell-bent on destroying the GNU. Its going to take a lot of support and a lot of hard work if we are going to make it work.

*Terblanche is an independent political risk analyst based in Cape Town.