The ANC’s coalition conundrum

Chris Maxon

Chris Maxon

Published Jun 21, 2024


Chris Maxon

As negotiations to create a coalition government or a Government of National Unity (GNU) unfold, the ANC faces a glaring challenge: assembling a team of ethical, capable individuals committed to excellence seems increasingly out of reach.

Having secured only 40% of the vote, the once-dominant ANC finds itself in a precarious position. To secure a majority in Parliament, it must find coalition partners willing to support its presidential choice and legislative agenda. The alternative, a minority government, appears to be an untenable path.

Despite remaining the largest party, the ANC’s dramatic loss of support since the 2019 election cannot be ignored. The election results reflect the deep frustration of a populace grappling with crime, rampant corruption, poverty and inequality. South Africa’s unemployment rate is among the highest globally, with voters holding the ANC accountable for shortages of essential services like clean water, electricity and housing.

The ANC’s “minimum programme” suggests a party in denial. By ignoring its history of corruption, dishonesty and incompetence, the ANC appears to be clinging to past glories and resorting to disinformation and fearmongering to stave off an imminent constitutional crisis.

The truth is stark: the ANC has failed to deliver jobs, with around 60% of the country’s youth unemployed. It has failed to maintain basic services, such as reliable electricity and water supply, and has not curbed corruption, even when it involved its own leaders. Corruption has become endemic, pervading every level of governance.

Ironically, President Cyril Ramaphosa acknowledged before the State Capture Commission that declining electoral support was due to “corrosive corruption, which people found abhorrent”.

The 2024 national and provincial elections presented a democratic experience unprecedented in the last 30 years. This moment is a unique opportunity to build a new political trajectory. For this to happen, the ANC must transcend its incumbency, crafting a distinct policy agenda that prioritises the country’s and its people’s welfare above all else.

The ANC must acknowledge the problems that cost it its majority. Any “minimum programme” must be time-bound, with clear success milestones. Priorities should include prosecuting the corrupt, championing meritocracy over cadre deployment, attracting the best talent into public service and building a functional and efficient public sector.

Negotiating teams from all parties must recognise that people demand real change, not just in leadership but in their daily lives. Ideological correctness should take a back seat to pragmatism. Policies must be adaptable, reflecting the evolving needs of society rather than rigid ideological stances. South Africa’s new leaders and policymakers must actively draw lessons from other countries’ experiences, adapting the insights to create policies tailored to the local context.

Most importantly, we need “government effectiveness”, as defined by the World Bank: quality public service provision, a competent bureaucracy, civil servants’ independence from political pressures and a credible government commitment to policies.

Ultimately, the tragic story of a young woman driven to kill her poverty-stricken children should be a stark reminder to all political parties. They must muster the political will and be prepared to pay the high political price necessary to make South Africa perform at its peak.

To grasp the essence of South Africa’s political reset, we can turn to a metaphor from horse racing. In the sport, the phrase “win by a nose” refers to a situation where, among closely matched competitors, the victory goes to the one who just barely edges ahead. What would be the “nose” of South Africa in the new political race?

The “nose” of South Africa must be defined by ethical leadership, capable governance, a robust education system and a comprehensive economic plan that drives economic growth. The time for change is now, and it is a moral imperative to act decisively and ethically.

Maxon is a member of Rise Mzansi in KwaZulu-Natal