South Africa’s ANC will seek to form government of national unity

ANC's President Cyril Ramaphosa arrives ahead of the National Executive Committee meeting looking at options to form a new South African government [Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters]

Summary:

  • The former liberation movement once led by Nelson Mandela has run South Africa since it swept to power in a 1994 election that marked the end of white minority rule. But it was punished for its chequered record in last week’s vote.

South Africa’s African National Congress will invite other political parties to form a national unity government, its leader President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Thursday, after it lost its majority for the first time in the democratic era.

The former liberation movement once led by Nelson Mandela has run South Africa since it swept to power in a 1994 election that marked the end of white minority rule. But it was punished for its chequered record in last week’s vote.

After a day-long meeting of the party’s National Executive Committee in Johannesburg, Ramaphosa said the ANC had decided that a broad collaboration with other political forces was “the best option to move our country forward.”

“Political parties should come together to forge a common future for our country,” he told a news briefing. “We must act with speed to safeguard national unity, peace, stability, inclusive economic growth, non-racialism and non-sexism.”

Despite its worst ever showing in the May 29 vote, the ANC remains the country’s largest party and will control 159 of the 400 seats in the new National Assembly.

The election outcome has created a complex situation for Ramaphosa and his party.

The ANC’s nearest rivals are the pro-business, white-led Democratic Alliance (DA), with 87 seats; the populist uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) led by former President Jacob Zuma, with 58; and the hard-left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) with 39.

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“We will not preclude the possibility of working with any party so long as it is in the public interest,” Ramaphosa said.

He added that the ANC had already held constructive discussions with the EFF, DA, the smaller Inkatha Freedom Party, National Freedom Party and Patriotic Alliance.

MK confirmed in a statement on Thursday that it had been in contact with the ANC and a meeting was expected soon.

Africa’s most developed economy has been in decline for the past decade, with sluggish growth, high levels of poverty and unemployment, crumbling infrastructure and political corruption.

“The purpose of a government of national unity must be first and foremost to tackle the pressing issues that South Africans want to be addressed,” Ramaphosa said.

The new parliament has to convene within two weeks of Sunday’s results declaration and one of its first acts must be to elect the president.

The constitutional deadline, which will fall on or near June 16, is putting pressure on the ANC and others to reach an agreement quickly.

ANC’S DIFFICULT SEARCH FOR PARTNERS

The DA, for its part, signalled on Wednesday it did not want to join a government that also included MK or the EFF.

Any deal with the DA would be welcomed by financial markets but unpopular with many ANC supporters who regard it as the party of South Africa’s wealthy white minority.

A group of anti-DA protesters stood outside the hotel where the NEC meeting was taking place, holding placards reading “The DA wants to destroy the ANC” and “Not in our names”.

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On the other hand, a deal with the EFF or MK, which advocate nationalising mines and seizing land without compensation, would be more popular with some in the ANC base but risks tanking the economy, analysts say.

Both the EFF and MK are led by former ANC figures who are at odds with the current leadership. Zuma in particular openly loathes Ramaphosa, and his party said after the election that it would not work with “the ANC of Ramaphosa”.

The ANC said on Wednesday it would not talk to anyone who demanded Ramaphosa’s resignation as a condition of joining an alliance.

Zuma was forced to quit as president in 2018 after a series of corruption scandals. He was jailed for contempt of court after refusing to participate in an inquiry into corruption, a decision that barred him for running for parliament.

He remains well-liked in his home province, populous KwaZulu-Natal, where extra police have been deployed this week to maintain public order.

The province was the scene of deadly riots in 2021 when Zuma was sentenced.

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