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DA and EFF benefitting from the politics of punishing the ANC

Susan Booysen

Political analyst, Wits School of Governance

 

Politics and elections make strange bedfellows – especially when it comes to punishing the African National Congress (ANC). As dominant party over an extended period – and a party-movement that has been arrogant and dismissive of opposition parties – the ANC has left a host of party political enemies in its wake. With a view to coalition politics, should the ANC fall short of outright majorities in this week’s elections, it is worth looking at some unlikely endorsements that the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have been gaining.

Two of the latest developments in this series have been the NFP’s northern KwaZulu-Natal endorsement of the DA and the EFF’s more-than-cordial visit to former president Thabo Mbeki. The spectre of opposition parties ganging up against whichever party is their greatest enemy hints at some of the possibilities in local government coalition negotiations in the next two weeks.

The EFF has stated repeatedly that it will form alliances with any opposition party whose policies have some convergence with its own. The EFF added, equally emphatically, that it sees no point (should the local election results bear such an occasion) to help the ANC to stay in power. This week’s EFF visit to former president Thabo Mbeki fell short of formal endorsements, but the EFF leaders’ uncontrollable beaming faces when they emerged from the meeting tell a story of their own.

At local municipal level in the Zululand district municipality, councillor Sbusiso Mmhabela, the NFP Edumbe constituency chair and deputy mayor announced on Monday that he would endorse the DA. The NFP is disqualified from the race – except in Nquthu municipality – and the two bigger parties, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and ANC have been drooling over the possible spoils. The two dogs were fighting and the DA walked off with the bone.

This is reminiscent of events on the eve of the May 2014 national elections. Then the shack dwellers’ social movement, Abahlali baseMjondolo endorsed the DA. Abahlali, known for its protests against unlawful evictions and its advocacy for public housing and urban land for the poor, explained that it had decided to support the DA. This was despite fundamentally different politics, because the ANC had shown over time that it does not take the issues of the poor seriously. Being a shack dweller, Abahlali explained, resembles a prison sentence – except that the latter might be short-term. “When you’re poor and have no guarantee of upward mobility, living in a shack can be a life sentence”, said Abahlali with reference to its disappointment at the ANC’s lack of commitment to uplift South Africa’s poor.

In an interview with NGO GroundUp, Abahlali leader S’bu Zikode explained the organisation’s resentment of the ANC: “We want to weaken the ANC, hence our endorsement of the DA. But ultimately, this endorsement is tied by demands from Abahlali that the DA will have to honour.”

In June 2016 it was a sense of déjà vu when the Western Cape’s Ses’Khona People’s Rights Movement secretary general, Loyiso Nkohla, aligned himself with the DA. Soon thereafter a whole Ses’Khona faction came out in support of the DA. This appeared as a contradictory move. The movement had been saying that it was the DA’s anti-poor and segregation policies that had stirred the birth of Ses’Khona. Ses’Khona now cut its ties with the ANC, it said, because of the ANC’s failure to fulfil promises to the organisation. Another Ses’Khona leader added that the organisation did not wish to be further insulted by the ANC. The ANC in the past, according to Ses’Khona, had “used us for our votes and has lied to us”. It was reported at the time that disgruntlement with the ANC was fuelled by the absence of Nkohla’s name from the ANC’s candidates list.

In the 2016 local elections week, the NFP’s municipal leadership in the Edumbe municipality announced its move to endorse the DA in the local election. NFP councillor Mmhabela, also NFP constituency chairperson, steered the initiative. The NFP won coalition governing power alongside the ANC in 2011, but has since fallen out with the ANC. In late 2015 Maliyakhe Shelembe, NFP national chairperson, announced that the party’s hung-council working relationship with the ANC in general (including in Edumbe) had failed. The feeling was shared by the ANC.

The NFP grouping’s endorsement decision was informed by the party’s disqualification from local elections 2016, given its late-payment of election registration fees. The NFP alleged that its errant national treasures had been influenced (“bribed”) by the IFP. Given that the NFP had broken from the IFP (in the run-up to the 2011 local elections) there was institutionalised animosity and the NFP would certainly not reconcile with the IFP. Both the ANC and IFP, however, made overtures to the NFP supporters. (The NFP was only allowed by the IEC to context in Nquthu after the NFP in this municipality paid its registration on time, directly to the Electoral Commission.)

All of these new alliance-cooperation-sympathy moves were limited in scope and ultimately conditional. Yet, they demonstrated a volatility and fluidity in political realignment in South Africa. It could be that these events help us see a part of the dynamics of the 2016 round of municipal coalition negotiations.

 

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