President Cyril Ramaphosa and EFF leader Julius Malema flank the late Winnie Madikizela at her 80th birthday celebration. Picture: ELMOND JIYANE/GCIS
President Cyril Ramaphosa and EFF leader Julius Malema flank the late Winnie Madikizela at her 80th birthday celebration. Picture: ELMOND JIYANE/GCIS

The recent debate over the “casting vote” in next year’s election is important for our democracy. Tom Eaton summarises: “If Ramaphosa gets an underwhelming mandate, his enemies will have grounds to recall him and replace him with someone who can restart the looting. If the ANC drops below 50%, it will form a coalition government with the EFF.”

A counter, proposed by Peter Bruce, is that DA voters vote ANC, to avoid the ANC needing an EFF coalition in the first place, and to prevent Cyril Ramaphosa being recalled by his party.

Maybe it’ll come to that, but maybe there’s work to do beforehand. I’ll unpack here only the essence of the concern: that the ANC will enter a coalition with the EFF. 

In a typical casting vote situation Julius Malema wants to be president and so wants to eat the ANC alive. Besides, his EFF backtracked on coalitions in Nelson Mandela Bay and Tshwane, just as Malema did on Jacob Zuma and Pravin Gordhan.

If ANC leaders expect Malema to maintain a coalition against his own interests, they are naïve. All of this should have encouraged ANC members to steer clear of him. It would make more sense for the ANC to cultivate multiple coalition partners (as DA leader Mmusi Maimane predicted could occur), to ensure no one party dominates them.

That isn’t what’s happening though, so we can conclude that those who support Malema in the ANC are not considering the ANC’s best interests. As a result, we can abandon talk of “the ANC” as a whole forming a coalition with the EFF.

The ANC is no longer a unified whole. Ramaphosa’s early 2018 failure to woo Malema back to the ANC revealed that the latter is not interested in returning to a coherently organised ANC. Instead, as several have noted, in Malema’s attacks on Pravin Gordhan and his daughter and in defending Tom Moyane, the EFF is joining the state capturers.

Malema might be doing so because his back is against the wall due to a swelling body of evidence that the EFF is implicated in the VBS looting. I’m sceptical of that reason, because after the VBS discovery Malema became more inflammatory and defamatory. He now openly claims the VBS story was fabricated to mask “white corruption”. He shows less and less restraint in making unsubstantiated allegations, such as about Gordhan’s daughter, and in “naming and shaming” journalists, as though the law cannot touch him. And maybe it can’t, since the legislators have stayed out of it even after the Treasury’s VBS report. Could somebody be protecting him? Well, Atul Gupta has begun retweeting some of Malema’s messages, so Malema is obviously no longer their enemy.

If so, we should set aside our assumption that factions are confined within political parties. A Zuma ANC-EFF coalition presents itself as a transparty faction, where what individuals have in common is not their party’s and voters’ best interests, but a mutual goal of shared access to state resources. That commonality makes Malema a trustworthy coalition partner to state capturers, because he shares their motivations. And suddenly what’s happening all makes sense.

It also generates some worrying possibilities. Principally, we lose the comfort blanket that Ramaphosa might have the authority to deal with state capturers after a people’s vote of confidence in 2019. Ramaphosa could in fact be weaker then, since the EFF, having gained more votes at the expense of the ANC, could strengthen the Zuma-EFF faction. Instead of the Zuma faction attempting to recall Ramaphosa through the national executive committee, which it hasn’t been strong enough to do, the EFF could initiate a vote of no confidence in Parliament, and the Zuma-EFF faction could break party ranks to remove Ramaphosa that way.

This is just a possibility to be aware of, not even a likelihood. A successful vote of no confidence would require more than 50% of Parliament to agree. If the EFF provides 11%, the Zuma ANC faction would need to supply 39.1%. Are there that many Zuma supporters in Parliament? We don’t know, and the ANC isn’t saying. Maybe not.

But if there are, the casting-vote strategy would be irrelevant. It would make no difference how we vote if a trans-party faction has spread factional power across party borders.

An immediate precaution becomes to nullify state capturers sooner rather than later. When one develops a cancer, one doesn’t wait it out in the hope that it will go away, one gets it excised from the body  (I’ve already suggested a state capture amnesty, for example, which might allow SA to reboot.)

Alternatively, civil entities could pursue the VBS matter in court, as Gordhan has done with Malema’s defamation. In any case, there’s work to be done soon, because if voters wait till the elections it might be too late.

• Galetti, most recently a post-doctoral researcher at Yale, was creative director at Ireland’s biggest ad agency and senior writer and strategist for SA’s Democratic Party in 1994.