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ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa on the campaign trail in Nelson Mandela Bay, the Eastern Cape. Picture: Eugene Coetzee
ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa on the campaign trail in Nelson Mandela Bay, the Eastern Cape. Picture: Eugene Coetzee

Only tremendous fear would motivate the ANC and the DA to form a national coalition government. The ANC must fear rampant domestic turmoil amid SA lacking international support. The DA must fear the death of our democracy.

The ANC must either pivot towards pro-growth policies or double down on ruthlessness. These are not abstract choices. If the election results resemble recent polling, to form a national coalition by aligning with only one party the ANC will need to choose the EFF, MK or DA. Among the many scenarios that would make the smaller parties irrelevant, those three parties could capture 51% and the ANC 41%.

If ANC leaders conclude that they dare not risk being ousted from the Union Buildings in 2029, they can choose either the EFF or MK and co-ordinate with those party leaders to unravel the constitutional protections that are necessary for legitimate elections. As this choice is as likely as it is obvious, the DA must be ready and able to negotiate a workable coalition arrangement with the ANC.

A national coalition with the ANC could destroy the DA, but if the governing party rather chooses the EFF or MK, SA’s long-term trajectory will be truly bleak. Talk of living to fight another day naively presumes that the constitution is inviolable. While all ANC leaders might be ethically compromised and therefore at risk of being prosecuted post-2029, there are distinct factions within the party’s leadership. Some will fear aligning with the EFF, others will feel threatened by MK.

The most compelling card the DA can play is that aligning with it is the safest option for reliably self-serving ANC elites. Among the reasons playing this card is so difficult is that it requires that ANC leaders acknowledge that their vulnerabilities extend far beyond simply losing a majority in parliament.

The ANC has anchored its electoral messaging around injustices, while building a huge patronage network. While this strategy could once more retain its grip on the Union Buildings, ANC support among urbanites has plunged, while its institutional capacity to suppress violent dissent is deficient.

Entices upheaval

The ANC and its tripartite alliance leaders have convinced themselves that Western nations and institutions such as the IMF are the enemy. Meanwhile, they have made enemies of the majority of SA’s young black urbanites. That these people can be mobilised to challenge the ANC’s loose approach to law and order was amply demonstrated by the July 2021 riots.

Functioning governments don’t allow youth unemployment to become as extreme — and as deeply entrenched — as SA’s because it entices broad social upheaval. Nor would a capable government combine blatant reliance on patronage with localisation policies. This was always going to starve the economy of access to sufficient disposable income, thus provoking the world’s worst youth unemployment crisis.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s six squandered years have demonstrated that the ANC is incapable of pivoting towards pro-growth policies. Some of his supporters are presumed to favour a collapse of capitalism in SA as a prelude to a national democratic revolution. But as with the original Marxist expectations, it should be the urban proletariat that leads such a revolt. The ANC should be profoundly concerned by the implications of its excessive electoral reliance on the rural poor.

Neither the writers of the national democratic revolution nor the Communist Manifesto imagined a world with ubiquitous smartphones. SA’s young urbanites know they are suffering due to ANC corruption and incompetence. The Chinese Communist Party greatly restricts access to information but this was publicly accepted as part of a grand bargain in which freedoms were sacrificed in return for what for many years was steadily improving living standards.

Nor is the ANC’s long-standing reliance on support from Beijing or Moscow wise. The economic trajectories of Russia and China looked vastly better just more than two years ago. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will crimp its economic vigour for many years. China has begun converting its greatest strength — its extraordinary manufacturing competitiveness — into a weakness by subsidising it. Expect rising sanctions against China in North America, Europe, Japan, India and elsewhere.

Ideological indulgences

If an ANC coalition government with the EFF or MK undermines the constitution sufficiently to have a Russian-style election in 2029 that would invite much pressure from Western governments, which could be partially offset by support from Moscow and Beijing. But such support is iffy. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin could choose to cosy up to a freshly elected Donald Trump, as Russia’s reliance on China benefits Beijing at Moscow’s expense.

Russia’s and China’s presidents both put their personal delusions of grandeur ahead of their people’s interests. As in SA, those who suffer the most from their leaders’ ideological indulges and personal pretensions are the young adults who aren’t integrated into their nation’s enormous patronage networks.

ANC obeisance towards presidents Xi and Putin assures nothing; SA’s strategic importance to China is modest and it is even less important to Russia. This would be obvious if Xi or Putin were to suddenly die or retire.

An even tougher point for the ANC to accept is why no-one can trust them. They don’t prioritise SA’s strategic interests or the interests of most South Africans. Nor have they demonstrated competence at managing SA’s economy.

The ANC and big business joined hands in pursuit of investment-led growth. For many of the same compelling reasons, the ANC and the DA should accept the need to work together in a national coalition government.

• Hagedorn is an independent strategy adviser.

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