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Gwede Mantashe and Helen Zille try to warm to the idea of working together. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Gwede Mantashe and Helen Zille try to warm to the idea of working together. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

ANC leaders have cobbled together partners for a new government after voters, who — having had enough of economic stagnation, high unemployment, corruption, crime and rolling blackouts, put an end to the majority it has held since 1994. 

Whatever it is called, a government of national unity (GNU) ordinarily follows a genuine national crisis and is ideally predicated on the absence of deeply incompatible ideologies among the parties involved. None of these exist now. 

Differing ideologies cannot be papered over. Unless a genuine toenadering occurs (which voters need to be apprised of) and without a crisis of the kind the UK faced during the second world war — or a potentially volatile scenario as witnessed at end of apartheid, marking a critical transition for the country, conditions precedent are simply not there.

Our current situation differs widely from that of Zimbabwe in 2009, which faced a severe political and economic crises, including hyperinflation, widespread poverty and political violence; and from the disputed election between Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga in Kenya (2007), which led to ethnic clashes and a humanitarian crisis. 

Further back in the annals of history, the present situation in some ways approximates the sharp relief of the polarities between the Boers and British that led to the Hertzog-Smuts fusion ministry — a fusion that was unnatural to their political outlook and personal interests.

That arrangement was occasioned by positions on the second world war and reflected a 50-50 arrangement in cabinet to effect equality for the interests of the British and Afrikaner in public service, commerce, education and social life. Of course, nonwhites formed no part of that equation, but now constitute the 80 in an 80/20 split. 

Today the figures of the main participant, the DA, are at much the same level nationally as they were in 2019, despite a lower overall turnout and a significant differential turnout, where 71% of registered white voters turned out to vote and only 55% of registered black voters turned out to vote. As pollster Dawie Scholz points out, “a significant swing from the FF+ to the DA among the white Afrikaans electorate, combined with a swing of former white, English-speaking ‘Ramaphorists’ from the ANC to DA, drove a recovery for the DA among white voters”. 

There you have it — in large measure it is reflective of the 80/20 reality, especially if you factor in to the overall picture the MK/EFF numbers. So, more apt perhaps, would be a confidence and supply arrangement, whereby a smaller party agrees to support the larger party in key votes, such as motions of confidence and the budget (supply votes) to ensure the government is able to finance operations. The supporting party would have no ministerial positions and the arrangement allows the larger party to govern as a minority government — but with sufficient assurance that it won’t be easily toppled in critical votes

This occurred in 2017 when Theresa May’s Conservatives were still the biggest party in the House of Commons, but needed to agree a deal with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), to have its support in key votes. For the DUP, apart from the obvious influence and prestige of being involved with the UK government, there was £1bn more to be spent on Northern Ireland over the next two years than had previously been planned. They also got agreement on a range of policy priorities — such as keeping the guarantee to increase state pensions by 2.5% a year and to maintain defence and agriculture spending in Northern Ireland at the same levels. 

Of course, this meant coveted positions in the executive and parliament would not be filled by the DUP in the deal — and therein lies the rub. Power, or even the pretence thereof, is an alluring drug and there are many who are champing at the bit to flex their 20% share of muscle in the biceps of any future political punch. 

• Cachalia is a former DA MP and public enterprises spokesperson.

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