Home News South Africa moves closer to electing leader, but unity remains elusive

South Africa moves closer to electing leader, but unity remains elusive


South Africa has entered a new era of unpredictable politics as the newly elected parliament convened for the first time on Friday as lawmakers prepared to elect the country’s next president following national elections last month.

The long-ruling African National Congress Failure to obtain an absolute majority This is the first time that South Africa has governed since the end of apartheid and is expected to form a delicate alliance with its rivals to pave the way for Cyril Ramaphosa to be re-elected as president.

In the two weeks following the election, intense negotiations between Ramaphosa’s ANC and rival parties exposed deep fissures within the ANC and in society more broadly.

The president’s party has governed with a solid majority since the end of apartheid in 1994. But its popularity has slumped, winning just 40 percent of the vote in the most recent election, reflecting widespread discontent in the continental powerhouse mired in economic stagnation, high unemployment and entrenched poverty.

After losing its dominant position in parliament, the ANC reached out to the broad range of parties that won seats in the National Assembly, seeking to establish a so-called national unity government that would allow all parties to participate in governance.

The ANC has been trying to allay South Africans’ fears that for the first time in the democratic era there will be no dominant party at the national level, leading to the political chaos that has plagued municipalities under shared leadership.

“The fundamental question is how do we move South Africa forward,” Fikile Mbalula, one of the ANC’s top officials, said on the eve of the first meeting of the newly elected parliament. “Most of the political parties in our country believe that this is the moment to work together.”

But even before the 400 members of parliament met on Friday at the convention centre on Cape Town’s Atlantic coast, the new political landscape was sharply divided.

The dark horse party in this election is Spear of the People, led by former president and African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma, which won 58 seats, the third most of any party, and is expected to boycott the opening of parliament.

The party, called MK, performed better than any new party in the democratic era, but Mr Zuma claimed the election was rigged, without providing evidence, and that the party’s actual share of the vote was much higher than the nearly 15 per cent the electoral commission said it had received.

The two men had a bitter row over MK’s demands that Ramaphosa, a former deputy to Zuma, resign if the ANC wants him to join the ruling coalition – a demand that ANC officials say cannot be met.

The fourth largest party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which also has its roots in a breakaway group from the ANC, also appears to be rejecting calls to form a coalition government.

The party’s leader, Julius Malema, a former youth firebrand from the ANC who was expelled from the party in 2012, has said he will refuse to join a coalition that includes the second-largest party, the Democratic Alliance, which has a mostly white leadership and has proposed scrapping affirmative action and other policies that encourage black business ownership.

“We reject this government,” Malema said, arguing that the Democratic Alliance pursues racist policies and “white supremacy”.

Malema’s party did not join the ANC’s unity effort, instead forming the so-called Progressive Caucus with five other parties.

The Democratic Alliance received nearly 22% of the vote, but there was resistance within the party, with some ANC members and partners in labor and business openly opposing what they saw as an attempt to hinder or even undermine efforts to eliminate racial inequality caused by apartheid.

The pushback has forced ANC leaders to walk a delicate line as they try to avoid alienating the party’s black voter base while also showing that working with the DA is a smart move for the country.

The DA embraced free-market capitalism, which some ANC leaders believed would help develop the economy and attract investors. This contrasted with some of the more radical wealth redistribution policies promoted by MK and the Economic Freedom Fighters, such as nationalizing banks and seizing land from white owners without compensation.

The DA is one of the parties most eager to join a coalition government, despite vowing last year that it would never govern with the ANC. DA leaders have said it is important to prevent what they called during the campaign a “doomsday alliance” between the ANC and the Economic Freedom Fighters.

“We engaged in a positive and constructive way, and so did they,” said Tony Leon, a member of the Democratic Alliance’s negotiating team.

To mitigate the backlash, ANC leaders reached a cooperation agreement with the Democratic Alliance and the Inkatha Freedom Party, a black-led party popular with speakers of Zulu, the most widely spoken language in South African homes.

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