The lesser devil is a devil no less

Michael Beaumont says GNU really a ANC/DA grand coalition onto which others have been added in an attempt to dilute this fact

The past few days have been fascinating as so many have gravitated around this notion of an ANC/DA grand coalition with such fervor as is so often the case when fear of something worse governs our senses.

Make no mistake, like many South Africans I did not want to see a government of MK and the EFF. With this having been avoided, South Africans can move on from the politics of fear and doom and start to assess what has now emerged because the problem with senses governed by fear is that they tend to conceal the ordinarily self-evident truth that a lesser devil is a devil no less.

Firstly, what is being proposed is not a government of national unity. This is a term that the parties involved have presented in order to make the arrangements more palatable to supporters to whom they vowed, only weeks ago, that such an arrangement would never happen. It is, in fact, a ANC/DA grand coalition onto which others have been added in an attempt to dilute this fact. 

In their rush to promote this idea, rather than objectively measuring it, most commentators have failed to ask the question: what happens when the opposition is paid for and bought? Who will stand guard against the abuses of what still remains an ANC government when former opposition parties are now complicit in the ANC’s continued governance?

The uncomfortable and completely unventilated truth is that opposition parties that accept positions from the ANC, and the considerable perks and privileges attached to them, will not be able to continue as real opposition parties. This relationship invariably comes with compromise, and seldom the selfless, self-sacrificing kind. One can never underestimate the effect that power, prestige and privilege can have upon a politician – especially politicians starved of affirmation in the opposition.

When even the feintest whiff of scandal can trigger the collapse of a government, defense will be the order of the day for the ANC’s newfound partners, and not transparency, accountability and the rule of law. Now every decision that used to be simple in the past must now be carefully weighed in terms of whether the indiscretion or malfeasance is ‘big enough’ to warrant the instability of the grand coalition. It will not be too long until certain matters are swept under the carpet because they are deemed ‘minor’ in the context of ‘greater good’ of keeping parties like the EFF and MK at bay – after all, what indiscretion can be serious enough when balanced against the collapse of government?

What happens to the fight against cadre deployment when the parties that have formerly championed this cause are now propping up the party of State Capture? What happens to the programme to reduce cabinet ministries when the coalition mooted needs to bring as many people as possible on board? What happens to the litigation against the NHI or the case against ANC Deputy President Paul Mashatile? Does anyone reasonably believe that the ANC will simply abandon its destructive policies and positions under this new arrangement?

The fact that the ANC lost its majority doesn’t mean it has lost its inclinations towards corruption or abuses of power and nor does it change the fact that 20 years of cadre deployment has produced a civil service that, by the stipulations of the policy, accounts to Luthuli House first. Having worked alongside Herman Mashaba during his tenure as the Executive Mayor of Johannesburg, I can assure you that an ANC-aligned civil service is the biggest obstacle of change in South Africa, and not a problem that can be solved overnight. It follows, or it least should follow, that the cost to the balance of power arising from an ANC government propped up by the very opposition who claimed to want it out of government should not be taken lightly. It will come at the cost of accountability no matter how you slice it.

This is precisely why ActionSA has adopted the view that, in this current environment, we must stand as an unofficial and uncompromised opposition in the rational center of South African politics. We must distance ourselves both from those who abandon the opposition for positions, just as much as we must disassociate from those in opposition who will sacrifice stability for narrow political agendas.

This is why ActionSA has directed its MPs to be guided by the notion of being a constructive unofficial opposition. The grand coalition can count on our support when proposals are reasonable, reformist and beneficial to the South African people. Equally when accountability is required, the coalition government will come to dread ActionSA.

ActionSA is going to have to carry the torch going forward on a range of vital issues that have, and will continue, to underpin ANC governance like the NHI, cadre deployment, a bloated cabinet and the litigation against ESKOM (which is still appealing a ruling compelling the provision of uninterrupted power to schools, police stations and hospitals). In particular, ActionSA is going to have to lead the fight against corruption and maladministration and ensure that no matter falls below the radar for political expediency.

This is why our parliamentary team being led by someone with the experience of Athol Trollip is going to be vital, as will the strength and skills of the team that he will be leading. They will need to serve on many committees and punch far above their weight because the circumstances of this 7th Parliament require this team of six to be seen, heard and felt like a team of 60.

There was a time not that long ago where the opposition had to carry the torch of accountability and transparency in the face of tremendous odds. ActionSA must work with other like-minded parties to ensure that the voice of the opposition does not get lost because of those who have favoured position over principle.

Issued by Michael Beaumont, National Chairperson, ActionSA, 17 June 2024