Time for more tea parties?
11 February 2021
South Africa was entertained by the spectacle of Jacob Zuma and Julius Malema, accompanied by a group of persons, mostly with highly questionable backgrounds, taking tea at the Corruption Palace, Nkandla.
We were told that this was a “watershed” meeting of two politicians who had made a great contribution to the fight against Apartheid. Zuma’s contribution to the Struggle is well known. Malema’s contribution must be minuscule indeed, since he was 8 years old when President de Klerk made his famous 2 February 1990 speech, unbanning the ANC.
Reconciliation was in the air. Zuma is looking for supporters. He has many in the ANC. He also has many in the EFF. The glue that keeps the ANC in power is Power. Nothing much else. As the ANC weakens, it will need coalition partners. Zuma and Malema would like to be those. The fact that Malema was kicked out of the ANC led by Zuma and that Malema never stopped slanging Zuma for nearly a decade is irrelevant.
Theirs is a marriage made in Heaven in the sense that they both face serious allegations of criminality and both face the near- certainty of hugely damaging adverse findings by the Zondo Commission. They recognise themselves in each other and in truth, belong together. A rapprochement between the two serves the interests of both and could, in time, lead to a realignment with a merger of Zuma forces and Malema’s party. That prospect should make South Africans shiver and fear for the future.
Not everyone in the ANC is a rogue. Not everyone is a looter. Not everyone is an abuser of office. Those people cannot ever feel comfortable with the thought of following the nonsense policies of a Malema. As the ANC loses its hold on office and choices are being made, the good people will reject the EFF option and look around for a viable alternative.
Under the new leader, John Steenhuisen, the Democratic Alliance (DA) is looking much more attractive, united and appealing. It is doing its job as the official opposition. Steenhuisen was the first leader, inside parliament or out, to blow the whistle on the lamentable failure of the Ramaphosa government to get ahead in the vaccine queue. He was vilified for this stand, but he was right.
After the first lockdown, which was widely supported, he stood up to the government and said that many of the regulations passed by the cabinet on advice of the “Command” Council were nonsensical, counter-productive and economy-wrecking. He did not back down in the face of outright hostility from the ANC and sections of the media.
The DA has the support of twice the number who support the EFF. As coalitions become the order of the day in the next election or two, the DA is the other alternative as a coalition partner. The stronger the DA becomes in terms of support, the more attractive it becomes as a coalition partner to those in the ANC who cannot stomach the EFF and its leader.
South Africa has 42 or more political parties; most of them have little or no support but it is good that people have the courage and the staying power to go on hoping that one day they will make a breakthrough. The strength of our political system of proportional representation (with all its weaknesses as well) is that anyone who can gather about 40000 votes can win a seat in parliament.
If we had a purely constituency system, only the ANC, the DA and the IFP would have seats. The EFF, for example, would not even have a single seat. Some would cheer at that thought but a party with 11% of the votes, without a seat in parliament, would be forced to carry on endlessly in the streets, the shopping malls and at sporting events to get their message across. Increasing violence and political instability would surely follow.
Having said all that, there are some parties that might work happily in coalition with the DA – perhaps as a precursor to an even closer relationship in the future.
Herman Mashaba’s new party could possibly be among those. Apart from a few populist kicks, it follows policies very similar to the DA. Mashaba’s problem is that as a businessman, not really a politician, he is used to issuing instructions that must be obeyed. This lost him the confidence of many in his caucus and led to him abandoning ship and opening the way for the ANC to resume power in Johannesburg.
While Mashaba was mayor, the EFF claimed that he was “their” mayor and more than a few in the DA were unhappy at the way in which EFF demands were accommodated by him. It remains to be seen whether he will fight the municipal elections to oppose and weaken the DA or whether he will tackle the ANC and make progress there. Until his ActionSA has tried, and as expected, failed, a closer relationship is probably not on the cards.
The future prospects for the United Democratic Movement (UDM) of General Bantu Holomisa and COPE of MosiuaLekota do not look all that promising. Surely they should be looking at the possibility of coalition with the DA, or something closer? The policy differences are really not so huge that the gap is unbridgeable.
There are some small niche parties like the FF+ and the ACDP whose members might not be comfortable in the liberal-minded and tolerant DA but there is no reason why coalition arrangements should not be contemplated.
There may well be other parties that should co-operate to prevent the Zuma/Malema nightmare becoming a reality.
Perhaps it is time for more tea parties?
Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and former ambassador to Thailand. His website is: douglasgibsonsouthafrica.com
This article first appeared on News24.