Why the DA is right to avoid a coalition with the ANC

Douglas Gibson says the official opposition has learnt hard lessons from 2016

Does anyone remember Morgan Tsvangirai? During his time he was the highly respected leader of the opposition in Zimbabwe. Under the urging of President Thabo Mbeki, Tsvangirai agreed to prop up the corrupt and anti-democratic Robert Mugabe who had just stolen an election he should have lost. Mugabe remained president and Tsvangirai spent some years as the prime minister, even though the chief of the army had announced publicly that he refused to salute Tsvangirai.

I realised long before that how timid Tsvangirai was when he refused to meet the South African opposition chief whip – me – in his office. We met instead on a bus at Harare airport, moving back and forth while we talked. Tsvangirai did not want to be accused of being in league with the Democratic Alliance because the ANC would not like it.

The result of keeping Mugabe in power was that he stole the next election or two and his dismal legacy continues in that benighted country to this day.

Everyone remembers Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Prize-winning democracy icon from Myanmar. I spent hours on four occasions with her at her lakeside home and I can truthfully say that she is one of the most impressive people I have ever met – definitely up there with our own Nelson Mandela. She enjoyed the admiration of the world. And then she agreed to serve under the new Constitution, enforced by the Tatmadaw, the Myanmar army, even though she had won the election by a mile.

Within a couple of years, her international reputation was severely damaged because she defended the violence and the unacceptable actions of the army. The thanks she got, after winning the next election by a landslide, was to be evicted from office in an army-led coup, incarcerated and now subject to a show-trial on trumped-up charges.

My initial reaction to the local government election results was to think and say that coalitions between the ANC and the DA in the major Metros and many other towns made sense. Business would love it because there would be stability and this might be in the interests of the voters who would not be milked dry by volatile coalitions at the mercy of some small parties and a couple of independents with no significant mandate in small towns.

Then I thought of Tsvangirai and Daw Suu and decided that it would be most unwise of the DA to do any such thing. The ANC is utterly corrupt; it is at war internally; it is inept at governing; its policies are wrong; everything it touches turns to waste and there is hardly an area of our national life that works – certainly almost nothing the ANC rules is well-run. It has been in government for more than a generation which is far too long in a democracy. Why on earth prop it up and delay the end of history?

Of the larger parties, the DA stabilised and moved a little forward between 2019 and 2021. As did the IFP, which recorded good growth. The ANC had a disastrous election. The EFF, despite all the sound and fury and bragging of past years, is still a ten per cent party, polling a smaller percentage now than it did in 2019. The FF+, which claims to be the 5th largest party made impressive gains when measured against 2016 but against 2019, they have not progressed much beyond being a two per cent party.

It was a relief when the leader of the Opposition, John Steenhuisen firmly and definitely rejected coalition deals with the ANC. He made it clear the DA would not be propping up the ANC. DA eyes were focused on 2024 when the DA would form the nucleus of a new government for South Africa. Steenhuisen made it clear that the DA would rather be a good opposition in local government than be part of fragile coalitions or worse, be dependent on the EFF to remain in power.

The DA learned a hard lesson after 2016. Taking just Johannesburg as an example, the DA-led administration was constantly at the mercy of the EFF and the DA mayor, a decent man, ended up being described by Julius Malema as the “EFF mayor of Johannesburg.” There were reasons for that and consequences in and for the DA. I am glad the DA is saying, “Not again, thank you.”

To state that the ANC might be forced to form coalitions with the EFF is nonsense. If it does so, it is because the RET faction and the racists in the ANC are dominant. Any suggestion that the DA will have to take responsibility if the ANC and the racist EFF form coalitions is also nonsense.

There is a clear alternative for the ANC. It could explore the possibility of ruling as a minority administration wherever this is necessary and relying on the DA to vote on a case-by-case basis for budgets as well as all sensible and necessary measures. The DA is a responsible party and it would not play the fool by coming with unreasonable demands. If it did so, the voters would punish it. An arrangement like that suggested would help usher in a new era of consultative and cooperative government.

This is exactly what South Africa needs.

Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and former ambassador to Thailand. His website is douglasgibsonsouthafrica.com

This article first appeared on News24.com