Cyril Ramaphosa
Caption for the landscape image:

Big task ahead for South African government of national unity 

Scroll down to read the article

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa arrives for a special African National Congress (ANC) National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting in Cape Town on June 13, 2024.

Photo credit: Reuters

Even as political leaders put final touches on South Africa’s 7th post-apartheid administration, it was already clear that it would be under intense pressure to out-perform its predecessors, from day one.

The new government of national unity is supposed to be led by the African National Congress (ANC) as before, but it has been forced to form a coalition following its lowest score in elections.

Pressing hard on the new multi-party governing bloc, being sworn in with other MPs on Friday for the first sitting of the new administration, are actually old issues.

The ANC had faced them for the last 30 years in power when it ran affairs alone, and its failure to address them caused the ANC to see its support in the recent elections fall to just 40 percent of the vote.

Included in the long list of ‘to do’ items are a profoundly weakened economy, which grew in the 1st quarter of 2024 by just 0.1 per cent and is showing no signs of significant recovery.

There is also world-beating unemployment, the rising cost of living, a diminishing government revenue base and rampant crime, including ongoing versions of ‘state capture’ graft.

South Africa is still the most unequal country in the world, according to estimates by the World Bank.

But before that, it may have to deal with the potential instability of coalition governance.

Untested nationally, South Africans have, however, been accustomed to game-playing and rounds of ‘political musical chairs’ as serial metro administrations of some of the country’s largest cities have collapsed and been reformed, only to collapse again.

But the broad view of the emergent Government of National Unity (GNU) is that it may well ‘be the very thing’ that the country needs.

ANC stalwart Derek Hanekom, a former cabinet minister and underground ANC armed wing fighter in the days of apartheid, says he is “supremely confident” that the ANC, together with the former official opposition the Democratic Alliance (DA) and some smaller parties including Inkatha, would be stable and diverse enough to do significant work in tackling a daunting schedule of requirements.

Economists have variously considered that the last year’s extreme ‘loadshedding’ by corruption-riddled national power producer Eskom has cost the country many billions and has shaved between 2 and 5 percentage points off growth.

The South African Reserve Bank’s estimate is that loadshedding reduced economic growth in 2023 by around 1.8 percentage points, but independent analysts at PWC estimate of the impact on GDP is much larger: up to 5 percentage points for 2022 and worse in 2023, implying a potential growth rate for the economy of close to 7 per cent.

That level of growth, if attained and sustained, would solve many of the most pressing issues on its own, including the reduction of unemployment – along with reducing social grant and other assistance-to-the-poor pressures on government finances.

Such growth, along with a much healthier revenue stream off a growing tax base, would also provide more money to cover infrastructural and other urgent needs, such as revamped rail and ports facilities, which will also help fuel further growth.

The diverse make-up of the GNU may ensure greater representation and that a wider range of views will be heard at the highest level. But that could also slow down decisions.

ANC managed to exclude firebrand hard-left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), along with mainly Zulu former ANC supporters who have backed former president Jacob Zuma’s ANC break-away uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party.

That may remove hardline stances of the coalition factions.

This is because many of the ANC’s internal critics have left to support Zuma’s new entity, removing them from the discussions around how to get SA Inc back on track.

Hanekom said he was “very confident that the GNU will work.”

The DA itself sees a chance to apply direct pressure on government to help engender a corruption-free and supportive business environment, thereby addressing a point near the top of almost all parties’ priorities lists: jobs.

Right behind poverty and joblessness, and directly consequent of these two plagues on the country, comes crime.

New formation the Patriotic Alliance (PA), led by former convict Gayton McKenzie, and which has joined the GNU, is especially focused on eliminating the rampant criminality which daily imposes much hardship on the poorest communities in particular.

Police statistics showed that in the period between October 1, 2023 and December 31, 2023, South Africa suffered 7,710 murders (85.7 per day), with 170 rapes and sexual offences and 88 attempted murders also experienced daily in that period.

McKenzie points out that a significant percentage of murders were caused by firearms once held by police but which have either been stolen or corruptly sold to criminal elements.

“I am perfectly suited to sort this out,” McKenzie has claimed, pointing to his own direct knowledge of the criminal underworld, having been sentenced to 17 years for robbery.

The PA is demanding a major portfolio from the ANC in exchange for its support of the GNU, either the Home Affairs ministry, which is both hugely corrupt and vastly incompetent, or that of Police.

The ANC seems keen on neither option, but as Hanekom points out, the former ruling party is no longer calling all the shots and some haggling remains to be done, once all 400 of the country’s Parliamentarians are sworn in, and before President Cyril Ramaphosa announces his new cabinet.

Beyond fixing what 15 years of corrupt or incompetent rule have imposed on South Africa, from the time that of Zuma – who is still facing a likely prison term for corruption charges dating back to the turn of the millennium.

Among these are the country’s strange position geo-politically whereby it is overtly part of an ‘anti-West’ coalition of countries that are either existing or soon-to-join members of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) bloc, but at the same time is reliant on billions in foreign aid, especially from the US.

The promised US support is for a range of developmental projects, including switching from a heavily-polluting coal-based energy system to clean renewables such as solar and wind.

Criticising and attacking key developmental partners may not be a feature of GNU. ANC had adopted this as part of a Cold War era hangover of sentiment, and after apartheid.

Several senior party members, including from Zulu traditionalist party Inkatha which is also in the multi-party ruling coalition, have made it clear in public statements that “getting South Africa back to work and working” are priority.