Opposition Coalition Takes Shape Ahead of South African Election

(Bloomberg) — An opposition coalition that aims to end the South African ruling party’s three-decade hold on power is taking shape ahead of national elections next year.

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The Democratic Alliance, the second-biggest party, has received positive responses from about nine smaller rivals to an invitation to join its so-called “moonshot pact” to unseat the African National Congress, and two rounds of talks have been held, DA leader John Steenhuisen said in an interview in Bloomberg’s Johannesburg offices on Monday.

Another meeting will be convened by early July to outline how the arrangement could work and modalities for choosing a coalition presidential candidate and lawmakers, he said.

The pact will “offer a viable path to victory for opposition voters,” said Steenhuisen, who added that a presidential candidate won’t necessarily have come from the biggest party in the coalition. “This is a long shot, it’s not a guarantee. Many things can change between now and the election. Many people are writing the ANC off. I think they do so at their peril. I think the ANC is a wounded buffalo and it’s dangerous, unpredictable.”

The ANC has governed Africa’s most industrialized economy since apartheid rule ended in 1994, yet several opinion polls show it risks losing its majority — a backlash against a failure to tackle rampant unemployment and poverty and address an energy crisis that’s seen power rationed for up to 12 hours a day.

Dissatisfaction with how the country is being run is evident in the financial markets, with the rand falling to a record low against the dollar this month.

Diverse Base

Opposition parties will seek to persuade their diverse support bases and apathetic voters to come out in numbers to install an alternative government, according to Steenhuisen.

One group that’s not been invited to join the pact is the radical Economic Freedom Fighters, an offshoot of the ANC that advocates the nationalization of land, banks and mines. It could potentially link up with the ruling party should the ANC failed to secure 50% — an eventuality the DA leader has described as a “nightmare scenario.”

The ANC won 57.5% support in the last national election in 2019, while the DA got 20.8% and the EFF 10.8%. The main opposition party controls the Western Cape, while the ANC runs the other eight provinces.

Control of the economic hub of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal will be in play in the election, according to Steenhuisen.

“We fundamentally believe that no matter what happens at a national level, those two provinces will fall to some form of opposition coalition in the next election,” he said.

Steenhuisen, 47, who secured a second term as head of the DA last month and has been working to reunite the party after several high-profile Black leaders left, doesn’t see the composition of its largely White top leadership as a major obstacle to efforts to grow its share of the vote.

“People are moving past the color of leaders,” he said. “Race is last year’s campaign, this year’s campaign is about delivery.”

Council Chaos

Moeletsi Mbeki, a veteran political analyst and the deputy chairman of the South African Institute of International Affairs, said an opposition coalition has the potential to come up with credible solutions to the country’s myriad problems and sees scope for them to work together.

“There are not as many differences among the opposition parties as they seem to believe, so it’s not that difficult for them to form a coalition,” he said.

Alliances at local government level have been unsuccessful, though, with power changing hands repeatedly in some of the biggest cities and delivery of basic services grinding to a halt.

The DA has proposed legislation that seeks to avoid such chaos, including introducing support thresholds for parties to be represented in municipalities and limiting the number of no-confidence motions in mayors and other officials, according to Siviwe Gwarube, the DA’s chief whip in parliament.

While the ANC has agreed that the rules need to be changed, it hasn’t signaled whether it will back the DA’s proposals.

–With assistance from Paul Burkhardt, Antony Sguazzin, Gem Atkinson and Paul Vecchiatto.

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