July 20, 2024

What Type Of An Official Opposition Party Does South Africa Needs?

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Such a party can be formed by coalescing the small parties, including the new ones, into it.

FILE PHOTO: South Africa's official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance's supporters at rally. PICTURE: File Image: DA

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Contrary to a widespread view, South Africa does not need a new governing party at this juncture; it needs a new official opposition party, writes MOLIFI TSHABALALA

Apart from holding the government to account through a shadow cabinet and other constitutional mechanisms and presenting itself as an alternative government, an official opposition party should forge unity within the oppositional benches to work together on issues of their common, national interests, what the Democratic Alliance (DA) under its federal leader John Steenhuisen fails to do.

In fact, the DA has no iota of respect for the opposition parties, especially the small ones. In the run-up to the 2021 local government elections (LGEs), for example, Steenhuisen implored the electorate not to vote for the small parties.

Yet his predecessor, Mmusi Maimane, has been at pains to hammer home that our immediate political future lies in a coalition government, one of the three formal forms of power-sharing arrangement. Post the 2021 LGEs, DA federal council chairwoman Helen Zille, from whom Steenhuisen takes his cue as she is a de facto DA federal leader, jumped on the bandwagon of a growing call for a legislative framework to manage the power-sharing arrangement across the three spheres of government.

One of the reasons coalition governments are not working in South Africa is “political squabbling,” she wrote in Coalitions in SA are not working. What needs to change? an opinion piece carried by one online publication. “And where squabble results in the collapse of a coalition, it usually emanates from inside parties, especially the very small ones,” continued the former DA federal leader.

In line with her view, the DA has introduced “two Bills [that] seek to achieve stability in all spheres of government by prescribing the number and the circumstances under which motions of no confidence can be moved in a speaker, mayor, premier or the president.” Although this would go a long way to bring stability to the hung municipalities, it is based on a flawed understanding of what constitutes a coalition government. In it, decisive power lies with small parties.

The DA, which leads fragile coalition governments in Nelson Mandela Bay (NMB) and Tshwane metropolitan municipalities, located in Eastern Cape and Gauteng respectively, is the opposition party to not only the ANC but also other opposition parties, especially the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a left-wing party founded on seven non-negotiable cardinal pillars, including expropriating land without compensation and nationalising the banks, mines and other key commanding heights of the economy.

Irresponsibly, announcing the DA’s Moonshot Pact in his re-election victory speech in April 2023 to “prevent an ANC-EFF Doomsday Coalition from taking [over the reins of state] power” in 2024, Steenhuisen harangued: “Today, I publicly declare Julius Malema’s EFF to be political enemy number one of the Democratic Alliance.”

He further asserted the DA’s indefatigable commitment “to fight back against the EFF at every turn, with the ultimate aim of defeating the Doomsday Coalition that could deal South Africa’s fate next year.” Showing a great deal of political maturity, the country’s third-largest party opted not to respond to his unwarranted tirade of attacks.

Through the Moonshot Pact, the DA seeks the opposition parties, with the EFF’s exclusion, of course, to contest the 2024 general elections under one umbrella, thereby forming a sort of United Front, which constitutes another formal form of the power-sharing arrangement.

The proposal has drawn an ambivalent response, with other parties, especially on the far right of the political spectrum, such as the Action SA and the Freedom Front Plus (FF+), in favour of its hand and others, most notably, the United Democratic Movement (UDM) and the new kid on the block – Rise Mzansi, in disfavour of it. The proposal is thus, in itself, divisive.

The reality is that even if a sizeable number of opposition parties can coalesce into the United Force and rally behind the DA’s Moonshot Pact, they would not dislodge the ANC from power without the EFF, which is an official opposition party in three provinces: Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West.

Although the ANC has suffered a significant electoral decline since 2009, it remains a dominant party with 57.5 per cent, followed by the DA and the EFF with 20.8 per cent and 10.8 per cent respectively. In total, the three parties constitute a staggering 89.1 per cent share of the political market. The rest of the other parties constitute a measly 10.9 per cent.

Incidentally, the DA, which lost 1.4 per cent in 2019, might have reached its electoral maturity. Since 2019, it has gestated two breakaway parties, Action SA and Build One South Africa (BOSA), formed by Herman Mashaba and Maimane respectively. These parties, especially the former in Soweto, Johannesburg, where its founder served as mayor between 2016 and 2019, would take sizable chunks of votes from the DA.

The DA has also lost a few prominent black leaders, including Phumzile Van Damme, Mbali Ntuli, and Makashule Gana. Like Action SA and BOSA, their defection would also impinge on the party at the polls.

Although the EFF is likely to increase its market share in successive general elections and possibly replace the DA as the official opposition party, it would not forge unity within the oppositional benches. The question thus arises: “What type of an official opposition party does South Africa need?”

It needs a homogenous party, but slightly centre-left, similar to the ANC. Such a party can be formed by coalescing the small parties, including the new ones, into it.

***Molifi Tshabalala is an author and independent political analyst

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Republic Mail and its associates.

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