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Unity government is the best option for South Africa


South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) will invite other political parties to form a government of national unity, its leader, President Cyril Ramaphosa, has said.

It comes after last week’s elections, in which the ANC lost its majority for the first time since the end of the racist apartheid system thirty years ago.

Mr Ramaphosa called for a national dialogue to help restore social cohesion after a “toxic and divisive” election campaign.

Political parties have just over a week to form a government before parliament meets to elect the president.

Under the South African system of proportional representation, to have a guaranteed majority, a government would have to be formed from parties that together received more than 50% of the vote.

The ANC took a 40% share, with the centre-right Democratic Alliance (DA) getting 22%, former president Jacob Zuma’s MK party 15% and the radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) 9%.

Mr Ramaphosa, speaking late on Thursday after the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) held a marathon meeting in Johannesburg, said the party acknowledged people’s complaints.

“We have agreed to invite political parties to form a government of national unity as the best option to move our country forward,” Ramaphosa said.

His announcement came after days of speculation about the ANC’s options, such as pursuing a minority government or a one- or two-party coalition.

Ultimately, the president invited all political opponents of the ANC to participate in discussions about co-governance of the country.

This is a looser arrangement than a coalition, which is a formal agreement between participating parties to work together and usually involves compromises in policies and positions.

A national unity government, on the other hand, would include any party that agreed to a wide range of principles. The idea is that they would support the ANC on important votes, such as on the budget, but maintain their own political and ideological agendas.

Analysts say this broad approach could allow the ANC to choose a coalition partner who may be unpopular with its base.

This especially applies to the DA with white LEDs. Thanks to the free market agenda, this is the preferred option for the private sector and investors, and is seen as an important signal of stability for the markets.

But his policies are contrary to the ANC’s social security programs and are especially anathema to the party’s left-wing base.

“A unity government gives the impression that it is a collective working group coming together,” political analyst Sanusha Naidu told the BBC.

It could also “look at how you engage the prosecutor, without necessarily saying we are working directly with the prosecutor.”

Mr Ramaphosa framed the proposal for a national unity government in the historical precedent of South Africa’s first democracy.

As president, Nelson Mandela of the ANC collaborated with his former enemies in the National Party, which had introduced apartheid.

This included the Inkatha Freedom Party, a conservative party with an ethnic Zulu base, whose supporters had regularly clashed with ANC activists, leading to thousands of deaths.

“In establishing a government of national unity, we will build on an experience with which South Africans are familiar and which has served our country well at a time of great difficulty,” he said.

But the challenges are different.

The ANC is no longer in the majority, and the untested hopes of thirty years ago have been replaced by divisions within the party and starkly different visions of the country between the main parties.

Mr Ramaphosa said negotiators had already held “constructive discussions” with the DA and the IFP, as well as the EFF, a breakaway party from the ANC that advocates seizing white-owned land and nationalizing banks and mines.

The DA has said it will not participate in any government that includes the EFF.

But Mr Ramaphosa said ideological and political differences “do not preclude the possibility of working with any party as long as it is in the public interest” and in accordance with a set of basic principles, such as respecting the Constitution and the rule of law, shared values ​​of nation building and social cohesion and a focus on building an inclusive economy.

The ANC’s five-member negotiating team will now meet with a “wide range of parties” to discuss the proposal.

This also includes Mr Zuma’s uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party. He has refused to accept the election results or join a coalition as long as Ramaphosa remains president.

But the Knesset member said in a statement late on Thursday that it had made an initial appointment with the ANC and that a meeting would follow soon.

Mr Ramaphosa has a reputation as a skilled negotiator and is one of the architects of the historic settlement that led to the 1994 elections and the national unity government that followed.

His then-counterpart, National Party negotiator Roelf Meyer, told South African news channel eNCA that Mr Ramaphosa “has every option to deal with this situation”.

The coming week will prove to be one of the biggest tests of those skills.


(Getty Images/BBC)

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