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By William Saunderson-Meyer

Journalist


Big egos and alliances don’t go well together

Unfortunately for SA, the charter’s alphabet soup bowl of party acronyms doesn’t necessarily spell out an electoral banquet.


South Africans yearn for inspirational leadership, according to recent research. If that is so, they may be disappointed in the political talent that assembled this week in Kempton Park.

The two-day meeting aimed to explore the prospects of an alliance of opposition groupings to challenge the ANC in the 2024 general election. Big egos and alliances, as the repeated collapse of municipal coalitions have shown, don’t go well together.

The two biggest players at the conference, the Democratic Alliance’s John Steenhuisen and ActionSA’s Herman Mashaba, have been especially guilty in this regard but appear to have behaved impeccably.

ALSO READ: DA’s Steenhuisen not guaranteed presidency as opposition parties reach coalition agreement

Steenhuisen, as leader of the biggest party by far, would have had to choke down a lot of pride. However, this was not quite the “national convention” it was pretentiously punted to be.

The 1908 National Convention that hammered out the template of the Union of South Africa comprised delegations from the colonies of the Cape, Natal, Orange River and Transvaal.

The Convention for a Democratic SA, which laid down the tenets of the interim constitution between 1990 and 1993 – also held at Kempton Park – was truly national in that it included almost every major political player, as well as the SA and homeland governments. This particular Kempton Park bring-and-braai was not quite in the same league.

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Aside from the DA and ActionSA, the others involved were the IFP, Freedom Front Plus (FF+), the Independent SA National Civic Organisation (Isanco), the United Independent Movement (UIM) and Spectrum National Party (SNP).

Unfortunately for the participants – and SA – an alphabet soup bowl of party acronyms doesn’t necessarily spell out an electoral banquet.

In the 2021 municipal elections, the DA got 20% of the national vote, the IFP 6%, FF+ and ActionSA both drew around 2% support. Isanco and UIM, with 0.15% and 0.12% of the vote respectively, are tiddlers with no record of public representatives on its website. It does, however, have 20 followers on X, 25 on LinkedIn and 1.4k on Facebook.

READ MORE: EFF ‘support will grow’ but is it enough to beat ANC or DA?

In contrast, the ANC in 2021’s local elections got 48% of the vote and in the 2019 general election, 58%. Its natural ally and sometime stalking horse, the Economic Freedom Fighters, polled around 11% in both. Together, unless the ANC vote next year dramatically plunges further, they are not only assured of a majority but may be within sight of a constitution-changing 66%.

The opposition parties have, until now, basically been trading voters between themselves. What gains the opposition parties have made are largely the result of disenchanted ANC voters not voting – as well as from dismally low new voter registrations – both of which especially disadvantage the ANC and EFF.

The real key to opposition growth is these alienated and apathetic voters. That is, of course, exactly what the new grouping is hoping to achieve, but there are enormous challenges.

WATCH: Voting for ANC or EFF ‘will make collapse of Zimbabwe look like a dress rehearsal’ – Steenhuisen

The first challenge is to build momentum by adding members. Obvious omissions are Gayton Mackenzie’s Patriotic Alliance and the African Christian Democratic Party.

The second challenge is not to get too hung up on policy. The charter settled on a vague 10-point programme but there’s only one thing that matters; get rid of a toxic ANC government.

The third challenge is not to destroy the alliance before it’s even properly got going, by an unseemly jostling for office.

Most crucially, the charter should, as an urgent priority, bring together the many alarmed and despairing civic society organisations, business organisations, corporate leaders, and prominent South Africans, who comprehend the country is on the edge of the abyss. That would be impossible for any single political party.

ALSO READ: ANC-DA coalition plans ‘absolute nonsense’, says Steenhuisen

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