Avatar photo

By William Saunderson-Meyer


Cyril’s poisoned chalices

All credit to the president. The GNU is a remarkable accomplishment. It’s SA’s best and, possibly, last hope of avoiding calamity.

With much pomp and ceremony President Cyril Ramaphosa was inaugurated this week as head of the country’s seventh administration since the advent of democracy.

After the congratulatory clinking of crystal goblets comes the next ritual: the handing out of the poisoned chalices.

Ramaphosa will, as quickly as possible, want to settle with his government of national unity (GNU) partners who gets what ministerial position and whether to shrink the previously bloated Cabinet.

ALSO READ: Could ANC and other GNU parties ‘gang up’ on the DA? Tony Leon clears the air

Whatever the obstacles ahead, all credit to Ramaphosa. The GNU is a remarkable accomplishment. It’s SA’s best and, possibly, last hope of avoiding the calamity it has been drifting towards in the past dozen or so years.

The inaugural razzmatazz was a rare moment of triumph for a beleaguered president who, towards the end of his first term, was so despondent that he had to be dissuaded from throwing in the towel.

He would especially have savoured the celebration since he’s painfully aware that the odds are against him surviving for an entire second term.

The widespread euphoria over the GNU is understandable, given that the existential danger of complete state collapse has been averted… for now.

It’s also predictable, given our history of racial conflict, that the GNU is seen as a “rainbow” moment similar to the agreement that in 1994 ushered in a democracy – our innate common sense causing us to step back from the brink of chaos to find solutions.

However, it bears repeating that the GNU was brought into existence not to save South Africa, but to save the ANC. So, the real achievement is not that the GNU happened.

The real achievement is that it was reached between the ANC’s intermittently reformist wing and the centre-right opposition parties, rather than with what is the ANC’s natural partner, the radical rabble who now rather grandiosely have named themselves “the progressive caucus”.

Unlike the damaging reverberations echoing through the ANC over a deal with the DA, the number of DA supporters implacably opposed to cooperating with the ANC appears to be small. It’s a particularly insignificant factor when set against the enthusiasm for the GNU of its traditional corporate donors.

ALSO READ: UDM becomes 8th party to join GNU

It’s also a moment of great opportunity for the DA. Its share of the national vote has been moribund for a decade, despite the admirable example of effective, corruption-free governance it has set in the Western Cape and the 38 municipalities it runs countrywide.

This debut as a central actor on the national stage gives it a chance to impress an electorate that’s been stubbornly resistant to its charms.

It will, however, have to quickly get used to taking some stick. With the ink barely dry on the GNU agreement, the EFF has already put the DA in a spot with a fresh push for a parliamentary impeachment hearing against Ramaphosa over the Phala Phala scandal, which involves R10m in US dollars hidden in his lounge furniture.

Previously, the DA vociferously supported such a hearing. It has now, unsurprisingly, done an about-turn, with Zille saying it would only support it “if the evidence suggests [it]”.

Pragmatism, or expediency if you prefer, is of course the currency of politics. No matter how unpleasant the taste it leaves in the mouth, no one could seriously expect the DA to sign into a GNU and then immediately bring it down.

It’s is a marriage of convenience, reluctantly cobbled together at a moment of crisis. It’s entered into with the full knowledge of the partners that there are irreconcilable differences.

But it doesn’t have to survive long. It just has to survive long enough to break the spiral downwards.

For more news your way

Download our app and read this and other great stories on the move. Available for Android and iOS.