Melanie Verwoerd

Is a new Ramaphosa-led party our last hope?

2017-07-19 08:27
ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa at the party's policy conference. (AFP File)

ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa at the party's policy conference. (AFP File)

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There is increasing talk about the possibility of a new party forming in the event of a Zuma faction victory at the ANC Electoral Conference in December. For many this possibility remains the only light at the end of the dark political tunnel of late. But would it really be a positive turn of events?

Forming a new party is not for the faint-hearted. It is tough and many have failed in trying to do so. It is particularly difficult when one big party like the ANC dominates the political landscape. For such a new party to make an impact it would need huge popular support which would in turn require high profile and popular leaders.

The big question is therefore whether, if he fails in his bid for the presidency, Cyril Ramaphosa would be willing to lead such a party. Ramaphosa has the credibility, gravitas and popularity to pull other big names into such a party. He might even be able to convince our former public protector, Thuli Madonsela to come back from America to join him on the ticket. What a winning team that would be!  

Ramaphosa would also gain massive public support. As a caller to a radio station this week said: “With that smile, he is a magnet for votes.”

But in order to gain significant public support as well as organisational capacity, this new party would also have to get some form of cooperation and support from both the SACP and Cosatu. Given the SACP’s declaration after their national conference last week it seems likely that they will either join such a party during the election campaign or at least be willing to form an alliance after the elections. Since Cosatu is also opposed to the shenanigans of the Zuma faction, they would most probably follow suit.

Any political party also needs a lot of money, especially to run an election campaign. The ANC for example spent over R1 billion during the local government election campaign last year. Presumably Ramaphosa would be able to access big money in the business world and like all parties (including the EFF), he would not have too many objections to accepting funds from the so-called white monopoly capital.

But would such a party be able to make an impact in the 2019 elections?

It is important to note that there would only be about 16 months between the ANC electoral conference and April 2019. (One can be fairly certain that the ANC would call the election as early as possible to prevent such a party from getting too much traction). Although sixteen months is extremely short to mount a large scale campaign it can be done. Cope for example were able to gain 7.42% of the vote in 2009, only four months after they were formed. The EFF gained 6.35% or 25 seats in the 2014 elections, less than 10 months after its launch.

Although some analysts argue that there is a ceiling for the support of a new political party, a Ramaphosa-led party could possible gain more traction and enough to push the ANC below the 50% mark. Although people tend to vote differently in national elections, it is important to remember that the ANC only received 54% support during the recent local government election. A further loss of just 5% would push them below 50%. However, in order to be able to govern, such a new party would have to do some serious horse trading with the other bigger parties.

The DA has made it clear that they want to increase their support to 30%. A party led by Ramaphosa might, however, pull support away from the DA with many disaffected ANC supporters preferring to support the new party.

But let’s for the sake of the argument accept that Maimane reaches his target of 30%. The EFF might also increase their support slightly, let’s say to about 8%. If the IFP and UDM remain, they will jointly have about 3.5% of the vote.

Now assuming that the new party together with the SACP and Cosatu can get about 10% support and all these parties agree to form an alliance they can claim just over 51% of the vote and thus form a government. It would be tight, but it is possible. This is the reason why some in the ANC are very concerned about the formation of such a new party.

Of course, one cannot assume that Ramaphosa would automatically be president if all of this comes to pass, since the new party is most unlikely to receive more votes than the DA. Hopefully, despite having more seats the DA would agree, for the greater good, to accept someone like Ramaphosa in exchange for other senior cabinet positions.

Although this is a positive scenario, it would also involve some risks for the country. For example: If such a party is formed, those who wanted to join it would have to leave the ANC and in case of ANC MPs, resign their seats.

With all the “good” people leaving the ANC, it would give the Zuma faction carte blanche to pursue their own agenda. Simply put: The brakes in the ANC would be gone. One shudders to think what the implications of that would be.

It is also questionable whether such a minority government would be accepted by many in the ANC. If not, it could lead to serious violence and instability.

Such a coalition could also make the government extremely unstable. Alliances, especially if they involve many partners, are notoriously hard to manage and keep together. The DA, EFF and former ANC members in the new party would have very different ideological positions and it would certainly take maturity on all sides and all the skills of someone like Ramaphosa to keep it all together.

It is certainly too early to assume a defeat for Ramaphosa at the end of year. However, if it happens I hope that Ramaphosa will show the strength of character to not just leave the ANC, but lead the millions of people in this country who would be looking for a new political home. 

- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland. 

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