OPINION | Marius Roodt: DA-IFP pact in KwaZulu-Natal is a clear sign of things to come

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(left to right) Thami Ntuli, IFP KZN Provincial Chairperson and Dean Macpherson, DA KZN Provincial Chairperson at a IFP (Inkatha Freedom Party) and DA  (Democratic Alliance) joint press conference at Elangeni Hotel on November 22, 2022 in Durban, South Africa.
(left to right) Thami Ntuli, IFP KZN Provincial Chairperson and Dean Macpherson, DA KZN Provincial Chairperson at a IFP (Inkatha Freedom Party) and DA (Democratic Alliance) joint press conference at Elangeni Hotel on November 22, 2022 in Durban, South Africa.
Gallo Images/Darren Stewart

There are several incidences of broad fronts coming together to oppose the ANC. Marius Roodt writes these tactical electoral alliances – along with the friction between the parties – are part of South Africa's growing democratic pains.

South Africa is now entering the next phase in its political development – one where there is real political contestation, and being certain of who will govern after the next election is not a foregone conclusion.

The ANC, while still the most popular single party in the country, is losing support rapidly. Polls from different sources show that less than half of South African voters intend to put their mark on the ballot for the governing party at the next election, and this decline in support is also reflected in municipal by-elections since the 2021 local government elections. 

The party is wounded, and though perhaps not mortally, opposition parties are smelling blood; for the first time in post-apartheid South Africa, an ANC loss is a distinct possibility.

Common goal 

While the ANC may not win a majority in the next national election, scheduled for 2024, it will remain – by far – the single most popular party in the country. Only a coalition of opposition parties working together can get the ANC out of government.

The IRR has previously suggested that for the ANC 'buffalo' to be taken down will require a pack of 'wild dogs' – a number of opposition parties coming together with a common goal.

An anti-ANC front is taking shape and has been for some time now – arguably since the 2016 municipal elections, when the ANC lost power in metros other than Cape Town for the first time, as well as being voted out of power in numerous places across the country.

READ | Richard Calland and Mike Law: Coalitions are here to stay. How can we make them better?

The latest evidence of the emergence of this broad front opposed to the ANC is the news that the DA has said it will not be fielding a candidate in a by-election to be held next month in eThekwini. The ward in Umkomaas, in the south of the municipality, is a marginal ANC ward. In last year's municipal poll, the ANC candidate won 31% of the vote, with the rest of the vote being primarily split between the DA, the IFP, and an independent. In a joint press conference held by the IFP and DA earlier this week, the DA said it would be asking its voters to support the IFP and thus help keep the ANC out.

As an aside, it is concerning that the by-election became necessary because the sitting councillor, Mnqobi Molefe, was murdered by two police officers in September.

ANC in majority 

The ANC, which won 42% of the vote in eThekwini in last year's municipal election, governs the city with the support of several smaller parties. The loss of a ward seat could see its grip on the city weakening.

This latest opposition move comes after talks between the DA and the IFP in late October about working together more closely in KwaZulu-Natal and elsewhere to defeat the ANC.

But this is not the only evidence of this broad front coming together. For example, in another recent by-election in Cederberg in the Western Cape, the FF+ and a local community party, the Cederberg First Residents' Association (CFRA), agreed not to field a candidate to give the DA the best chance to win the ward. The tactic worked. 

READ | Helen Zille: Coalitions in SA are not working. What needs to change?

While the ANC and Patriotic Alliance (PA) combined obtained a greater share of the vote than the DA, the DA was still the single largest party, and was victorious. This also meant that the DA-FF+-CFRA coalition continued to govern the municipality. If the ward had been lost to the ANC or the PA, then these two parties would have been able to form a coalition to govern.

Some may point to the ructions between the DA and ActionSA, and the instability of anti-ANC coalitions in municipalities across the country more broadly as evidence that any broad anti-ANC front is dead in the water. They could also point to a recent by-election in Bela-Bela where the FF+ took a ward off the DA as evidence that the 'wild dogs' are more akin to 'lone wolves' than any kind of coherent grouping.

However, contestation between parties with similar broad goals but differences on specific issues is not uncommon internationally. This should be seen as something similar. Tactically it made sense for the FF+ to sit out a by-election in Cederberg while competing with the DA in Bela-Bela. In Bela-Bela, there was no chance of the ANC or an allied party winning the seat, but this would have been a possibility in Cederberg had the broad anti-ANC vote been split.

Previous ill-fated alliance 

Furthermore, cynics may point to a previous ill-fated DA-IFP alliance in KwaZulu-Natal. Prior to the 2004 election, the two parties formed a 'Coalition for Change' to oust the ANC in the province. But this alliance was formed when the context was significantly different. The economy was booming, and the ANC was at the height of its popularity – it would go on to win nearly 70% of the vote in that election. At the same time, the IFP was a declining force, and the DA, at the time, did not govern any significant entity in South Africa (having lost Cape Town after the New National Party left the DA for the ANC in 2002).

Things are different today. South Africans are increasingly fed up with the ANC. The IFP is experiencing a revival in support. And the DA governs a province as well as several municipalities across the country, while five of the eight metro municipalities have DA mayors. This shift in momentum is likely to continue.

These tactical electoral alliances – along with the friction between the parties – are part of South Africa's growing democratic pains. Political parties are learning to deal with the new political reality that the ANC is no longer the colossus it once was. 

South Africans should welcome this new reality and start preparing for a future in which the ANC is no longer in government. It will be a bumpy ride – but perhaps not as uncomfortable as we think.

Marius Roodt is a writer and senior analyst at the Institute of Race Relations.

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