ANALYSIS: ANC’s coalition puzzler - will Malema beret the hatchet?
He's poised to score at the polls, so there will be coalition talks. The big question is: what, exactly, does he want?
President Cyril Ramaphosa has been the dominant figure of the 2019 elections. His power, influence, survivability in the face of a factional fightback in the ANC, and game plan for the future have all been central to the national discourse.
Although the election is supposed to deliver the crowning moment of Ramaphosa’s political career, there is a possibility that another political figure might eclipse this story.
According to the polls, the EFF might be the only major party to grow its support next week. This would mean that the EFF would have greater representation in parliament and the provinces, and thus have a louder voice in the national conversation.
A bigger percentage of the vote also means that the EFF has greater bargaining power, especially in the event of coalition negotiations at national and provincial level.
This raises the question about what EFF leader Julius Malema wants and how he would use a bigger portion of the vote to attain this.
In the past few weeks, there seemed to be mixed messages from Malema about his relationship with the ANC.
Speaking at the Rand Show last month, Malema ruled out coalition negotiations with the DA because of the party’s campaign material targeting the EFF as looters of VBS Mutual Bank.
This means that despite co-operating with the DA in the Johannesburg and Tshwane metros, the EFF would not be amendable to a relationship with Mmusi Maimane’s party at national or provincial level.
Malema said he was, however, open to talks with the ANC because they have not been “hostile”.
To the contrary, the ANC’s courtship of the EFF has heightened over time.
In March 2018, Ramaphosa urged Malema to return “home”.
“We would love to have Julius Malema back in the ANC. He is still ANC down‚ deep in his heart‚” Ramaphosa said.
Deputy President David Mabuza echoed this, saying he had a “special space in my heart” for Malema.
“I feel the ANC has lost in comrade Julius. The ANC will be better off with him inside the fold‚ so I am going to do my best to request him to reconsider coming back home,” Mabuza said.
Ramaphosa also went out of his way to reach out to Malema at the funeral of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in April 2018. It was Madikizela-Mandela’s wish that the EFF either return to the ANC or that the two parties forge a co-operation relationship.
Malema then wrote to the ANC requesting formal talks so “we can find each other”.
In an interview with the Sunday Times in April 2018, Malema said there was closer alignment between the two parties as the ANC had met most of the conditions the EFF had listed during the coalition talks after the 2016 local government elections.
This included the removal of Jacob Zuma as president and an agreement to amend the constitution to allow for land expropriation without compensation.
But the talks stalled after the EFF adopted an aggressive stance after allegations emerged of their involvement in the VBS bank heist.
Ramaphosa was again on the charm offensive in the 2019 State of the Nation address.
“Yesterday, by chance, I met Mr Julius Malema and we reached an agreement. We agreed that if the EFF wins the elections and Malema is installed as president, he will invite me up on stage to sing for him,” the president joked.
The EFF had initially threatened to disrupt Ramaphosa’s speech but did not do so.
ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule is the latest leader to extend the olive branch.
“I love Julius. I am talking to him to return home,” Magashule said in North West last week.
But speaking on the sidelines of a Freedom Day rally in Limpopo at the weekend, Malema scoffed at Magashule’s overtures.
He said Magashule’s statement exposed his “stupidity”.
“I’m not even part of that mess. The ANC is dying and no one can rescue it. The research shows that even Cyril is not rescuing it.”
Malema suggested the ANC’s advances were part of its campaign strategy to blur the lines between the two parties.
“It’s a joke, they do that every election with the hope to confuse the EFF electorate. I won’t go back to the ANC. He’s [Magashule] exposing his stupidity. For me to go back, the ANC must go back to the conference.”Malema meant that a merger between the ANC and EFF could not happen simply through an invitation but would require decisions by the national conferences of both organisations.But this returns to the question of what Malema wants.He clearly enjoys the prominence of being a political party leader and the ability to lead the national discourse.Any form of co-operation with the EFF would therefore require that Malema retains his national status.Depending on the ANC’s vote share, it could need the EFF’s help at national level and in some of the provinces to form governments. This would boost the EFF’s bargaining power, possibly to negotiate positions in cabinet and parliament.Malema will not accept token posts so if the ANC dips below 50% nationally, the EFF will set its sights on key cabinet positions.A coalition between the ANC and EFF is perceived in some quarters as being detrimental to Ramaphosa in that he could be pushed towards more populist policies. If Malema sides with Magashule’s faction, they could also have dominance over Ramaphosa’s camp.But a coalition with the EFF is not necessarily a bad thing for the ANC.
Ramaphosa is an experienced politician and could find ways to keep Malema onside. It is possible that the EFF could be less destructive in partnership with the ANC than continuously yanking it around from the outside.
It is early days yet to consider an assimilation of the EFF into the ANC. The first priority in the next few weeks is the formation of stable governments nationally and in the provinces.
Coalition talks will take maturity and open minds. Considering SA’s state of crisis, this could be a national moment similar to 1994 when a government of national unity was formed.
But if the EFF is indeed heading for a major boost of its vote share, this could be Malema’s moment to make his debut in government.