South African politicians enter uncharted waters | WORLD
Sound journalism, grounded in facts and Biblical truth | Donate

South African politicians enter uncharted waters

Political parties seek to form historic coalition

A spokeswoman announces the ANC’s intention to work with other political parties Getty Images/Photo by Per-Anders Pettersson

South African politicians enter uncharted waters

Eunice Maree, a South African teacher in Hong Kong, joined other expatriates at their country’s consulate in May to cast their votes in South Africa’s history-making general elections. It took her less than 15 minutes at the consulate to complete the process.

Maree was one of about 78,000 South Africans who cast their ballots abroad in an election where the local and global implications are still playing out.

“When you are living abroad, you certainly view your home country through a different lens and realize the potential your country has,” she told WORLD.

The May 29 vote has brought a shift to South African politics, ending the three-decade majority the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party has commanded since the start of the country’s democracy in 1994. Under the leadership of the late Nelson Mandela, the ANC led South Africa to the end of white minority rule, also known as apartheid.

Members of Parliament are now scrambling to form the nation’s first governing coalition and elect a president. The ANC has said the talks are still at an early stage. Parliament has a two-week deadline since the results were announced Sunday to hold its first session.

The ANC scored 40 percent of the votes in last week’s election. The main opposition party, Democratic Alliance, came in second with nearly 22 percent of the votes, while the MK Party led by former President Jacob Zuma came in third with almost 15 percent. In one surprising provincial victory, the MK party knocked out ANC to win the second-most populous KwaZulu-Natal province.

The political changes come at a tough time for many South Africans. Unemployment ranks at 32 percent. Frequent power cuts to conserve available resources—a practice called load shedding—has harmed many businesses, and violent crime levels remain high.

“It is a true reflection of how citizens are responding to the winds of change,” Maree said of the electoral outcome. “Voters have shown up and vocalized their concerns by way of using their votes to reflect frustrations and shortcomings following the last election.”

On Wednesday, ANC spokesperson Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri said the party has held “exploratory” talks with the Democratic Alliance, the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters, and three smaller parties.

Bhengu-Motsiri said the MK Party has given no “positive response” to requests for negotiations.

“We believe that despite any differences we may have, working together as South Africans, we can seize this moment to usher our country into a new era of hope,” she said.

Christopher Vandome, a senior research fellow with the U.K.-based Chatham House Africa Program, said the possible coalition could see ANC finally reach an agreement with the Democratic Alliance and other smaller parties like the Inkatha Freedom Party. The smaller parties could keep the ANC from alienating some of its traditional support base who might not favor an alliance with the white-led Democratic Alliance, he explained.

“There is distrust between them and there are racial dynamics that create difficulties between those two parties,” Vandome said, referring to the ANC and the Democratic Alliance. “So the IFP is important to mitigate some of that, but also most significantly to try and retain some presence of the national government in KwaZulu-Natal.”

The negotiations could also see the political parties seek out a more informal coalition.

“Those parties agree that they will vote in parliament in favor of the ANC president . . . to vote on budgets and to vote on key pieces of legislation, but without having to enter into a formal coalition,” Vandome said.

The election results could affect other countries, too. The country still has an ongoing case at the International Court of Justice after bringing genocide charges against Israel over its operations in Gaza. In December, South Africa will assume the rotating presidency of the G20 nations. It’s the only African nation in the bloc, although the African Union has also become a permanent member.

Vandome described it as a huge opportunity, with South Africa expected to push for debt negotiations for African nations and green financing.

The ANC government has also deepened relations with Russia in recent years. The Democratic Alliance has accused it of failing to remain neutral in the Ukraine war. South Africa is also a member of BRICS, a coalition of countries that includes Russia and China, touted as an alternative to the Western-led G7.

“In a world of more plural politics here, I think you’re going to see more pressure on choice-making of who really are friends and who are people we can do without,” Vandome said.

With additional reporting by Joyce Wu

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD’s Africa reporter and deputy global desk chief. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University–Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria.


These summarize the news that I could never assemble or discover by myself. —Keith

Sign up to receive World Tour, WORLD’s free weekly email newsletter on international news.

Please wait while we load the latest comments...