Coalitions options facing SA now 

South Africans do not have a deep culture of coalitions. There have been a few coalitions at provincial and municipal levels but most of these were quite unstable. 

The outcome of the 2024 national election up-ended 30 years of electoral dominance by the ANC. The party garnered only 40.18% of the vote, while the DA got 21.81%, the MK Party 14.58% and the EFF 9.52%. 

That means that the country will need to learn to dance the coalition dance, a dance that under the best of conditions is fraught with partners stepping on each other’s toes. 

And all of this happens in an economy that is not in good shape. South Africa has an economy with negative per capita growth, high and rising unemployment, poverty and inequality, a government deeply in debt, and 26-million people – 42% of the population – on grants. 

One possible outcome from ongoing talks is that the ANC, the EFF led by Julius Malema and former president Jacob Zuma’s MK Party forming government. The second option is that the ANC partners with the DA. Lastly, it could opt to run a minority government. 

All three options are fraught with difficulties and dangers. 

Disillusionment on the part of former ANC members who formed the EFF and MK Party makes coalition formation with the political left quite difficult. And should it succeed, the economic consequences would likely be quite negative.  

The EFF and MK Party are not business-friendly parties. A coalition with them would likely result in the alienation of investors and a further drop in economic growth. 

A coalition between the ANC and the DA would be no less difficult, especially given their -significant philosophical differences about the role of government. Even if they were to cobble together a coalition, it would cause serious instability. 

Such instability would not be conducive for investment. Investors would prefer to stand on the sidelines and observe how such a coalition shapes up. 

Running a minority government presents another set of challenges – in particular the prospect of a very unstable government in a permanent state of gridlock.  

A coalition between the ANC and the EFF or MKP is not as straightforward as it might look. 

The EFF represents alienated, excluded youth, who feel the deal struck in 1994 doesn’t benefit them. And these voters will not necessarily like a coalition with the very same ANC unless it brings them tangible benefits.  

In the case of Zuma, it is a little more complex. To understand his influence, we need to understand the man and the role he played in KwaZulu-Natal over almost 40 years. In the early 1990s he played a key role in pacifying the bloody conflict between the IFP and the ANC.  

And, from very humble, rural beginnings, via the anti-apartheid struggle and prison, he made it to deputy president of both the ANC and the country, an achievement inspirational to many, because, if a man from such humble beginnings could become president, then anything was possible for everyone. 

The MKP represents groups of people seriously aggrieved by the ANC. They are angry and disgruntled. 

 If the ANC wants a coalition with these parties, it will have to offer them something to address their anger and disgruntlement. 

But doing that would probably result in rising government expenditure and debt levels. And if that coalition had to raise taxes to deliver on all the promises, investors would likely flee. We might also see more state interventionism and regulation. 

A coalition with the DA could take two forms. One is a coalition between the two, and possibly other smaller parties like the IFP, sharing cabinet positions. 

However, for the DA this would hold the serious danger that if things were to go badly over the next five years, it would be seen as complicit and lose votes in the next election. 

Should it nevertheless enter such a coalition, government’s economic policy would pivot slightly more pro-market and possibly focus on frugality and efficiency in government. 

But it would be difficult and time consuming to carry out these sorts of measures with a reluctant senior partner. Such a coalition would be inherently unstable because the parties are philosophically quite far apart.  

The second form of coalition between the two entails the ANC running the executive branch of government and the DA running parliament – the so-called “supply and confidence” model. Thus, the ANC leader would be president and appoint the cabinet with ANC appointees, and the DA might appoint the speaker or deputy speaker, and chairs of parliamentary committees. It would presumably also include an agreement that the DA would support the budget and not introduce a no-confidence vote in the ANC-aligned president. 

The ANC would have to negotiate support for each piece of legislation it brought to parliament. This would result in very little being passed. 

Without an agreement to support the budget and confidence in the president, the ANC would have little incentive to support such a coalition and might prefer a minority government. 

A minority government would be very unstable as getting anything through parliament would be almost impossible. 

If the annual budget isn’t passed, spending becomes unauthorised – a messy situation politically and economically. 

None of the options on hand would be easy. It’s going to be a rocky five years. 


  • Burger is dean of the faculty of economic management and professor of economics at the University of the Free State. This is an edited version of a talk he delivered at a webinar hosted by the UFS on June 5 2024. It was first published in The Conversation.

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