HomeOpinion & AnalysisIs South Africa ready for a white president?

Is South Africa ready for a white president?

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By Tapiwa Gomo

SOMETIME in October this year, there was a leaked audio purportedly recorded in 2019 at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport in which the Democratic Alliance (DA) federal council chair Helen Zille was heard urging her party to consolidate its support at 20% and or establish the possibility of working with the African National Congress (ANC). While some dismissed the audio as ambitious by the leadership of the DA, recent local government elections have shown that the DA has surpassed what its federal council chair aspired for in the audio.

In the audio, the DA federal council chair was heard committing to a coalition with the governing party under the leadership of President Cyril Ramaphosa.

“I would rather make tough demands on Ramaphosa’s ANC and force to unite under them, and go into coalition with them and make strict conditions for them, than go into coalition with anyone else. That I think should be our aim in the next election.

“We want 20% of South Africans and remember there is only 8% of white voters. Between 15% and 20% gives us a strong consolidated block in coalitions,” Zille was heard in the audio.

While Zille later alleged that the audio was edited and taken out of context, what is clear from both the audio and the outcome of the recent local government elections show that the DA is smelling power and it will consider all options on the table given the fast changing political dynamics in South Africa.

In the recent local government elections, the ANC got 46% of the vote in municipal elections which was its worst election result since assuming power from the apartheid system in 1994.

The DA, often described as a party for economically privileged white minority, gained ground and came second on 22% of the vote, while Economic Freedom Fighters got 10%.

The result has given the DA the right to be in charge of South Africa’s two strategic cities; the City of Cape Town which hosts Parliament and Tshwane the Capital City of South Africa which hosts the President’s office.  But that does not seem to be the DA endgame.

If in the next general elections, the ANC continues to slide to 40%  and major opposition parties such as the Democratic Alliance, the Economic Freedom Fighters and others continue to gain ground, it is possible that the next president of South Africa may not come from the ANC.

How is that possible? Simple. In South Africa, the party with the majority in Parliament has the power to nominate and select a president for approval by Parliament.

And in the event that the ANC continues to lose its majority as shown in the recent local government elections, there is a good chance of a coalition of opposition parties being able to deliver the next president.

A 40% vote for the ANC means that the opposition will together have 60% vote if it decides to put its forces together.

And the DA knows that a 20% to 25% vote will put it ahead of other opposition parties and place it in a better negotiation position to secure concessions and better deals from other opposition parties. Given how fast the ANC is weakening and its inability to find a renewal strategy, there is a good chance most organised opposition parties will increase their votes by the time of the next presidential elections in 2024.

What does this mean for South African politics? A 25% vote for the DA and a less a 40% for the ANC means that South Africa faces the possibility of having a white president in the form of John Steenhuisen or its federal council chair Helen Zille.  For many, it will be too soon — just three decades after all-white and apartheid rule — to have a white president. On the other hand, for others and constitutionally, it will be democracy at play.

The weakening of the ANC which is feeding the growing momentum of these opposition parties is what is bothering those that are ANC at heart such as Jacob Zuma, who are seeing the gains of independence being reversed under the watch of those who took over from the old ANC.

The current ANC leadership seem preoccupied with internal retribution against Zuma, while not giving enough attention to how the ANC is dismantling and losing ground under their watch. On the other hand, the weakening of the ANC is a blessing to white capital in so many ways.

It will allow descedents of white capital to regain control over politics and to consolidate their control over the economy and the Judiciary and ensure that redistributive policies and those aimed at addressing historical and racial economic imbalances are delayed.

While the economy will be seen as growing with likely global support, black people will once again be on sidelines with economic opportunities only limited to increasing jobs and other fringe benefits. It will be once again, back to the future.

  • Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa. He writes here in his personal capacity.

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