Step change brokered for SA after 30 years of ANC

Multi-party government formed in South Africa.

Multi-party government formed in South Africa. Photo: AAP

The African National Congress and its largest rival, the white-led, pro-business Democratic Alliance, have agreed to work together in South Africa’s new government of national unity, a step change after 30 years of ANC rule.

Once unthinkable, Friday’s deal between two sharply antagonistic parties is the most momentous political shift in South Africa since Nelson Mandela led the ANC to victory in the 1994 election that marked the end of apartheid.

“Today, South Africa is a better country than it was yesterday. For the first time since 1994, we’ve embarked on a peaceful and democratic transfer of power to a new government that will be different from the previous one,” DA leader John Steenhuisen said in a televised address.

The ANC lost its majority for the first time in an election on May 29 and spent two weeks in talks with other parties that went down to the wire on Friday morning as the new parliament was convening.

“Today is a remarkable step in the aftermath of the 29th of May,” ANC Secretary-General Fikile Mbalula told reporters, adding that parties included in the unity government would be cooperating in both the executive and the legislative branches.

“Let me explain that the government of national unity is for the good of the country.”

South Africa-government

Democratic Alliance’s John Steenhuisen said South Africa was a better country today than yesterday. Photo: AAP

Long seen as unbeatable in national elections, the ANC lost support in recent years as voters wearied of persistently high levels of poverty, inequality and crime, rolling power cuts and corruption in party ranks.

The DA’s entry into national government is a watershed moment for a country still processing the legacy of the racist colonial and apartheid regimes.

The party wants to scrap some of the ANC’s Black empowerment programmes, saying they have not worked and have mostly benefited a politically-connected elite.

It says good governance and a strong economy would benefit all South Africans.

The DA rejects accusations from opponents such as the hard-left Economic Freedom Fighters that it represents the interests of the privileged white minority – but it has struggled to shake off that image in the minds of some voters.

Others take a more positive view of the racial dynamics.

“The ANC was also failing. They need a partner so they can rise again. DA is mostly white people so if they came together we can have more power and maybe a lot can change, even jobs could be created,” said Bongani Msibi, 38, a street vendor in Soweto.

Helen Zille, a senior DA figure for former leader of the party herself, said Steenhuisen’s skin colour was irrelevant.

“The melanin-quotient of the DA leader is the least significant aspect of this historic agreement,” she said in a post on X critical of some media headlines.

The EFF, which came fourth in the election, said it would have been prepared to partner with the ANC but not with the DA, which it has described as “a tool for imperialism and for white monopoly capital”.

Two smaller parties, the socially conservative Inkatha Freedom Party and the right-wing Patriotic Alliance, will also take part in the unity government, they said.

Meeting in Cape Town, the new National Assembly elected the ANC’s Thoko Didiza as its speaker. It was then due to elect its deputy speaker and the head of state.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, the 71-year-old ANC leader, is expected to win a new term with support from the other parties in the unity government pact.

A DA source said the party would receive the post of deputy speaker of the National Assembly under the deal.


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