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IANS Analysis: Will South Africa's new coalition government herald a change in the country's orientation?

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New Delhi, June 16 (IANS) Losing its parliamentary majority for the first time in the post-apartheid era, South Africa's African National Congress is back in power under President Cyril Ramaphosa - but with the support of several coalition partners, including those whose stands in key policy areas are different. What will this portend for the continent's powerhouse?

The ANC, which saw its vote share slump to 40 per cent and seats to 159 in the 400-member Assembly, was likely to return to power as any coalition without it, as the single largest party, was theoretically possible but practically impossible given the different political outlooks of the next five parties, spanning from far-right to far-left.

The present coalition is now largely centrist, given the centre-left and centre-right orientations of its two largest parties.

For the business community and inventors, there will be relief at the make-up of the new ruling dispensation as the crucial partner is the centre-right, pro-business Democratic Alliance (DA), which secured 22 per cent in the May 29 polls, giving it 87 seats, propelling the coalition to well above the majority mark.

The leftist alternatives - uMkhonto weSizwe (MK), led by former President Jacob Zuma, which garnered 15 per cent (58 seats) to dethrone the old number three, the radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which only got 10 per cent (39) - would have been more natural partners for the left-leaning ANC, but not in the present circumstances.

The acrimony between Zuma and Ramaphosa, whom the former blames for his ouster from power and subsequent travails, ruled out any chance of their coming together, as the MK and Zuma repeatedly announced. On the other hand, the EFF's plan of nationalisation and repossessing of land, seemed a little too far-fetched for the ANC to countenance, given that the prevailing economic malaise had led the voters to turn their faces away from it to bring it to this state.

Things could be tense with the DA too.

An amalgam of various groups emerging out of the apartheid-era National Party, it is largely deemed a party representing the country's white minority. Under John Steenhuisen, its vote share in the May 29 election rose just a percentage point over 2019, indicating it has not capitalised on the ANC's decline to gain much support among the black voters, but seems to have drawn the white voters it lost in 2019 when it was headed by Mmusi Maimane.

The key point of contention between the two biggest partners could be over the ANC's national healthcare policy, and its black economic empowerment programme, which the DA opposes as ineffective and the few benefits flowing in snapped by ANC leaders and their acolytes rather than the targeted population.

However, there might be some give or take on it as the ruling coalition proceeds with governance.

Foreign affairs could be another issue of tension, especially over the case of the Gaza conflict in which South Africa had taken a strident anti-Israel stand, snapping diplomatic links and espousing the Palestinian conflict in international forums including the International Court of Justice.

However, it remains to be seen how all these issues will play out.

The coalition alliance, which represents a broad social spectrum, seems a positive sign, given the two largest parties are joined by the fifth largest party, the Zulu-supported Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), with 17 seats from its around 4 per cent of the vote, as well as the far-rightish Patriotic Alliance, which brings another 9 seats.

The ANC and the IFP, earlier headed by Mangosuthu Buthelezi, also had their own set of problems, especially the frequent incidents of violence between supporters of the ANC and the IFP, leading to scores of deaths. The IFP, however, remained an ally of the ANC till 2004.

Returning to a coalition with the ANC, the party now headed by Velenkosini Hlabisa since September 2023, looks to advance beyond its Zulu base, and strive for its chance in the sun, given the results of the present elections.

The ANC, which swept the 1994 polls - the first multi-racial after the end of the apartheid regime - under Nelson Mandela, had entered into a coalition then too, but the motive then was inclusivity, not necessity like the present. Under it, South Africa had greatly transformed. The performance of the coalition now will be key not only for the country, but also for the region, the continent, and the Global South.

(Vikas Datta can be contacted at vikas.d@ians.in)

--IANS

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