At 199, everything changes


South Africa finds itself in economic malaise. In response, the ANC government accepted racial quotas for employment and the nationalization of private health care and is in the process of passing them into law. At the highest level of politics there seems to be a deep desire to make our problems worse, not to solve them.

It is no surprise then that South African citizens are, rightfully so, politically tired.

However, this fatigue caused a feeling of discouragement. It may be that the ANC will remain the ruling party after 2024 – probably as the leader of a coalition. But South African citizens should be encouraged that this would take place under an entirely new set of political circumstances.

199: the magic number

There are 400 seats in the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament. This is where most of South Africa’s laws are passed, and it is theoretically where accountability for government behavior is ensured. After the 2019 elections, the ANC managed to win 230 of these seats, giving it a comfortable majority and confirming that South Africa remained a “dominant party state”.

South Africa adopted a system of proportional representation during the transition of the 1990s to ensure that everyone’s votes really count and that minority interests are well represented in Parliament. Indeed, proportional representation tends to encourage political fragmentation, as political rebels and opportunists realize that they can get far in politics with as few as 40,000 votes.

The ANC’s dominance was extraordinary under these circumstances, but that is changing.

It is more than likely that this year South Africa will finally, for the first time in decades, cease to be a dominant party state, even though the ANC may remain the largest single party and even retain power. Because if the ANC achieves 199 or fewer seats in the National Assembly, it will officially have lost its parliamentary majority and will officially be dependent on at least one other party.

This changes everything by opening the doors of opportunity. It then falls to the dedicated opposition to seize these opportunities.

Rats and mice

Many political observers agree that the ANC will be able to put together a “rats-and-mice” coalition that neither the DA nor the EFF will help to stay in power. But even if this is the case, it will still represent a defeat for the ANC. Doors to political reform will be opened.

This is because there is no rat-and-mouse party in South Africa that supports the ANC as a matter of dogmatic principle. Those who follow the ANC tend to be political opportunists seeking patronage, position or prestige. All it will take for them to abandon their support for the ANC is for the opposition to offer them a better deal.

Yes, it does require the opposition to become cunning, clever and perhaps adopt a touch of Machiavellianism. But however unlikely it is for South Africa’s opposition parties to become so pragmatic, from 2024 this phenomenon will enter the realm of possibility. This realm is opened because Luthuli House will no longer have an irresistible sweep that spans 200 or more seats in the National Assembly.

When it gets bad enough

With no guaranteed majority in Parliament, the ANC – for the first time – may struggle to unilaterally impose its policies on South Africa.

Depending on how fervently the opposition opposes a particular bill, it can convince the rats and mice in the ANC coalition – the mechanism of persuasion is a matter of practical consideration – to vote it down. After all, it is the nature of rats and mice to abandon sinking ships and go where their chances of survival are greatest.

This is not the ideal, courteous system of government that we could all desire. But it is much better than what we currently have – where the ANC goes through the formal motions to act as if they care what other parties believe (after all, the Constitution guarantees a system of multi-party government), before unilateral action regarding the adoption of legislation and regulations.

Our desire for a civilized, well-ordered and ethical legislative branch may also be merely the stuff of fantasy as South Africa moves into an era of coalition politics. While we must remain principled about the values ​​that underpin public policy and law, we must seriously consider becoming significantly more pragmatic about how best to see these values ​​defended and promoted.

There may come a time when the ANC presents a bill that is so potentially harmful to constitutional democracy or the economic prospects of the country that the opposition takes the leap and climbs into the mud to release the rat or mouse from the coalition of corruption .

No nirvana

This is not to say that 2024 will represent another ‘miracle’ moment for which South Africa is so famous, where nirvana, freedom and prosperity will immediately follow.

Either way. 2024 – whatever the outcome – will represent the moment when South Africa ceases to be a dominant party state and when the political imperatives of the ANC finally become contestable and politically contestable for the first time in three decades.

This article was published courtesy of the Free Market Foundation.