Risks for Ramaphosa: The perils of a coalition deal with the DA

The recent revelation that the Democratic Alliance (DA) has established a negotiation team for potential coalition talks with the African National Congress (ANC) has sent ripples through the political landscape of South Africa, writes Bayethe Msimang.

The recent revelation that the Democratic Alliance (DA) has established a negotiation team for potential coalition talks with the African National Congress (ANC) has sent ripples through the political landscape of South Africa, writes Bayethe Msimang.

Published Jun 6, 2024


Bayethe Msimang

The recent revelation that the Democratic Alliance (DA) has established a negotiation team for potential coalition talks with the African National Congress (ANC) has sent ripples through South Africa's political landscape. According to a report by News24, prominent figures like Helen Zille and Tony Leon are spearheading these discussions, indicating a significant shift from the DA's pre-election stance, which was heavily critical of the ANC.

Previously, the DA's campaign rhetoric was filled with vehement criticisms of the ANC, accusing it of state capture, cadre deployment, and widespread corruption. DA leader John Steenhuisen and other party officials consistently portrayed the ANC as a failing party. The change in the DA's tone post-election raises questions about the political dynamics and motivations at play.

This strategic pivot comes in the wake of the ANC's unprecedented electoral setback in the 2021 municipal elections, where it failed to secure a majority for the first time since the 1994 first democratic elections. This historic loss has created an environment ripe for political manoeuvring, with the DA likely viewing this as an opportune moment to exert influence and gain concessions from a weakened ANC.

Ramaphosa's Predicament

Cyril Ramaphosa, who faces vulnerability due to these election results, might be compelled to forge new alliances to bolster his support within the National Assembly, especially with the presidential elections on the horizon. Ramaphosa's leadership has been characterized by efforts to root out corruption within the ANC and the broader government, but these efforts have often been stymied by factionalism within his party. The prospect of a coalition with the DA could either bolster his reformist agenda or compromise it, depending on the terms of the agreement.

Implications of a Potential Coalition

The implications of a potential coalition are profound. Ramaphosa, in seeking to retain his presidency, might have to concede significant ground to the DA, which could demand key positions or policy changes in return for their support. Such concessions could shift the political landscape dramatically, moving away from a purely ANC-led government for the first time since the end of apartheid.


A coalition government could see the DA demanding influential portfolios such as finance or public enterprises, areas where the party has traditionally pushed for more market-oriented reforms. These demands could clash with the ANC's broader social democratic agenda and its commitments to its base, particularly the poor and working-class South Africans.

Criticisms and Concerns

Critics of the proposed coalition argue that it undermines the ANC's liberation legacy and compromises its core values. Some ANC leaders are sceptical about trusting the DA after years of antagonism, motions of no confidence, and what they perceive as sabotage of the ANC's work.

Political commentator and Patriotic Alliance leader Gayton McKenzie expressed concerns on Twitter, suggesting that this coalition could elevate DA representatives to prominent national roles despite their controversial positions and perceived alignment with interests outside of South Africa. Allegations that the DA is influenced by foreign entities, particularly from the United States, add another layer of complexity, casting doubts on the independence and sovereignty of Ramaphosa's potential leadership in such a coalition.

Think Tank Perspectives

The Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA) has provided insights into the potential ramifications of such a coalition. MISTRA's analysts suggest that while a coalition could provide a short-term solution to political instability, it could also lead to long-term governance challenges. The think tank warns that ideological differences between the ANC and DA could result in policy gridlocks, undermining effective governance and potentially leading to a loss of public confidence in the government.


Furthermore, MISTRA highlights the risk of alienating the ANC's traditional support base. Many of the ANC's supporters may view a coalition with the DA as a betrayal of the party's core principles and a capitulation to neoliberal policies that could exacerbate inequality and social discontent. This could weaken the ANC's electoral prospects in future elections, particularly if the coalition fails to deliver tangible improvements in the lives of ordinary South Africans.

Regional and International Dimensions 

On the regional front, a coalition government could alter South Africa's stance on critical issues within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU). The DA's foreign policy positions often differ from the ANC's, particularly regarding relationships with countries like Zimbabwe and Venezuela, where the DA has been more critical of the ruling regimes than the ANC's historically supportive stance.

 Internationally, South Africa's alignment could shift closer to Western powers, especially the United States and European Union, with potential implications for its partnerships with BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). This shift could influence trade, investment, and diplomatic relations, impacting South Africa's position on the global stage.

The prospective coalition between the ANC and DA presents numerous risks for Ramaphosa. It threatens to undermine his authority and the traditional dominance of the ANC, potentially aligning South African politics more closely with foreign interests and ideologies that diverge from its liberation legacy. While the coalition could provide short-term stability and an opportunity for reform, it also risks deepening political and ideological divides within the ANC and the broader South African society. This coalition could reshape the country's political framework, altering its course in ways that might be irreversible. As South Africa navigates this complex political terrain, the stakes for Ramaphosa and the future of the nation's democracy could not be higher.

* Bayethe Msimang is an independent writer and analyst.

** The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of IOL or Independent Media

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