Mandy Wiener14 June 2024 | 4:29

MANDY WIENER: Two weeks that changed South Africa

After two weeks of closed-door negotiations, we enter a new era. We are indeed another country.

MANDY WIENER: Two weeks that changed South Africa

South African flag. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-2.5

As the first results of the 29 May poll began to trickle in and the modelling started to take shape, it quickly emerged that we were entering new territory as a country. 

For the first time in thirty years, the ANC did not receive an outright majority and required coalition partners to govern the country. 

Over the two weeks that followed, our politicians were forced to find one another. Or at least try to. 

Negotiations took place in secret. We don’t know what the discussions have entailed. The infamous description by former ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe comes to mind. The mood of the meeting has been that of a meeting. We don’t know any different. 

With time more detail will come to light. We will find out what the sticking points were, what compromises were made, and who said what.

While a broad deal may have been reached in time for the first sitting of Parliament, the devil will be in the details, the minutia yet to be finalised. 

But when all is said and done, the South African political landscape will never be the same again. Every political party must find a way to redefine itself amidst political realignment. 

When Cyril Ramaphosa was elected as president of the country five years ago, he rode the wave of a ‘New Dawn’. He poignantly quoted in his SONA from Hugh Masakela’s Thuma Mina (Send Me). 

“I wanna be there when the people start to turn it around/When they triumph over poverty/I wanna be there when the people win the battle against AIDS/I wanna lend a hand/Send me.”

That new dawn did not materialise in the way many anticipated it would. But this moment truly holds the potential of a new dawn for the country. 

It is a moment of great possibility. But it also holds the potential of a future fraught with conflict and disillusionment. 

A Government of National Unity consisting of the ANC, the DA, the IFP and other smaller parties means the role and identity of those parties will now be altered. 

The ANC can no longer carry the hubris and arrogance of a majority party. Its long-worn policies of cadre deployment and free access to resources will have to be set aside. It will have to learn again how to compromise. It will also have to stay true to its commitment to reform and root out corruption which means the taps of extraction networks will be closed off. We all know how that ends in a violent country. 

The Democratic Alliance will have to redefine itself from an opposition party to a party in governance. It has already proven what it can do in the Western Cape, but it must now deliver on a national platform. Failure to do so will mean accountability to its voters at the polls in five years. It was easy to criticise from the outside. 

With many political parties now on the inside, other political parties who remain in the opposition must make their voices louder. 

Already Julius Malema has positioned the EFF as the new official opposition, together with the MK party. The EFF lost ground in this election and Malema knows that he needs to present himself as the accountability officer of the GNU. 

“EFF members must know they are in for a big fight and must not be intimidated,” he said on the eve of the first sitting of Parliament. Malema has also repositioned the EFF as moving away from its disruptive strategy of the past towards a more ‘mature and robust parliamentary opposition’. 

ActionSA has also assumed the mantle of ‘unofficial opposition’ in SA. Its Chair Michael Beaumont very quickly came out and said it would be the watchdog.  

"We are entering a phase where the official opposition is offering its support to the government, and the question is going to emerge, who the opposition is. Who is going to become the watchdog of those people benefitting from positions, privileges, and perks, finding themselves conflicted in holding government to account? And this becomes an important question that the senate of our organisation has been seized with," said Beaumont last week. 

An eroded opposition also means that now more than ever, we need a robust civil society, vigilant Chapter Nine institutions, an independent judiciary, and a capable and free media. 

The new administration will also have to navigate the tinderbox of KwaZulu-Natal and how Jacob Zuma’s MKP will position itself. Zuma will constantly hang the Sword of Damocles over Ramaphosa and the ANC with the persistent peril of insurrection and unrest. He can do that with such considerable support in KZN. 

After two weeks of closed-door negotiations, we enter this new era in our politics. 
We are indeed another country. 

Our political leaders have shown us the way. Now we as citizens must follow. I know I wanna be there when the people start to turn it around. Send me.