Mandy Wiener28 June 2024 | 10:54

MANDY WIENER: If not a GNU, then what?

At this rate, we are more likely to have a Cricket World Cup trophy before we get a Cabinet, but we will need a Cabinet to put that trophy into!

MANDY WIENER: If not a GNU, then what?

The DA and ANC entered into an arrangement in the Government of National Unity. Picture: GCIS

The much-hyped, much vaunted and idealistic Government of National Unity appears to be on the verge of collapse before it even got out the gates. 

After four weeks of negotiations to find an agreement between the parties, the closed-door talks have spilt into the public domain through intentionally leaked letters between President Cyril Ramaphosa and the DA’s John Steenhuisen. 

The emergence of cracks had been there for all to see over the past fortnight but there was real genuine hope that an imperfect but operational GNU would emerge, like a piece of Kintsugi art with gold lacquer used to piece the shards together. 

Much of this week has been marked by radio silence as the country waited for the white smoke to rise into the sky, announcing a family meeting and Ramaphosa’s address to the nation disclosing the composition of his Cabinet. 

Just when we thought the parties in the GNU had reached a deal regarding representation in Cabinet, it seems like there has been a spectacular about-turn. 

On Thursday afternoon we saw yet more leaking of letters between Ramaphosa and Steenhuisen and the tone of this correspondence appears to have deteriorated. The intentional leaking of the letters and the contents thereof are the strongest indication yet that the talks are on the verge of collapse. 

News24 has described them as being at breaking point. SABC says they are on a knife’s edge. The DA is reportedly threatening to walk away from the GNU. I’m told that parties are ‘drifting apart unnecessarily’. 

The rand ‘tanked’ and fell almost 1% to R18.35 to the US dollar by midday on Thursday – confirmation that the markets are very much in favour of a GNU which includes the DA. 

Ramaphosa’s letter to Steenhuisen, dated 25 June 2024 (Tuesday this week), is laced with a disdain that some have pointed out to be reminiscent of Nelson Mandela’s incandescent rage at FW de Klerk’s approach to negotiations at Codesa. 

Ramaphosa has accused the DA of ‘shifting the goalposts’ and attempting to set up ‘a parallel government’. He adds that the ANC has found written correspondence from the DA to be ‘offensive and condescending’. Ramaphosa says he found Helen Zille’s argument on the appointment of DGs as ‘legally incompetent’. 

It’s understood that the ANC made a final offer of six Cabinet positions to the DA. The DA then demanded two further posts which the ANC was not happy about. In a separate letter written by Steenhuisen to Ramaphosa on 24 June 2024, Steenhuisen argues that this is in line with the Statement of Intent signed earlier this month and what is appropriately proportional to the representation the DA has in the National Assembly. Why should they settle for less than what they deserve is the point he is making. 

The critical sticking point appears to be around the position of Minister of Trade and Industry. 

Clause 16 of the Statement of Intent is also still very much at the centre of the debate between the two parties. This looks at how the Cabinet will be constituted and the ANC and DA have different interpretations of it. 

It looks like we are now at the point of take it or leave it and the DA has to decide whether it will walk away from the GNU or not. 

There will be quarters that will accuse the DA of overplaying its hand and going after positions instead of putting the interests of citizens first. There will be those who argue that the ANC is refusing to give up power and that the GNU was all a farce to dictate how it would retain control over the government. 

As political analyst Justice Malala pointed out on X, “It seems like South Africa’s fate is being decided by egotists and infantile morons whose only concern is how tough they sound when their letters are leaked on WhatsApp. Real leaders call each other, sit around the table, and hash it out. Grow up. Be humble. You only got 40% and 22%.”

If the DA walks away from the GNU, then what? 

It could go into what Helen Zille has described as a ‘Super Opposition’ scenario where there is a Confidence and Supply agreement with the ANC. This means the DA would not go into government and would remain in opposition, but it would help the ANC when it comes to passing budgets and votes of no confidence. 

The ANC also has not shut the door on talks with the EFF. The DA exiting the GNU and the EFF stepping in cannot be excluded. This option is made more possible by developments with the DA and is not necessarily supported by the centralists and constitutionalists in the ANC. It would be seen as a fundamental shift to the left. 

However, the EFF’s Floyd Shivambu tweeted, “What is evident thus with the ‘GNU’ so far is that the ANC has resolved and committed to work with the DA only. That’s why the DA is emboldened to make unreasonable, irrational and disrespectful demands, which will shift the control of the economy totally to architects/beneficiaries of apartheid and colonialism.” 

Perhaps the ANC may consider pushing on with a ‘minority coalition’ with the other remaining parties in the GNU but that would make for a very shaky coalition. In the final paragraph of his letter, Ramaphosa tells Steenhuisen that, “I am sure that you are aware that the DA is not the only party we are negotiating with on the setting up of the Government of National Unity… I must advise that we are continuing to hold discussions with other parties over the portfolios they could occupy as we seek to finalise the agreement on the GNU”. Ramaphosa adds that the task of setting up government is ‘quite urgent’ and he intends to conclude all negotiations this week because the paralysis cannot continue. 

Or perhaps the ANC would now consider a ‘minority coalition’ with the other remaining parties in the GNU but that would make for a very shaky coalition that would be volatile and prone to collapsing on a whim. 

The Patriotic Alliance’s Gayton McKenzie also tweeted in response to the letter: “The ANC has been pushed 2 far by the DA, the letter by President @CyrilRamaphosa is direct and that of a man that wants a solution with people hellbent on humiliating the ANC and wanting to insert themselves as the new leaders of SA & GNU. His letter is the most polite FU ever.” The PA is one of the eight other GNU members. 

We are in a state of real limbo and uncertainty and the paralysis cannot continue. To be fair, we are doing this in a much shorter time than other countries take to finalise coalitions and cabinets. In most countries, these discussions would have had to be finalised before a President was elected and inaugurated. We have done it back to front. Had the DA been able to insist on this before the election and inauguration of Ramaphosa, it would have had far more leverage over the ANC. 

As one diplomat suggested to me this week maybe we should just have a snake draft for cabinet posts where each party gets a turn to pick cabinet posts out of a hat until they reach the number of portfolios directly proportional to their representation in the National Assembly. Kind of like picking rugby teams and the ANC gets to pick one, four, five, seven, eight and 10 and DA gets two, three, six, and nine. ANC picks Finance. DA takes Dirco and Defence and so on. They were mostly joking but at this point maybe that would sort the problem out. 

At this rate, we are more likely to have a Cricket World Cup trophy before we get a Cabinet, but we will need a Cabinet to put that trophy into!