PETER ATTARD MONTALTO: ANC should snap out of denial and hold its nose in DA alliance

Everyone got a good kicking in last week’s elections.

All political parties clearly failed. The “don’t vote party” (those who didn’t register — registration was very weak and underperformed the demographic growth in the past five years — and those who didn’t turn out) won overwhelmingly again.

That’s a stunning failure despite record amounts of money pumped into voter education and voter democracy initiatives. There is a deep lesson in here that should not be forgotten in all the coalition buzz within and between parties in the coming weeks. All parties require some serious introspection, as does the government and the IEC. This trend cannot continue.

It offers a serious risk to the future if such a block (populist, say) suddenly turns out to vote — though there is little evidence from polling that they would do so. Yet there is also a potential opportunity for change if a wider realignment of politics occurs and credible and popular (not populist) leaders emerge who can reach the supporters of the “don’t vote party” and take them under their wing.

This is perhaps the bigger realignment still required, and one that the political class might miss. The proto-parties seriously underperformed in terms of their own expectations and certainly regarding any sense of good value for their funders.

But others also need a deep reassessment of how things work. The media, again, has been found wanting: too much residual Ramaphoria, too much bubble mindset, too much X-centric analysis. It was certainly possible to pick up pockets of good coverage and insight but it was hard work.

Reading the media since uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) emerged it was all about this and that court case in micro-detail. Where was the deep analysis of why people were backing MK and what the real extent of their support was?

What the media has not given decent insight to — and something the ANC and other parties seem to have limited insight into — is why people voted for MK in such numbers. Moreover why did they vote for MK while clad in ANC T-shirts?

Almost angry

The victim factor played some role though that’s a negative reason to vote for anyone. The idea, instead, of “things were better under Zuma than Ramaphosa” is a far more interesting and positive reason to vote. The simple message that there was less unemployment and load-shedding back then, though superficial and misleading, cuts through offered solutions such as “a job in every home”.

The other big group who needs to rethink is a certain class of investor and business who believe they have a special “in” with the ANC. This group was almost angry when I said the ANC would get just below 45% (clearly not pessimistic enough) and they were happy with its reassurances at dinner parties on the successes in pushing back MK in KwaZulu-Natal and elsewhere.

Many businesses aren’t ready for the coalition world to come and how to deal with a range of actors in government with their own principles. It’s a game of 3D chess seen worldwide but it’s coming to SA for the first time in recent history.

Maybe in this new world we can dispense with calling everyone “comrade”. The ANC may well die — and maybe quickly in KwaZulu-Natal given its weak leadership there and as ANC councillors and mayors rapidly switch sides to MK en masse before 2026. Calling each other comrade won’t stop that.

Unions also need to drop the bravado that somehow they can’t imagine the ANC with the DA. Newspaper headlines screaming at the weekend about the “racist DA” are almost comical. Unions need to think carefully about what’s best for their members. If they think an ANC-MK-EFF coalition can deliver they should immediately be removed by their members, given the huge shocks to investment and job creation that would ensue under such a scenario.


New thinking is required all around. The ANC needs to understand that a coalition with MK and the EFF will not survive contact with reality as the market reaction and slump in investment and confidence will cause a quick about-face — as was the case after Des van Rooyen was installed as finance minister, but on a far bigger scale.

This doesn’t mean it can’t happen, at least initially (though this is not my baseline), but we are all too fixated on the short-term potential and the ANC remaining punch drunk as it attempts to come to terms with its grief.

An idiotic view is circulating among some people in some parts of the market that an ANC-MK-EFF coalition might not be that bad because the state capture years weren’t that bad. No, they weren’t if you were the cream on the top of society and could afford to import a Porsche. However it shows a stunning lack of awareness of what actually happened to wider society due to those years. If MK takes over KwaZulu-Natal it will become uninvestable and uninsurable, worsening the rapid decline seen after the 2021 unrest and climate impacts in recent years.

The ANC should understand that the DA must show some gains for its base and hold its nose at some of the DA’s style and communications. Equally, the DA should show a modicum of restraint for a party that is still in the grief cycle and, given the upsides that are possible to show from being in power in various parts of government, be happy that this can offset some of the downsides.

Ultimately though, the ANC should snap out of its mix of anger and denial and understand it’s no longer what it once was. Sunday’s press conference and comments from Gwede Mantashe and others seem to indicate this hasn’t happened yet.

The party could simply collapse internally in a nervous wreck. It did that before in the Western Cape. However, who then will the DA partner with in future? The ANC votes won’t all magically go to the DA — this election has shown that once again.

Coalitions are with us now and for the future. Voters voted for parties to govern, not just to “hold the ANC to account”. Business needs to deal now with a much broader range of people with levers on actual power.

All this is entirely navigable with some common sense but also some self-belief — all parties need to have the self-belief they can “do politics” and not be afraid of each other.

A narrow range of options are viable on the way forward. Whether we get there directly or through some noisy detours is more the question for the weeks ahead.

Peter Attard Montalto leads on political economy, markets and the just energy transition at Krutham, a SA research-led consulting company.

This article first appeared in Business Day.