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S.African parliament meets as ANC nears coalition deal


Cape Town, South Africa

South Africa’s newly elected parliament met Friday and was expected to re-elect President Cyril Ramaphosa to form an unprecedented coalition government as his humbled ANC raced to cobble together a deal.

Chief Justice Raymond Zondo opened the first sitting of South Africa’s seventh parliament since the advent of post-apartheid democracy in 1994, swearing in MPs in batches ahead of the election of a speaker.

Ramaphosa, the fifth African National Congress president in 30 years, had called for a government of national unity after his party lost its absolute majority in last month’s general election, but two major leftist parties shunned the deal.

Instead, according to ANC secretary general Fikile Mbalula, the government would “gravitate to the centre” — backed by the centre-right Democratic Alliance (DA), the Zulu nationalist Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and several smaller parties.

“We have reached a breakthrough on the common agreement that we need to work together,” Mbalula told a news conference in Cape Town on Thursday.

The radical leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have refused to join a national unity government that includes right-wing parties.

Graft-tainted former president Jacob Zuma’s new party, uMkhonto weSizwe (MK), has disputed the May 29 election results and its MPs boycotted Friday’s first sitting of the 400-member assembly.

Ramaphosa is now expected to win the secret ballot of MPs to confirm his re-election, but talks on a written coalition agreement that can be signed by the parties were going down to the wire.

“This morning at 2:00 am, we thought we had a final settlement and agreement, but this morning a few issues have arisen, and they are just trying to sort those out,” Helen Zille, chairwoman of the DA’s national council, told SABC public television.

“There’s one paragraph still outstanding. And I hope that we will take it over the line.”

If re-elected, Ramaphosa would be sworn in next week in Pretoria and then unveil his new cabinet.

– Post-apartheid democracy –

“The ANC is going into this under the guise of a government of national unity, but really it isn’t,” political analyst Hlengiwe Ndlovu of the Wits University School of Governance told AFP. “It’s more like coalition talks.”

For three decades since the defeat of apartheid, the late Nelson Mandela’s ANC has held an absolute majority and elected a president from its own ranks.

But the former liberation movement — weakened by corruption and recent governments’ poor economic performance — has seen its support collapse, leaving it with only 159 seats.

The left-wing EFF of former ANC youth leader Julius Malema, who wants to nationalise land and some privately owned businesses, will not join the administration.

But the party’s new MPs were sworn in, wearing red overalls and in some cases rubber boots and plastic construction worker helmets.

Malema has said his members may back Ramaphosa’s re-election, but he has denounced the idea of joining a unity government with the DA or the Freedom Front Plus, a right-wing party seeking an autonomous Afrikaner homeland.

For the DA, Zille said that her party and the ANC had agreed that the coalition would only be for parties who respect the constitution, and implied that this does not include the EFF.

“This is an agreement between constitutionalists, between people who want to protect the constitution, and we know what the EFF thinks of the constitution,” she told SABC.

– Millionaire businessman –

A former trade unionist turned millionaire businessman, 71-year-old Ramaphosa first came to power in 2018 after Zuma was forced out under the cloud of corruption allegations.

Once described by Mandela as one of the most gifted leaders of his generation, Ramaphosa played a key role in the negotiations that brought an end to apartheid in the early 1990s.

Upon taking the reins of the country, he promised a new dawn for South Africa. But critics say he has disappointed.

Under his watch unemployment has reached an almost record high, pushing the ANC towards its worst election result ever.


© Agence France-Presse

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