South African Rivals Agree to Work Together, Buoying Nation

Ramaphosa is reelected president after dramatic, marathon parliamentary session
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 15, 2024 11:55 AM CDT
South African Rivals Agree to Work Together, Buoying Nation
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa adresses lawmakers after being reelected in Cape Town on Friday.   (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

South Africa's main political rivals are now partners in government after they came together in a last-minute coalition deal that ensured President Cyril Ramaphosa was dramatically reelected with cross-party support, and a struggling country was given a boost. The agreement was only sealed on the sidelines of a marathon parliamentary session on Friday, allowing Ramaphosa to be reelected hours later for a second term with the help of opposition lawmakers who were once his loudest critics, the AP reports. The coalition between Ramaphosa's African National Congress and the Democratic Alliance—South Africa's only major party with a white leader—means Africa's most industrialized country can now form a government after a political deadlock that threatened its economic stability.

More than that, the outcome has rejuvenated a nation weighed down by poverty, unemployment, corruption, crime, and failing public services. South Africans see a glimmer of hope in the alliance between two parties with very different ideologies that have said they will work together for the good of the people. Here's what's happening:

  • The deadlock: The ANC lost its 30-year parliamentary majority in a May 29 election that laid bare the frustrations of millions of poor Black South Africans still seeking a better life decades after the end of white minority rule. Many deserted the ANC, which liberated the country from apartheid and had been the governing party ever since. The ANC then was unable to form a government on its own for the first time or reelect Ramaphosa in Parliament. So began two weeks of frenzied talks with the DA, the second-biggest party and a surprise choice for a coalition partner, to find common ground with a 14-day constitutional deadline looming.
  • The breakthrough: The ANC announced Thursday night that an agreement had been reached in principle but talks continued on details. They came unstuck around 2am Friday, officials said, and as the new Parliament opened later that day and lawmakers were being sworn in, there was no deal. The country was gripped as proceedings were broadcast live with no sense of whether a president would be elected. During a break in parliamentary proceedings, DA leader John Steenhuisen announced in a speech to the nation that his party would end its long-held stance of opposition to the ANC by voting for Ramaphosa for president. Ramaphosa was reelected at the end of the 14-hour session, with the votes of DA lawmakers helping him over the line. Ramaphosa, who was closely involved in the anti-apartheid struggle, and Steenhuisen, a teenager when apartheid ended, smiled and shook hands. Ramaphosa called it a "a new era of hope" for South Africa.

  • Coalition opposition: The new MK Party of former President Jacob Zuma and the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters declined to join the coalition. They are the third and fourth biggest parties, respectively, and will now likely remain in the role of opposition.
  • What's ahead: The ANC and the DA disagree on issues including nationalization vs. privatization of key sectors of the economy, funding health care, labor rights, and foreign policy, where the DA has criticized the ANC's overtly pro-Russia and pro-Palestinian stance. Analysts say they need to find an effective way to work together quickly, given South Africa's pressing problems.
(More South Africa stories.)

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