South African opposition parties holding crunch talks on the ANC’s unity plan. But deep rifts remain

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JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South African opposition parties were meeting Friday and will continue crunch talks into next week to consider the ruling African National Congress’ offer to become part of a government of national unity.

ANC failed to secure a majority in last week’s highly contested election, but some opposition parties are already rejecting the party’s offer because of deep-seated divisions.

Senior officials of the main opposition Democratic Alliance, or DA, will meet on Monday to discuss the centrist party’s approach to the negotiations. The top leadership of the the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters, or EFF, party were holding talks on Friday.

Parties are under pressure to conclude negotiations and reach an agreement by June 16, because South Africa’s constitution requires them to do so within 14 days after the declaration of the election results.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is ANC leader, announced on Thursday that the party had decided to form a government of national unity and had invited all parties to join, a process that is expected to be complex considering vast divisions among the opposition parties themselves.

Most of the opposition parties don’t differ only with the ANC on various socioeconomic policies, but are also at extreme odds with each other on economic policies like land redistribution and affirmative action.

Opposition party ActionSA has already declared it won’t be part of the negotiations, saying that it refuses to work with the ANC.

In what looks likely to be a government of national unity reminiscent of a path taken by the Nelson Mandela-led ANC after the country’s first democratic election in 1994, the party has decided to invite a myriad of opposition parties to be part of the government.

While Mandela insisted on a unity government despite the ANC having won by an overwhelming majority with nearly 63% of the national vote, the ANC has been forced into the current situation by its worst electoral performance ever, dropping from the 57.5% it got in the 2019 election to 40% this year, a decline of 17.5%.

Shortly after Ramaphosa’s announcement, the EFF’s leader took to X to reject Ramaphosa’s proposal of a government of national unity and accused the ANC of arrogance despite failing to win a majority.

The EFF is among the top five parties after the election with just over 9% of the national vote, having declined from the 11% it garnered in 2019 but is expected to form a crucial part of the eventual outcome of the negotiations.

“The arrogance continues even after the South African voters issued warning signs. You can’t dictate the way forward as if you have won elections,” EFF leader Julius Malema said. “We are not desperate for anything, ours is a generational mission.

“We can’t share power with the enemy,” Malema said.

In 2023, DA declared the Economic Freedom Fighters as its No. 1 enemy.

DA, which got just over 21% of the national vote to remain the second-biggest party, said its highest decision-making body, the Federal Council, would meet on Monday to consider its options.

“I can’t say now what the position of the DA is, we have a whole negotiation team and we are meeting as the federal council on Monday. We will have a framework for negotiations that we will release this weekend,” Democratic Alliance federal chairperson Helen Zille said Friday.

The fifth-biggest party with nearly 4% of the national vote, the Inkatha Freedom Party, on Friday expressed willingness to be part of the government of national unity, but was also set to discuss the matter with its party structures over the next few days.

“In principle, the IFP is not averse to a GNU (government of national unity). However, the devil is in the details, which will become clearer in the coming days … enabling the IFP to make a well-considered decision,” IFP spokesman Mkhuleko Hlengwa said.

The uMkhonto weSizwe Party led by former President Jacob Zuma, who left the ANC, was the latest to enter the negotiations, with the party confirming on Thursday that it had begun talks with the ANC after initially failing to respond to the party’s invitation.

The party has raised objections about the election results to the country’s electoral body, citing alleged voting irregularities and threatening to boycott the first sitting of Parliament to swear in the country’s new lawmakers.

Economists say that the markets are keenly awaiting the outcome of the negotiations to see the composition of the next government of Africa’s most developed economy, and the economic policies it will pursue.

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