JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Seven opposition parties in South Africa reached an agreement Thursday to form a coalition to unseat the ruling African National Congress if it fails to gain an outright majority in next year’s general election.
The parties, which include the country’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, and a string of small parties, agreed on what they called a Multi-Party Charter for South Africa. The agreement followed two days of meetings in Kempton Park, east of Johannesburg.
The ANC is the party of the late Nelson Mandela and when the 2024 elections come around, it will have been in government for 30 years since the end of apartheid. The party led the anti-apartheid movement and came to power in South Africa’s first all-race election in 1994, when Mandela was elected president.
But its support has slowly waned over the years amid criticism that it has failed to provide basic services and ease poverty for millions of the country’s Black majority. Widespread corruption in state-owned institutions and local and national government has further eroded its popularity.
In the 2019 election, the ANC won 57.5% of the vote but its share dipped below half in local elections two years ago, seen as a momentous moment in South African politics. It still won around 24% more of the popular vote than its nearest challenger in that vote.
In national elections, South Africans vote for a party, not a president. Lawmakers in Parliament then elect the president, which has always been the ANC leader because of its majority in the legislature.
Opposition parties hope they might be able to form a majority in Parliament if they cobble all their votes together, although they will have to agree to back one candidate for president.
“The seven political parties in this charter have come together to keep the ANC out,” said Democratic Alliance leader John Steenhuisen. He said it would “provide a new alternative to rescue South Africa in 2024.”
In their declaration, the parties said they won’t have any working arrangements or coalition agreements with the ANC or the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters party, the third-largest political party that got just over 10% of the votes in the last election. The Democratic Alliance won just over 20% of the vote to remain the official opposition.
Prof. William Gumede, who chaired the Kempton Park meeting, said the parties agreed on a range of issues, including principles of power sharing, appointment of individuals to government positions and the structure of a possible Cabinet.
“These are parties that have come with different identities and different backgrounds, they were competing in the past and some of their engagements in the past have been often hostile, rough and sometimes very toxic,” Gumede said.
To get close to a majority, the opposition parties would have to garner significantly more votes. The three biggest parties in the coalition, the Democratic Alliance, Freedom Front Plus and the Inkatha Freedom Party collectively won 27% of the vote in 2019. The other parties have never contested a national election.
“Today, I believe we have started to build a platform that is going to free South Africans from the ANC and start the work required to fix our country,” said Herman Mashaba, the leader of the new ActionSA party.
Local government coalitions have already been in place in South Africa, but many failed after local government elections in 2016, producing at least 66 “”hung councils” where no party won an outright majority.
Several coalition governments at city level, including in the economic hub of Johannesburg and the capital, Pretoria, have collapsed.