South Africa opposition coalition talks fail after vote

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – South Africa's main opposition parties said Wednesday, August 17, they would not form coalition governments in key cities, but vowed to unite to block the ruling ANC from taking majority control following fiercely-contested municipal elections.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) party of Nelson Mandela earlier this month saw its worst poll results since the end of white-minority rule in 1994, losing its majority in the largest metropolitan areas.

After days of post-election talks, the liberal center-right Democratic Alliance (DA) and the radical leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) vowed to prevent the ruling ANC from taking control of the capital Pretoria and business hub Johannesburg.

"We will not be going into a coalition with anyone," EFF populist leader Julius Malema told a news conference, adding that his party however would support the DA.

"We will vote for the opposition because the ANC must be removed from power. And this is the start."

DA leader Mmusi Maimane told a news conference that "we don't have a coalition agreement with the EFF", even as it formed partnerships with several smaller parties.

"It is quite clear that we would never agree on ideological issues" with the EFF "because there are many positions that are so vastly different for these two parties".

But Malema said their ideological differences with the DA – which he repeatedly labelled "racist" – "doesn't mean there will not be an agreement on matters of national importance".

The DA topped the August 3 vote in municipal elections in the capital Pretoria, taking 93 of 214 council seats to the ANC's 89.

And with 25 seats, the EFF found itself in the powerful position of kingmaker in the municipality.

Coalition talks between the two parties also failed in economic hub Johannesburg, where the ANC missed out on an outright majority with 45% of the vote.

A partnership with several other small parties will hand the DA an outright majority in the Nelson Mandela Bay council, a coastal municipality south of the country.

'Wide and divergent differences'

But EFF leader Malema, who was expelled from the ANC for ill-discipline in 2012, said his party would still back the DA with its votes in both Johannesburg and Pretoria, calling it "the better devil compared to the ANC".

"We'll vote for them and be in the opposition benches. The ANC will not get a single vote from the EFF."

"We are not co-governing... we are going to vote for the opposition because the ANC must be removed from power and this is the start of removing the ANC from power."

The municipal elections were largely seen as a referendum on President Jacob Zuma, whose rule of Africa's largest economy has been dogged by scandal.

During talks with the ANC, the EFF had insisted on Zuma's removal as one of several pre-conditions for supporting the ruling party, but "they said it was a no-no," said Malema.

"The ANC is a corrupt organization which subscribes to the kleptocracy."

The ruling party suffered its worst result since the end of white-minority rule 22 years ago, garnering less than 54 percent of ballots cast nationally – an eight percentage point drop from the last local poll in 2011.

Of the country's 6 most populous cities, the ANC won an outright majority in only one: Durban, Zuma's traditional stronghold.

But analysts suggest the failure of a solid coalition government might be an opportunity for the ruling party to bounce back.

"A minority government that has to cooperate issue-by-issue... may in fact not deliver on the expectations of the voters and that could provoke a backlash," said University of Cape Town researcher Richard Calland.

"It's going to be delicate game of cat-and-mouse"

The EFF held its press conference on open ground in the middle of a squatter camp in Alexandra township where residents live in shacks and have no flushing toilets.

"It's very important that from time to time we sharpen our consciousness... through constant interaction with these types of conditions," Malema told Agence France-Presse. – Rappler.com