A new deputy president for 2024?

ANTHONY BUTLER: Malema as deputy president looms large

First published in BusinessLive

03 MARCH 2023

Does SA face the prospect of EFF leader Julius Malema as deputy president even though his party usually garners only about 10% support from the electorate? The writer argues it is a possibility. Picture: Thapelo Morebudi

Veteran political commentator Prince Mashele generated a great deal of excitement this week with his prediction that EFF leader Julius Malema will move to the Union Buildings as deputy president in 2024. This claim, made on SABC current affairs programme The Watchdog is hardly new, but it is now catching the political imagination of many observers.

It is realistic to suppose that the load-shedding crisis will not have been resolved by the time national and provincial elections take place in mid-2024. In consequence, the ANC is likely to receive a drubbing. By blaming assorted reactionary and neoliberal elements, and by keeping the power on in the weeks ahead of the polls, the ANC should avoid dropping below 40% — Mashele suggests 42% is plausible. Meanwhile, the EFF will probably achieve its now customary 10%.

With such an outcome the ANC could not easily cobble together a majority for President Cyril Ramaphosa to be re-elected in the National Assembly. The other small parties would be too small, and a growing band of up-and-coming ANC leaders, most prominently Gauteng chair and premier Panyaza Lesufi, insist it would be unacceptable to negotiate with the DA.

The EFF has deliberately turned its guns on Ramaphosa, while simultaneously courting ANC leaders in the provinces. Moreover, the red berets have maintained friendly relations with Malema’s old mentors, ANC deputy president Paul Mashatile and secretary-general Fikile Mbalula. What could be more natural than for Mashatile to offer to serve the nation by stepping into Ramaphosa’s presidential shoes and negotiate a deal with the EFF? In exchange for EFF votes, Malema would be asked to serve his country as Mashatile’s deputy.

Of course, EFF leaders continue to live in an oppositional fantasy land and have made no attempt to engage with realistic public policy options. Policy incoherence would bring investor panic and a rapid acceleration of SA’s downward economic spiral.

EFF electors would doubtless feel deeply betrayed by the self-serving deal-making of the party’s leaders, and conservative ANC voters might react with abhorrence to Mashatile bringing Malema into the government. But the next elections would be a long way off.

It is the terrifying quality of Mashele’s scenario that makes it so compelling. But whether events will actually unfold in the predicted manner is dependent on a variety of contingencies. The ANC might do better than expected in 2024 and the EFF might do worse. While a coalition between the ANC and the DA seems implausible, a government of national unity, or an architecture of informal agreements between multiple parties, could be concocted.

Ramaphosa might decide he is unwilling to abandon the office of state president. Given that he was recently re-elected ANC leader he cannot simply be recalled, even if a majority of the party’s national executive committee favoured such a move. A special conference would have to be called by a majority of ANC provinces, and it is unclear whether such an unscheduled event is politically or logistically possible.

There is a huge dose of Gauteng arrogance in narratives about Mashatile’s rise. The proposed coalition partner, the EFF, is unpopular across much of SA. The ANC has remained stable over the years by rotating leadership between provinces, from the Eastern Cape’s Thabo Mbeki to KwaZulu-Natal’s Jacob Zuma, and now Gauteng’s Ramaphosa. It would be understandable if the ANC in Eastern Cape or KwaZulu-Natal pushed back against the idea of yet another Gauteng politician taking up residence in the Union Buildings.

Mashatile’s Gauteng commands few ANC conference delegates. Moreover, his province is heading for an absolutely devastating defeat in the provincial elections, and this will call into question the basis for his sense of entitlement about his future role.

• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town

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