Federalism should be a key focus of the ‘Moonshot Pact’
Like it or not, coalition governments are our new reality. John Steenhuisen’s ‘Moonshot Pact’ has commanded considerable attention, but there is a strong argument that the focus is on the wrong sphere of government.
The only post 2024 political certainty is that the national government will be an unholy mess.
For those inclined to disagree, and that number includes a slightly dizzying number of ‘political analysts’, we would recommend engaging any half competent maths teacher to walk you through the sums.
In 2019, 48 political parties contested the national election. The biggest three parties collectively received 89% of the votes, the other forty-five shared the remaining 11%. In the likely event that the ANC falls below 50% for the first time in the democratic era, it would take nothing short of a mathematical miracle to pull together a national coalition government which didn’t include the ANC or the EFF.
The ‘Moonshot Pact’ currently has around 33% of the vote. It is never going to capture the remaining 17% from the ANC or EFF, a point which it quietly concedes. Instead, it is banking on capturing new voters. Not only is this infinitely easier said than done, but it is mathematically significant. If the votes you are capturing aren’t simultaneously being deducted from your political opponent’s tally, you need to capture twice as many.
In cold hard numbers, 3.2m less people need to vote ANC or EFF than they did in 2019, whilst simultaneously 3.9m people who didn’t vote in 2019 must also vote for the coalition. Unless something utterly remarkable and entirely unprecedented happens, neither of these events will occur. A successful ‘moonshot’ at national level requires both to succeed and will therefore almost certainly fail. News24’s former election analyst, Dawie Scholtz took to twitter last week to echo this view.
Opportunities in provincial government
In the provincial sphere of government, however, the ‘Moonshot Pact’ has infinitely greater potential.
The Western Cape has been under DA control for three successive election cycles, and this will continue in one form or another.
In Gauteng, support for the ANC collapsed in 2021 with Action SA doing most of the damage. The ‘moonshot parties’ garnered 46% of the vote whilst the ANC and EFF combined had 48%. Polling suggests that the coalition is highly likely to capture Gauteng in 2024.
In 2021, the ANC and EFF suffered their heaviest combined losses in KZN, albeit from a loftier starting point when they collectively obtained 50% of the vote (down from 64% in 2019), with the ‘moonshot coalition’ achieving 38% (up 7%) largely due to gains made by the IFP. By-election results suggest this trend is continuing which introduces the possibility that KZN may also fall to the coalition.
This is highly significant. These three provinces form the economic hub of South Africa and between them account for 65% of South Africa’s GDP and 63% of its workforce. A situation where income is generated under provincial ‘moonshot governments’ but spent by the ANC/EFF national government is a recipe for disaster.
Were the ‘Moonshot Pact’ to capture these provinces, it is important to recognise that fundamental cultural and ideological differences would exist between these provincial governments.
The Western Cape would have a classically liberal government dominated by the ethnic minorities who form a majority in the province, and would pursue traditional Western values including freer markets, the rule of law, and genuine non-racialism including the removal of all race-based policies.
Gauteng would have a much more Afro-centric government, be business friendly but significantly less liberal, especially when it comes to issues such as immigration, and would be much more circumspect on non-racialism and ending race-based policy.
KZN would have an African conservative government which would place far greater emphasis on traditional systems including ubuntu, community courts, traditional custodianship of land, and a draconian penal system which includes hard labour and the death penalty.
Consensus around federalism
What almost all of the ‘moonshot parties’ do agree on, however, is the need for a federal system of government. This is the real key to the success or failure of the ‘moonshot pact’.
Steenhuisen was emphatic in his speech, “I want to be unequivocal about the DA’s view on this: the day that an ANC/EFF government takes over, it will be Doomsday for South Africa”.
A federal system of government would provide both the urgent antidote to the imminently anticipated ‘doomsday’ and address the longer-term imperative of ensuring that the diverse regions of South Africa are governed according to the democratic will of the people living in them.
The anticipated ANC/EFF government would be greatly disempowered by a federal system. It would not only devolve substantial power to the provinces, but it would also add an additional layer of constitutional protection against the radical and foolhardy crusades which any ANC/EFF government would inevitably embark upon.
Western Cape holds key to federalism
The Western Cape, where the provincial parliament is already under the control of the ‘Moonshot Pact’, is key to delivering federal government and the foundations can and must be laid before 2024.
Federalism will require a change in the South African Constitution. Changes to the Constitution are governed by section 74 which requires that any proposed amendments must have the support of a two-thirds majority in the national assembly and the support of six out of nine provinces in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP). In the current political dispensation, with the ANC and EFF both vehemently opposed to federalism, a national federalism bill cannot be passed.
The key to delivering federalism therefore lies, initially at least, in the provincial parliaments.
Self-determination is an undeniable right
The Constitution recognises the right to self-determination, and, since 1994, South Africa has signed and ratified three international covenants which guarantee the right. Both the ANC and the South African national government have repeatedly spoken out in support of the principle, most recently in the cases of Palestine, the Western Sahara, and the Eastern Ukraine.
Were the people of a province to use their provincial parliament to declare their desire for self-determination, South Africa would be legally obliged to grant it. Under international law, the right to self-determination is ‘inalienable and undeniable’.
According to a recent report to the UN General Assembly, the default application of self-determination is ‘Federalism with a high degree of autonomy’.
Were a province to claim self-determination and then claim provincial federalism in the national assembly, it would still require a two-thirds majority, but it would in effect be illegal for parliament to deny this request. Should parliament do so, the province could approach the Constitutional Court and ask it to compel parliament to pass the provincial federal legislation.
Precedents in internal law
The Constitutional Court should find it almost impossible to ignore such a request given the legal precedents which have been established internationally on the subject of self-determination. These are, most notably, the Supreme Court of Canada’s landmark judgement on Quebec, and the UK Supreme Court’s judgement on Scotland which strengthened the Canadian judgement. On this basis, the province would have a reasonable probability of success.
Were the Western Cape to embark upon this federalism process before 2024, then any other provinces which fall under the control of the ‘Moonshot Pact’ after 2024, could simply follow suit.
Not only would this neutralise the greatest threat of any ANC/EFF national government, but it would provide a much more viable long-term solution for governance in South Africa. The ‘Moonshot Pact’ may be united around removing the ANC and keeping the EFF out of power, but its’ members have significant ideological differences. As we have seen in the metropoles, it is after the ANC has been unseated where the real work begins. A federal South Africa is infinitely more viable than a unitary state.
(Note: A federal South Africa and Cape Independence are not mutually exclusive. This article deals specifically with the 2024 South African elections)
This article was also published in the Daily Friend: https://dailyfriend.co.za/2023/04/24/federalism-should-be-a-key-focus-of-moonshot-pact/