The African National Congress (ANC) will invite other political parties to form a government of national unity in South Africa, its leader President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Thursday (June 6).

This comes after South Africa’s May 29 election saw the ANC — which had never dropped below the 50% mark since it started contesting elections in 1994 — secured just 40.18% of the vote. After 30 years of ANC dominance, South Africa is set for a very different political future, one which will see the participation of multiple, if not all, major parties.

South African system

South Africans do not directly vote for the President. Instead, their votes determine the constitution of the National Assembly (NA) by proportional representation. The NA in turn elects the President by a simple majority (201 or more votes in the 400-member NA).

ANC’s 40.18% voteshare translates to 159 seats in the NA. Its nearest rivals are the pro-business Democratic Alliance (DA) with 21.81% of the vote and 87 seats, former President Jacob Zuma’s populist uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) party with 14.58% of the vote and 58 seats, and the Marxist-Leninist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) with 9.52% of the vote and 39 seats. The remaining 14% of the vote and 57 seats are split among various smaller parties.

Festive offer

For incumbent President Ramaphosa, 71, to serve a second term, the ANC will need the support of other parties.

Trouble finding a coalition partner

Since May 30, when it became clear that the ANC was not going to get a majority in the NA, the party has been lLooking for coalition partners. But with little success.

Talks with the DA stumbled over policy differences and historical tensions, whereas negotiations with the EFF hit a roadblock due to its radical promises, most notably to nationalize the country’s gold and platinum mines, and seize land from the (predominantly) White farmers. Zuma has said that his MK party would be willing to join a coalition government, but not under Ramaphosa, who he has often described as “an agent of capital” behind South Africa’s woes.

Moreover, even if the ANC did find a party with which it could form a coalition government, it would be highly dependent on its support. This is perhaps why a broader unity government would serve the ANC’s best interests as well.

Unity government

A unity government typically seeks to include all major political factions — or as many as possible — in a broad-based governance structure. These are seen most often in times of national crisis. For instance, Israel forged a unity government after the October 7 Hamas of last year.

In this case, South Africa is dealing with two crises. First is an economic one, characterized by high unemployment and persistent energy issues. Second is a political one, characterized by deep divisions in South African society and its political parties. These issues, coupled with pervasive corruption, have eroded public trust in South Africa’s governance structure, as seen in the low turnout this election.

The proposed unity government, as Ramaphosa said, will be “the best option to move [South Africa] forward”, and facilitate national dialogue to help rebuild social cohesion after a “toxic and divisive” campaign.

This will not be the first time that South Africa will see a unity government. After the 1994 elections, the first after apartheid was abolished, Nelson Mandela helmed a national unity government for just over three years.


The first challenge will be to convince other major parties to participate in the unity government. This will require navigating complex policy differences and historical antagonisms, not just between the ANC and said party, but also between different parties in the government.

For instance, DA’s pro-market economic policies sharply contrasts the proposals of EFF to redistribute farm land and nationalize major industries. Each party will have to adjust policy-wise, and be given key ministerial positions.

Moreover, even if a unity government is formed, its survival will hinge on its ability to foster genuine collaboration among these disparate political factions. Ultimately, the unity government will have to be adept at managing internal conflict to provide a cohesive strategy to tackle the nation’s deep-seated challenges. This will not be easy.

The author is currently interning with The Indian Express