Johannesburg  — Talks to form South Africa’s first national coalition government are expected to begin this week after the governing ANC party lost its majority for the first time. 

Despite the heavy blow his African National Congress party took at the polls, President Cyril Ramaphosa showed humor at a ceremony announcing the official South African election results Sunday night.  

After an electoral commission official misspoke in welcoming the guests to the ceremony, Ramaphosa retorted that he was “distinguished” and not yet “extinguished,” drawing a laugh from the politicians and media gathered. 

On a more serious note, the president pledged that the ANC — which got 40 percent of the vote — would work with other parties to find “common ground” as coalition talks get underway. 

The ANC has had a majority for 30 years, since the end of apartheid, so governing in a coalition marks unchartered territory. Under the law, parties now have two weeks to form a government — with South Africans on edge about what form that could take. 

There are several main options, Melanie Verwoerd, a former ANC member of parliament and diplomat who’s now a political analyst, told VOA. 

“There are a number of coalition options. … The first one is obviously a coalition with, a formal coalition with, the Democratic Alliance and the IFP,” Verwoerd said. 

The IFP is the Inkatha Freedom Party, a small opposition party popular with the Zulu people. 

The Democratic Alliance is a centrist party and South Africa’s main opposition. It took 21 percent of the vote in the elections.  

Big businesses and Western powers would favor a coalition with the DA, which observers say has a good track record in areas it’s been in charge of locally. 

However, it is led by a white man, John Steenhuisen, which is a huge optics problem for many in South Africa because of the country’s history, noted David Everatt, a professor at Johannesburg’s Wits School of Governance. 

“We have to understand that to go into a coalition with the Democratic Alliance, which is the official opposition, is seen by some as a betrayal of the revolution,” Everatt said. 

Former MP Verwoerd said those in the ANC who balk at a coalition with the DA have another option, involving the radical left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) or former President Jacob Zuma’s new uMkhonto weSizwe party, or MK.  

“Then, of course, there is the more troubling one, which is an ANC-EFF coalition or an ANC-MK coalition, neither of which the ANC favors as a first option because it would affect the markets quite negatively and also [ANC is] very concerned about the stability of such a coalition,” Verwoerd said. 

The populist MK party got the third highest number of votes, and was a game-changer in this election, despite Zuma having to resign in disgrace from the presidency in 2018 amid numerous corruption scandals. 

Zuma is a sworn enemy of Ramaphosa, and the MK party has said they will not go into a coalition with what they call “the ANC of Ramaphosa.” 

The EFF, led by firebrand politician Julius Malema, came fourth at the polls and wants expropriation without compensation of land, as well as nationalization of the mines and banks. 

Steenhuisen on Sunday called the possibility of an ANC-EFF agreement a “doomsday coalition” and promised the DA would engage in talks to try and prevent it from happening. 

On Tuesday, the ANC’s top brass is set to discuss coalitions. The party has publicly stated that Ramaphosa staying on as president is non-negotiable.

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