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After getting bashed in elections, South Africa's ANC is frantic to form a coalition


It's a new dawn for South African politics after the long-governing African National Congress, or ANC, took a bashing in last week's elections and lost its parliamentary majority for the first time. Kate Bartlett reports the party is now in frantic talks to form a coalition with only just over a week left to do so.


KATE BARTLETT, BYLINE: Winter kicked in this week and a cold front brought some rare snow to parts of South Africa. In scenes like this, delighted children played in the snow.


BARTLETT: With their trademark humor, South Africans responded by sending around a meme reading, the coldest place in South Africa last night, Luthuli House, -71. Luthuli House is the headquarters of the ANC, and 71 is the number of parliamentary seats they lost in last week's elections.


STEPHEN: Nicholas (ph) in Howick, how are the elections?

NICHOLAS: Hi, Stephen (ph). How are you?

BARTLETT: But jokes aside, South Africans are on edge as parties enter coalition talks, anxious to see what form of new government might take after 30 years of ANC dominance.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: There's all this speculation - who are there going to be coalitions with...

BARTLETT: Local talk radio, newspapers and social media are all abuzz with speculation on whether the ANC will do a deal with the centrist, business-friendly Democratic Alliance, or DA, which won the second-largest share of the vote. But it has an optics problem.

KEALEBOGA MAPHUNYE: Many in the ANC and public perceptions are that the DA essentially tries to promote white interests. It might not be true, but that's a public perception that's out there.

BARTLETT: That's Kealeboga Maphunye, professor of African politics at the University of South Africa. Another coalition option is for the ANC to join with the radical left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters, or EFF. The EFF wants land expropriation without compensation and the nationalization of mines and banks. And the worry is, they will scare investors. Maphunye again.

MAPHUNYE: The downside for the EFF - it is seen as this highly militant, active party, especially in terms of the fact that - when it comes to the markets because of its leftist stance around nationalization and so on.

BARTLETT: And South Africa needs investment. Despite being Africa's most developed economy, it has some of the world's highest unemployment rates. The ANC accepted the outcome of last week's vote, saying it showed the strength of South Africa's democracy. But not everyone agrees.


JACOB ZUMA: The results are not correct. And I'm hoping whoever is responsible is hearing what we're saying. Don't start trouble when there is no trouble.


BARTLETT: Jacob Zuma, a disgruntled former president with a criminal record, making false claims about election rigging. His newly formed uMkhonto weSizwe, or MK Party, came a surprise third in the polls. The MK refuses to go into a coalition with the ANC's Cyril Ramaphosa as president. The ANC says Ramaphosa staying on is nonnegotiable.


MAHLENGI BHENGU-MOTSIRI: We believe that, despite any differences we may have, working together as South Africans, we can seize this moment to usher our country into a new era of hope.

BARTLETT: ANC spokesperson Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri stressed that all options were still on the table. The latest talk is of a government of national unity. By law, a government must be formed within two weeks of election results, so time is running out. South Africa is in uncharted territory, and whatever comes next will have an immense impact on its future. For NPR News, I'm Kate Bartlett in Johannesburg.


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Kate Bartlett
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