Cape Town: Jacob Zuma’s forced resignation as South Africa’s president did more than revive confidence in the ruling African National Congress (ANC). It’s deepened divisions between the two main opposition parties, threatening their control of the nation’s key cities.

Together with the ANC’s shift to support expropriation of land without compensation, Zuma’s replacement by Cyril Ramaphosa has thawed its relations with the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). The party hounded Zuma over allegations of graft and advocates the seizure of white-owned farms, banks and mines.

That’s increasingly isolated the Democratic Alliance, the second-largest party which took power in Johannesburg, the economic hub, and Pretoria, the capital, in a municipal vote in 2016 by forming a loose coalition with EFF. As that arrangement frays, its chances of pushing the ANC below 50% of the vote in general elections next year are fading.

“The ANC and EFF will probably contest the 2019 national elections separately to maximize their share of the total vote, but are then likely to join up in some or other new format," said Frans Cronje, chief executive officer of the South African Institute of Race Relations. “The EFF will hand the cities back to the ANC in exchange for senior leadership roles."

Criticizing Zuma

That would mark a dramatic change in the political landscape. The EFF was founded in 2013 by former ANC youth wing leader, Julius Malema, after the ruling party expelled him for criticizing Zuma and sowing divisions within its ranks. It won 6% of the national vote in the last national elections in 2014.

He and his fellow lawmakers, who wear red berets, coveralls and maid’s uniforms in parliament, have been a thorn in the side of the ANC as they castigated Zuma for a succession of scandals and pressed the government to ensure that the black majority received a greater shape of the nation’s wealth. They were forcibly evicted from the legislature several times when they tried to prevent Zuma from speaking.

Hostilities have eased since Ramaphosa became ANC leader in December, and president on 15 February. Last week the two parties voted together in favour of a constitutional review that would enable land to be expropriated without compensation.

ANC flirtation

DA leader Mmusi Maimane said by phone that the EFF’s flirtation with the ANC show it’s “unprincipled" and alleged that its support for land expropriation will hurt the poor who it claims to represent.

While the EFF won’t immediately seek to topple the DA-led administrations in Johannesburg and Pretoria, it will propose a motion of no confidence next month in Athol Trollip, the mayor in the southern city of Port Elizabeth where the DA has a partnership with several other smaller parties. Malema has said that he want’s to remove Trollip because he is white. The DA mayors in Johannesburg and Pretoria are black.

“We are not in a coalition with the DA," Malema told his supporters in Soweto near Johannesburg on 28 February. “We don’t have anything signed with the DA. They can go to hell."

The EFF’s decision not to enter into a formal coalition with the DA or allow its members to take up executive positions in the opposition-run cities means it’s nimbler when it wants to form new alliances, according to Sethulego Matebesi, a political analyst at University of the Free State in the central city of Bloemfontein.

“‘The EFF’s informal alliance with the DA has meant they can switch their support to the ANC and collapse a council without any of their members losing their seats," he said by phone. “This has allowed the EFF to punch above their weight locally and nationally." Bloomberg

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