S.Africa's DA committed to cabinet negotiations, ANC says talks 'almost done'

By Wendell Roelf

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) -South Africa's Democratic Alliance (DA) is committed to working out a deal over posts in President Cyril Ramaphosa's cabinet, a party source close to the talks told Reuters on Friday, in response to reports that negotiations were at risk of collapse.

A senior official on the negotiating team for Ramaphosa's African National Congress (ANC) said coalition discussions were "almost done".

South African media had reported that a major disagreement between the pro-business DA and the ANC over the trade and industry portfolio had threatened to derail the collaboration between the two parties.

"We are still committed to honest and fair negotiations," the DA party source said.

"Our Federal Executive met yesterday late afternoon, early evening and it was resolved that we will continue to negotiate. So, at this point we are not at the point of drawing lines in the sand and giving final ultimatums."

DA leader John Steenhuisen was quoted by the News24 website as saying his party wanted to find "a fair deal that leads to a stable government in which the DA can play a meaningful role".

The ANC, the legacy liberation movement of Nelson Mandela, and the white-led DA are the largest parties in the government of national unity (GNU) that emerged after Ramaphosa's ANC lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since the end of apartheid in an election last month.

Once unthinkable, the accord between the ANC and the DA allowed Ramaphosa to win a second term in office.

ANC Secretary-General Fikile Mbalula, writing on X, sought to assuage fears of an impasse.

"Almost done with GNU discussions," he wrote. "It will be done as promised."

Financial markets are on edge over the composition of the cabinet as it will give an early indication of how the ANC intends to share power.

The rand strengthened sharply on Friday on optimism that the ANC and DA would iron out their differences.

This week's disagreement stems from a decision by Ramaphosa to backtrack on an offer to give the DA the trade and industry minister's position, according to News24 and Business Day newspaper.

That ministry is seen as particularly significant because it oversees the government's flagship policy of boosting Black South Africans' participation in the economy, as well as the competition commission, which scrutinises mergers and acquisitions.

The DA wants to scrap some of the ANC's Black empowerment programmes, saying they have not worked and have mostly benefited a politically-connected elite.

Nonkululeko Sibiya, a political analyst studying at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said the difficulties forming the cabinet showed how far apart the parties were ideologically.

While the unity government originally evoked memories of 1994 and the transition to democracy, Sibiya said, "now the real horse-trading has begun and people are fighting for ministerial positions, which makes it a very hostile environment".

The political risk consultancy Eurasia Group said the DA was unlikely to withdraw from the unity government, even if its leaders were not fully satisfied with the portfolios they were given.

"The DA needs to prove to its base that it will at least attempt to take advantage of an opportunity to make an impact in government," Eurasia Group analysts wrote.

(Reporting by Wendell Roelf;Additional reporting by Sfundo Parakozov, Tannur Anders and Bhargav Acharya;Writing by Alexander Winning;Editing by Joe Bavier, Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Kevin Liffey)