South Africa's IFP says it will join ANC and DA in unity government

FILE PHOTO: President of the ANC Cyril Ramaphosa arrives at the political party's final rally ahead of the upcoming election at FNB stadium in Johannesburg

By Bhargav Acharya and Nellie Peyton

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) -South Africa's Inkatha Freedom Party will join a unity government with the African National Congress and the Democratic Alliance, it said on Wednesday, as parties race for a deal before the newly elected parliament sits on Friday.

The ANC, which lost its majority in May's election for the first time since it took power at the end of apartheid 30 years ago, has been talking to a broad spectrum of parties to try to set up a government of national unity.

Business leaders and financial markets would welcome a deal between the ANC and the DA, but many ANC supporters strongly oppose this option because of the DA's reputation as a defender of white privilege, which it denies.

Analysts have speculated that including the IFP, a conservative party with an ethnic Zulu base, could help temper those concerns.

The final composition of the government has not yet been announced, but the comments by IFP leader Velenkosini Hlabisa gave the most precise picture of how negotiations are shaping up.

"We will participate in the government of national unity for the sake of our country and for the sake of our people, who want life to continue with a stable government that will address their challenges," Hlabisa told reporters at a news conference.

The ANC and the DA did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

The ANC remains the largest party with 159 seats in the 400-member national legislature. Its nearest rivals are the pro-business, white-led DA with 87 seats; the populist uMkhonto we Sizwe led by former President Jacob Zuma, with 58; and the hard-left Economic Freedom Fighters with 39. The IFP has 17 seats.

If the DA is included in government, it means that the EFF will likely not be. The EFF, which wants to nationalise banks and mines, has said it will opt out if the unity government includes the DA.

Parties have been rushing to reach an agreement before Friday, when the National Assembly will meet to elect its speaker, deputy speaker and the country's president.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is highly likely to be reelected since the ANC has the largest number of seats, but key positions such as speaker of parliament and deputy president are the subject of behind-the-scenes negotiations.

Zuma's MK party, despite coming a surprisingly strong third in the election, approached the constitutional court to try to block the National Assembly from sitting on Friday, alleging vote-rigging although the electoral commission and other parties said the election was free and fair.

On Wednesday the court dismissed MK's application, public broadcaster SABC reported.

(Reporting by Bhargav Acharya and Nellie Peyton; Editing by Alexander Winning, Estelle Shirbon, Alison Williams and Daniel Wallis)