For the past two years, the ANC led government of local unity has been stable, says the writer. File picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
For the past two years, the ANC led government of local unity has been stable, says the writer. File picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Coalitions are not doomed for disaster: the ANC-led government of local unity is a prime example

By Time of article published Oct 28, 2021

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By Taahir Motan

With a few days left before the 2021 local government elections, it looks increasingly likely that no party will obtain a majority share of votes in many municipalities.

Several commentators have referenced the failed coalition between the DA and EFF in Joburg and Tshwane in concluding that coalitions are disastrous and destined for failure.

While coalitions are complex, they are not ordained to fail. Coalition governments are the mark of a growing democracy. Many advanced and thriving states are governed by numerous coalitions. For instance, Germany has been run by a stable coalition government for decades under Chancellor Angela Merkel. With the South African Constitution opting for a majority government system, instead of using the system of first past the post, coalition governments will become a staple feature in all spheres of government.

Therefore, the pertinent questions for the South African political landscape are: what makes coalitions fail and what makes them succeed?

Two years since the failed DA-led government, it still remains difficult to understand how such a government was actually formed. Was the DA in a coalition with the EFF and other parties, were they voting partners or was there a secret agreement regulating their partnership? The vagueness surrounding the formation of the DA-led government in Joburg epitomises one of the reasons for its failure. Simply put, the richest city in Africa could not be governed based on a vague obscure arrangement.

For the past two years, the ANC led government of local unity has been stable. The coalition has survived the unfortunate passing of two ANC mayors and is likely to continue in Joburg after the upcoming local government elections. I propose that the success of the stable coalition government is due to three factors.

Firstly, a party can only form a coalition with those with which it shares an of ideological overlap. The far-left EFF and the centre-right DA had no common ideological ground. As a result, the parties could not form a shared vision of how the city should have been run. In contrast, the ANC is positioned as a centre-left to left party, thus placing itself ideologically close to its coalition partners.

Secondly, a coalition needs a well-defined agreement that regulates how the government will operate. In this regard, there is a clear power-sharing arrangement between the ANC and its coalition partners, in that the ANC holds five MMC positions with the Mayorship, and other coalition parties share the remaining five MMC positions.

Lastly, parties in the coalition need to be flexible, collaborative and mature in their actions. In the ANC-led government of local unity, smaller parties had to display patience when it took the ANC close to a month to decide on their candidate for the Mayorship after the passing of the late Geoff Makhubo.

While smaller parties felt side-lined under the DA-led government of Mashaba, the ANC- led government adopted a more collaborative approach, in that it has given key portfolios to its coalition parties and holds regular mayoral committee meetings to gain input from all members of the coalition.

With hung municipalities and factionalism becoming ever-present across the political landscape, South African politicians will need to improve their ability to form coalitions, both with other parties and with factions within their own party. In South Africa’s future political landscape, parties that run prosperous governments will be ones that are successful in developing and nurturing coalitions.

*Motan is a lawyer and entrepreneur

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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