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Coalition future: No single party can impose its views

by Central News Reporter
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Government coalitions are a potential nightmare for voters

Opinion article by Hlumelo Xaba, Intern in the Department of Student Affairs, University of the Free State (UFS).


The 2016 South African local government elections heralded the ushering in of a new dimension in the country’s political landscape with regard to constituting governments at local level.

For the first time since the inaugural democratic elections of 1994, the governing ANC experienced significant electoral declines, which resulted in the party plummeting below the 50% + 1 prerequisite needed to remain the majority party in various municipalities.

This loss of support meant the ANC would have to leverage the help of those that would be willing to co-govern with them in various hung councils. At the same time, however, the decline of the ruling party galvanised opposition parties to organise themselves into coalition pacts that would push the ANC into a peripheral position in the local government sphere. Although most of these coalitions have been unstable, the growing likelihood that such arrangements will become part of South Africa’s politics beyond local government necessitates long-term interventions to counter the current political predicaments.

The outcomes of the 2021 local government elections saw the acceleration of the need for coalitions in some local government councils, with a total of 67 hung municipalities across the nine provinces, more than double the number from the 2016 local elections. eThekwini became the new addition to the list of hung metros, even though the ANC managed to retain its governing position through an arrangement with smaller parties.

Solutions to ever-changing dilemmas

When a certain level of dissatisfaction or disagreement among role-players in a coalition is reached, that partnership is likely to deteriorate, and a new one becomes more likely to be established, based on a new set of preferences and objectives. This has proven to be the case in hung municipal councils including the City of Johannesburg, City of Ekurhuleni, and Nelson Mandela Bay, where DA-led coalitions were replaced by ANC-EFF partnerships that opted for councillors from minority parties to be at the helm as Executive Mayors, while the bigger parties occupy MMC positions, even though it is disputable that these coalitions are premised on common interests aimed at catering for the greater good, rather than serving political agendas and self-interest.

The climate in South Africa’s local government sphere over the past seven years is a precursor to what the broader citizenry can expect in other spheres of government moving forward, because of the ruling party’s deterioration. With no opposition party being able to make the necessary strides and unseat the ANC on its own, governance of some provincial legislatures – and possibly at national level – after the upcoming 2024 general elections seems likely to require new political formations that demand coalitions.

Earlier this year, Deputy President Paul Mashatile convened a National Dialogue on Coalition Governments. The dialogue was aimed at responding to the challenges coalitions have faced in the local sphere by formulating a framework that includes a set of principles that will make coalitions function for the greater good in the future. Some of the principles guiding the proposed framework included the following: putting people first in considerations around the formation of coalition governments; such coalition governments must contribute towards building a prosperous society in which people have access to land for productive purposes; and parties to such governments must be bound together by a commitment to good governance and no tolerance for corruption.

Although a framework of this nature might help in changing the current chaotic status quo, the top-down approach so far used in drafting such an agreement is exclusionary to the electorate. In fact, it may not be reflective of the aspirations and actual needs of the people which it is meant to represent.

Reflect on coalitions and their ramifications 

As the country gears up for the 2024 general elections, political leaders should reflect on coalitions and the ramifications thereof in instances where there was instability for various reasons. The primary focus of coalitions should be on common objectives that will seek to combat socioeconomic ills that citizens face (including poverty, unemployment, crime, and basic service delivery), as well as maintaining stability through good ethical governance that will effectively respond to these challenges. The instability of coalitions across the local government sphere, which has resulted in seemingly insurmountable service-delivery shortfalls due to constant administrative changes, should be seen as a summary of what transpires when there’s a great deal of political interferences in the administrative functions of governments, whether local, provincial, or national.

Although the policies and societal outlook of different political formations are influenced by the ideologies that a party aligns itself to, politicians should be cognisant of the reality that no party can dictate or impose its views on how a coalition should function without considering the inputs of other role-players. Instead, political leaders need to accustom themselves to a culture of maintaining a balance between their own values whilst working with other parties towards common goals that will improve the livelihood of all citizens. This should be done with the aim of ensuring stability in all facets of government, and promoting accountability across all spectrums.



Xaba holds a BA degree in Governance and Political Transformation from the UFS and was the UFS SRC member for Arts and Culture in 2022. He writes in his personal capacity.


Hlumelo Xaba is an intern in the Department of Student Affairs at the University of the Free State (UFS). He holds a BA degree in Governance and Political Transformation from the UFS and was the UFS SRC member for Arts and Culture in 2022.

Hlumelo Xaba is an intern in the Department of Student Affairs at the University of the Free State (UFS). He holds a BA degree in Governance and Political Transformation from the UFS and was the UFS SRC member for Arts and Culture in 2022.

NB : First Published on UFS Website




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Coalition future: No party can impose its positions December 9, 2023 - 3:42 pm

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