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South African political parties should get ready to co-govern

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Graphic: Timothy Alexander – There are indications that we are headed for co-governance at national level in South Africa, but there are questions about who will form part of that coalition, the writer says.

By Khanya Ralarala

Judging by the recent developments in the Nelson Mandela Bay City Council and the Johannesburg City Council questions on the stability of coalition governments are mounting.

One doesn’t have to be a political analyst to see that 2024 might present us with a multi-party government in South Africa. If we look at the past three elections from 2016, be it local or national level, the number of ANC voters has drastically declined while opposition parties have benefited tremendously from disgruntled voters of the country’s liberation movement.

In the 2016 local government elections, the ANC received only 53.9 percent of the total votes, almost a 10 percent decrease from the 62 percent the party received in the 2014 general elections. Political commentators attributed this decline to several factors, including the ‘Zuma factor’. The former ANC and the country’s president was in and out of courts at the time on numerous allegations of corruption.

The elections were held two years after former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela released her report on the security upgrades at the home of the former President. The report found that Zuma had improperly benefited from state funds and recommended that he repay a certain portion of the money used to upgrade his home. The party, for the first-time, lost control of three vital metros in Tshwane, Johannesburg, and the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro to the DA with the help of the EFF and other smaller parties.

In the 2019 general elections, the ANC received just over 57 percent of the total votes, a decrease of more than 4.5 percent from the last general elections though the party improved in terms of national votes if we were to compare the 2019 general elections with the 2016 local government elections.

A glimmer of hope and relief was largely visible within ANC structures and one could conclude that the party was given another chance by the electorate to correct its past ‘mistakes’. Disgruntled party voters had also returned to the party to support President Ramaphosa’s ‘New Dawn’ project and his renewal project.

Nothing much changed in President Ramaphosa’s term as unemployment escalated, corruption, poverty remained issues, and load shedding by Eskom continued to cost the economy billions of rands.

In the recent local government elections of 2021, the former liberation movement received 47.9 percent of the votes falling under 50 percent for the first time since 1994. Party leaders refused to admit the party had lost the trust of the people arguing that had it not been for the popularity of Ramaphosa, the party might have performed worse than it had.

It ought to be noted though that millions of registered voters did not show up on voting day, with the ruling party consoling itself that its voters did not vote for opposition parties. The party only regained Nelson Mandela Bay, which it lost to the DA in 2016 – a short-lived victory as a few weeks ago, the party’s mayor was removed through a motion of no confidence.

Instability of coalition governments in metros

Cracks emerged in coalition governments in provinces just months after the multi-party councils assumed office. One could argue that it was bound to happen due to the ideological differences of the parties who assumed governance. It started with the DA losing control of Tshwane after its mayor, Stevens Mokgalapa, was voted out through a motion of no confidence by the ANC, which was supported by the EFF. It is worth noting that the EFF agreed to vote with the DA on all council matters after not finding each other with the ANC.

This move came as a shock. Following Mokgalapa’s removal, the Gauteng provincial government placed the metro under administration until that decision was overturned by the High Court. In a space of five years, the metro has had about three different mayors.

In Johannesburg things looked stable as the EFF seemed to have a working relationship with former DA mayor, Herman Mashaba. The working partnership of the coalition partners saw the municipality’s security guards being insourced. Herman Mashaba had to relinquish the mayoral position after party squabbles within the DA – yet another mayor of a coalition agreement who did not finish his five-year term.

Shortly after Mashaba’s resignation as the mayor, the ANC regained control of the metro through the help of smaller parties. The mayor and those who followed after him, tragically, died. The DA then regained control of the metro again after the 2021 local government election through the help of new party under Mashaba, ActionSA. This control lasted just over 10 months as the party’s mayor was removed last week through a motion of no confidence that was supported by the ANC and the EFF. The no confidence motion in the mayor led to the resurrection of the ANC with the election of its regional chair Dada Morero.

Picture: Timothy Bernard African news Agency (ANA) – South Africa – Johannesburg – Following the ousting of Joburg mayor Mpho Phalatse, Joburg ANC regional chairperson Dada Morera has been voted in as the new mayor on Friday, September 30, 2022.

The same trend of instability happened in the Nelson Mandela Bay with motions of no confidence toppling council agendas. This saw DA’s Trollip removed as the city’s mayor and replaced by UDM’s late Bobani who was later removed as well. Recently, ANC mayor in the metro Eugene Johnson was removed through a motion of no confidence that saw the DA, UDM, FF Plus, PAC, AIM and ACDP voting together to remove the mayor.

A coalition at national government

There are indications that we are headed for co-governance at national level in South Africa. The question is who will form part of that coalition. We have seen the flirting between the ANC and EFF in municipal councils in the past and one cannot rule out the possibility of the two parties entering into a coalition and sharing governance responsibilities.

Julius Malema has always made it clear that, his party is willing to work with anyone who agrees to the party’s ‘radical’ policies. Another possibility is the multi-party government that will include the DA, ActionSA and the EFF, though these parties differ ideologically with the EFF being considered far left and the other two far right. If one is to judge by what has been happening in the country’s metros, the major parties have not shown signs of readiness to work together at the highest level.

This then raises the question on the state of readiness of our political parties to co-govern national government if they are failing in local government. Either way coalition governments are the future as voters have proved in each and every election that they are tired of single party rule.

Khanya Ralarala is a Public Administration and Management Masters candidate at the University of Limpopo and is an Intern at the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

This article is original to the The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.