2021 ELECTIONS: COALITIONS & CALCULATIONS
Take power now or wait for 2024 – that is the question for political parties’ negotiators
With 66 municipalities up for grabs, including five metros, political parties have appointed their coalition negotiating teams and are deciding whether to take a slice of power now or play the long game and look to 2024.
DA leader John Steenhuisen on Sunday made it clear his party will not enter any coalitions with the ANC or EFF. Speaking after a meeting of the party’s federal executive, he said the DA would rather sit on the opposition benches than reach agreements with parties that don’t share its values.
“We learned to our own detriment what happens when you try to enter into agreements with parties that don’t share these core fundamentals. So we have committed ourselves to being part of opposition majorities with like-minded parties, keeping an eye on keeping the ANC out of power in as many places across South Africa,” said Steenhuisen.
He was referring to the DA’s informal arrangement in Johannesburg and Tshwane with the EFF, which party leaders believe cost it votes in the 2019 national and provincial elections. Instead, the DA’s aim will be to bring the ANC under 50% nationally and in provinces in 2024.
Political parties across the spectrum are weighing up the same challenge – whether to take a slice of power in one of the 66 municipalities, including five metros where no party got an outright majority in the 1 November vote, or to join the opposition benches and focus on growth, while hoping the ANC continues its decline.
“It’s not our job to save the ANC. Our job is to save South Africa and the two are not compatible,” said Steenhuisen.
The DA’s negotiating team includes Federal Council Chairperson Helen Zille and her deputies, Ashor Sarupen, Thomas Walters and James Masango. Zille, Steenhuisen and his deputy, Ivan Meyer, are moving between the national negotiating team and local leaders to ensure local dynamics are taken into account.
Steenhuisen said the DA’s non-negotiables include a commitment to constitutionalism, the rule of law, a social market economy, a capable state and non-racialism, which he later suggested meant making appointments through merit rather than a “quota” system.
Under that approach, the DA might be able to cobble together coalitions in Johannesburg and Tshwane with ActionSA, the Freedom Front Plus and a number of smaller parties. ActionSA and the DA have similar policies and ActionSA has also ruled out working with the ANC.
But it’s understood that ActionSA’s leader, Herman Mashaba, is set on becoming Johannesburg mayor, a position he held with the DA from 2016 to 2019. The demand might frustrate DA leaders and, if agreed to, give Mashaba a platform for 2024.
The ANC appears to have taken a more pragmatic approach and has suggested it is open to working with anyone. The party held a National Executive Committee meeting on Sunday and in a statement said its Treasurer-General, Paul Mashatile, and Deputy Secretary-General, Jessie Duarte, are leading its negotiating team.
“This follows the number of hung municipalities throughout the country. The ANC is a common denominator in all these hung municipalities,” it said.
“The ANC believes that with our maturing democracy, there is a need to look beyond party confines to service our people. We believe that in exercising their will, the people of South Africa have imposed on all parties to work together and take the country forward.”
The ANC said it held a number of meetings with various parties on Saturday. “We believe that as different parties, we are enjoined by a commitment to work for our people and the country,” it said.
The IFP could be an important coalition partner for either the ANC or DA, but it has already ruled out working with the ANC in areas it leads in KwaZulu-Natal. That could limit the ANC’s options to work with the party in other provinces.
“There is an unavoidable need for coalitions and cooperation, necessitated by hung municipalities. There is no way for these municipalities to begin working unless parties form coalitions. We will not get into coalitions for the sake of coalitions,” said IFP president Velenkosini Hlabisa.
The party’s coalition team is led by Narend Singh and includes Thami Ntuli, Mkhuleko Hlengwa and Bonginkosi Dlamini.
With the DA having ruled out working with the EFF, the ANC could benefit significantly by reaching an agreement with the Fighters. EFF Deputy President Floyd Shivambu, Chairperson Veronica Mente, General Secretary Marshall Dlamini, Commissar Hlengiwe Mkhaliphi, former spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi and former chair Dali Mpofu are leading the party’s negotiations.
The EFF, which grew in these elections compared with 2016, while both the ANC and DA dipped, entrenched its position as the third-largest party in many municipalities and came second in a significant number of areas. The party has never run a municipality.
In a statement on Friday, the EFF said parties who want to form a coalition should have “an understanding that the EFF should exclusively govern in all municipalities in exchange of others, and where this happens, there should be an agreement on oversight functions given to the coalition partner(s)”.
That understanding includes giving the EFF full control in appointing municipal managers and senior managers, a sticking point few partners might agree to, and the EFF would seem unlikely to agree to in coalitions it supports.
The EFF has also linked its coalition discussions with national-level priorities. The party tasked its negotiating team with achieving a constitutional amendment on the expropriation of land without compensation in six months and the nationalisation of the Reserve Bank, cancellation of student debt, passing of an insourcing bill and removal of the Die Stem part of the anthem within 12 months.
Such demands are clearly aimed at the ANC, which holds a majority in Parliament. The EFF is likely to be flexible on some of its demands but has a strong hand considering the ANC needs its vote in many areas.
With the ANC and DA losing seats in many councils, they’ll have to look beyond the EFF to form majorities and will need to appease smaller parties and bet on whether they will be reliable coalition partners.
The bargaining will be intense and won’t end once mayors have been elected. As the last five years of coalitions have shown, horse-trading doesn’t end when a coalition is formed. DM
Note: This article was updated on Monday 8 November 2021, to correct the number of hung municipalities – from 61 to 66.