DM168

2021 ELECTIONS

Coalition talks: With five hung metros, ANC needs EFF and DA needs ActionSA

(Graphic: Marushka Stipinovich)

Negotiations for coalitions are steaming ahead, but some parties won’t work with others, and in places hitherto unknown small parties hold the balance. The ANC would prefer to rerun elections if coalitions fail.

The DA won’t enter coalitions with the ANC or EFF. The EFF wants to trade its support for exclusive control over other municipalities and national policy commitments such as the expropriation of land without compensation. The ANC claims it would rather rerun the elections than make meaningful sacrifices. A mixed bag of relatively unknown parties holds significant power to make or break majorities.

With time running out before councils must elect new leaders, intense coalition negotiations are under way in the five metropolitan municipalities where no party took an outright majority in the 1 November vote – Johannesburg, Tshwane, Ekurhuleni, Nelson Mandela Bay and eThekwini, which have combined budgets of around R220-billion.

But leading parties, with an eye on the 2024 provincial and national elections, appear reluctant to give in to their rivals’ demands, making the chances of forming coalitions difficult, if not impossible in some areas.

Some commentators have called on the DA and ANC to form coalitions to ensure stability over the next five years but DA leader John Steenhuisen has ruled out working with both the ANC and EFF, saying: “Their governing principles are diametrically opposed to ours.” Together, the DA and ANC could form majorities in each of the five hung metros.

Christi van der Westhuizen, associate professor at the Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy at Nelson Mandela University, said the refusal from the DA, and other parties like ActionsSA and Freedom Front Plus (FF+), to work with their opponents matches voters’ wishes.

“A vote for a political party is a vote for their policies as opposed to another party’s policies. This includes who the party is willing to work with and who not. The massive withdrawal of voter support from the ANC through the stayaway vote is because of large-scale failure on the part of its representatives in local government,” she said.

Professor Dirk Kotzé from Unisa’s department of political sciences said the 2024 elections could be ground-breaking if the current trends continue. So in the current negotiations, opposition parties don’t want to give the ANC any reprieve.

“It creates, however, a contradiction. On the one hand, these parties are vocal in claiming that they want to serve the public interest by providing better governance. On the other hand, their personal, party interests (2024 results) receive preference over the current needs for stable and sustainable local governments,” he said.

Young ANC leaders last weekend reportedly urged the party’s national executive committee (NEC) to enter into a broad coalition with the EFF in all hung municipalities, which was rejected by other NEC members.

In most hung metros, the ANC and EFF’s fates are bound together because other parties have publicly stated they will not work with either the ruling party or the red berets.

With the EFF’s support, the ANC could take outright majorities in Ekurhuleni and eThekwini and form coalitions with other parties to take Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay (NMB). Results in NMB, however, are so fragmented that both the DA and ANC, with their 48 seats each, need the EFF and most other parties’ support to form a majority.

“The main problem is the ANC’s distrust of the EFF (see how they could not cooperate in Tshwane to adopt a motion of no confidence in the DA mayor). In Parliament they have become polarised on the land issue,” said Kotzé.

“More recently, Julius Malema is reaching out to [former president Jacob] Zuma and therefore is alienating even more the pro-Ramaphosa leadership. Their other preconditions for cooperation with parties include policy positions far removed from the ANC’s sentiments,” he continued.

“As the junior partner, the EFF would push for disproportional favours in a coalition, which the ANC cannot allow. The EFF’s reputation as an unstable or unreliable partner… makes them not an attractive option.”

Van der Westhuizen said the EFF was “overshooting” on its list of demands for a coalition partner as most, except for its call for clinics to operate 24/7, aren’t municipal functions.

“This amounts to the EFF attempting to use a local government election to wrest national policy and control from the governing party,” she said.

Without the EFF’s support, the ANC can only possibly form a majority coalition in eThekwini, which would require the cooperation of over 10 other parties, a conglomerate of local interests and hyper-local parties.

Taking into account parties that have said they won’t work with the ANC or won’t enter any coalitions, the ANC cannot form majorities in Johannesburg, Tshwane, Nelson Mandela Bay or Ekurhuleni without the EFF.

President Cyril Ramaphosa and former minister Jeff Radebe, one of the ANC’s top negotiators, have said the party isn’t desperate to enter into coalitions and would prefer to rerun the elections rather than enter unsuitable partnerships.

The law requires councils to elect mayors within 14 days of the declaration of the election, which would be by 23 November, according to Department of Cooperative Governance spokesperson Lungi Mtshali.

A re-vote would be complicated and unlikely to be held without considerable efforts by a council to form an executive, but, unless the 14-day requirement is relaxed, provincial governments could intervene and eventually force another round of elections.

Unstable arrangements open the door to power-mongering and opportunistic chopping and changing, which has cost Nelson Mandela Bay and Johannesburg dearly. The terms for the coalitions must be transparent and made public, as that would allow voters to hold parties to account. This will become all the more important given that coalition politics is here to stay in SA for the foreseeable future.

The EFF could buckle on some of its coalition demands and reach an agreement, at least in certain metros, with the ANC. The party gave its informal support to the DA in Johannesburg in 2016 despite the DA refusing the EFF’s request to put forward a mayoral candidate other than Herman Mashaba.

The DA is reasonably well placed to take Johannesburg and Tshwane if it reaches an agreement with Mashaba’s ActionSA. Mashaba formed the party after quitting the DA over Helen Zille’s election as federal council chairperson and his claims that the party wanted to prioritise Johannesburg’s suburbs over its townships.

But the former mayor’s initial reason for entering politics was to challenge the ANC and he has ruled out forming a coalition with the party. He questioned the DA’s “arrogance” this week but ActionSA, whose leaders are mostly ex-DA members, looks likely to enter into a partnership with the DA. Mashaba might take the mayoral chains in Johannesburg, although he’s said it’s not a sticking point.

Without ActionSA’s support, the DA can’t take Johannesburg or Tshwane and the numbers are stacked against the party in Ekurhuleni and eThekwini.

Nelson Mandela Bay could go to a re-vote unless the EFF backs the ANC or DA, or supports one of the top parties without reaching a coalition agreement.

The DA won 71 seats in Johannesburg and ActionSA 44. The DA’s former coalition partners FF+ took four, the ACDP three and Cope one. That brings the potential coalition to 122 seats of the necessary 136 and the DA would need to look to the Patriotic Alliance (PA), with eight seats, the IFP, with seven, or Al Jama-ah, with three. The African Heart Congress, UDM and United Independent Movement all hold one seat each that could be up for grabs.

In Tshwane, the DA, ActionSA, FF+ and ACDP hold a cumulative 107 seats, one short of the 108 needed for a majority, which they could possibly get from Cope, the IFP or PA, which all hold one seat each.

Parties have been reluctant to talk about the negotiations under way, except to say they will only enter into coalitions with parties that share broad commitments to their brand of good governance.

Initial indications suggest there could be a number of municipalities that fail to elect mayors, but back-room negotiations could lead to unpredictable arrangements.

Councils could, however, elect minority governments. The DA-led coalitions in Johannesburg and Tshwane formed after the 2016 vote were minority governments elected and supported by the EFF on a case-by-case basis.

Despite its posturing, the DA appears open to supporting minority ANC administrations if it means keeping the EFF out of power. When Steenhuisen announced the party wouldn’t work with the ANC or EFF, he added a caveat for the ruling party. He said the ANC is not forced to go into a coalition with the EFF.

“[The ANC] has the option of forming a minority government, which would have DA support in council for all decisions that it takes in the public interest,” said Steenhuisen, before adding, “An ANC-DA coalition is not in SA’s best interest.”

The DA knows from its experience with the EFF that supporting a minority government is likely to be unstable.

Looking at coalitions over the last five years, Kotzé said: “Coalitions should be as small as possible. It should be based on a written agreement in which the elements of the partnership are set out very explicitly.”

Van der Westhuizen said: “Unstable arrangements open the door to power-mongering and opportunistic chopping and changing, which has cost Nelson Mandela Bay and Johannesburg dearly. The terms for the coalitions must be transparent and made public, as that would allow voters to hold parties to account. This will become all the more important given that coalition politics is here to stay in SA for the foreseeable future.”

The future of party politics in SA will probably be fragmented, but, looking towards 2024, Kotzé emphasised that the ANC will remain a key player, despite its decline.

“The ANC’s dominance has been reduced but it is still the most dominant party and its decline has dwarfed the fact that it is still twice the size of the DA and four times the size of the EFF,” he said. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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    • Fully agree Nan. What I think many voters do not fully understand is that the party they vote for at the local elections is not like the National/Provincial elections, it is about who can do the job the best in their municipality of residence. In a coalition of any kind, things can go horribly wrong as the parties play the chessboard. This was clear in the City of PE in 2016 where the DA narrowly missed out on 50% of the vote. In order to take control, they elected to go into coalition with the UDM, with only one seat. We all know what happened, That one seat resulted in that the major eventually came from that one-seat party. With devastating consequences. No wonder the DA got a hiding this time round in that municipality. But any party who go into a coalition with the EFF will eventually result in similar municipal disasters. Thee EFF has no interest in local service delivery, with only a national socialist agenda. A coalition between the ANC and the EFF, will spell utmost disaster for that municipality. Unfortunately, PE will end up like that, and so possibly also Durban. Heaven knows what will happen in the Gauteng Metros, but at this stage it does not look good. And for the other 60 or so hung municipalities, I fear that residents in many of those areas will likely find out how bad a municipal council can be.

  • The DA is in a critical position to influence the future political alignments in South Africa. We need a coalition of the center that excludes the extreme right and left parties – a coalition that can build national unity around sound government. The DA has the opportunity to help fashion this. Its choice is to move now and try to work with the moderate wing of the ANC in the belief that this will be the start of healthy realignments or wait until 2024 in the belief that it will hold a stronger negotiating position within what might be a much more chaotic election outcome then. Personally I wish they would act with vision now but recognize circumstances in 2024 may be more favourable to them to achieve a strong party of national unity at the center.

  • Prediction : many new elections. Outcomes don’t change. Months of chaos in hung councils. Nothing will change until voters elect more local is lekker candidates.

  • Haven’t these recent elections shown democracy at work? I remember Ben Turok telling us who were sitting at his feet in his lounge, “This is how democracy works. Next time round the leading party will gain less seats until it is ousted altogether and another party will be king of the roost.” Or words to that effect.