Was Zuma right that the ANC will rule forever or can the opposition parties get it together to form a coalition government in 2024?

Was Zuma right that the ANC will rule forever or can the opposition parties  get it together to form  a coalition government in 2024?
Clockwise from bottom left: The DA’s John Steenhuisen, Action SA’s Herman Mashaba, the IFP’s Velenkosini Hlabisa, the EFF’s Julius Malema and the ANC’s Cyril Ramaphosa. (Photos: Gallo Images)

The recent challenges to the DA-led coalitions in Gauteng municipalities point to many potholes on the road to a national coalition government. Can opposition parties overcome their differences to form an effective national government in 2024?

In the next two years, South Africa will be heading to the polls for the national elections. Several analysts and early election polls predict that results would mean that political parties will have to form coalition governments.

Conversations about the possibility of a national coalition government have arisen after a poll by Ipsos suggested, if an election was held tomorrow, the ANC would get 42%, the DA 11%, the EFF 9% and Herman Mashaba’s ActionSA 3% of the votes at a national level. A second poll, published by Rapport newspaper, has the ANC at 38%, the DA at 27% and the EFF at 10%.

Cracks in the DA-led coalition governments in Gauteng municipalities allude to the enormous challenges that a national coalition government would face.

Gauteng coalition crisis

This week has been an arduous one for the DA as it has had to deal with attempts by other parties to remove its mayors in Tshwane and Johannesburg.

In Tshwane, Mayor Randall Williams has been accused of interfering in a R26-billion energy investment proposal for the city by its own coalition partner ActionSA, as well as by the EFF and the ANC.

The motions brought about by the ANC and the EFF were unsuccessful after both parties staged a walkout at the council sitting, which was concluded late on 25 August.

ActionSA backed out at the last minute. This move was promoted by a decision made by coalition partners to conduct an independent probe into the matter instead.

Minority parties have not been able to get their motion against Johannesburg Mayor Mpho Phalastse approved, but Speaker Vasco da Gama could not escape it.

The strength of the coalition in the city will be tested on 31 August when the council votes on whether Da Gama should be booted out or not. This is not unfamiliar territory for the DA. In the previous term, it was removed from power after two years of governing Joburg and Nelson Mandela Bay, although it stayed in Tshwane after fighting relentlessly.

This week, DA party leader John Steenhuisen said the ANC was the force behind the “desperate” and “coordinated” attacks against its leaders. He said the ANC was attacking South Africa and threatening to drag the country back to a place it should never ever return to.

“This is the work of an ANC that finds itself cut off from its entire patronage network in these Gauteng metros. As a result, it now cannot fund its own operation or pay its own staff, not to mention the blow this has dealt to the lavish lifestyles many of its members have become accustomed to.

“These coordinated attacks on our mayors – and also our speakers – are nothing short of a coup attempt by the corrupt.

“But this goes beyond our mayors, our speakers and these individual metro coalitions. Because what the ANC is attacking is the very idea of a coalition alternative in South Africa,” he said.

The party’s focus is now on replacing the ANC national government with a coalition government in 2024.

“I also have no doubt that most of our coalition partners will stand right beside us to help ward off this attempted power grab. There are many of us across multiple parties who share a vision of a South Africa that works for all its people and who believe that this vision is now well within our reach.

“Every party is going to have to think long and hard about where they’d like to see South Africa after 2024. Because when we speak of a coalition alternative following the next election, we’re not only talking about one possibility,” Steenhuisen said.

DA coalition partners speak out

ActionSA is in coalitions with the DA in Johannesburg and Tshwane, but admits that there are fundamental errors in the manner in which the party runs its coalitions.

While party national chair Michael Beaumont made it categorically clear that ActionSA had no part in the motions of no confidence against Phalatse and Da Gama, it had issues that were bubbling beneath the surface, one being the DA not following through with appointing an ActionSA deputy mayor for the Johannesburg metro.

“There are undoubtedly tensions on various subjects … the non-implementation of the deputy mayor position eight months in is such a topic. Well, there’s a variety of others, you know, the slow pace of implementing multiparty-agreed policy priorities is another. But those are not at the point where we would ever consider collapsing coalitions, or voting off mayors. Those are issues that we deal with through the coalition structures,” said Beaumont.

He highlighted the issues faced by smaller parties with regard to agreements and, in particular, where the DA has continued to fail to effectively bridge the gap.

“To be honest with you, I am not sure we ever saw eye to eye with the DA on the writing of coalitions, even when we were in the DA. One of the things that Herman Mashaba was criticised by the DA a lot for in his 2016 term of office was his willingness to afford his coalition partners the opportunity to really contribute in government and to take a place at the table.

“I think one of the experiences that we have found is that there’s got to be a greater level of respect for the different political parties in the coalition. Being the largest party in a coalition doesn’t make you any more important than a one-seat party that holds the balance of power,” he explained.

When asked why ActionSA still decided to work with the DA despite all their concerns, Beaumont said it was all in the name of keeping the ANC out of government. ActionSA has not yet delved deeply into its plans for 2024, but one thing is for sure: it will maintain its anti-ANC stance.

“In other words, if you consider that the work of a government in 2024 will be to fix what has been broken by the ANC, you cannot possibly work with the party that has created this problem. And that’s one thing that we are unequivocal about in ActionSA.

“But I also think that our president has been very clear that working together from a national and provincial perspective with the EFF would also be very challenging … While in local government, one can deal with a degree of pragmatism, simply because local government is much more just about service delivery, when you start to address more ideological issues [at] the provincial and national level, I think working with the EFF would be a bridge too far.”

Political parties should agree on a framework that is created to regulate coalitions. Coalitions should be formed in an open and transparent manner. Citizens should get involved and members of the coalition should be committed to be coalition partners for the period of an administration … in order to ensure that there is stability of governance and accountability.

Patriotic Alliance

Patriotic Alliance deputy president Kenny Kunene agrees with Beaumont regarding the conduct of bigger organisations in multiparty arrangements. He made examples of the DA and the ANC, saying they would continue to experience problems with their partners because they tended to exclude their coalition partners in key decision-making.

He said other issues that continued to mar coalitions were political parties continuing to shield corrupt individuals in local government just to save face.

“The DA and the ANC only understood running municipalities when they were in the majority. So, when it is a coalition, they tend not to consult with other parties and that is where the problem starts.

“We want a power-sharing agreement because you have not won this municipality outright. The coalition partners also have people that have voted for them in this community. These big parties don’t respect the smaller parties and that is why coalitions don’t end well,” he said.

Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa, however, believes that the party with the most votes in a multiparty agreement should be given the space to lead, but that this should not result in intimidating smaller parties.

“It must also be understood that being in a coalition does not give political parties equal weight. That is a statement that must be made with the necessary caution that it comes with, obviously, in that there is no big brother or big sister. So, it is important that political parties are respected, but at the same time the whims of politics must not hold back service delivery,” he said.

He did, however, raise the party’s past tiff with the DA, which it had decided to work with in Gauteng yet again.

“We have had our fair share of challenges and experiences. I recall that in the Mashaba era the DA undertook, unilaterally without any discussion, to fire an IFP MMC [who] was serving in his mayoral committee,” he said.

In defence of the DA, the party’s Gauteng leader, Solly Msimanga, said it was misleading to say small parties were excluded.

“There are no exclusions as per the coalition agreement. Parties engage at a local level on localised issues through the local multiparty caucuses. There is also a technical committee that sits on an ongoing basis, ensuring that all parties get an opportunity to have issues heard and resolved. There is also what we call the Coalition Oversight Group that has all party leaders meeting on an ongoing basis to ensure continued inclusion and open discussion on the health of the coalition,” Msimanga said.

“The cohesiveness of coalition parties is important for the future of South Africa, as we’ve seen that coalitions are the future of government in the country. Therefore, anyone walking away will be betraying that future,” he said.

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The ANC and its alliance partner, Cosatu, have been adamant about strengthening the party so that coalition governments are not formed at provincial or national levels.

Former ANC president Thabo Mbeki this week emphasised how painful it had been to see opposition political parties boldly proclaiming that their existence was based on destroying the ANC and governing South Africa through a coalition. He was speaking at the memorial service of struggle stalwart and trade unionist Rita Ndzanga, who died on 24 August at the age of 88.

“Then we have to ask: What have we done to ourselves that we would have people with that kind of ‘courage’ determined to ensure that the ANC is destroyed? And that is not criticism of the ANC; that’s a reality we have to deal with.”

ANC Gauteng chairperson Thembinkosi “TK” Nciza said the party has had to go back to grass roots to ensure it could win back the hearts of voters.

“I think, come 2024, a lot of people will go out and vote in their numbers. We will regain lost ground as the ANC… The reality is that we are taking a view, to go back to basics and represent the interests of the people. It is part of the renewal of the ANC. I do not think that those who wrote the obituary of the ANC will succeed.”

He took a swipe at the DA, saying it was an “arrogant” party that had alienated its black members.

Meanwhile, EFF leader Julius Malema has made it clear that, although the party is open to working with the ANC, it would only consider partnering with the DA in municipalities where it had managed to form a good working relationship.

After the 2021 municipal elections, the EFF voted in DA members to lead in a number of metros, including Ekurhuleni and Johannesburg. This, despite the DA publicly denouncing the EFF, saying it would rather sit on opposition benches than enter into a coalition with it because of what had happened after 2016.

Their soured relationship resulted in the DA losing power in Joburg after the departure of Mashaba, who was the mayor at the time.

The feud

Malema’s gripe with the DA is that it has continued to speak ill of the EFF, despite the Red Berets having voted in the DA’s candidates in the majority of municipalities.

“At municipalities where we see that the DA here is desperate and wants our vote to emerge, we are going to show them flames… We are not kitchen girls and garden boys of Helen Zille, that they think they can insult us and say all manner of things they want to say about us.

“And then they will still get our vote because we want to appear good in front of the eyes of South Africans, voting for people who have no regard for us. The DA [has] no regard for the EFF and the DA strategy everywhere is that the EFF must be stopped. Everybody must unite against the growth of the EFF.”

ANC structures have already approached the EFF regarding municipalities that could become a problem for a number of DA-led multiparty governments.

“The ANC has now approached us in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, and they want to have a discussion about municipalities, and we welcome any form of engagement with anyone. As long as whatever engagement is based on improving the lives of our people, we are more than happy. We’ve never prioritised positions anywhere. As long as those who govern, govern in the best interest of our people. Our people have not elected us, we are happy to be an effective opposition. And that’s what we are everywhere, by the way, including in Tshwane,” he said.

Analysts weigh in

Political analyst Levy Ndou criticises how coalition agreements have been forged between parties thus far. Ndou believes that there should be sweeping changes made to strengthen the accountability of political parties that should include legally binding coalition agreements.

He takes issue with the clandestine manner in which agreements are usually negotiated, which add to the challenges facing coalition governments.

“Political parties should agree on a framework that is created to regulate coalitions. Coalitions should be formed in an open and transparent manner. Citizens should get involved and members of the coalition should be committed to be coalition partners for the period of an administration … in order to ensure that there is stability of governance and accountability.

“So, as long as there is no transparency and known agreement, as long as political elites are the ones to decide on allegiance, as long as coalitions are not based on an ideology, as long as they’re done secretly, without the knowledge of the citizens, we are going to encounter what we’re going through now,” Ndou said.

Political analyst Mcebisi Ndletayana said there had been minimal consequences for those who end up breaking agreements, much to the detriment of citizens.

Competition was inherent in any coalition; it was “the extent of which you actually have instability which depends on how extreme the tensions are and the policies of the other partner might be”.

“It is correct that you need to have binding [coalition agreements] and have them administered by an independent, possibly legal, body for them to make sure that each party now abides by the agreement.

“So, probably the only thing that might just regulate them maybe is binding agreements, but just making sure that they’d be properly done. It is very strange that parties can do as they please without other consequences,” he said. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25. 


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