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Coalitions – or the DA’s art of the impossible ahead of 2024 elections

Coalitions – or the DA’s art of the impossible ahead of 2024 elections
John Steenhuisen addresses delegates at the Democratic Alliance Federal Conference held at Gallagher Convention centre in Midrand on 1 April 2023. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

While newly elected DA leader John Steenhuisen talks of a 2024 election ‘moonshot’ coalition – effectively a bouquet of opposition parties against an ANC-led grouping – in Parliament the DA is bringing a private member’s bill to help stabilise the current coalition musical chairs.

Coalitions are the norm in much of Europe and the Nordic countries. In Finland, coalition talks are under way after the 2 April elections that, with 20.8% support, gave the National Coalition Party (Kokoomus) the lead in coalition-making. Populist right-wingers, The Finns Party, (Perussuomalaiset) polled 20.1% and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) 19.9%.

A possible centre-right government could go even more conservative, or not, depending on the coalition agreements.

Previously, Finland was governed by a coalition of five parties under SDP prime minister Sanna Marin, whose party gained three seats in Sunday’s poll.

In South Africa, coalitions are getting a bad name given the power politics on show – particularly in metros. In some of these machinations, single or two-seat parties gained mayoral posts — for instance, African Independent Congress councillor Sivuyile Ngodwana in Ekurhuleni after the DA lost control as a result of ANC-EFF cooperation.

In Tshwane, the DA is back in charge after the mayoral stint of Cope’s Murunwa Makwarela, supported by ANC-EFF cooperation, unravelled over falsified documents related to his standing as a councillor. 

In Johannesburg, it was Cope council speaker Colleen Makhubele’s switching coalition sides to the ANC and EFF that, in September 2022, ousted the DA.

Questions are raised over politicians riding roughshod over voters’ choices, and whether that is contributing to the steady decline in voter turnouts. The 2024 elections are firmly in the sights of all politicians.

The ANC’s position is to win elections “decisively” to control the levers of power, and if that’s not possible, to be in opposition.

“… (T)he ANC must not participate in a coalition which is simply about the sharing of spoils of office by political parties where there’s no chance of delivering any benefits to citizens. If we have performed badly in elections, we should be principled enough to go into opposition…” confirms the 2022 Nasrec conference resolutions, echoing those of 2017 also in the call for the drafting of an ANC coalition strategy.

Private members’ bills

DA chief whip Siviwe Gwarube’s private members’ bills come against this backdrop. Published for comment in late March, the legislative proposals for councils, but also provinces and nationally, seek to ensure stability by limiting no-confidence motions to one a year – these motions are the preferred tool in council coalitions’ musical chairs.

“South Africa is currently in a transitionary phase where the ruling party no longer holds majorities in a number of metros or councils across South Africa. With the 2024 national elections around the corner, these elections are poised to be the first instance where the ruling party will slip below 50% of the votes. What this means for South Africa is that coalition governments will now be the ‘new norm’. Parties and independent candidates will have to come together and form workable coalitions for the good of South Africa,” say the explanatory notices.

The proposed 2023 Local Government: Municipal Structures Amendment Bill would allow more than one no-confidence motion in a 12-month period, only if an office-bearer has violated the Constitution or can’t perform the functions of office.

The proposed 2023 Constitution 19th Amendment Bill takes this limitation to provincial and national levels for the same reason – to ensure stability and functioning government.

“There can be no question that this practice will work its way up to both provincial and national governments when the time comes, which will have a disastrous impact on the stability of the country. What needs to change is simple – there needs to be a limitation on the number of motions of no confidence that are allowed to be brought either at national or provincial spheres in a certain time frame. This will, at the very least, give the respective government an uninterrupted period in which to perform or steady the country.”

The chances of these private members’ bills succeeding remain uncertain. Just as opposition members regularly table private members’ bills, the ANC majority regularly rejects these already in committee. One exception was African Christian Democratic Party MP Cheryllyn Dudley’s private member’s bill for paid paternity leave – passed in late 2017.

Important moment

Still, the DA chief whip’s intervention with these coalition legislative proposals comes at an important moment. Much is made across the public discourse of the governing ANC’s predicted decline.

It’ll be more nuanced. Provincial dynamics matter – Limpopo and Mpumalanga traditionally record high ANC voter turnouts, with the Eastern Cape following suit in the Cyril Ramaphosa presidency.

It’s also more nuanced, as national dynamics could well impact provincial deals. For example, would the IFP ditch an opposition or DA coalition if the ANC was in a position to offer national posts in return for an IFP-ANC KwaZulu-Natal government?

Such an arrangement would sink the DA-IFP provincial deal touted by DA leader John Steenhuisen, talking of a “moonshot pact” in his re-election victory address on Sunday 2 April.

That pact, styled as a “new national opposition coalition government”, would represent opposition parties under DA leadership, with agreed rules of engagement. The aim was to hit a 51% majority at least in the 2024 elections to oust the ANC, or, depending on the result, an ANC-led coalition with, for example, the EFF – as already exists in two Gauteng metros.

Not everyone in the opposition ranks agrees with Steenhuisen’s claim on the leading role as leader of the opposition, the parliamentary title under Section 57(2)(d) of the Constitution for the leader of the biggest opposition party.

As coalition-making goes, it’s a work in progress. The 2024 elections are definitive. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • . . says:

    It is a pity that non of the coalition metros have considered running as collective or plenary councils, which would reduce the power of the executive and potentially allow for more stable and democratic government

  • Sam van Coller says:

    With a general election in 2024 and South Africa descending rapidly to becoming a failed state, the DA had to look very carefully at its strategic options. In simple terms they were to continue in an arena where opposition continues to splinter to protect personal self-interest irrespective of the 2024 outcome – an option that saw no chance of defeating the ANC-EFF coalition – or to try to change the ball game by opening a road to a united, stable opposition coalition of like-minded political parties and civil society organizations – which would incidentally reflect a demographic distribution very representative of South Africa’s different skin-colour groups. They have chosen the latter and seem to recognize that humility on their part will be essential. It is obviously a high risk option in a country where identity politics continues to dominate. Cynical undermining of this strategy by commentators and analysts of which there has been a great deal including in today’s issue of DM – not in the above article – is difficult to understand. It is easy to break down what is a genuine attempt to build a diversified political movement because you don’t like some of the personalities. It is much more difficult for those involved to build such a movement. That South Africa needs their efforts to be encouraged there can be little doubt.

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