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Coalition law in the making – but not to shore up ANC if it loses outright control in 2024 elections, says Mashatile

Coalition law in the making – but not to shore up ANC if it loses outright control in 2024 elections, says Mashatile
Deputy President Paul Mashatile appears in the National Assembly to reply to questions on 25 May 2023. (Photo: GCIS)

A national dialogue on coalitions possibly within the next two months, six criteria including how the biggest vote-catcher leads a coalition, and, ultimately, legislation. That’s the plan according to Deputy President Paul Mashatile, who was speaking in Parliament on Thursday.

DA Chief Whip Siviwe Gwarube had asked whether government would support the Private Members’ Bills she’d be pursuing to stabilise coalitions by, among other measures, extending the coalition negotiating period, introducing a participation vote threshold and limiting no confidence motions that have become the preferred tool to oust mayors and council speakers.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Coalitions – or the DA’s art of the impossible ahead of 2024 elections

Deputy President Paul Mashatile didn’t actually answer yea or nay, but that may have to do with the phrasing of the question being hooked on “the absence of an existing legislative framework to stabilise coalition governments…” 

Instead, he outlined what should underscore government’s proposed coalitions framework, including “putting people first”, addressing poverty and contributing to a prosperous society, non-racialism and non-sexism, good governance intolerant of corruption, and that “the party that has won the most votes in the election must be allowed to lead and executive posts must be distributed proportionally”.

In a reply mixing deflection and politicking rhetoric, Mashatile invited Gwarube to the national dialogue on coalitions as it would be “a very nice platform” for her – all political parties represented in Parliament can expect invites.

“We take into account there are elections next year. We don’t want to delay it… The time for unity of the country is now,” said the deputy president.

But Freedom Front Plus Chief Whip Corné Mulder called out Mashatile:

“If you want to talk about legislation… legislation is not something to be used to keep a party that is losing power in power,” he said, adding that it was “historic” the governing ANC was, for the first time in 29 years, talking of coalitions.

“Why do you want to come up with legislation now when the ANC is losing power?”

Mashatile admitted coalitions were not a favourite of the ANC, which would be campaigning to win the 2024 elections.

“Any party that is worth its salt will have a vision and prepare for that future (of coalitions)… In an event where we end up not winning outright, we are looking at what kind of approach do we take.

“But we are not saying, ‘please, please, Parliament, support coalitions quickly because we are in trouble’. No, we are not.”

In response to Mulder’s point that the ANC was destabilising coalitions, particularly in Gauteng, Mashatile maintained that legislation would not “keep losers in power”.

The current problem was people making deals.

“Winning elections is the will of the people… When you have won most of the votes and you are allowed to lead the coalition that represents the will of the people…”

The irony of this is seen in Johannesburg’s revolving door of mayors – most recently the ANC joined the EFF in backing Al Jama-ah councillor Kabelo Gwamanda to wear the mayoral chains. It’s also happened elsewhere.

And for this, the ANC was accused – also from within its own ranks – of breaking its own coalition stance as adopted at its national executive committee meeting in late April.

“The party that has won the largest votes should lead the coalition in that municipality and executive positions should be allocated in proportion to the votes obtained by coalition partners. Coalition governments should reflect the will of the people, not just elite deal-making among parties,” the ANC said in a statement on the outcomes of that meeting, also citing shared values and a minimum programme.

Like Gwarube’s Private Member’s Bill, the ANC also proposes a vote-share threshold before parties are eligible to participate in coalition-making.

But then the Johannesburg council election results on the back of ANC-EFF cooperation gave the mayoral chains to a party that scored 17,608 votes, or 0.95%, in the 2021 municipal poll, according to the Electoral Commission of South Africa. The council speaker’s post is held by Colleen Makhubele whose party, Cope, scored 4,076 votes, or 0.22%, in 2021.

This latest in a series of council ructions signals how positions, rather than programmes, projects and delivery, are central to coalitions, South Africa-style.

On Thursday, it emerged in the House that the Department of Cooperative Governance had already put together a technical task team – including provinces – towards a coalition framework to be finalised by consensus at this national dialogue. If the framework is agreed, then the legislation will pass more smoothly, according to Mashatile.

However, due to time pressure and a jam-packed legislative in-tray, it is unlikely such a coalition law would make it to the statute books before next year’s elections. DM

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  • Mpumi Bikitsha says:

    All of this is insulting to the voters. Mashatile does not believe a word of what he is saying. Can we just breathe? Load shedding is stressing us enough.

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