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GOVERNANCE OP-ED

My role in helping South African opposition parties to form a coalition pact

My role in helping South African opposition parties to form a coalition pact
Author and academic William Gumede. (Photo: Gallo Images / Mail & Guardian / Oupa Nkosi)

My mandate is to persuade as many credible parties as possible to establish a joint vision for South Africa based on shared values and get the coalition ready to govern at a national level. Once the agreement is concluded, I will exit.

I have accepted an invitation by South Africa’s main opposition parties, including the DA, IFP and ActionSA, to serve as the independent chairperson of the negotiations to cobble together a coalition pact between opposition parties ahead of the 2024 national elections.

In mature democracies, it is an accepted practice after an election in which there was no clear winner for the parties to ask a neutral outsider to serve as a mediator to help put together a coalition pact. 

A democracy is strengthened when academics provide help freely to both the governing party and the opposition.

The role of opposition parties is critical in determining the level of accountability by governing parties and governments, the effectiveness of public service delivery and the overall quality of a country’s democracy.

The ability of opposition parties to show the electorate they are believable alternative governments is crucial to the credibility of the democratic system. The strength, effectiveness and quality of a democracy are, to a large extent, also dependent on the efficiency, relevance and ability of the opposition parties to show they are ready to govern.

As a consequence of apartheid, many South Africans still largely see the world through black and white thinking patterns rather than a more complex mosaic. In a black and white world, one’s group, whether ethnic, colour or political party, is the centre of one’s world, and anyone different is often seen as the enemy.

It is very hard to find imaginative solutions — which South Africa desperately needs — rather than pre-packaged ideological ones, if one sees the world only through extremes. Importantly, a democracy matures when the opposition parties are not seen as the enemy.

Coalition governments, which involve multiple parties governing, are prominent in more than 40 countries of the world. Although many coalition governments at the local level have failed, coalition governance has become part of the political system of South Africa.

Coalition governance is particularly useful in ethnically, regionally, religiously and politically diverse societies, and low-trust societies. In such diverse countries, as in the case of South Africa, governing parties must be inclusive of all political, ethnic, language, regional and local differences. Often, coalition governance does this better than monopoly parties. In Africa, Mauritius has been governed under coalitions since the 1970s, delivering social peace and industrialisation.

Rebuilding after ethnic conflict

Coalitions have also been critical in countries rebuilding after war and ethnic conflict. After being defeated in World War 2, Germany had long periods under coalition governments, when parties spanning ideological and religious divides worked together to rebuild the country, foster national unity and boost industrial recovery.

Coalitions can be successful even if the partners have different ideological outlooks, policies and stances. Switzerland has been governed by coalitions of divergent ideologies since 1959.

By seeking outside help, South Africa’s opposition parties have shown a new-found maturity, which is critical to inspire public confidence that they are ready to govern. This is also one of the rare occasions where parties asked an independent chairperson, not affiliated with any of the parties involved, to take charge of helping them reach an agreement. In many mature democracies, credible outsiders are often asked to negotiate a coalition government agreement after elections when no single party has won an outright victory and the parties struggle to secure an agreement. 

Read more on coalitions in Daily Maverick

 In Africa, pre-election coalition pacts have been relatively rare. Mauritius and Gambia are among the most successful pre-election coalition pacts to unseat dominant governing parties and leaders in the postcolonial era.

My mandate is to persuade as many credible parties as possible to establish a joint vision for the country based on shared values and get the coalition ready to govern at a national level. Once the agreement is concluded, I will exit.

Active citizens

I believe that in struggling developing democracies such as South Africa, individuals can make a difference as active citizens, and should get involved, rather than standing on the sidelines or shouting on social media platforms. 

It is not unusual for me to preside over political negotiations such as this. I have mediated in many political, industrial and communal disputes. Over the past decade, I taught many of South Africa’s members of Parliament. I convened the course on public policy for MPs of all political parties in SA; was convener of the Local Governance Leadership and Oversight course for mayors, councillors and senior city executives; and taught the national Cabinet a course on how SOEs work. Outside South Africa, I taught MPs of the Commonwealth how to conduct themselves ethically.

Ahead of the 2013 elections in Eswatini, I was the chief facilitator in the violent conflict between that country’s ruling party, monarchy and representatives of opposition parties, trade unions and civil society organisations. In the mid-2000s, I advised the disparate Eritrean opposition groups to unite to oppose the authoritarian government.

Between 2009 and 2014, I brought opposition leaders, civil society members and professionals from Iran to South Africa to learn from collaborative partnerships during SA’s transition to democracy. I was part of the Middle East Democracy Seminar initiative of New York’s New School University, where I was the course leader for many years, bringing together Israeli and Palestinian politicians, civil society and youth movements to talk to each other outside their own environments.

After the Marikana massacre in 2012, I facilitated the healing and reparation process between the mine and the communities. In 2018, I accepted an invitation to become an independent adviser to KPMG following the corruption scandals the company was engulfed in and established the KPMG Public Interest Fund.

Between 1992 and 1994, I was the political conflict mediator and area coordinator for the National Peace Committee, the multiparty body set up to prevent political violence from disrupting the constitutional negotiations that ended apartheid.

I founded the Democracy Works Foundation, which is now in eight African countries. I founded the Institute for Social Dialogue to help resolve conflicts between communities and resource companies. 

South Africa is at a tipping-point moment to reimagine the future, reset the economy and turn around the slide into a failed state, failed democracy and failed society. An important measure of the maturity of a democracy is when citizens vote against their preferred parties when they do not deliver and vote for parties that will deliver, even if they do not agree with all their policies or their leaders. DM

Professor William Gumede is the founder of the Democracy Works Foundation, the founder of the Institute for Social Dialogue and the independent chairperson of the negotiations to cobble together a coalition pact between opposition parties ahead of the 2024 national elections.

Gumede is an associate professor at the University of the Witwatersrand’s School of Governance and the author of Restless Nation: Making Sense of Troubled Times (Tafelberg).

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • glynis hyslop says:

    This is the best piece of political news I a long while.

  • Martin Neethling says:

    Indeed one hopes that Prof Gumede can pull this off – there is a lot at stake. We’ll learn a lot about Songezo Zibi (Rise Mzansi), and Mmusi Maimane (Build One SA), if they don’t participate, or grandstand with unrealistic expectations.

  • Denise Smit says:

    Wonderful that such a talented academic with huge experience has stepped forward to contribute to our democracy. We wish you the best of luck and wisdom . Denise Smit

  • Thinker and Doer says:

    Very best wishes, Professor Gumede, for the success of this important initiative! It would be excellent to have intensive governance training generally, at all levels of government.

  • Philip Armstrong says:

    If anyone can contribute meaningfully and objectively, I believe it is Prof. Gumede. But, he has taken on a very challenging task.

  • John Smythe says:

    I would venture that 99.9% of ordinary day-to-day South African citizens (of all races) wants everybody to thrive and prosper in a country where rule of law is respected, the politicians understand each other by genuinely having the well-being of the country as a whole at the centre of their hearts (a calling to make a true difference to the upliftment of all), and no corruption. Unfortunately, the ruling party cannot, and never will be able to, make that happen because they can’t live up to those simple expectations. So, only a very small percentage of us live in the bubble of happiness. The rest suffer every day to put food on their plates and a roof over their heads. I sincerely hope that I live to see a coalition that will pull our country and its poorest out of the sinking sand. The ANC and demonic EFF mustn’t be allowed to murder and rape this country anymore. May all the good opposition parties find common ground under the guidance of professor Gumede and move to greater heights and rid SA of the mafia political parties for good. That’s the only way forward! 2024 will either make or break SA forever. 1994 almost fades into comparison.

  • Lisbeth Scalabrini says:

    I sincerely hope that you will have more luck this time, than with some of the other negotiations that you have faced: “I taught many of South Africa’s members of Parliament. I convened the course on public policy for MPs of all political parties in SA; was convener of the Local Governance Leadership and Oversight course for mayors, councillors and senior city executives; and taught the national Cabinet a course on how SOEs work.”
    “bringing together Israeli and Palestinian politicians, civil society and youth movements to talk to each other “.
    “I brought opposition leaders, civil society members and professionals from Iran to South Africa to learn from collaborative partnerships during SA’s transition to democracy. ”
    “Switzerland has been governed by coalitions of divergent ideologies since 1959.” You’d better study this last one some more.
    Anyway, I wish you lots of luck with this new challenge, you’ll need it.

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