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THE GATHERING 2024

In the age of coalitions, an involved, active citizenry is paramount

In the age of coalitions, an involved, active citizenry is paramount
Lindiwe Mazibuko, the former DA parliamentary leader and CEO and co-founder of Futurelect, speaks at The Gathering Twenty Twenty-Four Election Edition at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on 14 March 2024. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

No one is coming to save you. Active citizenry is necessary now more than ever as coalition politics are likely to take centre stage at provincial and national levels, panellists told The Gathering Twenty Twenty-Four on Thursday.

With just more than two months until the general elections, polls suggest it is almost inevitable that a coalition government is on the cards for South Africa. In several metros, however, coalitions have proved to be more about the politicians than communities and service delivery.

As such, South Africans will need to do away with voting only every five years and complaining on the sidelines about the failures of government. Instead, they will need to play a more active role in democratic processes.

Read more in Daily Maverick: The Gathering 2024

This was a general sentiment expressed by speakers on a panel at Daily Maverick’s flagship event, The Gathering, held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on Thursday, 14 March 2024.

coaliton active citizenry chikane

Dr Rekgotsofetse Chikane at The Gathering Twenty Twenty-Four Election Edition at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on 14 March 2024. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

Wits School of Governance lecturer Dr Rekgotsofetse Chikane took it up a notch and suggested: “This thing of looking for someone to be a saviour, a famous person to come take us out of the doldrums, we really need to get out of that as quick as possible.”

Chikane was speaking during a panel discussion on coalitions alongside Professor William Gumede, also from the Wits School of Governance, Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis and Lindiwe Mazibuko, the former DA parliamentary leader and CEO and co-founder of Futurelect.

coalitions active citizenry gumede

Professor William Gumede at The Gathering Twenty Twenty-Four Election Edition at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on 14 March 2024. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

They lamented the absence of ordinary citizens in democratic processes beyond casting their vote every five years.

“At the moment, there’s a few people, interest groups, who get involved. Political parties send their memberships [to participate in democratic structures], but ordinary citizens are absent,” Mazibuko said.   

Coalitions have proved particularly unstable, and while changes in regulations governing coalitions are possible, the panellists agreed that people needed to be active citizens, particularly at the grassroots level.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Elections 2024

For instance, they should fully participate in their cities’ Integrated Development Plan processes, which encourage those who reside or conduct business within a municipal area to participate in the preparation and implementation of the municipality’s development plan.   

Citizens should participate in community policing forums, form part of their city’s budgetary oversight processes and join local decision-making bodies.

“Once you make the decision that this is your city, your country, you have a role to play in making it work, not that your job is to vote every five years, [which is] the least worst option out there,” Mazibuko said.

There have been suggestions that in order for coalitions to work, thresholds need to be put in place to determine who can lead a government. The panellists, however, agreed that professionalising the public service, promoting good leaders and civic education were crucial to improved governance.

Read more in Daily Maverick: We should investigate potential legislation to manage conflict within coalition governments

Regarding coalitions, they proposed extending the period it took to form a government. Legislation stipulates that a government must be formed 14 days after the election.

Gumede, who is also the independent chair of the Multi-Party Charter, said: “It will be impossible to do in 14 days. I think it’s going to be very important that we at least extend the 14 days for at least 30 days. I mean, as is sort of the norm elsewhere.”

Mazibuko was against the idea of putting a threshold on political parties entering into or leading coalitions as this could potentially add to existing barriers when entering the political arena.

“So if we recognise that the guys right now who are sitting around the coalition negotiation table are screwing it up, why is the answer, let’s prevent anybody else from offering an alternative?”

Read more in Daily Maverick: On the threshold of change — coalition dialogues could define the future of SA’s democracy

coalitions hill-lewis

Cape Town Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis at The Gathering Twenty Twenty-Four Election Edition at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on 14 March 2024. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

Coalitions in some municipalities have appeared to be more about the politicians than communities and service delivery.

The City of Ekurhuleni, for instance, was one of only two metros in SA that received a clean audit outcome in the 2021/22 financial year. A year later, the metro lost that status with its financial predicament and governance woes deepening.

The two parties leading the coalition, the ANC and EFF, are now at odds. The ANC wants to remove Mayor Sivuyile Ngodwana, from the African Independent Congress (which has two seats in council), and the EFF is desperate to keep him in the powerful position, which guarantees it will stay in power. The instability means residents are the biggest losers.

Gumede has previously remarked that since the end of colonialism in the post-World War 2 period, coalitions have been the most successful form of government in Africa’s modern history.

Of the 54 African states, and apart from Botswana, the two most successful countries since World War 2 – in terms of peacefulness, economic prosperity and inclusivity – are Mauritius and Cape Verde, both extensively governed by coalitions. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • District Six says:

    Yes, yes, and YES!

  • Bob Dubery says:

    How did the DA let Lindiwe Mazibuko go? Mbali Ntuli too, for that matter. Industrious, canny, charismatic, both of them would only enhance any party in SA. And they were right there in the DA.

  • Jacques Wessels says:

    The politicians are all about their own backyard or worse what is in it for me, so no matter which colours they display the end result is +- the same. The key is to get actively involved via citizen apolitical organisations Rate Payer, Neighbourhood Watches, Housing Governing etc. & hold officials accountable for longer term planning ( Integrated Development Plans ) & associated yearly budget & finances

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