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Shaky coalitions do not inspire confidence but may be the only route forward

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David Gant was co-founder and co-chairperson of Denis Worrall’s Independent Party in the late 1980s; Fedex Chair of the Democratic Party; member of the President’s Council; and member of the DP caucus. He was a delegate to the Codesas of the 1990s.

Coalitions, particularly those forged by a multiplicity of parties, exhibit a level of disunity, divisiveness and deterioration over time, to the extent that they self-destruct and cease to exist in their original format.

On the face of it, there are several political parties currently within and outside Parliament that appear to largely share values, principles, policies and practices that would re-establish the rule of law in our country; rapidly attract the necessary investment needed to grow our economy; create jobs; build infrastructure; establish an appropriate level of dignity for those who have been stripped of it by the ANC government’s self-serving misrule, and restore a sense of honour and pride among our citizens.

Perhaps the most publicly recognised applicant of these values and principles is the DA, which has the opportunity to put them into real practice in the Western Cape and the City of Cape Town, but, inter alia, the IFP, ActionSA, Bosa, Rise Mzansi, the ACDP and a few others seem to be broadly singing off the same hymn sheet with no apparent disharmony or discord.

Despite the optimistic electioneering rhetoric of party leaders and spokespersons, even the most loyal supporters of these parties would consider their chances of being a majority national government on their own as highly improbable, if not impossible.

It is probably time for them to reconsider how they can optimally fit into our political landscape and maximise their contribution towards a more promising and hopeful political, social and economic scenario for our country.

There is currently a widespread belief that the political landscape of the foreseeable future has to be dominated by coalitions and that the only way the DA and the other parties could wield any form of political power is by being part and parcel of a coalition government.

There are some, however, who believe that the application of the values, principles, policies and practices of like-minded parties can be achieved in a different, more effective way, and not necessarily via coalitions.

Notwithstanding DA leader John Steenhuisen’s vision of the DA being the “anchor point” in a future coalition government, the South African reality is that coalitions, despite their initial professed good intentions, are predictably unstable, lack permanency and tend to be subjected to personal political and financial ambitions and egotism.

Coalitions, particularly those forged by a multiplicity of parties, exhibit a level of disunity, divisiveness and deterioration over time, to the extent that they self-destruct and cease to exist in their original format. Indeed, most definitions of the word “coalition” describe it as a “temporary” arrangement.

The all-embracing and deepening political, social and economic crisis that South Africa finds itself in can only be solved by a stable, secure, steadfast government firmly in control and able to implement its policies without intra-coalition hindrance, fear or favour.

The Multi-Party Charter (MPC) that was announced in June projects a rather uncertain possible multi-party coalition government, the composition of which will be influenced by the level of support the individual parties receive in the 2024 election.

The formula of how the presidential candidate will be chosen or how the Cabinet and other high-level governance appointments will be made – as well as how differences of opinion will be resolved – remains a mystery.

The MPC thus provides no real focal point or major magnet with which to attract the votes of our citizens. There are simply too many unanswered questions, leaving doubts in the minds of voters as to how this coalition would function.

It is also of concern that the leaders and high-level representatives of the signatories to the MPC are not displaying a combined cohesive and public approach to issues of the day, and seem to be more concerned with their separate party ambitions and progress. 

Unanimity is not glaringly apparent, as it should be if the parties within the MPC wish to earn the support of former ANC voters   

In addition, and conspicuous by their absence, Mmusi Maimane’s Bosa and Songezo Zibi’s Rise Mzansi – both of which may well receive significant electoral support – are for some undisclosed reason not signatories to the Charter.

The above circumstances therefore make it difficult to fertilise and grow the notion in the hearts and minds of the electorate of a political establishment that is not only capable of convincingly beating the ANC at the polls, but also providing a stable, competent government for our country.

While recognising the complexities implicit in and the personal vision and courage required from the leaders of the currently separate parties and their loyal supporters for a full-on merger of values and principle sharing, it would be in the national interest to create a unified, credible political establishment. 

It would need to be of sufficient stature and size to oust the ANC government and could be the only political solution to save our country and its citizens from a headlong fall into chaos and disaster.

If there are indeed valid political reasons or genuine principled objections as to why the South African electorate should be burdened by the continued existence of a fractured and fragmented opposition landscape rather than a unified realistic “government in waiting”, we deserve to know the reasons. DM

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  • david clegg clegg says:

    Agreed. I suggest the problem is that leadership ego trumps necessity — and time is running out . A publicly visible united front (preferably but not necessarily in the form of a new party) with agreed policies and goals and an undisputed leader needs to be in place by year-end at the very latest. If not there will be insufficient time for the electorate (and especially any enlightened discontents in the ANC) to buy-in to the possibilities by the time election politicking begins in earnest. Unfortunately, I see little hope of that deadline being met.

  • JAMES GOODWIN says:

    Whilst I agree fully that navigating coalitions in the Provincial and National spheres will be a new challenge and one that certainly will not be without stumbling along the way, I disagree that the MPC can’t topple the ANC based on how the mood on the ground is. I agree it is a challenge but the DA, ActionSA, IFP, FF+ and ACDP may be a little short of 51% but on determination, there is no doubt they want the ANC out at all costs.

    Take a very recent poll where the ANC is at 39% to the DA at 31% and this is a stretch but it does indicate a major problem for the ANC in that it shows the disillusion and frustration of South Africans. I personally think the more consistent 43-45% is where we should see it for now but I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if we scatter the vote and spread it across our already long list of parties now inclusive of independents too. There are forces that want change, not a hunger for John Steenhuisen, the DA or ActionSA in particular but by creating a coalition consisting of the top parties in the House (excl EFF) is a big statement. A wide pool of voters attracted to different elements is represented in the MPC better than anywhere else and time to add more to the charter still remains.

    The big appeal of the MPC is not the individual parties themselves but the fact they represent change of leadership in governing a country that is crying out for democracy to finally be demonstrated. We remain a “flawed democracy” until we see a government change.

  • André Pelser says:

    Few will disagree with the general thrust of this article. What is the solution? Who is the charismatic leader that will attract the votes necessary to defeat the ANC? Perhaps the answer is not a person, but an objective encapsulated by a slogan used by all the MPC members, and those not yet included. A slogan like ” Ubuntu/dignity for all” ( not just ANC cadres)?
    What could this be?

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