A striking feature of the local government elections was that they signalled an age of awakening, when voters are beginning to say to political parties and public representatives: earn our vote.

Voters and parties generally respected the mechanical election process, but the maturity in this outing went way beyond that: people are starting to look past promises, and old loyalties, and are now voting for delivery.

This shift 22 years into democracy has heralded an era of unprecedented coalition politics in South Africa. The DA is talking to the EFF, the ANC has sidled up to the EFF, the DA is making pals with the UDM, the IFP is exploring what is possible with those it needs to in KwaZulu-Natal, and so it goes on.

With these partnerships of circumstance come doubts: can parties with vastly different policies make these marriages work? The DA and EFF, for instance, seem to be the unlikeliest of lasting allies. Is their shared disdain for the ANC enough of a binding agent?

In the days ahead, then, lies a lot of negotiating – in spite of loathing and disparaging epithets in the municipal campaign. Snarls will melt into unity, though these will be awkward embraces. This is politics.

This tension and manoeuvring will not be confined to the weeks ahead, therefore. They are probably with us until the next election.

Some parties, particularly the EFF, have emerged with sufficient support to tilt the balance of power in various municipalities, including two metros. The EFF won far fewer ballots than the ANC and DA, but finds itself in the exquisite position of having influence disproportionate to its support. It will seek to extract all it can from this advantage.

In the machinations ahead, however, parties should not abandon their policies in the scramble for power. They must remember why voters backed them, and remain faithful to their pledges.

Broken promises are beginning to be costly, as these elections have shown. Parties will have to keep this in mind during the bargaining.