A council meeting in Port Elizabeth. Photo: Raahil Sain / ANA
South Africa was ushered into its democratic era by a coalition government. The ANC won 62.65%, slightly short of a two-thirds majority, in the historic 1994 national election, but still formed a government of national unity, incorporating the ruling party’s nemesis of decades, the National Party, and the IFP.

That coalition government worked well enough to shepherd South Africa out of the dark era into a working constitutional democracy.

The glue that held the key but disparate political parties together was the desperate need to pull the country out of the doldrums it had descended to. They worked together to heal the land and rebuild the economy.

The events of this week in the Nelson Mandela Bay and Tshwane councils should be seen against this backdrop as South Africa today stands on similarly treacherous economic grounds. 

While coalitions are inherently complex and difficult to manage, like the marriages of convenience that they are, they do work and can bear fruit. Leaders just need to get their priorities straight. And there can never be any single priority more important than the economy right now.

The reckless manoeuvring and wielding of power by political parties and individuals, big and small, in these highly dangerous coalition games is a clear sign that resuscitating our moribund economy has been put on the back seat. 

Some are getting desperate while others are getting overly ambitious when patience and care is called for.

Whoever wins in 2019 will find their victory to be a Pyrrhic one without a lively economy and a unified nation to preside over.

We have entered a pivotal electioneering period. The realignment in preparation for the elections is almost inevitable following the tectonic changes of December 2017 in the ruling party and the deepening of divisions in the official opposition.

Care must be taken to avoid disruptions. They are bad for the economy and the business confidence that needs boosting now.

* Mazwi Xaba is the editor of the Sunday Tribune. 

Weekend Argus