Feasibility and potential complications of coalition government at national and provincial level



Published May 29, 2024


A number of political analysts have predicted that this year’s election may compel leading political parties to go into coalition governance, particularly at the national and provincial governmental spheres.

On Wednesday morning, South Africa will vote in the seventh general elections following 30 years of democracy in the country.

However, the question is, are South African political parties good with coalitions and is this sustainable.

Speaking to IOL, political analyst and Tshwane University of Technology politics lecturer, Dr Levy Ndou said coalitions were implemented with a positive outlook because they also allow small political parties to have voice in government.

Ndou said there was a high possibility that parties might go into coalitions even at a national level based on predictions of the polls that have been released.

“Coalitions are not a bad idea, its good to have a division of power, they have worked in other countries especially in Europe where their economy is thriving. Unfortunately, they have not worked well in our metros,” Ndou said.

“We have over 60 hung municipalities and less than six of those municipalities are without issues. Its worse in our metros, Nelson Mandela Bay, City of Joburg, City of Tshwane, and Ekurhuleni, these municipalities are in constant fights,” he said.

“The fights are not even about servicing the people, its about controlling resources, these municipalities have a huge budget and everyone wants to be in control where there’s money involved,” Ndou said.

“Municipalities that have no issues, are ones which are considered poor, there’s nothing to fight for, so they usually don’t have conflicts.”

Ndou said if coalitions can’t be handled at a provincial level, they also can’t be feasible at a national level.

“In political debates that have been previously arranged by different TV channels, you see politicians arguing and pointing fingers at one another like small children,” he said.

“So we can’t expect such people to work together, yes there’s is political tolerance that we see now during elections, but tolerance in terms of working together, that’s a challenge,” Ndou said.

“They can’t even agree on simple or minor things, so if we can have a successful coalition at national level, it will require a mind change from our politicians in the interest of the people.”

Meanwhile, an academic pursuing a PhD in philosophy and historical studies at the University of South Africa, Leonard Bwalya Kwatai said based on how coalitions have manifested in the Gauteng metros, they might not be sustainable at a national level.

“From the fights we have witnessed in the metros and the constant voting out of mayors, its clear that politicians are struggling to function within these coalitions.”

Kwatai said if approached properly, coalitions could be beneficial especially in fighting corruption because there are more political parties in governance which might discourage carrying out illegal businesses behind closed doors.

He said that coalitions challenge the long-standing dominance of political parties and offer a nuanced glimpse into shared governance.

However, he added that because most politicians want power and control, coalitions tend to be tumultuous which subsequently puts coalitions in a negative light.

“Parties compromise their policies so that they can at least get those few numbers that can boost them to the leadership position,” he said.

“Political parties just need a small number to get a little over 50% to topple their rivals. To achieve this, they will approach small parties with no influence and form a coalition with them. For example, look at Joburg, the [African National Congress] ANC fought tooth and nail to remove the [Democratic Alliance] DA from the helm, this period was chaotic,” Kwatai said.

“They even approached Al Jama-ah, a party that doesn’t have a big following or have influence just to get back into power. The ANC specifically chose to govern with a party like Al Jama-ah so that it can influence its decisions, this wasn’t done because they believe Al Jama-ah is capable of running Joburg better, they did it because they wanted someone who they can control.”

Al Jama-ah’s candidate, Kabelo Gwamanda, is currently the mayor of Joburg after the ANC and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) backed him following the removal of DA’s candidate, Mpho Phalatse.

According to Katwai, coalitions could work better if politicians were not driven by greed but rather shared binding agreements and had the same purpose which is to service the citizens and grow the economy.

“From what we have seen in the past, most of the time the motive is greed which makes the idea of coalitions to lose its purpose because eventually, we experience instability resulting from the constant power fights. What makes it even worse is that in South Africa, there’s no legal frame work which governs coalitions.

“There is no legislative structure to regulate or oversee how political parties should enter into a coalition and how to sustain it, this in turn makes coalitions to be abused and cause chaos.”

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