The 2021 local government elections have put the ANC on the back foot after it secured just 46% of votes nationally, says the writer. Picture: Nhlanhla Phillips/African News Agency (ANA) Archives
The 2021 local government elections have put the ANC on the back foot after it secured just 46% of votes nationally, says the writer. Picture: Nhlanhla Phillips/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

A new form of power-sharing

By Time of article published Nov 20, 2021

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By Dr Ntsikelelo Breakfast

Since the ushering in of democracy in 1994, South Africa has had one-party dominance, namely the ANC.

This is similar to the National Party’s hegemony, which dominated the political landscape after 1948 during the apartheid era.

The advantage of the ANC was that of being a leading liberation movement during the Struggle for freedom in South Africa. It has been able to solicit votes from most of the electorate (in particular black voters from townships and rural dwellers) via its track record of liberation Struggle as opposed to that of service delivery.

From 1994 to 2011, the ANC managed to take the lead in many urban centres (except in the City of Cape Town).

For the first time in 2016, the ANC lost three metropolitan municipalities: Nelson Mandela Metropolitan, the City of Johannesburg and the City of Tshwane.

On a national scale, in 2016 the ANC stood at 53% of the vote, as opposed to the 66% received in 2011.

The writing was on the wall that the governing party would fall short of 50% if it didn’t pull up its socks by getting the job done at local government level.

Evidently, the 2021 local government elections have put the ANC on the back foot after it secured just 46% of votes nationally. This was coupled with 66 hung municipalities.

The ANC’s poor electoral performance was also compounded by the lower voter turnout nationally which stood at 46% in comparison with the 57% in 2016.

The inability of the ANC to promote development for most South Africans at government level has been the reason for the party’s downward electoral trajectory.

This has been made worse by factionalism within the party which conveys a message that the ANC is not fit to govern.

Added to that is the lack of responsiveness of bureaucracy, largely because of cadre deployment.

Institutionalisation of corruption in different spheres of government, in particular in municipalities, has made the governing party lose touch with its supporters and lose trust among the voters, by and large.

On the other hand, the ANC’s losing ground has not given opposition parties enough time to outmanoeuvre the party – precisely because 66 municipalities have been left without an outright winner, creating scope for coalition negotiations.

Power-sharing is associated with the scholarly work of Dutch political scientist Arend Lijphart. In fact, the whole model of power-sharing in the form of coalition formations emanates from Holland, Scandinavian countries and many parts of the non-English speaking world.

However, in post-colonial states we have also seen coalition arrangements in the former British protectorates. In the main, what gives rise to coalition formation is lack of majoritarianism and the fragmentation of the political environment.

Over and above that in South Africa, power-sharing arrangements have been made possible by the lack of political interest to vote during the elections.

Analyst Susan Booysen refers to the coalition formations as “marriages of inconvenience”.

She implies that power-sharing at local government signifies opportunism and musical chairs, as it were.

One of the weaknesses of the Constitution Act 108 of 1996, is that it has no provision for coalition arrangements. Nor is there a piece of legislation to guide political parties on how to have power-sharing in the form of a coalition.

Moreover, political leaders are quick to rush into power-sharing arrangements without designing a conflict-management mechanism to deal with their disagreements.

To make coalition formations successful, there is a need for an independent body to monitor powersharing arrangements.

The agreements that political parties in a coalition settle on ought to be binding and honoured.

A policy framework on powersharing is needed in South Africa to make coalition formations successful.

This piece of legislation should also consider the views of the public on power-sharing in the form of coalitions to deepen democracy.

As things stand, coalition arrangements are made by the political elite, most specifically the top brass of the political parties.

This is elitism and is undemocratic in nature and omits public participation – a key pillar of democracy and democratic consolidation.

* Dr Ntsikelelo Breakfast is a Senior lecturer in the Department of History and Political Studies in the Faculty of Humanities at Nelson Mandela University.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.

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