Consultation on workable partnerships key for success

Having different voices in the political environment is a good political indicator of democratic consolidation, says the writer. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Having different voices in the political environment is a good political indicator of democratic consolidation, says the writer. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Published Dec 4, 2021


By Dr Ntsikelelo Breakfast

When one does a comparative analysis on coalition formations in South Africa, covering the period of 2016 until 2021 (before the local government elections on 1 November this year), it is evident they have been unstable, largely because the coalition partners are often unreliable and untrustworthy.

The political elite will strike deals on coalition arrangements and fail to honour them, due to lack of regulatory mechanism to enforce the agreements.

Moreover, decisions of coalition politics are made by national leaders and local political office-bearing are expected to abide by orders.

However, local politicians in municipalities with coalition arrangements do not always toe the line of their national leaders, which creates more instability and collapses powersharing deals.

The electoral outcomes of the 2021 local government elections have ended the hegemonic-party model in South Africa. This means that one party dominance is a thing of the past.

Obviously, this creates a possibility for power-sharing in a form of coalition partnerships for South Africa.

This makes South Africa’s democracy interesting, precisely because no single party will be able to impose its political agenda without a buyin from other political actors.

This implies that South African politics will be characterised by a multiplicity of views across the political spectrum. Having different voices in the political environment is a good political indicator of democratic consolidation. It is an expression of robust political engagement.

However, the views of civil society and public need to be taken on board in this regard to make democracy flourish. Interestingly, the lack of trust among the political parties in coalition formations signifies unstable local governments.

In addition, the instability in municipalities formed via power-sharing will have a negative spill-over effect on service delivery.

So, the central question is: Can South Africa draw from international best practices of successful power-sharing arrangements of coalitions?

The whole notion of powersharing is politically engineered in European countries. Cases in point are Austria, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Greece, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and a whole range of other countries where proportional representation is used as an electoral system.

Coalition formations are mostly associated with the electoral reform of proportional representation because seats among political parties are allocated proportionally.

This is contrary to the electoral system whereby there is one winner that takes all, namely: first past the post. One cannot omit to invoke the concept of consociationalism (powersharing) foregrounded by Arend Lijphart (Dutch and American academic).

The application of powersharing was first seen in Holland through politics of accommodation. This meant that divergent opinions of different social categories, especially minorities groups, were taken into full account in decision-making.

This is the exact opposite of the destructive conflict and politicking of the zero-sum game. South Africa has a lot to learn from the model of power-sharing proven to be successful on a global scale.

This includes coalition formations on the African continent, because of the failure of liberation movements to hold on to power a bit longer.

The ANC is seen in some quarters to be another failed liberation movement in post-colonial states.

It has confirmed the view held by critics of liberation movements that their ascendency to power doesn’t lead to development, stability, security and economic prosperity for the majority.

On the contrary, the international best practices on coalition politics show the centrality of an impartial independent body to regulate conflicts through a workable conflict management mechanism.

As things stand, the Municipal Structures Act (117 of 1998) makes a provision that political actors have 14 days to institute a government (after the local government elections).

A discussion is needed on whether or not more consultation is necessary for workable coalition partnerships, as is the case internationally.

* 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.