South Africa at a Crossroads: Are We Ready for National Coalition Governance?

President Cyril Ramaphosa at the National Council of Provinces. Picture: Armand Hough / Independent Newspapers

President Cyril Ramaphosa at the National Council of Provinces. Picture: Armand Hough / Independent Newspapers

Published Feb 5, 2024


By Dr Andile Sokani

As South Africa approaches the imminent national elections scheduled for April, a critical question looms over the political landscape: Is the nation prepared to embrace coalition governance on a national scale?

The rise of coalition governments in local municipalities since 2016 has reshaped the traditional political paradigm, challenged the long-standing dominance of the African National Congress (ANC), and offered a nuanced glimpse into shared governance dynamics.

The transition to coalition governance has not been without its merits. In municipalities such as the Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality, the Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality, and the City of Johannesburg, coalitions have successfully broken the chains of single-party dominance, displaying both accomplishments and hurdles. This departure from the norm highlights the intricate nature of collaborative, multi-party governance.

A closer look at the grassroots level reveals valuable insights into the potential benefits of coalition governance. The Nelson Mandela Bay coalition, for example, has achieved significant milestones in curbing corruption, improving fiscal management, and spearheading vital infrastructure projects. These successes underscore the transformative potential of a collaborative, diverse approach to governance.

However, a nuanced perspective becomes crucial when examining the broader implications of coalition governance. The cautionary tale of the Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality exposes administrative challenges and political infighting that led to periods of instability, hindering effective governance. This underscores the importance of critically evaluating the sustainability of coalition models, especially as the political landscape continues to evolve.

The trend of political leaders breaking away from the ANC to establish their own parties adds another layer of complexity. Are these departures strategic attempts to weaken the ANC’s influence, or are they manifestations of internal power struggles?

The fragmentation of political entities raises pertinent questions about the stability and coherence of future coalition alliances, further complicating an already intricate political landscape.

As the national elections draw near, the South African electorate finds itself at a pivotal juncture. Empirical evidence from local municipalities necessitates a careful examination of whether the promises of increased accountability and transparency have materialised or have been overshadowed by internal conflicts. Voters must weigh the advantages of diverse perspectives against the risks of political instability when considering the future trajectory of the nation’s governance.

While coalition governments have demonstrated potential in addressing specific challenges like corruption and financial mismanagement, a lingering question persists: Are they a sustainable model for national governance?

The upcoming elections provide a crucial opportunity for citizens to shape the direction of South Africa’s governance. As responsible participants in the democratic process, we must engage in informed and discerning deliberations about the prospects of being governed by coalition governments on a broader scale.

Dr Andile Sokani. Picture: Supplied

* Dr Andile Sokani is a Deputy Director at the School of Government.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.