The quest for coalitions ahead of elections

South Africa is heading to he polls in the next few months. File Picture: Leon Lestrade / Independent Newspapers

South Africa is heading to he polls in the next few months. File Picture: Leon Lestrade / Independent Newspapers

Published Feb 6, 2024


By Nkanyiso Simelane

The general elections in South Africa will be conducted against the backdrop of a changing electoral landscape. Among other things, there are growing predictions that the upcoming 2024 general elections present the highest ever probability of the ruling party not obtaining 50(+1)% of the votes nationally, and even in some provinces.

Two key factors support this view. Firstly, the ANC’s gradual decline in vote percentage nationally, from its height of 69.69% in 2004 to 57.5% in the 2019 national and provincial elections.

Secondly, the ANC attaining below 50% overall during the 2021 local government elections for the very first time. The changing voting patterns have led to a drastic rise in coalition governments at the local government level, and this has motivated the formation of coalition alliances ahead of the 2024 general elections.

The convening of the National Dialogue on Coalition Governments in August last year was indicative of the fact that coalition governments are becoming more crucial in South African politics. This was a multi stakeholder dialogue on how to develop a framework for sustainable coalitions in the country, which was convened by the national Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) and the Deputy President, Paul Mashatile. Since then, and arguably due to the fast-approaching elections, the quest for coalition alliances has accelerated, with some formations gaining momentum.

The Multi-Party Charter for South Africa

The MPC is a pre-election coalition alliance that was formed in August last year by seven opposition parties. These were the Democratic Alliance (DA), the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), Freedom Front Plus (FF Plus), ActionSA, Independent South African National Civic Organisation (ISANCO), United Independent Movement (UIM), and the Spectrum National Party.

The MPC has since increased its membership with the addition of the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), United Christian Democratic Party (UCDP), Ekhethu Peoples Party, and UNP. This 11-party coalition alliance can be considered the biggest pact thus far, and has led the way in establishing precedence on the formation of pre-election coalition alliances.

On January 24, the MPC held a press conference outlining its common policies, on how they will jointly grow the economy and create jobs. This presents another building block towards constructing a cohesive coalition alliance ahead of the elections.

South African Rainbow Alliance

The formation of another pre-election alliance of smaller opposition parties, faith-based and civil society organisation called the South African Rainbow Alliance (SARA), adds an interesting dynamic of lower-end contestation.

The SARA is led by Colleen Makhubele (ex-Cope member), and includes the National Freedom Party (NFP), the African Independent Congress (AIC), Independent Citizens Movement (ICM), African Amalgamated Restorative Movement (AARM), and other movements.

While this formation may not seem as formidable as the MPC, it is the first coalition alliance wherein its party allies agreed to appear on the ballot solely under one political entity – SARA. This differs from the MPC’s arrangement wherein each coalition ally will contest individually in order to ‘maximise on each party’s support-base’, and only coalesce officially after the election.

Furthermore, the SARA depicts a welcome initiative to minimise the exponential proliferation of small parties, which would stand a better chance if they combine efforts.

The MK party and allies

The newly formed uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party, backed by former ANC president Jacob Zuma, has rocked the political landscape since its launch in December last year.

Among other reasons for its establishment, the former president has cited the need to fix the ANC from the outside, and the poor living conditions of black citizens. Zuma has since raised concerns about the historical division of the black population in South Africa, and as such, it would seem that the MK party’s ideologies seek to address historical injustices of black citizens and improve their living conditions.

The MK party has since held talks with the ‘radical left’, ‘pro-black’ political parties, and traditional and religious leaders as potential alliances in the upcoming elections. One of these parties is Ace Magashule’s African Congress for Transformation (ACT).

The two ANC splinter parties met on January 11 to form a working relationship. Later in January, the PAC also held talks with Zuma, referring to this as “A significant moment for dialogue and unity of Africans”. It is important to note that the PAC had already formed an alliance in July 2023 with the Azanian People’s Organisation (Azapo) dubbed the Azanian Liberation Front.

Hence, one can safely consider Azapo as possibly being party to this alliance with the MK party and ultimately including the Azanian Liberation Front within the MK party alliance.

Another party is the Black First Land First (BLF), a ‘pro-black’ party that believes in the Radical Economic Transformation agenda, which has endorsed the MK party for the 2024 elections.

Furthermore, the MK party has sought and formed alliances with traditional and religious leaders and organisations. One of the first religious organisations to join was the All African Alliance Movement (AAAM) party, which will also endorse the MK party at the polls.

A prayer meeting was held in Pietermaritzburg wherein religious leaders gathered to pray for the success of the MK party, with Zuma delivering a keynote address. He urged all religious leaders gathered to urge all congregants to vote for the MK and announced intentions to engage other religious formations. This was followed by a visit to the Nazareth Baptist Church service where the former president addressed the congregation and solicited its prayers and support.

This potential coalition alliance appears to be centred around ideologies of Black Consciousness, Pan-Africanism and Radical Economic Transformation. While the EFF has not yet announced its participation in this alliance, it seems ideologically aligned because of its radical left positioning and its merge with Carl Niehaus’ African Radical Economic Transformation Alliance (ARETA) party – who is a staunch supporter of Zuma.

The Big Elephants in the Room

Although the quest for coalition alliances is heating up as the elections draw nearer, there are two ‘big elephants in the coalition room’. One, coalitions are not created by politicians, but by the election results. Secondly, the possibility of the ANC going below 50% remains just that – a possibility.

While the ANC went below 50% at the local government elections, its decline has been at a slower pace in the national and provincial elections. Hence, we shall wait and see what the ballot boxes reveal in a few months time. However, it is evident that the awareness and appetite for the exploration of coalition alliances in South Africa is growing and political parties are becoming more deliberate in how these are being formed. One thing is certain, come the elections, voters will have a diversity of coalition alliances to choose from and this is welcomed in the context of a maturing democracy.

*Simelane is a Researcher at the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD). He writes in his personal capacity.

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