Nelson Mandela Foundation

Judging by the recent developments in the Nelson Mandela Bay City Council and the Johannesburg City Council, the questions regarding the stability of coalition governments are mounting. It doesn’t require one to be a political analyst to see that 2024 might present us with the first multi-party form of government in South Africa since the dawn of democracy. If we look at the last three elections from 2016, be it local or national level, the number of African National Congress voters has drastically declined while opposition parties have tremendously profited from disgruntled voters of the country’s liberation party.

In the 2016 Local Government Elections (LGE), the African National Party (ANC) received just  53.9% of the total votes nationally, an almost 10% decrease from the 62% the party received in the 2014 general elections. Several factors were speculated by the country’s political commentators including the ‘Zuma factor’. The ANC and former president Zuma were in and out of court at the time for numerous corruption allegations and the elections were just two years after the former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela released her widely anticipated report on the security upgrades at the home of the former President, Nkandla. The report found that Zuma had improperly benefitted from state funds and must repay a certain portion of the money used to upgrade his home. Following that, the party, for the first time, lost control of three vital metros in Tshwane, Johannesburg, and the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro to the Democratic Alliance (DA) with the help of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and other parties.

In the 2019 general elections, the ANC received just over 57% of the total votes, a decrease of over 4.5% from the last general elections. A glimpse of hope and a sigh of relief was largely visible within ANC structures and one cannot help but conclude that the party was given another chance by the electorate to correct its past ‘mistakes’. Disgruntled party voters had also returned to the party to support President Ramaphosa’s ‘New Dawn’ project and his renewal project. Nothing much changed in President Ramaphosa’s term as the country's first citizen - unemployment escalated, corruption, and poverty remained an issue that needed government attention and power blackouts from the energy crisis at Eskom continue to cost the economy billions of Rands.

In the recent Local Government Elections of 2021, the ANC received 47,9% of the votes, falling under 50% for the first time since 1994. Party leaders refused to admit the party has lost the trust of the people, and many have argued that had it not been for the popularity of Ramaphosa, the party might have performed worse than it did. It ought to be noted though that millions of registered voters did not show up on Voting Day or decided to purposefully spoil their ballots. The party still did not regain the metros it lost to the DA in 2016 except for the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro until a few weeks ago when the party’s mayor was removed by yet another motion of no confidence.

The instability of coalition governments

Cracks have emerged just months after the multi-party councils assumed office. One would argue that it was bound to happen due to the ideological differences of the parties who have assumed governance. It started with the DA losing control of Tshwane after its mayor Stevens Mokgalapa was voted out through a motion of no confidence by the ANC, which was supported by the EFF. It is worth noting that the EFF agreed to vote with the DA on all council matters after not aligning with the ANC, and this move came as a shock. Following Mokgalapa’s removal, the Gauteng provincial government placed the metro under administration for several reasons until that decision was overturned by the Constitutional Court. In a space of five years, the metro has had about three different mayors.

In Johannesburg, things looked stable as the EFF seemed to have a working relationship with former DA Mayor, Herman Mashaba. The working partnership of the coalition partners saw the municipality’s security guards being insourced by the municipality with the city also reclaiming hijacked buildings. Herman Mashaba had to relinquish the mayoral position after party squabbles within the DA. Yet another mayor of the coalition agreement did not finish his five-year term. Shortly after Mashaba’s resignation as the mayor, the ANC regained control of the metro through the help of smaller parties.

The DA then regained control of Johannesburg again after the 2021 LGE through the help of ActionSA and other smaller parties, control that lasted just over 10 months as the party’s mayor was removed through a motion of no confidence that was supported by both the ANC and the EFF. The no-confidence motion against the mayor led to the resurrection of the ANC in Johannesburg with the election of its regional chair Dada Morero. Dada was also forced to resign by the South Gauteng High Court. Aljama’s Thapelo Amad has since been elected the Mayor of Johannesburg after the ANC and EFF could not agree on a candidate to replace the outgoing Mpho Phalatese.

The same trend of instability happened in Nelson Mandela Bay with motions of no confidence toppling council agendas. This saw DA’s Trollip removed as the city’s mayor and replaced by United Democratic Movement’s (UDM) late Bobani who was later removed as well. Recently, an ANC mayor in the metro Eugene Johnson was removed through a motion of no confidence that saw the DA, UDM, Freedom Front Plus, Pan-AFrican Congress and African Christian Democratic Party voting together to remove the mayor.

Recently, relations between the EFF and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) have broken down after the EFF decided that they will no longer vote with the IFP in all municipalities where the IFP could not demonstrate stability and support. This, in a nutshell, paves way for the ANC, EFF and National Freedom Party-led coalition in the municipalities which were under the IFP.

A coalition at national government

According to Ipsos, if South Africa were to host elections tomorrow, the ANC would get 40% despite being led by President Ramaphosa who according to polls conducted before the 2021 LGE was reported to be more popular than the party he leads. Indications are there that we are headed for co-governance at the national level for the first time in South Africa. Who will form part of that coalition?

We have seen the courting between the ANC and EFF in municipal councils in the past and one cannot rule out the possibility of the two parties entering into a coalition and sharing national governance responsibilities. Julius Malema has always made it clear that his party is willing to work with anyone who agrees to the party’s radical policies.

Another possibility is the multi-party government that will include the DA, ActionSA and the EFF, though these parties differ ideologically with the EFF being politically far Left and the other two far Right. If one is to judge by what has been happening in the country’s metropoles, the country’s major parties have not shown signs of readiness to work together at the highest level. A coalition between the ANC and the DA should also not be ruled out if we are to judge by the comments made by the Cape Town mayor, Geordin Hill-Lewis who alluded that the ANC-DA coalition is not a far-fetched dream as long as it will ‘keep the EFF out of power.’

This then raises the question of the state of readiness of our political parties to co-govern national government if they are failing in local government. Either way, coalition governments are the future as voters prove in every election that they are tired of single-party rule. At the same time, should voters also take some accountability though for their indecisiveness on who should govern them?