Coalition governments the future of SA: mayor’s book a vital conversation

Ekurhuleni mayor Mzwandile Masina.
Ekurhuleni mayor Mzwandile Masina.
Image: PUXLEY MAKGATHO

Last Thursday, the executive mayor of the City of Ekurhuleni metropolitan municipality, Mzwandile Masina, launched his much-awaited book, Future Realities of Coalition Governments in South Africa: Reflections on Coalition Governments in the Metros: 2016-2021, published by the South African Association of Public Administration and Management.

The book offers reflections on his coalition-led administration in the said metro and on the realities and future of coalition governments in SA and the broader [Southern African Development Community] Sadc region.

The book’s foreword is written by former SA president Kgalema Motlanthe, who contends, correctly, that the book opens up a discussion that the country urgently needs to engage in.

The 2016 local government elections marked the first time in our country’s history that the ANC lost power in more than half of the metros.

The party had long since lost the City of Cape Town, initially to a DA-led coalition that later translated to the DA claiming an electoral majority.

In 2016, the ANC also lost the City of Johannesburg, the City of Tshwane, Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality and the City of Ekurhuleni.

While the ANC maintained plurality in the latter, and leads the coalition, the reality is that it does not enjoy absolute power, as had been the case in the past.

The ANC’s loss of power was a logical conclusion after years of maladministration, corruption and misappropriation of state resources.

All these, along with the internal battles of the ANC that resulted in its weakening, are cited in Masina’s book as the key factors in the party’s haemorrhaging of electoral support.

In his keynote address, Masina also posited that external factors, specifically the global rise of right-wing politics, [had influence].

This saw countries in both the global North and the global South elect right-wing governments (such as Donald Trump in the US and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil) — a reflection of the hegemony that neoliberalism is claiming in the public imagination.

The courage in stating frankly that the atrophy of the governing party is at the heart of its declining support is dwarfed by the bold admission that coalition governments are the future of SA.

Masina, the ANC Ekurhuleni Regional chairperson and member of the Provincial Executive Committee in Gauteng, the country’s economic nerve centre, contends that the age of a dominant party political system now resides in the shadows of history — and that coalition governments are an inevitable future for the country.

This is in stark contrast to the ANC’s posture that it can maintain hegemonic power — something which evidence clearly debunks.

This conversation is especially important for Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, where the coalition government was characterised by chaos.

The effect of the constant collapse of the metro’s council had devastating implications for residents.

It affected service delivery — the core function of local government.

An unstable council cannot pass budget or do anything that is critical to the functions of the municipality — a reality we saw in the Bay metro.

The DA-led coalition repeatedly failed to pass its budget due to opposition parties rejecting it.

At some point in 2018, the budget was not passed due to the council failing to meet quorum.

Such is the reality where coalitions are unstable. And it is residents who bear the brunt.

It is important that before the upcoming elections, political parties think seriously about developing policies and strategies for coalition governance.

This will ensure there is a common understanding of what is expected of each coalition partner and what the minimum agreements are.

Failure to do this in 2016 is what led to coalitions repeatedly collapsing. We can ill afford this.

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