DDP staff, delegates, partners and speakers at the DDP Annual political Summit
On 27 July, the Democracy Development Program hosted the 2023 Political Summit under the theme: “Coalitions: Tracking the fundamental challenges and opportunities ahead of the 2024 General Election.”
Many political parties are increasingly recognising the possibilities of a coalition-led government at the national level because of the rapid decline in the African National Congress’ (ANC) electoral fortune. The ANC declined from 62% to 57.5% in the previous national elections and lost a substantial number of municipalities in the 2016 and 2021 Local Government Elections (LGE) (Independent Electoral Commission, 2021; 2019; 2016). The ANC’s decline has been blamed on the party’s poor governance record, lackluster economic growth, high unemployment and poverty rates. At the subnational government level, the decline is linked to the failure of ANC-led municipalities to deliver services, corruption, poor political leadership, and the deteriorating state of municipalities. After the 2021 LGEs, some factions blamed the ANC’s decline on the failure to protect former President Zuma against arrest and imprisonment for the contempt of the constitutional court. Other challenges are attributed to the changing electoral landscape due to the lower voter turnout in the previous elections, both at the national and subnational levels.
The prospects of the 2024 national elections and the ambitions to bring the ANC below 50% cannot be studied outside the current climate in coalition governments at the local government level. The decline of the ANC’s electoral fortune in the local government sphere presents an opportune moment for opposition parties to form coalition governments. However, the emergence of (unstable) coalition governments in metropolitan municipalities raised awareness on the importance of effective coalitions. Out of the 27 hung councils emerging from the 2016 LGEs, four coalition governments in metropolitan municipalities were produced for the first time since the first democratic local government elections in 2000. These coalitions were mired by various factors, including political differences and corruption, which ultimately undermined the functions of municipal councils. Countries with formal coalition agreements (Germany and the United Kingdom) tend to produce stable coalition governments (Walker and Gadd, 2022). The challenges that face coalition-led municipalities in South Africa can be attributed to the lack of formal and binding coalition agreements between the different political parties. The coalition turbulences experienced in many metropolitan municipalities were blamed on the differences between the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the Democratic Alliance (DA) and other smaller parties. For the custodians of the local government sphere, the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) and the Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), this reflects that more needs to be done to create institutionally sound subnational governments.
It was under this context that DDP hosted this political summit. At the core of this discussion was for the audience to discuss their views on the positives and negatives of coalition governments. Discussions were guided by the guest speakers. Dr Ndwakhulu Tshishonga from the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal unpacked the challenges faced by coalition governments and their potential implications for the 2024 elections. Jo-Ann Downs, Former KZN MPL and current chairman of Child Rights NGO, provided insight on the history of coalitions in South Africa. Lastly, Bonolo Makgale, Programme Manager and Convenor of the Pan African Parliament CSO Forum at the Centre for Human Rights, made use of a comparative analysis of coalitions located within a representative democracy.
Conclusions from the discussions on what a successful coalition looked like included:
Coalitions must be guided by legislation;
There needs to be constant room for negotiation and compromise;
Coalitions must formulate clear goals;
Parties must follow the rules agreed upon during negotiations.
Rise Mzansi KZN Convener, Nonkululeko Hlongwane-Mhlongo, IFP President VF Hlabisa, DDP's Partner Liaison and Development Officer Mbalenhle Mkhize and Executive Director Dr. Paul Kariuki at the DDP Civic Education Conference.