What would be an ideal coalition for South Africa?

ActionSA’s Herman Mashaba and the ANC’s Gwede Mantashe at the Results Operation Centre (ROC) in Midrand. Picture: Timothy Bernard / Independent Newspapers

ActionSA’s Herman Mashaba and the ANC’s Gwede Mantashe at the Results Operation Centre (ROC) in Midrand. Picture: Timothy Bernard / Independent Newspapers

Published Jun 2, 2024


By Prof. Bheki Mngomezulu

The 2024 general election failed to produce an outright winner at national level where the ANC as the governing party since 1994 failed to meet the 50 plus one threshold required for a party to constitute government.

With the election now concluded, the main question becomes: How will the coalition governments (including at the national level) be constituted? In other words, which political parties are likely to work together? In making such a determination, what role will ideological differences play in these discussions?

Generally, coalitions take different forms. Firstly, there are pre-election and post-election coalitions. When political parties agree upfront on how they will work together after the election, this is called a pre-election coalition. Some parties have a pre-election agreement which they put into effect after the election and formalise it to be a coalition. Such an arrangement makes it possible for the parties to factor such agreements in their individual party manifestos.

Post-election coalitions (and agreements) happen after an election. They are generally imposed on politicians by the outcome of an election. If no single party obtained an outright majority of the 50 plus one threshold, two or more political parties are forced to work together.

Grand alliance or coalitions are those coalitions that are formed by major political parties, usually the top two or three. In the context of South Africa, these parties would be ANC, DA and EFF. With the MK Party having come to the fore, it could also be one of the possibilities.

Minority coalitions are formed by smaller parties which come together to form government.

Now, the question above bears relevance. With the ANC having succeeded to maintain its lead at the national level, but with a significantly reduced majority of below 45% which is too far from the 50 plus one threshold, as some of us had already predicted, what is likely to happen?

This question is pertinent because political leaders were too blind to see the bigger picture when they were campaigning. All three major parties under the sixth administration lived under the fool’s paradise. The ANC constantly stated that it would win the election with a resounding majority and retain its position. The EFF promised to paint the Union Buildings red as it marched into Parliament. The DA knew that it was not going to win with a majority but counted on the Multi-party Charter for South Africa. None of these parties succeeded.

Ideally, the ANC and the DA as the two major parties could easily form a government. For this to happen, the DA would have to withdraw its statements against the ANC. Moreover, the DA would have to explain to its Multi-party Charter colleagues why it was changing gear. In return, the ANC would have to do the same on the accusations it levelled against the DA.

The challenge with this potential coalition is that it might have an impact on the country’s policy positions. The DA, for example, is vehemently opposed to the NHI, Affirmative Action, BBBEE, and other policies. Even on the country’s foreign policy, the ANC is pro-Palestine, while the DA is sympathetic to Israel. Despite these evident differences, these parties might be forced to swallow their pride, find each other somehow, and form a government.

The second possibility is what the DA has dubbed “a doomsday coalition” of the ANC and the EFF or the MK Party. The ANC and the EFF have been working together in certain municipalities. While this relationship is not strong, they have been able to keep it. Therefore, such a coalition might work.

However, the EFF is already on record saying that for such a coalition to work, it would demand the Ministry of Finance and have EFF deputy president Floyd Shivambu as its Minister. In response, ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe ruled out this possibility.

The MK Party has taken many by surprise, especially those who refused to see the signs which were already there all along. By the time they woke up, it was too late.

There is sour blood between the ANC and the MKP following how the ANC treated former president Zuma leading him to form the MK Party For a coalition of the two parties to work, the MK Party would set strict conditions for the ANC. One obvious demand would be that President Cyril Ramaphosa must resign.

The challenge is that Mantashe and a few others who surround the president and who protected him ,even on the Phala Phala saga, would not be amenable to such an idea.

Secondly, the unprovoked public spat made by various ANC leaders against Zuma have made this possibility difficult. They would have to eat humble pie and smoke a peace pipe with Zuma. Chances of that happening are very slim.

The MK Party could also woo other parties (including the EFF) and oust the ANC. This would mean that a minority coalition would have to be put together. While this could work, it would be more complex as horse-trading would need good negotiators.

At the centre of all these dynamics is the fate of the electorate. Voters spent hours and hours standing in the queues so that they could exercise their democratic right. Sadly, when politicians engage in coalition discussions they put their own interests first. Some want to nurse their political egos or to satisfy their sponsors. They do this at the expense of the voters.

Had the coalition framework discussion by Deputy President Paul Mashatile succeeded, it would have assisted in the current situation. Unfortunately, parties and leaders were adamant that they would win outright and not need a coalition.

Given the many complaints about irregularities and other glitches in this election, an ideal situation would be a Government of National Unity (GNU), not a coalition. The country had an experiment of this form of government in 1994. Although it was short-lived, it served its purpose.

To save the country, a grand coalition at national and provincial levels is the best option.

* Prof. Bheki Mngomezulu is the Director of the Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy at Nelson Mandela University.

** The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of IOL or Independent Media.