A national dialogue on stabilising coalitions in our democracy was held to find common ground; but was overwhelmingly met with disagreements, walkouts, and boycotts.
Picture this – it is 2026 and South Africa is on its tenth democratic president. Public confidence in the government is at an all-time low shown by well over half of eligible voters not turning out to vote.
Power and water cuts are frequent, wastewater treatment plants are spilling raw sewage into rivers and unemployment, inequality and poverty levels remain on an upward trajectory. Yet, no administration has enough power to implement policy or provide service delivery because another motion of no confidence is around the corner, threatening their tenuous positions in key national departments.
This hypothetical becomes a reality if coalitions at a provincial and national level operate similarly to coalitions in the country’s wealthiest city, Johannesburg.
Since the 2021 local government elections, Johannesburg has seen a revolving door of executives – five administrations in two years. Three of the five have seen partnerships with the African National Congress (ANC), Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and other ideologically aligned parties. The other two seeing coalitions with the likes of the Democratic Alliance (DA), ActionSA, the Inkhata Freedom Party (IFP) and other largely anti-ANC and EFF parties.
This is why a dialogue on developing a framework for stabilising coalitions was hosted by Deputy President Paul Mashatile for political parties on August 4 to 5. However, it caused more friction than consensus – with an expert suggesting that a national referendum is needed for people to democratically decide how coalitions function before next year’s election.
Referendums are nothing new to our country in formulating a working democracy, as evidenced by the one in 1992, when (only) white voters indicated whether they supported the negotiations with newly unbanned political organisations, leading to the proposed end of the apartheid system.
In his analysis of the event hosted at the University of the Western Cape, a senior lecturer of political science and governance at Wits University, Dr. Kagiso Pooe, said that the dialogue did not provide a solid framework for stable coalition governments because “power politics was the main game.”
Quelling the chaos
In May 2023, a conceptual document was created by the Institute of Elections Management Services South Africa (IEMSA). The document identified the dysfunctionality of local government because of coalitions and provided suggestions to stabilise these marriages of convenience to best serve residents rather than party interests.
Instability at the local government level has “resulted in diminishing public confidence, poorer service delivery and allegedly millions of rands squandered.” as said by the author of the document Nkululeko Tselane.
However, coalitions are here to stay. The 2016 and 2021 election results in major municipalities showed no political party emerging with an outright majority. Something the ruling party is alive to, ANC secretary general Fikile Mbalula admitted: “We are fully confident that 2024 will result in not us or anyone having the outright majority to govern.”
The DA, ActionSA, IFP, Vryheidsfront Plus (VF+) and three other ideologically aligned parties have already signed a pre-election coalition pact with one another, in anticipation of this reality.
Infographic: These are the 2021 municipal results in metropoles of Gauteng, with no outright winner, each municipality was forced into unstable ‘marriages of convenience’ to achieve a 50% + 1 to form a government. Graphic: Seth Thorne
Blame game ensues
Although the consensus from parties was that they believed that the issues of coalitions stemmed from their formation, those hoping for an agreement on the way forward were left bitterly disappointed. This is because political party leaders sought to shift the blame of instability from themselves rather than meet each other in the middle.
As has been the case at the municipal level, larger parties blamed smaller parties for the instability, and smaller parties pointed the finger right back.
The “[root of the issue is] not about the formation of coalitions, but the reality that politics in South Africa is failing and cooperation is going to be needed,” argued Pooe.
Thresholds and boycotts
The EFF boycotted the initial dialogue citing the “ANC’s involvement in the formulation of the framework… [is an] attempt to protect their fading grasp on power.”
The two current largest parties, the ANC and the DA, are suggesting implementing legislation which would ensure that the party that receives the most votes within a bloc governs the coalition. They also argue that should be a minimum threshold for parties to join any coalition (1%).
Pooe said this is an example of power politics on full display, and “gives insight into the fractured nature of power politics in South Africa, the ANC and DA in one corner and other smaller ones [in the other].”
Parties such as the VF+, Good, the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) and the United Democratic Movement (UDM) are strongly opposed to these legislative suggestions. Dr Pieter Groenewald of the VF+ said that these suggestions were “not based on true representative democracy.”
Pooe expected opposition given much of the country’s link to kingmaker politics at the local government level – which is a system where smaller parties generally decide the fate of larger parties. “[The opposition to the threshold] only makes sense [because] parties like them and others would want to negotiate what the new rules of the game might look like.”
It is important to note that these suggestions could inhibit the growth of other parties and arguably prove hypocritical from some of the contributors. “It’s rather odd that had… this proposed action occurred in 1994, there would be no DA today,” said Pooe.
The horse has bolted
Backlash arose when Cooperative Governance minister Parks Tau revealed that a bill on coalition governments was already in the process of being developed and is expected to be finished by the end of the year. Pooe believes that this lies at the heart of the problem.
Some parties are accusing the ANC and DA of sidelining contributions from smaller parties and using these dialogues as a coverup of a preexisting deal between the two largest parties in the country.
However, both parties refute this. Mashatile criticised the accusations from opposition parties arguing that “inputs saying that the ANC and DA have a grand deal… there is no deal.” Meanwhile, DA leader John Steenhuisen responded on social media saying “[The DA] want to build an opposition majority that will unseat the ANC, not keep (them) in power.”
In an open letter to Mashatile, UDM leader Bantu Holomisa slammed both the bill and dialogue: “… it is safe to assume that the Bill has, firstly, already taken into account the ANC’s basic ideas and secondly, it does not take into account the majority of opposition parties’ views on most issues, for example on the issue of thresholds.”
A way forward
Pooe believes a referendum is the only way forward. “We have had a multiparty approach, and to change the game so drastically needs a referendum. This referendum should speak to things like thresholds,” he said.
“Unfortunately, the ANC in government has a history of feigning public participation and then simply ramming through policy positions… and given the ANC and DA seem to have a spotted a chance to resolve their failures to map actual coalition talks, it only makes sense for them to create new barriers to entry,” Pooe added.
Coalitions are seemingly here to stay and legislation would shift how our democracy currently operates. With no real consensus amongst parties as to the way forward, maybe it is best for us, the everyday citizen that feel the negative effects of bad coalition deals, to be as decisive as possible at the polls come 2024 to decide how our democracy should operate and function going forward.
Summary of the views of each of the parties represented. Graphic: Seth Thorne
FEATURED: IEC officials alongside political party representatives counting the secret ballot votes at the Joburg City Council on May 5, 2023, electing its 5th mayor in two years. Photo: Seth Thorne
A group of South African opposition parties have signed a coalition pact ahead of next year’s elections and promised the electorate an “alternative government”.
Seven political parties signed an agreement ahead of the 2024 national election, they pledged to work together to unseat the African National Congress (ANC) and keep the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) out of power.
Party leaders labelled the two-day negotiations held at Emperors Palace in Kempton Park a “great success” as it resulted in the signing of acommon declaration labelled theMulti-Party Charter for South Africa.
This pre-emptive formation hopes to avoid the chaos seen in municipal coalitions across the country.
“If we want to unseat the ANC as a government then there is no other option because there is no single opposition party who on their own will get a majority [of the vote]… we must ensure that we work together [so] that we have a stable coalition,” said Vryheidsfront (VF+) leader Dr Pieter Groenewald.
The DA, IFP, VF+, ActionSA, Independent South African National Organisation (Isanco), United Independent Movement (UIM) and the Spectrum National Party (SNP) agree that this, “alternative government” as IFP president Velenkosini Hlabisa put it, would be one that promotes a free-market economy, decentralised power and minimal government interference in business.
Hlabisa argued that the bloc would be decisive on matters of “crime, unemployment, loadshedding…” because the “current government has failed us”.
No red and yellow here
Parties are open to broadening the pool of partners in the months to come if they share their governing priorities and values.
Leader of ActionSA Herman Mashaba said that they ruled out any possible working agreements with the third largest party, the EFF because of fundamental ideological differences as they are a party who are self-described as following a Marxist-Leninist school of thought.
When asked if this agreement would push the ANC and EFF to form a coalition agreement of their own, parties shrugged it off, and Mashaba said, “they can do what they want”.
In response, EFF spokesperson Leigh-Ann Mathys told Wits Vuvuzela that the issues parties want to solve (like unemployment and poverty) are the same, however, their approaches are fundamentally and ideologically different. “We are unapologetically a leftist party [and are] willing to work with parties who would implement similar ideological policies,” said Mathys.
Who rules the roost?
The bloc is in agreement that power would be shared, relative to the proportion of votes counted. The party with the most votes was promised the position of deputy president.
But these candidates have not yet been chosen, Hlabisa said that deciding on a candidate before the elections would “give an unfair advantage to that party.”
Given the highly publicised squabbles amongst party leaders, a professor at the Wits School of Governance and independent chairperson of the convention, William Gumede, said that “[party leaders must] rise above petty squabbles, egos and every decision they make must be in the public interest.”
The ANC lost its overall majority for the first time in the country’s democratic history in the 2021 municipal elections, which gave rise to the idea that no political party will achieve an outright majority alone to govern, following 2024’s elections.
Parties argued that by setting the terms now (should they come to power) they are not left scrambling in the 14 days after the elections to form a united government.
FEATURED IMAGE: A collage of all of the party leaders of the multi-party charter during the closing remarks of the two-day conference at Emperors Palace on August 17, 2023. Photos: Seth Thorne
The ANC Youth League demanded that the ANC pull out from all coalitions, calling them “anti-democratic”.
The ANCYL finally held their first national congress after an eight-year hiatus on Saturday, August 5, using their platform to oppose Luthuli House on a range of issues.
The first leg held between June 30 and July 1, 2023, at the Nasrec Expo Centre was an elective conference, leading to the elections of Collen Malatji as president of the ANCYL, Phumzile Mgcina as deputy president, Mntuwoxolo Ngudle as secretary general and Tsakani Shiviti as deputy secretary general.
While the second leg at the Johannesburg City Hall focused on policy positions under the themes of social change and economic freedom.
To hell with Coalitions
The ANCYL was clear on its anti-coalition stance, urging the mother body to pull out from all coalitions that do not benefit the majority of South Africa.
During the National Dialogue on Coalition Governments held in Cape Town on Friday, August 4, ANC Deputy President Paul Mashatile said that these partnerships have the potential of igniting the hopes of South Africans.
While secretary general Fikile Mbalula added that the party was willing to enter “grand coalitions” with other parties with the condition that the party with the most votes must lead in the respective municipality.
In response to this, Malatji urged Mbalula, (former ANCYL president between 2004 and 2008) to write a letter to all municipalities telling them to “pull out of those things [coalitions]”.
The youth league president emphasized that people voted for ANC thus they should govern alone. “The ANC cannot reject its own manifesto and implement the manifesto of Al Jama-ah which was voted by five people,” said Malatji.
The burning question of Unemployment
The youth league called for the removal of two ministers from their respective positions, accusing them of hindering youth employment. Malatji called the Minister of Employment and Labour, Thulas Nxesi, “the minister of unemployment,” and accused the Minister of Trade and Industry, Ebrahim Patel of obstructing the process of re-industrialization.
In response, the ANC released a statement on Monday, August 6 which called the utterances a “denigration of personalities,” which they would not tolerate.
Malatji, emphasized the need for radical industrialization as a way of creating more jobs and developing the South African economy, noting that 75% of South African raw materials need to be kept within the country and economic corridors need to be occupied by at least 50% of the youth.
They did, however, praise Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi for creating employment through the Nasi ISpani programme and further urged premiers from different provinces to learn from him.
The new leadership told Wits Vuvuzela that their tenure would signal the return of the ‘voice of the voiceless’ and championing of youth issues.
FEATURED IMAGE: ANCYL comrades posing for a photo at their 26th National Conference at the Johannesburg City Hall. Photo: Sfundo Parakozov
The hiring of influencers by political parties deprives voters of the opportunity to interrogate what politicians have to offer.
With the 2024 elections around the corner, politicians can be expected to use celebrities and influencers to persuade South Africans to vote for their parties.
Celebrities have become central figures in modern politics globally by using their influence to lead party campaigns and social awareness campaigns. South Africa is not a stranger to this kind of culture. In the 2019 elections, celebrities such as Bonang Matheba took to Instagram with the likes of Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC presidential candidate, telling followers to follow their lead and vote for the ANC.
Four years after the success of Ramaphosa’s campaign, Matheba is singing a different tune about how the ANC has failed the country. This proves that she did not have the expertise to make any politically influential statements in the first place because now she is calling for Ramaphosa to resign.
The fusion of politics and pop culture has not served our democracy well as thousands of people would have taken endorsement of politicians by Matheba, DJ Zinhle and the late Kiernan Forbes at face value rather than interrogating their utterances.
Some celebrities even take the baton and run with it into politics, as proven by Donald Trump who moved from The Apprentice showto the White House as the US president. Media reports slammed his term in office because of a lack of expertise to make the right decisions that even saw him refusing intelligence briefings that were crucial for his position.
Brookings, a public policy organisation based in Washington, USA reported that his lack of understanding of the political space made Trump to shut down resources such as the global health security team that would have helped minimise the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. “Most American presidents fail when they cannot comprehend the government they inherit,” the organisation said.
Recently in South Africa we have witnessed Kenny Kunene who became famous in 2014 for eating sushi off naked women become an acting mayor of Johannesburg for a day at the beginning of May. Questions of his capability to carry out the duties were raised because of his position as an entertainer. I was one of those who questioned what made him drop the chopsticks and move into politics and why he was entrusted with such responsibility.
An article in the journal Political Psychology highlighted that “Research has shown that a politician’s involvement in a scandalous behaviour can severely damage candidate evaluations and may also decrease voting intentions.” This could cause voters to have mistrust when celebrities move from the entertainment industry to politics.
This raises the issue whether politicians should stick to being public servants and celebrities remain influencers and entertainers. But what qualifies one to be a politician? In 2018 the Mail & Guardian reported that “Many MPs insisted that educational qualifications are not the key to a seat in Parliament — being a good politician is what counts.”
The South African Constitution gives everyone the right to freedom of expression, but that right comes with responsibility. During the 2024 elections, I would like to see less of influencers in the political space and if we do see them, they should be aware that words have meaning. They should educate themselves about the parties they are endorsing to their followers.
I would like to see more politically present politicians with a focus on service delivery rather than those with a social media presence. South Africa is dealing with crises of water and electricity among many challenges. As a voter I would rather know what the different parties plan to do to solve these rather than listen to celebrities who see politics as the next paid campaign.
Prince Mashele’s latest book focuses South African citizens’ gaze on their next political leader
UPDATE: On Monday May 22, Jonathan Ball Publishers withdrew The Outsider from retailers, effectively pulling the book from shelves. The publishers of the supposed “unauthorised” biography, did so in reaction to allegations made by Brutus Malada, ActionSA member and a researcher on the book project, that a sum of R12,5 million was paid to the author, Prince Mashele by the book’s subject, Herman Mashaba.
In a statement, Jonathan Ball publishers said they were “left with no option but to withdraw The Outsider from the market” as they see Mashaba’s involvement as “a material non-disclosure…and as a breach of trust.”
Mashele has since appeared in a number of broadcast interviews, attempting but failing to dispute the allegations. His utterances include pointing the finger at the publishers for the book’s title, calling the payment a loan and routinely and inconsistently citing ‘binding contracts’ when asked relevant questions.
Former Johannesburg Mayor, Herman Mashaba visited the Wits Business School to help launch the book, ‘The Outsider’ written by well-known political analyst and author Prince Mashele. The launch took place at the Donald Gordan Hall earlier this week.
The book follows the personal, financial and political life of Mashaba, from his development as an entrepreneur to the formation of his own political party, ActionSA.
This is the second book written by Mashele, the first being, The Fall of the ANC, What Next? , which outlined the problems and failures that currently plague the ANC’s leadership. Mashele explained that he wrote his latest book because he felt he had not answered the question of who is next to lead South Africa – but he realised that maybe the answer lies outside of the ANC.
Mashele identified a global trend of non-politicians entering politics, “outsiders”, using examples such as the banker Emmanuel Macron in France and Donald Trump in the United States of America. In South Africa’s case, Mashele pustulates in his book that Mashaba is one such outsider.
The former mayor was primarily a businessman, having founded the successful company, Black Like Me in 1985 at the height of apartheid. Mashaba joined the DA after losing faith in the ANC and became mayor of Johannesburg as representative of the DA in 2016. He resigned from the party in 2019, after disagreements with other members. It is after this experience that he formed Action SA in 2020.
The fall of the ANC, according to Prince Mashele, began with the election of Jacob Zuma as president in 2009. Since then, support for the party has waned, as the country battles with corruption, load shedding and unemployment. After losing control of Tshwane, Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay in 2016, coalition governments took over which caused further chaos as disagreements between parties arose. Mashaba was one of few mayors to successfully balance the interests of the coalition in Johannesburg between the EFF and the DA.
However, instead of solely focusing on the contents of the book, the audience members shifted the focus of the panel to the shaky political landscape field of South Africa, questioning Mashaba on what he will bring to the table if he becomes the next president.
Not all impressions of the book were positive. Professor Themba Maseko another panelist, said that the book “does not give the reader [Herman Mashaba’s] vision for the future” adding, “I now know what the problems are but not the solutions.”
The audience further emphasised this critique, asking Mashaba to provide specific points of action that he would take to improve the country’s political and economic situation. Mashaba ambiguously responded by saying, “watch this space.”
Mashaba told Wits Vuvuzela that young readers of the book can learn “personal responsibility and independence” from his career as a businessman and as a politician. “I have been invited to speak at many business schools over the years and I say the same thing; don’t tell me about role models. If Herman Mashaba is my role model, others will follow.” Mashaba encourages young people to take charge of their own lives and work to being their own role models.
The biography was written without any input from Mashaba himself. Aside from the facts, Mashele had full artistic license with the text. This is why he calls it an “unauthorized biography.” Nicole Duncan, one of the book’s editors from Jonathan Ball Publishers, said that the editors did their best to “keep Prince’s voice Prince’s voice.”
FEATURED IMAGE: The discussion panel for the book launch of The Outsider held at the Donald Gordon Hall at Wits Business School on Tuesday, May 9. From left to right: Professor Themba Maseko, Herman Mashaba, Prince Mashele, Stephen Grootes. Photo: Kimberley Kersten.
On May 5, 2023 Al Jama-ah’s Kabelo Gwamanda was elected executive mayor of the country’s economic hub, Johannesburg by fellow councillors. The process for selecting the mayor was nothing short of a rollercoaster ride, this infographic explores some of those twists and turns.
FEATURED: The executive mayor Kabelo Gwamanda reading his oath during the process of being sworn in. Photo: Seth Thorne
After nearly two weeks without one, Joburg has its fifth mayor in just 18 months.
Al Jama-ah’s Kabelo Gwamanda has been voted in as Johannesburg’s new executive mayor by councillors in a secret ballot at the City Council sitting on May 5, 2023.
Out of the 266 ballots cast Gwamanda received 139 votes, while the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) Johannesburg caucus leader Mpho Phalatse got 68 votes and ActionSA’s Gauteng chairperson Funzi Ngobeni, got 59 votes.
This was the council’s fifth attempt at voting in a mayor since the resignation of Al Jama-ah’s Thapelo Amad on April 24. A sitting on Tuesday, May 3 was postponed due to squabbles amongst coalition partners.
Messy horse trading
Failed negotiations among those in the former ‘multi-party coalition,’ saw the DA unable to come to an agreement with ActionSA, IFP, VF+, ACDP, UIM and PA.
In an interview with Wits Vuvuzela DA Johannesburg caucus leader Mpho Phalatse said that the reason negotiations failed is because the DA could not come to terms with the proposition by the Patriotic Alliance (PA) to nominate Kenny Kunene as mayor. “[We] could not fathom how such could be allowed,” she said.
The PA, the swing vote in council, then put their weight behind Gwamanda, alongside the ANC, EFF, Al Jama-ah, AIC, AHC, ATM, Good, PAC, Cope and APC. In return, Kenny Kunene received an executive position and now has control over the city’s transport portfolio.
Gwamanda labels this coalition as “one of national unity” which will continue to “prioritize service delivery,” arguing that regime change in the city will not negatively impact service delivery.
Former mayor Thapelo Amad said that the election of his Al Jama-ah colleague is a good thing for the city, stating that “the city is in capable hands”.
ActionSA mayoral candidate Funzi Ngobeni says that his party is happy with the working relationship with the ACDP, IFP, UIM and VF+, however it is “unfortunate that we could not get DA on board.” He says that the aims of the partners now are to be “a constructive opposition”.
FEATURED: IEC officials alongside political party representatives counting the secret ballot votes at the Joburg City Council on May 5, 2023. Photo: Seth Thorne
Thousands of ANC and DA protesters took to the streets of Johannesburg on Wednesday, January 26, blocking roads around Chief Albert Luthuli House.
DA supporters swarmed Gandhi square near Luthuli House while the ANC Youth League marched around the ANC’s headquarters. The former to demand action on loadshedding and the latter to ‘protect’ their party in a counter-protest. Here’s how events unfolded and how the police managed to keep control.
Today we’re taking a look at the #WitsShutdown protests which are over historical debt and unaffordable accommodation, which have seen several students suspended, physical clashes between protestors and security and disruptions to the academic programme for many. In this bonus episode of We Should Be Writing, we let students unpack their views on what has […]