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By Nicholas Woode-Smith*
Do not give up on the coalition project just yet. While public confidence in coalitions has been shaken over the past year and a half, they are the best possibility we have of unseating the ANC and ensuring that South Africa can get back on track.
Initial optimism at the end of the 2021 Local Elections has turned into fatigue, disenchantment, and a sense of betrayal among voters. They put their trust in the opposition and have felt that nothing has changed or has gotten worse instead. Those who have paid attention know that the lack of service delivery is not for a lack of trying, at least in the case of a few good egg parties.
Rather, the ineffectiveness of the opposition coalitions, and their eventual demise, has been at the hands of in-fighting, bickering, and constant sabotage from within and without.
This has led to the ANC regaining some of its lost support, as defeated voters feel they’d rather give their vote to a single devil than a cabal of bickering devils. The ANC has also come out and proposed a series of regulations and frameworks to govern coalitions – acting like it isn’t a part of the problem.
But the ANC is one of the fundamental causes of chaos within these coalitions. Because, even if they don’t rule in a particular locality, they still hold a huge proportion of seats (constantly threatening the tentative balance of the opposition coalition). And above that, they still can’t stop themselves from sabotaging these coalitions – even at the expense of residents.
The ANC has been on the frontline of sabotaging these coalitions. Last year, two ACDP councillors voted against the wishes of their party and the coalition to oust the DA Johannesburg speaker. They were found guilty of bribery. Most likely by the ANC.
The Johannesburg coalition also collapsed because the ANC has constantly been playing kingmaker minority parties, like the Patriotic Alliance, against the larger coalition partners. Without the ANC offering unsustainable positions of power to smaller parties, the coalition would have held on with the right parties taking the right positions.
The ANC doesn’t really want coalitions to become stable. It just wants to act like it’s the bringer of order. And it wants to be able to control coalitions that it is involved in.
The ANC condemns the chaos in coalitions because it leads to a lack of service delivery. But since when does the ANC care about service delivery? And since when has its centralised, majoritarian rule resulted in good service delivery?
The general rule across South Africa is that ANC governance results in a drop in service delivery, destruction of infrastructure, growth of poverty, corruption, and a collapse in government functions.
If the ANC cared about service delivery, they’d be trying their utmost to become good governors in places where they do govern. And it has had plenty of time to try. We’re approaching three decades of ANC rule. For most of these three decades, the ANC has ruled with impunity in all but the Western Cape.
What do they have to show for it? Eskom is on the brink of collapse. Our infrastructure has decayed past the point of return. Unemployment has skyrocketed. Poverty keeps rising. Crime keeps getting more vicious.
The Western Cape, on the other hand, has remained stable. Things have gotten worse, but everything that the local government can help, has been tolerable or great.
I am astounded whenever my friends from outside of the Western Cape visit my fair province. They point out things in complete surprise that I just take for granted. How our roads are actually maintained, how issues are actually attended in a timely manner, and even how our loadshedding stages are slightly better than the rest of the country.
We have opposition rule to thank for that. The DA has ensured that, despite the odds, the Western Cape has survived and thrived.
And this is why we cannot let the coalition project die. Because, while many voters won’t accept the DA as their government, they may accept a coalition of DA-allies that more reflect their demographic and values.
The coalition project has had a rocky start, but we are a young democracy. We are far from being politically mature or sophisticated. But political parties are learning. And they are getting better.
The ANC is very likely to drop below 50% in 2024. It will be forced to go into a coalition. And, as it stands, that coalition may be between the ANC and EFF. If that is the case, we have two possibilities. Either, the EFF and ANC finally get along and influence each other to become increasingly more tyrannical and irrational. Or, they bicker and put the national government into a state of deadlock.
I am not sure which possibility is worse. But I know what’s better. If the Moonshot pact and opposition can prove that it has matured and can cooperate, it can attract enough voters to ensure that an EFF/ANC Coalition becomes less and less likely.
And if that happens, South Africa may very well get a chance at recovery. Perhaps, even prosperity.
*Nicholas Woode-Smith is a political analyst, economic historian, and author of the Kat Drummond Series. He writes in his own capacity and his opinions are his own.
- Can the ANC and DA forge an unlikely alliance? – Katzenellenbogen on SA’s grand coalition debate
- “Like it or not, the DA will lead the opposition,” – Nicholas Woode-Smith on the fallacy of equality in coalitions
- The dirty tricks of coalition politics – An anecdote from FF Plus Councillor Paul Jacobson
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