Nicholas Woode-Smith: Political maturity should be lauded

By Nicholas Woode-Smith

South Africa is at the brink. It has been for quite some time now. The possibility of total grid collapse continues to become increasingly likely, infrastructure decays into uselessness, and corruption becomes the rule rather than the exception. The debate over South Africa being a failed state is more over technicalities than any sort of disagreement that, for all intents and purposes, this country is a failure.

One of the most popular proposed solutions for South Africa’s many problems since the local elections in 2021 has been the possibility of an opposition-led coalition winning the 2024 national elections. Over the last two years, many local governments have been led by similar DA and opposition-led coalitions, providing a test case for opposition rule.

In most cases, opposition rule has proven superior to ANC rule. Former Institute of Race Relations CEO Frans Cronje has stated that for every failed opposition coalition, there are eight successful coalitions. It is also indisputable that the best run municipalities in South Africa are run by the DA.

Read more: SRF’s Frans Cronje: SA’s opposition parties blew opportunity; ANC decline arrested now stable above 50%

Unfortunately, these majority cases of opposition parties successfully governing local polities and bringing stability and prosperity unseen under the ANC, are overshadowed by larger cases of coalition collapse, internal sabotage, petty politicking, and opportunism.

The Johannesburg coalition collapse was caused by smaller opposition parties throwing their lot in with the ANC and EFF for a shot at power. The Patriotic Alliance torpedoed the coalition because they were not given even more portfolio positions from which to extract corruption money. Al-Jama-ah then jumped at the opportunity to take the mayorship. An act which has smeared the opposition coalition and brought coalition politics into disrepute.

While this happened, ActionSA (ASA) has waged a propaganda war against the DA. Mashaba and Beaumont, it is not clear who is truly in charge, have been unable to truly put aside their vendetta against the DA. While ASA should be focusing their attention on eroding the support of the ANC and EFF, it squanders its resources trying to take votes from the DA in their own Western Cape stronghold. All the while, they threaten to leave fragile coalitionsso to destabilise the DA’s position.

Tshwane added more fuel to the fire that is chaotic coalition politics. COPE Councillor Makwarela being elected mayor, despite the coalition agreeing to elect the DA’s Cilliers Brink, embroiled the municipality in drama and chaos for an entire month. All just to return to normalcy after it was found that Makwarela doesn’t qualify for being mayor.

Couldn’t all that have been avoided if COPE, as a coalition member, had reined in its member and prevented such a crisis in the first place?

Read more: South Africa’s local government coalitions: A dry run for national politics?

Upon losing the mayorship in Johannesburg, ex-DA Mayor Phalatse challenged John Steenhuisen for leadership of the party. A move that was very unlikely to ever gain traction. All that it accomplished was turning Phalatse from a steadfast mayor who lost her position to political pettiness, to one of the petty politicians herself.

This leads us to the fundamental problem with South African politics. A lack of maturity. So much of our politics is defined by vendettas, opportunism, and vying for petty positions of power. It often seems that most of our politicians would rather destroy all good will that their parties have gained just for a small shot at a raise.

So, despite all the decently run coalitions, voters will be wary of coalition politics – as it seems that even a single seat party can destroy everything that has been built just because it didn’t get a portfolio position that it didn’t deserve in the first place.

But this political immaturity is not prevalent across the board. There are examples of decent politicians and parties who have behaved themselves despite the odds and have become stalwart in the face of pettiness.

The ACDP has displayed such maturity and responsibility recently, as it has responded to it receiving no positions on the Mayoral Committee in Tshwane with grace and decorum.

Rather than threatening to sabotage the coalition and leave, the ACDP has cited Tshwane’s need for stability and an end to squabbling. It has stated the importance of standing firmly behind the coalition to ensure that service delivery can get back on track, and that the city’s government can stabilise.

The ACDP should be lauded for such a mature response and position. To have the power to do so much harm, yet refuse to do so is something that many South African politicians should learn. To continue to work towards a greater good for all South Africans despite being snubbed is yet another quality that we need in our parties.

Read more: The Godfather Trilogy’s lessons for South Africa: patronage, power, and politics

In this case, the ACDP should be a case study in how coalition members should behave. They shouldn’t allow their members to circumvent agreed mayoral appointments (such as with COPE). They shouldn’t threaten to leave the coalition because they didn’t get the job they wanted (Patriotic Alliance). And they shouldn’t participate in smear campaigns against their allies (ASA).

Rather, they should act with the maturity displayed by the ACDP here. And accept what is needed to achieve stability, prosperity, and peace.

Read more: The dark side of transformation: How revenge politics is harming SA’s economy – Mpiyakhe Dhlamini

Nicholas Woode-Smith is a political analyst, economic historian and the author of the Kat Drummond Series.