South Africa is writing a framework that will guide how coalition governments should be constituted and operate, a move that should help stabilize fractious municipalities and ensure national and provincial administrations aren’t derailed by infighting should no party win outright control in next year’s elections.
New rules need to be agreed upon to ensure the state works in the public’s best interests, officials are more accountable, and the delivery of services doesn’t grind to a halt if alliances unravel, Deputy President Paul Mashatile told a meeting in Cape Town on Friday that was convened to discuss the new blueprint.
“Our pursuit of national consensus on how to approach coalition governments is a matter of national interest,” he said. “Properly handled, it has the potential to bring the necessary stability, especially to the local government sphere, despite the intemperance we have witnessed in relation to coalitions.”
A number of the country’s biggest towns have been ruled by coalitions since the 2016 municipal elections and have seen multiple changes in leadership as parties fell out and regrouped.
One such instance is Johannesburg, the economic hub, where power has changed hands six times since 2021, and the mayor comes from a party that won less than 1% of the vote.
Opinion polls show the governing African National Congress could lose outright control of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal next year — it won less than half the vote in those provinces in the 2019 municipal elections — and even its national majority, raising the risk of even more chaos.
The framework is likely to say that parties will need to win a minimum threshold of votes to be represented in administrations, which would limit the size of coalitions and make them easier to manage.
Limits on the number of no-confidence motions that may be proposed against officials are also likely to be introduced to reduce the turnover of officials.
Support for the ANC has dropped amid anger over nationwide blackouts, shoddy government services and widespread poverty and unemployment.
While the Democratic Alliance, the main opposition party, has struggled to capitalize on the discontent, a number of smaller parties have seen an uptick in support.
They include the Freedom Front Plus, which represents mostly right-wing Afrikaans voters; the Inkatha Freedom Party, which draws most of its support from Zulu speakers, and the Patriotic Alliance which mainly appeals to voters of mixed race.
The business-friendly DA is trying to put together an alliance of opposition parties to drive the ANC’s share of the vote below 50% but is refusing to work with the Economic Freedom Fighters, the third-biggest group that favours the nationalization of land and mines.