12 June 2024 Photo Supplied
Dr Harlan Cloete
Dr Harlan Cloete is a pracademic and research fellow in the Centre for Gender and Africa Studies at the University of the Free State. He is the founder of the Great Governance ZA podcast and founder member of community radio KC107.7 in Paarl in 1996.

Opinion article by Dr Harlan Cloete, Centre for Gender and Africa Studies and the Department of Public Administration and Management, University of the Free State (UFS).

Now that the historic elections are over, and the date set for the seventh administration to take their seats, many South Africans are grappling with questions such as what can South Africans expect in the coming days? Is a national coalition government on the cards? If so, who will the ANC govern with, and is this the best option for them and the country? If not, who would be the best coalition partners to take South Africa forward? What should parties focus on to take the country forward? How likely is this coalition government to succeed or will they go the same route as the local government coalitions? Is a national coalition government here to stay or will the ANC or another party get an outright majority in 2029?

Let’s unpack some of the questions. Let’s start with the state. Political parties contest to govern the state, whereas governments come and go, the state is permanent. The state is organised into national, provincial and local spheres of government. If no single party obtains an outright majority of cast votes (50%) plus one, then parties will have to find common ground with other parties to form a government to implement election promises. In countries with established coalition governments, this process can sometimes take between seven and 12 months of intense negotiations with no guarantees. In these elections the ANC failed to get an outright majority nationally and this pattern continued in the economic hub provinces of the Western Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Northern Cape.

ANC both EFF and MKP ideological home

So what caused this decline of the oldest liberation party on the continent. Like a divorce, it was not one thing but a million little things. Over the course of the past three decades, the party shed support to splinter parties such as the UDM, COPE, EFF and the MKP. COPE was formed after former ANC president Thabo Mbeki was booted out, the EFF was birthed when former ANC youth league president played truant and MKP was formed when former president Jacob Zuma was shown the door. The ideological home of both the EFF and MKP is the ANC with both parties arguing that the ANC has abandoned its historic mandate to liberate black people from the shackles of poverty that have been binding them for generations. They are not wrong. There is no greater failure than the economic and education policies where those who benefited pre-1994 have continued to flourish at the expense of the poor. There seems to be no justice for the millions trapped in modern-day economic slavery as confirmed by the World Bank that South Africa remains the most unequal country in the world.

There have been pockets of excellence but the ANC track record in government has unfortunately been one of institutional mismanagement and bad governance, no more so than at local government where year after year institutional ineptitude and lack of ethical and accountable leadership have been on display. That so few of the leaders have been punished for wrongdoing baffles the mind. There have been cases where the ANC has managed to reverse fortunes in mismanaged institutions, SARS under Edward Kieswetter is a case in point.

DA governance track record

On the other hand, the 15-year DA (the love child of the NNP and the DP) governance track record of the Western Cape government has been somehow different with premier Allan Winde positioning the province as an employer of choice and establishing a culture of institutional excellence with successive clean audits. But as some correctly argue, of what use are clean audits and why should they be applauded if you have dirty streets and skewed service delivery ? However, the party has not quite managed to rid itself of the perception that it favours affluent communities such as Val de Vie (97% voter turnout) over the working-class Weltevrede (45% voter turnout) in the Drakenstein Municipality in the Western Cape. Surely the Val de Vie crowd realises their democracy dividend and doing all to secure it. The DA has gone out of the way to sell the party as a broad multiracial church where race does not matter, favouring a policy of fit for purpose. But the party’s detractors such as Mmusi Maimane and Herman Mashaba have accused it of suffocating black leaders and former president Kgalema Motlanthe arguing that the DA is driven by racist considerations that skills and efficiency are white. The evidence shows that the DA knows how to run a government efficiently (doing things right) but are found wanting in effectiveness (doing the right things) as they are often accused of paying lip service to economic reconciliation.

I am on record after the 2021 local government elections as saying that if you want stability in local government then the two biggest losers (ANC and DA) should team up. This may not be good news for the majority poor, but the markets and rating agencies seem to love this. This move will be considered by ANC detractors as the final “sell-out” by the ANC. But I think that we must take this a bit further and include parties proportionally in the affairs of government - a collaborative national and provincial government united around an agreed programme of action as approved by citizens with a roadmap that spells out HOW. This I believe offers a pragmatic governance approach that is based on checks and balances. The new government MUST prioritise quality education outcomes, economic inclusion and equal access to health care, and of course, make sure that the most capable people are employed to implement policies as identified in the 30-year government review and the 10-year review of the National Development Plan (evidence and science). And learn from African examples such as Rwanda which managed to build economic bridges between the urban and rural.

This could mean finding consensus on several issues such as the size of government and the size of egos. And frankly, some of our politicians should consider retiring. We need wisdom and political will and the best creative minds to oversee the implementation. It takes work to make collaboration work. We now have an opportunity to reset and, in a way, we are back where we started with a government of national unity in 1994. Only this time we have the benefit of hindsight, and we dare not repeat the same mistakes. There is simply no space for lazy “slapgat” public servants.

More local government coalitions

Governance is messy and not dressed in a suit and tie. The late Prof Sampie Terreblanche said that governance is not as easy a switching on a light. We will need to learn to embrace the volatile, uncertain, contradictory and ambiguous (VUCA) world as the new normal. It’s going to be a bumpy road ahead with the highly anticipated local government elections beckons in 2026. We are set to witness more local government coalitions but this time councils will be better prepared for this as proposed in new legislation that favours broad proportional executives if no party wins outright majorities in councils.

This is also an opportunity for civil society to find its voice. Academics, business and community formations such as faith-based organisations should be more vocal and demand accountability and that activism starts at the door of your local municipality. Just like tax education is taught in schools in Singapore, we need to make sure that we teach civic education in our schools and the value of your voice and vote.

The days of ANC steamrolling legislation through parliament seems to be over. The way for the ANC to get back its parliamentary majority in the short term would be to either to have working cooperation with a broad base of political parties (GNU) and or cooperation agreements with the MKP and EFF (same WhatsApp group) but that would exclude the DA (efficiency). I do not foresee this, as John Steenhuisen came across very presidential at the recent DA press conference where he announced the DA negotiating team and relationship between Julius, Jacob and Cyril’ has been frosty to say the least - but as Aristotle reminds us, politics is the art of the possible.

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