The quality of leadership in general in South Africa is wanting. A grand coalition could address many burning issues, writes Dirk Kotzé.
Opinion polls by Ipsos, the Institute of Race Relations and others present a political landscape of volatility in voter preference. It can partly be explained as the voters' uncertainty about who should take the political lead at a critical juncture in South Africa's history.
Elections are associated with contestation but what is more critically necessary to emerge now, is a general consensus about a new economic paradigm and a more inclusive economy. Moreover, the burning moral issues about corruption and public service are bedeviled by political positioning, and a new, over-arching consensus about what is right and wrong should be promoted by all parties.
Political parties are at the moment inward-looking and preoccupied with their internal issues, symptomatic of transitions of their own. The internal organisational problems of the ANC and DA are well known to the electorate. The future of the EFF, on the other hand, appears to be promising but amongst the many challenges it also faces, one stands out: will they be willing to be a partner in a coalition government in future, or do they prefer the status quo of an opposition party, sometimes cooperating with a governing coalition? In a recent News24 interview, Julius Malema expressed new, positive sentiments about coalition formations.
The leading political figures are challenged with how to restructure the political system in such a way that it can incorporate most of these expectations. After the election, South African political leaders will be under pressure to take exceptionally difficult decisions about new global trends affecting also South Africa, including the dire social conditions. The global economy more regularly experiences crises, and the South African economy, with its own structural complications, is caught in these global trends.
After the election, much more serious introspection has to be done to re-conceptualise the South African economy. It is such a fundamental task, that only a bipartisan approach will have a chance of success.
What are the options available for the post-election situation?
The first option is that the winners of the election take all the power and take decisions on their own – more or less the status quo.
The second is that the smartest and most strategic party negotiators can form coalitions or cooperative partnerships where possible, and take all the power with them.
The third option is that most of the opposition parties unify in a bloc under the guidance of a senior political leader like General Bantu Holomisa. While in the past it was possible for him to do it in a parliamentary forum, the growth of the EFF has the potential for the opposition to become more polarised around the DA and EFF – almost two centres of power. Several of the small parties can end in the cross-fire, such as the UDM or ACDP.
The fourth option is to form a grand coalition or unity government after the election. Normally such governments are formed during, or immediately after, periods of crisis. It is not an unfamiliar phenomenon in recent times. The UK did it during the world wars to unify the country. Croatia also did it during its independence war in 1991; Nepal did it after the 2015 earthquake; Greece formed it in response to its 2011 debt crisis; Afghanistan did it after an inconclusive presidential election in 2014; Italy formed a super-majority government in 2013; and Germany has formed three such governments since 2005.
South Africa does not experience a security crisis at the moment but many would argue that it is a national crisis of socio-economic challenges, corruption and poor governance. The quality of leadership in general is wanting. A grand coalition could address many burning issues. The paradigms of South Africa's economy and its role in the international community have become aged and uninspiring.
A new national plan is needed. The National Development Plan uses assumptions and diagnostics that are not appropriate anymore. South Africa needs a new strategic framework to understand its unfolding international financial status as one of the emerging markets, and how to exploit the bargaining value it has for South Africa in the international environment.
Social compact shouldn't be hamstrung by party competition
The need for a domestic social compact is often raised as the basis for restructuring the South African economy. In the process, controversial or divisive issues have to be confronted, such as land reform, labour legislation, downsizing of the public sector, restructuring of the state-owned enterprises, and reconsidering the place of mining and agriculture in the growth potential of the economy.
All of this is only possible in a bipartisan environment. It should not be hamstrung by party political competition; by when is the next election or party conference; by "are we winning or losing support" or "do I have enough internal support in my party to take these decisions"?
A grand coalition might appear to be a politically naïve idea at this stage, especially at the time of an election. From a party perspective, for most it will not be an attractive idea. But it is a national priority.
After the watershed moments in 1994 and 2008/9, 2019 might be the third transition in South Africa's democratisation history. It is not only a transition after the Zuma era, but also a transition towards reconceptualising a modern South African economy and South Africa in a rapidly changing international community. (The Pahad panel did not succeed in that.) As part of this transition, a social renaissance led by public moral voices, is needed to confront the serious societal decay.
This election can be the catalyst to unlock the political stalemate that developed during the past decade. A South African renaissance requires a national effort beyond party political interests and the 2019 election must lay the foundation for that.
- Dirk Kotzé is a professor in Political Sciences at the University of South Africa (Unisa).
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