When the era of coalitions announced itself with a big bang following the 2016 municipal elections, there was hope that the leaders of the country’s political parties would have the maturity to make the arrangements work.
The hope was that they would recognise that they had been tasked by the voters to work together to better the lives of the citizenry, not to embark on endless squabbling. How misplaced that hope was.
The past five years of local government have been turbulent. Conflict among coalition partners, abetted by the EFF, which wanted behind-the-scenes power but without the tasks and responsibilities of office, led to collapsed councils and a paralysis in development and service delivery.
Prolonging this nightmare for the next five years would be calamitous for our cities, towns and villages. More so since South Africa emerged from Monday’s elections with a grand total of 66 hung municipalities.
A few years ago, the US-based National Democratic Institute and Sweden’s Oslo Centre for Peace and Human Rights compiled a comprehensive manual called Coalition: A Guide for Political Parties. Based on case studies and contributions from around the world, this toolkit provides pointers that will be useful for our parties as they go into negotiations and establish working coalition governments.
The main recommendations are not rocket science but they will require maturity and broad-mindedness. The toolkit says that the starting point in maintaining good relations will require that partners “show respect for each other’s views and traditions” and make efforts “to establish a climate of respect, trust, tolerance and accommodation of one another”.
It says that even when a deal has been struck, they must prioritise what the authors call “the four Cs” – communication, consultation, consensus-building and compromise. Our political parties will have to dig deep to do what is in the best interests of the people they must serve.
The electorate has now foisted this moment on them.
The politicians have no choice but to grow up immediately.