OPINION | A maturing democracy and coalition governance: SA politics at a crossroads

We are still trying to figure out the business of coalition politics, says the writer. (iStock)
We are still trying to figure out the business of coalition politics, says the writer. (iStock)

Perhaps the conceptualisation of good governance and co-governance cannot find expression in the understanding of our politicians, writes Bernard Sebake

It is always arguable that a maturing democracy is expressed through the success of the art of co-governing in a multi-party state.

This assertion ponders the political development in South Africa, where three major cities have tested coalition governance.

One of the fundamental questions is whether South African politics has matured enough to embrace a shared political vision for governance purposes that is in the best interests of society?

The art of governance in South African politics is characterised by competing ideologies, which tends to ignore the challenges of society and focused more on party political hegemony at the expense of ordinary citizens.

This happens at the point where there is a maturing democracy - explained through the growth of political parties in South Africa, where citizens are spoilt for choice.

On the other hand, it is also explained through shifting political grounds of one party domination demonstrated through a two-thirds majority vote in various polls since democracy in 1994.

One wonders if governance is for the sake of political ideology or in the service to the people.

This important narrative reaffirms the evolution of local governance at Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay metros respectively, where coalitions were never managed well from the inception of the current councils after the local government elections of 3 August 2016.

A change of leadership to embrace party political differences have left citizens thinking that "coalition" represents the true government of a maturing democracy in the two respective metros.

Perhaps the conceptualisation of good governance and co-governance cannot find expression in the understanding of our politicians.

It is questionable whether moving from the one party dominance of the ANC has created a more complex transition for multi-party governance in South Africa.

Even in difficult times, the Johannesburg metro under former mayor Herman Mashaba was an interesting period of test-driving the politics of coalitions. 

For instance, Mashaba, in May 2019, completed the first phase of the in-sourcing of about 2 700 security guards, which was not a policy of the DA, but ensured that it was done in the best interests of advancing working class struggles.

On the other hand, the metro council in Johannesburg maintained stability to the best of its ability, and one wonders what happened to the Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay Metros respectively.

In conceptualising "coalition" governance, political parties should find common ground politically and embrace the needs of the ordinary people on the ground.

No single political party policy is a panacea for coalition governance.

It is interesting that as South Africans are looking at the local government elections in 2021, these narratives provide South Africans and politicians with lessons to draw from in order for history not to repeat itself.

It is therefore that elections should provide peace of mind, the restoration of human rights, faith and trust in the political machinery of the state to forge cohesion where coalitions exists.

Stability in this instance provides an opportunity to continue engaging on the question of developmental local government, where community needs are on a knife's edge.

Perhaps the narrative of the Herman Mashaba era in the Johannesburg metro has to be invoked to re-imagine maturity in political management of coalitions for a maturing democracy in South Africa.

Perhaps, while democracy is maturing, our political leaders have not transcended to comprehend these important developments, especially what coalition governments can offer South Africans.

One concludes that coalition governments could be breaking ground for political development, which requires selfless political leaders who put the needs of citizens first and therefore, must be treated as a political game changer in the era of South African democracy.

- Dr Bernard Sebake is Director: Student Governance & Development at Nelson Mandela University

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