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Coalition politics undermine democratic principles and voters

FILE – The replacement of Dr Makhosi Khoza with Musa Kubheka as chairperson of ActionSA in KwaZulu-Natal points to the volatility and fragility of coalitions and collusions, says the writer. In this file photo from November 1, 2021, women in Ward 95 in Nkanini Makhaza stood 200 metres from the voting station. File photo: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

FILE – The replacement of Dr Makhosi Khoza with Musa Kubheka as chairperson of ActionSA in KwaZulu-Natal points to the volatility and fragility of coalitions and collusions, says the writer. In this file photo from November 1, 2021, women in Ward 95 in Nkanini Makhaza stood 200 metres from the voting station. File photo: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Jan 23, 2022

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OPINION: The replacement of Dr Makhosi Khoza with Musa Kubheka as chairperson of ActionSA in KwaZulu-Natal points to the volatility and fragility of coalitions and collusions, writes Professor Bheki Mngomezulu.

Last year placed South Africa on a new pedestal regarding coalition politics. The unprecedented high number of political parties and independent candidates that contested the 2021 Local Government Elections gave South Africans a glimpse of what to expect going forward.

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On many occasions, I have consistently spoken against coalitions. Some accused me of being a pessimist. However, I have been vindicated by recent developments in South Africa. It is gradually becoming clear, even to the optimists who think that South Africa is ready for coalitions, that this is a far-fetched dream.

I will emphatically repeat that coalitions are not a viable option for South Africa. Secondly, they are not sustainable. Thirdly, they undermine democratic principles as well as the electorate. These propositions are further expounded below.

In the City of Johannesburg, the “unholy alliance” which surreptitiously elevated the DA under the guise of punishing the ANC is delaying service delivery. As lawmakers debate on whether to use the open or secret ballot system when electing office bearers, the shaky coalitions are tested.

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Even parties like the EFF, which claims that it has no alliance with anyone, cannot insulate itself from coalition politics. By voting with the DA but claiming that there is no coalition and then challenging the very same DA during the election of office bearers, the EFF projects itself as a party that has lost grip of the reality of South African politics.

The reality is that the DA has a very clear agenda for those who care to observe. It will do anything and everything to maximise the numbers. This includes pretending to be friends with its political adversaries. On the other hand, the EFF tends to focus on the here and now with the hope that it will deal with the consequences of its actions later. This is wrong.

What we have been witnessing in Johannesburg is a true reflection of what I have alluded to above. The EFF propelled the DA to glory. Having ascended to the throne, the DA started dictating terms on how voting in the council would happen.

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In the process, coalitions and “voting together” have both been put to the test and found wanting. While politicians exchange blows with the view to satisfy their political egos, voters watch in dismay as they patiently wait for service delivery, which remains a mirage.

Developments at Mtubatuba confirm the danger posed by coalition politics in South Africa. With 16 seats, the ANC took control of Mtubatuba Local Municipality with the help of smaller parties. In response, the IFP approached the Pietermaritzburg High Court to complain about two of its councillors who were said to have been improperly excluded from voting.

The court ruled in favour of the IFP and instructed the Speaker to call a council meeting. When the meeting sat, the ANC walked out, citing irregularities in the manner in which it was convened. Smaller parties with four seats meant that 20 councillors abandoned the meeting.

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With the help of other smaller parties, which had a total of six seats, the IFP’s 19 councillors constituted a quorum and proceeded with the meeting to elect the executive.

As expected, the Mayoral position went to the IFP, the Deputy mayor position went to the EFF, and the position of the Speaker went to the IFP.

Predictably, the ANC cried foul, arguing that the Speaker did not convene the meeting. In all probability, the ANC is expected to approach the court in an attempt to nullify the results that saw the IFP emerging victorious.

A few questions arise: do these developments inculcate the democratic ethos? Are the wishes of the electorate respected? Can service delivery happen under these circumstances where political squabbles take centre stage?

Importantly, if coalitions are not sustainable and fail to accelerate service delivery, why should South Africans embrace them? Conversely, if these coalitions are necessitated by the increased number of political parties and independent candidates who invoke their right of freedom of association, would it be wrong to review this part of the constitution?

As I conclude, I would like to bring eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality into the discussion. The replacement of Dr Makhosi Khoza with Musa Kubheka as chairperson of ActionSA in KwaZulu-Natal points to the volatility and fragility of coalitions and collusions. It remains unclear if Dr Khoza surrendered her position willingly or was punished for taking the chair position of the Municipal Public Accounts Committee (MPAC) with the support of the ANC.

As someone who has changed political parties before, I would not be surprised if she dumped ActionSA. If that happened, what would it mean to those who supported her when she joined Herman Mashaba? These are just some examples that show that coalition politics undermine democracy and the electorate.

* Bheki Mngomezulu is Professor of Political Science and Deputy Dean of Research at the University of the Western Cape.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.

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