Coalition anxiety over matters of service delivery

Khothalang Moseli. Picture: Supplied

Khothalang Moseli. Picture: Supplied

Published Jun 7, 2024


By Khothalang Moseli

As the coalition government crisis deepens at the local government level, there is currently a growing feeling of anxiety over the national coalition government.

In response to the growing need for service delivery, South African politics has taken a different direction over the years, starting with the end of one-party dominance in government.

Since the 2016 and 2021 local elections, which saw its most enormous loss, support for the African National Congress (ANC) has continued to decline. Even more shockingly, for the first time since the dawn of democracy, it lost its outright majority nationally.

The ANC obtained an underwhelming 40.18%, while the Democratic Alliance (DA) obtained 21.8%, followed by the uMkhonto Wesizwe Party (MK) with 14.58%, and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) contentedly sitting at 9.52%.

With this in mind, there is growing anxiety over the outlook of the 7th administration along the societal corridors, which could possibly consist of an ANC-DA or ANC-MK-EFF-led coalition and to the extreme, a unitary government.

The feeling is justified, looking at coalition instability at the local government level, based on the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality, the City of Johannesburg, Tshwane, Ekurhuleni, and eThekwini municipalities, to mention a few. This has engendered a nationwide debate about the possibilities associated with coalition agreements.

The term coalition generally refers to the collaborative organisation of political parties to achieve a common goal. It also refers to a partnership of two or more political parties working together to form a government based on election results.

Without the outright majority winner in the May 29 national elections, parties have to humble themselves for coalition agreements.

Due to its potential instability, the formation of a coalition government has significant implications for service delivery in South Africa. This is not surprising, since political parties are competitors with different political ideologies and policy positions.

A key feature of the coalition arrangement are agreements that, to varying degrees, should be able to restrict the behaviour of the coalition partners and have an impact on the lives of the people.

But that's not always the case; for example, the City of Johannesburg's unstable coalition government has had more than three mayors between 2021 and 2023. Because of this, the quality of service rendered by the local municipality has been deteriorating.

There is evidence of a lack of political tolerance and a lack of willingness to provide citizens with the services that are due to them due to an unwillingness to compromise and accommodate different political views for the benefit of citizens, especially poverty-stricken citizens who rely heavily on these services.

There is further evidence of sabotage stemming from service providers not being paid on time and, in some cases, not being paid at all. As a result, this has escalated to a surge in service delivery-related protest action nationwide.

Not so long ago, for example, around Gauteng province, there was extreme coalition instability which erupted in violent service delivery-motivated protests in places like Thembisa in the City of Ekurhuleni and Diepsloot in the City of Johannesburg.

Even worse, in Hammanskraal, in the City of Tshwane, more than 20 people lost their lives because of a lack of access to clean, drinkable water.

This is sufficient enough to say even though service delivery-motivated protests ensue in stable governments, they are even worse without a stable coalition government, and this altogether constitutes grounds for human rights violations and the Constitution itself.

An unstable coalition government cannot deliver the services embodied in the Constitution. The South African government has a constitutional mandate to provide services to its citizens and uphold human rights and fundamental freedoms.

As local governments are closest to the citizens and are the link between the government and the citizens, Section 152 of the Constitution obliges local governments to ensure the provision of services to communities in a stable and sustainable manner.

For this to happen, the national and provincial governments must be active participants and create favourable conditions for the services to be delivered in accordance with Section 151 of the Constitution.

The reality is that coalitions are now part of the South African political system, and, in exceptional cases, coalition coordination is crucial for the governing parties to work together within the coalition. Politicians and the government in particular need to create an enabling environment to accommodate this reality.

Because the provision of services is not a question of choice, but a duty. When properly implemented, a coalition agreement must meet the constitutional obligation to provide services that will improve the standard of living of the people, their wellbeing, and their human rights as provided for in Chapter 2 of the Constitution.

Although coalition building is not an easy process and coalition arrangements are politically unstable, the parties involved must make equally accommodating compromises to meet people's needs.

This requires a carefully people-centred coalition agreement-based framework that clearly defines coalition goals guided by constitutional principles and values, whereby the centrality of human dignity, equality, improving the quality of life of all citizens, and the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms take precedence over the ambitions of political parties.

*Khothalang Moseli is a Doctoral candidate, Free State Centre for Human Rights, University of the Free State.

** The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of IOL or Independent Media.

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