The coalition conundrum: Who will govern?

The ANC claims it is not even talking about the possibility of losing power, but opposition parties believe they stand a chance at co-governing Gauteng and the Northern Cape. (Gallo)

The ANC claims it is not even talking about the possibility of losing power, but opposition parties believe they stand a chance at co-governing Gauteng and the Northern Cape. (Gallo)

With every election comes talk of opposition coalitions, formed to oust the ANC, and May 7 is no exception. While the ANC claims it is not even talking about the possibility of losing power in the eight provinces it currently governs, the opposition has been in talks for some time, particularly because parties believe they stand a chance at co-governing Gauteng and the Northern Cape.

On Sunday, the City Press reported that the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the Democratic Alliance (DA) had had informal discussions about the possibility of a post-election coalition government in Gauteng should neither party win an outright majority.

Both parties reportedly said talks were not at a serious stage yet, but surveys indicated that both parties had the potential to leverage high numbers after the polls – although not enough to win outright – and the possibility exists that they may consider entering into a coalition to boot the ANC from power.

In January, Ipsos released a poll putting the ANC's prospects in Gauteng at 45%.

In the Northern Cape, the poll indicated the ANC could achieve as low a result as 42.7%. If the poll is to be believed, this means the ANC could very well lose these provinces.

The DA was posited at 45.9% in the Northern Cape, with the EFF at only 1%.
The Congress of the People (Cope) took 5%, as was expected.

In Gauteng, the DA was expected to achieve 22.6% and the EFF 7.3%. If other, smaller parties were to come on board, a joint opposition coalition could unseat the ANC.

Strategic coalitions
But the EFF and DA's policy positions could not be more different. If the DA were to get more than the EFF – as expected – this would mean the EFF would have to bend towards the DA, with the latter holding the upper hand in terms of legislature seats.

The ANC is not discussing coalitions at this stage, said spokesperson Keith Khoza. This would be discussed after the elections, although the party expects "to win all provinces with an outright majority".

The ANC co-governed in Ladysmith after 2011 when it went into a coalition with the National Freedom Party (NFP). In Cederburg, the party formed a partnership with the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC).

"At some point we were hoping to do the same with Cope in the Western Cape but they chose to go with the DA instead," Khoza said.

As the ANC had the most votes, the party never had to consider shifting its policy positions on a local governmental level, he added.

"Policy shifts are not an option. It's just a question of reaching consensus on issues. We haven't experienced being hamstrung [when co-governing] before. Once we go into a coalition there's an understanding that compromises have to be made in certain instances that are not fundamental," he said.

DA spokesperson Mmusi Maimane could not be reached for comment on Sunday, but City Press quoted him as saying, "Dali [Mpofu, the EFF's Gauteng premier candidate] and I go to enough events together, so it comes up in conversation."

Neither Mpofu nor the EFF's national spokespeople could be reached for official comment.

Realignment of opposition politics
DA leader Helen Zille told the paper the party would only consider such a coalition under "very clear conditions".

The DA has frequently said it is not opposed to forming coalitions.

Zille often refers to these coalitions as being a part of a broader realignment of opposition politics, which she hopes will gradually eat into the ANC's majority.

"The future of South African politics lies in opposition parties coming together on the basis of shared values to stop the ANC's near monopoly on power, which has inevitably resulted in gross power abuse. More than that, the opposition has a duty to provide an alternative model of governance that works. The only way to do this is for us to build a new majority, step-by-step, starting from the foundation of local government," Zille wrote in 2009.

The party entered into a seven-party coalition to win the City of Cape Town in 2006. It then went on to win the Western Cape in 2009 with 51% of the vote.

But coalitions are difficult to govern, even when parties agree on issues ideologically. In the Northern Cape, the DA and Cope entered into four coalition councils in 2011.

Political management
Pakes Dikgetsi, Cope's premier candidate for the Northern Cape and the party's national chairperson, said co-governance was difficult and needed careful political management.

One of these councils, Nama Khoi municipality, is a case-in-point. Infighting plagued the council and the ANC won the municipality back in a by-election in late-2013.

The DA initially appointed Aubrey Baartman, a former Labour Party and ANC member, as municipal manager. But amid allegations of maladministration, the party laid criminal charges against Baartman in January this year. Baartman is now the EFF's premier candidate for the province.

Dikgetsi said a DA/Cope coalition at a provincial level may be easier to manage. It was "on the table", should the ANC slip below 50% after May 7.

"Realistically, none of the parties can take power from the ANC alone," Dikgetsi said, while predicting that the impact of poverty should not be underestimated in the Northern Cape and will show in the election results.

'Not up for discussion'
He said Cope, currently the official opposition in the province, would not consider a coalition with the EFF because "you basically have to agree to undermine the Constitution to go into that kind of arrangement" based on the EFF's policies.

"An alliance with the ANC is not even up for discussion," he explained.

He said the DA and Cope agreed on "the fundamental issues like constitutionalism and rule of law" as they were both "more moderate than the EFF, and to some extent the ANC".

But there were disagreements on how to tackle social challenges that needed to be carefully balanced if a coalition government were to be formed.

"Governing on a day-to-day basis is a challenge. It involves getting grassroots people to understand the broader strategy decisions of the parties. Nitpicking and number-crunching, as well as divvying up of positions can create tension.

Dikgetsi said parties needed to carefully manage this to "avoid making the same mistakes as the ANC".

Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans interned at the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley for three years before completing an internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane). She went on to work as a Mail & Guardian news reporter with areas of interest including crime, law, governance and the nexus between business and politics.  Read more from Sarah Evans

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