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Issued by Ismail Joosub on behalf of the FW de Klerk Foundation on 14/06/2024



South Africa’s political landscape is shifting dramatically. The rise of coalition governments, particularly in provinces like Gauteng, has highlighted the urgent need to formalise coalition agreements. As the country navigates through political instability and fragmented governance, formalising these agreements becomes crucial for ensuring stable and effective administration. 

As part of the Foundation’s election series, this article takes a look at why South Africa’s coalition governments have been unstable. It also looks at the legislative efforts aimed at formalising these agreements and the necessity of detailed coalition agreements to secure coherent policy implementation.


The Instability of Coalitions in Gauteng: A Case Study

Gauteng, South Africa’s economic powerhouse, has witnessed significant political instability due to the volatile nature of coalition governments. The 2016 municipal elections marked a pivotal moment, with the African National Congress (“ANC”) losing control of major municipalities like Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni. 

The Democratic Alliance (“DA”), in a precarious coalition arrangement with the Economic Freedom Fighters (“EFF”) and other smaller parties, assumed control. In Tshwane, for example, the coalition government faced multiple administrative challenges and political disagreements, leading to frequent council disruptions and governance paralysis. The EFF’s withdrawal of support from the DA in 2020 further destabilised the region, resulting in the municipality being placed under administration

Similarly, Johannesburg’s coalition government has seen constant power shifts. In 2019, the resignation of Mayor Herman Mashaba, a DA member at the time, led to a political scramble, eventually resulting in the ANC regaining control.

This instability underscores the fragility of coalition arrangements that lack a formalised framework, leading to governance disruptions and a lack of policy continuity. These episodes have demonstrated that without formal and binding coalition agreements in place, coalitions are susceptible to frequent changes, undermining the stability and effectiveness of local governance.


A Solution? The Local Government: Municipal Structures Amendment Bill, 2024

The Local Government: Municipal Structures Amendment Bill, 2024 (the “Bill”), is a legislative effort aimed at addressing the complexities and challenges arising from coalition governments in South African municipalities. The Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (“COGTA”) is currently calling for public comments on this Bill, until 5 July 2024. 

Below is a detailed outline of the main points of the Bill:


Establishment of Coalition Agreements

Clause 1: This clause inserts a new definition into the principal Act (the Local Government: Municipal Structures Act, 1998), defining a “coalition agreement” as a written agreement negotiated between parties forming a coalition government in a municipality where no single party has a majority of seats. 

This provision aims to formalise and standardise coalition arrangements. By ensuring that the coalition agreement is written down, all parties involved have a clear idea of their agreed-upon policy positions and responsibilities. Similarly, they have legal recourse should one party break the agreement.


Transformation to Collective Executive System

Clause 2: This clause mandates that municipalities with a mayoral executive system, where no party obtains a majority of seats, must be converted to a “collective executive system” within 30 days of the municipal council being declared elected. 

This transformation is significant as it aims to provide a more stable governance structure. Unlike the mayoral executive system, where the executive mayor has significant control, the collective executive system ensures that the executive authority is shared among a committee representative of the council’s political composition. This arrangement promotes stability and continuity, as the executive committee remains largely intact even if the mayor is removed.


Transparent Voting Procedures

Clauses 3, 4, 6, 7, and 9: These clauses collectively amend sections 40, 41E, 53, 58 and Schedule 3 of the principal Act to require that votes for the removal of key municipal office-bearers (such as the Speaker, the Whip, Executive Committee Members and the Executive Mayor or Deputy Executive Mayor) be conducted by a show of hands rather than by secret ballot. 

This change is designed to enhance transparency in council proceedings, reducing opportunities for corruption and vote-buying and ensuring that council members’ decisions are made openly and with accountability.


Grounds for Removal and Stability Provisions

Clause 3: This clause also specifies that the removal of the speaker can only occur after two years of their election, unless the removal is based on grounds such as a serious violation of the Constitution or the law, serious misconduct, or inability to perform functions. 

Similar provisions are included in clauses 4, 6, and 7 for the whip, executive committee members and the executive mayor or deputy executive mayor, respectively. 

These provisions introduce a “cooling-off period” and specific grounds for removal, aiming to curb frivolous motions of no confidence and ensure stability and continuity in municipal governance.


Binding Nature of Coalition Agreements

Clause 5: This clause amends section 43 of the principal Act to allow any two or more political parties in a municipality where no party has a majority of seats to enter into a binding coalition agreement. 

This agreement must be made public, promoting transparency and accountability. The binding nature of these agreements ensures that coalition parties adhere to their commitments, fostering more stable and predictable coalition governance.


Electoral Threshold for Council Seats

Clause 8: This clause introduces a new requirement that a political party must obtain at least 1 percent of the valid votes cast during an election to qualify for a seat on the municipal council. This provision is aimed at reducing the fragmentation of council compositions by eliminating very small parties, thereby simplifying coalition formation and contributing to more stable governance structures.


But the Bill still has a long way to go…

The Bill is still only in the initial stages in front of the COGTA Department. It will still take some time for it to be finalised and approved for tabling in Parliament. Thereafter it will need to be passed by both houses of Parliament. Only once that is done, can it go to the President’s desk to be signed into law. Thus, all these legal changes to formalise coalition agreements into transparent, legally binding documents that hold political parties accountable to their electorate (at least in local government, i.e. municipalities) is still some time off… 


The Necessity of Comprehensive Coalition Agreements

For coalition governments to function effectively, it is imperative that the parties in coalition agree on key policy areas. Comprehensive coalition agreements should outline the coalition’s stance on critical issues, such as economic policy, social services, infrastructure development and governance reforms.

Such agreements ensure that coalition partners have a shared vision and common objectives, reducing the potential for conflict and policy inconsistencies.

    1. Economic Policy: Coalition agreements must address economic policy, including strategies for economic growth, job creation and poverty alleviation. Clear economic policies help in aligning the coalition’s efforts towards sustainable development and addressing economic disparities.
    2. Social Services: Health, education and social welfare are crucial areas that require coherent policies. Coalition partners need to agree on how to improve these services, ensuring that all citizens have access to quality healthcare, education and social support.
    3. Infrastructure Development: Investments in infrastructure are vital for economic growth and public welfare. Coalition agreements should include detailed plans for infrastructure projects, ensuring that these projects are implemented efficiently and benefit the broader population.
    4. Governance Reforms: Effective governance requires transparency, accountability and efficiency. Coalition agreements should include commitments to governance reforms, such as anti-corruption measures, improved public administration and enhanced service delivery.
    5. Duration: To ensure stability, the agreements must stipulate a fixed time frame for all parties to be bound by it.
    6. Dispute Resolution Mechanisms: To maintain stability, coalition agreements should include clear dispute resolution mechanisms. These mechanisms can help resolve conflicts amicably, preventing disputes from escalating into governance crises.
    7. Premature Exit and Penalty Clauses: Should dispute resolution fail, coalition agreements must contain clauses that govern a party’s premature exit from the agreement and penalties for breaking any provision of the agreement. This is the only way to ensure parties are held accountable should they renege.


Conclusion: A Call to Action

The need to formalise coalition agreements in South Africa is more pressing than ever. The instability observed in provinces like Gauteng and KZN highlights the detrimental impact of informal and ad-hoc coalition arrangements. South Africa must establish a robust framework for coalition governments at all spheres of government (national, provincial and local) to ensure transparency, accountability and stability.

Comprehensive coalition agreements are essential for aligning the policies and actions of coalition partners. These agreements should cover all major policy areas and include mechanisms for dispute resolution, ensuring that coalitions can govern effectively and consistently.