New laws proposed for coalition governments in South Africa

 ·29 Mar 2023

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is tabling legislation to try and stabilise coalition governments in South Africa through a new regulatory framework.

The opposition party is submitting a suite of bills to prepare Parliament for the possibility of local, provincial and national governments being led through coalitions.

Coalition governments lack a concrete framework determining how coalitions could operate; as a result, power disputes across the country have taken the stage in local government.

The government, through the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta), is also planning to have a new system of governing coalitions by the next term of local government elections in 2026.

The department said: “instability in a local coalition can have a severe impact as it may compromise the municipality’s ability to adopt policies and bylaws; make senior management appointments; or even adopt a budget.”

The DA has joined forces with multiple smaller competing political parties to take on the ANC in local government. This includes major metros like Tshwane, Ekurhuleni and Johannesburg. These coalitions have, however, fallen apart, with only Tshwane still standing on shaky ground.

The coalitions have been brought down by smaller parties defecting within the coalition, and coalition-elected mayors and speakers being hounded – and ultimately toppled – by continuous motions of no confidence on often spurious grounds.

Notice of intention to introduce a private members bill on stable coalition was officially gazetted on 24 March, said the DA. The second was subsequently published on 27 March.

The new set of bills, put forward by the DA, include the Consitution 19th Amendment Bill, 2023 and the Local Government: Municipal Structures Amendment Bill, 2023.

According to the DA, the Consitution 19th Amendment Bill will aim to amend both sections 102 and 141 of the country’s Constitution, which deals with the removal of a president and a premier through a motion of no confidence.

The Local Government: Municipal Structures Amendment Bill, 2023, on the other hand, seeks to amend sections 40, 41(e) and 58 of the Local Government: Municipal Structures Act 117 of 1998.

“These two bills seek to achieve stability in all spheres of government by prescribing the number and the circumstances under which motions of no confidence can be moved in a speaker, mayor, premier or president.”

“While motions of no confidence are a crucial accountability mechanism, they are susceptible to abuse as we have seen at a local government level,” said the DA.

“Limiting the frequency and placing clear grounds under which these can be moved and voted on will see a level of stability that is needed for effective service delivery,” it added.

Mpho Phalatse, former mayor of Johannesburg and member of the DA, was officially removed from her position in January. This was due to the collapse of the city’s multi-party coalition government and a successful vote of no confidence against Phalatse.

The DA said that currently, coalition governments could be voted in and pass a budget that might never see the light of day.

“It is impossible to hold these governments to account for good governance practices and services delivery if they change frequently, and often due to backroom deals that have nothing to do with the people.”

Firewalling governments against this kind of disruption will serve citizens better than is currently the case, said the party.

The DA further wishes for the threshold of a motion of no confidence to be reformed, limiting them to a year and only subject to exceptional circumstances such as violations of the Consitution or law, misconduct or the inability to perform the functions of the office.

The DA is now awaiting the gazetting of the remainder of these coalition bills, which seek to:

  • Introduce an electoral threshold in local government to stop over-fragmentation in a coalition;
  • Extend the time in which a mayor, speaker or whip must be elected after a local government election;
  • Further amendments to propose a national electoral threshold and bind coalition agreements once the Electoral Amendment Bill is signed into law.

Read: Another warning that South Africa is at risk of becoming a failed state

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