Big changes coming for coalition governments in South Africa

 ·13 Jun 2023

The Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs says it is working to introduce changes to the country’s laws so that coalition governance can be stabilised across the various metros and municipalities.

South Africa’s local government is in disrepair, with shaky political coalitions ensuring ineffective service for citizens.

Speaking at the Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Department’s Budget Vote, Minister Thembi Nkadimeng said that the country has around 70 hung municipalities following the 2021 local government elections.

These municipalities have been subject to various unstable coalitions which has resulted in ineffective service delivery.

The minister said that the “regressive phenomenon of instability” has also crept into the biggest metros, where the impact has been particularly hard. Metros, she said, should generally be case studies for stable coalition governments, but this has not been the case.

She said that when municipalities cannot pass budgets, they indirectly deny communities access to basic services.

She added that the changes in executives due to ever-changing coalition dynamics had been underlined by the failure of parties to deal with the demands and dilemmas of coalition politics.

For instance, Johannesburg has seen politicians play musical chairs with the executive mayor role over the last year, severely hampering service delivery.

The city has had three separate mayors since the start of the year – with ActionSA being the latest to file yet another no-confidence motion against the current mayor Kabelo Gwamanda last week.

Some of the main issues facing municipalities include:

  1. Unethical manipulation by smaller parties;
  2. In-fighting in councils characterised by walkouts resulting in councils failing to execute their legislated mandates;
  3. Inability to adopt budgets which results in an administration that cannot spend its budget to address service delivery backlogs

The solution

In response to these issues, the government says it will speak to various stakeholders, including the South African Local Government Association (SALGA), political parties, communities and provincial departments, to address the issues facing coalitions.

She added that the department is currently working on a coalition framework and draft bill to amend the Local Government: Municipal Structures Act, 1998.

The most significant change proposed is regarding motions of no-confidence, which will only be permitted two years after the council is elected.

In addition, adopting a resolution to this effect will need a supporting vote of at least two-thirds of all councillors.

The amendments will include the following changes:

  1. Political parties contesting an election in a municipal council must obtain a minimum of 1% of the valid votes cast in order to qualify for the awarding of a seat on the council – thus minimising number of parties in a municipal council;
  2. A motion of no confidence in either the speaker or the mayor will only be permitted after 2 years since the council was last elected and by adopting a resolution to this effect with a supporting vote of at least two thirds of the councillors – thus reducing the prevalence of disruptions in as far as office bearers are concerned; and
  3. Regulations be developed to govern arrangements in municipalities where coalitions are in place between political parties or with independent candidates.

She said that once the rules and orders are adopted by the council, they will be legally binding, with the hope that they will immediately help stabilise municipal councils.

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