Coalitions of Necessity

Coalitions of Necessity

The 2021 local government elections (LGEs) were remarkable for many reasons, none more significant than the birth of an era where the African National Congress (ANC) exists with less than 50 percent of an election result. While the national incumbent’s decline has been resoundingly welcomed by the opposition, the electorate’s decision to punish the ANC in major municipalities was not in favour of any one countervailing force. Instead, the 2021 LGEs signaled a more disparate voice amongst voters, beckoning those in power to set aside their egos and exercise their capacity for cooperation and compromise to fulfil their mandate to deliver essential services to local communities.

At first glance, the complexity of the outcome is overwhelming in terms of predicting an accurate picture of who will actually govern at the municipal level. Municipalities, where the electorate delivered a clear majority, saw the ANC securing control of 161 councils, the Democratic Alliance (DA) with 13, and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) securing control of 10. Nevertheless, Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) results show the largest number of hung municipalities in the country since 1994.  A total of 66 municipalities have been left hung across the country, meaning that no party was able to win more than 50% of the votes, giving rise to an intense and potentially heated negotiation for possible coalition governments.

The most interesting feature of the results is not which parties achieved the majority of votes, but which parties have secured enough votes to insert themselves as potential coalition kingmakers for the two leading parties, the ANC and the DA – both of whom experienced several humbling results in comparison to the 2016 LGEs.

The disenchantment with the status quo was most evident in major metros, where the stewardship of the country’s economic power is housed. Of South Africa’s eight Metropolitan Municipalities, the electorate failed to give one party an outright majority in five of them – namely Ekurhuleni, eThekwini, Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Tshwane.

In the City of Johannesburg, the ANC received 33.60%, the DA received 26.47%, and ActionSA – led by its founder and DA-divorcee Herman Mashaba – garnered 16.05% of the vote.  While the ANC obtained the most votes in each metro except for the DA’s stronghold in the City of Cape Town, and in Nelson Mandela Bay where the ANC and the DA will occupy 48 seats each, the pattern of the former liberation party’s reduced results echoed through Ekurhuleni, where it obtained 38.19% in comparison to the DA’s 28.92%; in eThekwini, where it obtained 42.02% to the DA’s 25.62%;  and in Tshwane, where its 34.31% narrowly beat the DA’s 32.34%. It is in these metros where the balance of power will rest with several of the smaller parties, whose allegiance will be cajoled in the horse-trading to follow.

“The manner in which our people spoke should be indicative of their wish to have us as leaders working together,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Thursday night at the IEC’s official announcement of the results. The president is correct – the electorate’s disillusionment with previous majorities is a clear signal to the under-fire elite that South Africans would rather entrust a plethora of alternatives to serve their interests at the local level. However, the personal and ideological posturing of several parties has complicated the permutations of potential coalitions.

Predictably, the national opposition party has ruled out forming coalitions with ANC,  with party leader John Steenhuisen saying “It is not the DA’s role to save the ANC”, thereby excluding the possibility of the most mathematically feasible partnership, forcing the DA to embark on the challenging road of persuading several smaller parties that curtailing the country’s historically entrenched socio-economic disparities is at the core of its manifesto. The DA has also said it will not enter into any coalition agreements with the EFF or any other party that does not subscribe to constitutionalism, the rule of law, a social market economy, a capable state as well as non-racialism. “These are the non-negotiables for the DA,” Steenhuisen added.

The EFF’s agenda on land expropriation without compensation could play a key role in who the party decides to partner within coalition talks. Having re-asserted itself as the country’s third-largest party with a revolutionary mandate, the EFF could have a deciding vote in several hung municipalities and metros, particularly in Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay. The party’s chief, Julius Malema, has also celebrated the dwindling majority of the ANC, reiterating that the ‘elephant is being eaten piece by piece. However, a lack of options for the ANC could see its National Executive Council moving its position on land expropriation to force a last-ditch partnership capable of blocking DA-led coalitions.

The apparent deadlock between the ANC, DA and EFF empowers the seats taken by a number of other parties who will have to weigh their options in the coming days. Newcomers in the political space, ActionSA will be in high demand as a centrist force in Gauteng’s split metros of Johannesburg and Tshwane, and they too have ruled out working with the ANC, though their leader has decried the DA’s institutional arrogance and tendency to overlook the suffering of the country’s poorest as reasons for his exit from the party in 2019. Further to the right of the political spectrum, the Freedom Front Plus (FF+) doubled its number of seats. Taking a more pragmatic approach that focuses on achieving the objectives of its manifesto over party-political grievances, the Patriotic Alliance (PA) could also influence outcomes in some areas. These are only a few of the parties that will garner the attention of the bigger players.

It is a political fact that many of the extreme positions espoused by campaigning candidates are inevitably tempered by the realities of governance. This is particularly true in the wake of LGEs, where communities will place more importance on their candidate’s role in securing the amenities that facilitate their daily lives, caring less about their affiliate party’s ideological posturing in the National Assembly. Parties, on the other hand, will have to consider the risk of destabilizing their core vote at the 2024 national elections by sidelining some of their more divisive ideological stances.

However, the greater risk is undoubtedly to subject local communities to a cycle of governance that fails to deliver on the basic needs of the people. The outcome, whichever coalitions are formed, is indicative of a new era of multi-party democracy for South Africa, and its politicians have the power to determine the success of its maturation at the local level.

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The 2021 LGE voter turnout marks a shift in our political culture that is likely to impact our political stability

The 2021 LGE voter turnout marks a shift in our political culture that is likely to impact our political stability

The 2021 Local Government Elections (LGE) took place against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw electioneering activities severely constrained due to the ongoing state of disaster – characterized by Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) such as social distancing and limitations on the number of people who can attend gatherings. That said, lockdown regulations were relaxed to adjust Level 1 in time for the final stretch of political party campaigns and election day.

This meant parties could hold rallies – an inherent feature of political activity prior to an election -, and made it possible for citizens to come out in their numbers to cast their votes on 1 November 2021. However, this was not the case as South Africa witnessed it lowest voter turnout of any election ever held since 1994 – with only 45.86% of registered voters coming to the polls to cast their ballots. In contrast, voter participation in the 2016 LGE was comparatively high at 57,94%. Previous LGE’s witnessed lower voter turnouts (48,07% in 2000; 48,4% in 2006; and 57,6% in 2011).

Whilst the 2016 LGE marked a shift in voter behaviour – what we could refer to as a mass partisan dealignment, particularly the attitude of many voters towards the hitherto dominant ANC  – the 2021 LGE could be seen as marking a shift in the country’s political culture. Consider, for example, the 2006 LGE, where a mere eight municipalities across the country were hung; or the 2016 LGE with 27 hung municipalities.; to the staggering 66 hung municipalities in 2021. The dominant ANC’s loss of majority in key municipalities in 2016, was in part due to swing voters. This was further aided by the huge number of political organisations contesting these elections (205). Fast forward to 2021, and we see an even greater number of parties contesting, a total of 325.

The decline in the ANC’s dominance in 2016 was also attributable to the fact that a number of eligible voters in its strongholds  did not show up to cast their votes. A number of factors played a role here, such as the public standing of its leader at the time, the state of the economy – especially given that there tends to be a link between a government’s popularity and economic variables such as employment and income levels to name a few.  The latter brings the nature of our democracy under scrutiny.

South Africa is regarded as a democratic state. We hold free and fair elections at regular intervals, there is universal suffrage, there are mechanisms to hold elected representatives accountable and there is a guarantee of the respect for human rights. The nature of our democracy tends to be fixated on institutions and mechanisms that anchor a constitutional political system. However, for democracy to be meaningful, it ought to move beyond a focus on institutions and mechanisms to be more substantive in nature.

Substantive democracy tends to focus on decreasing socio-economic inequalities towards fostering social justice. This would level the playing field and in turn facilitate enhanced political participation. With South Africa boasts one of the highest unemployment rates in the world (almost half of the population over the age of 18 falling below the upper-bound poverty line) and is considered the most unequal society in the world, the gradual disillusionment with democracy comes as no surprise.

The 2016 LGE outcomes can be viewed, in part, as disenchantment with the political institution that is the ANC and the political system in its entirety. The dominant nature of the ANC has made the governing party synonymous with the state. As such, the failures of the ANC government are inherently failures of the state. The failure of the ANC government to meaningfully transform the material conditions of many South Africans, and at a decent pace, has ultimately generated disinterest in political institutions.

The Covid-19 pandemic also did the country no favors as it intensified existing structural inequalities. The poor were further kept in poverty by the lockdown-induced economic disruptions as many of them could not earn an income for most of 2020 – this against the backdrop of food price increases and the generally high cost of living. All of these factors are at play in the absence of permanent social security provision for unemployed persons. Essentially, there is no support for people who are willing and able to work – but unable to find any employment.

The low voter turnout can be construed as a protest action by many of South Africa’s voters, who have lost faith in the political system’s ability to positively transform their lives. The danger of this is that people, particularly the poor, are now left to their own devices to fulfill their basic needs. The July unrest was merely a teaser of what may be to come if South Africa’s democratic deficiencies are not expeditiously attended to. The shift in our political culture, the transformation in societal attitudes and beliefs about political institutions, charts a path to political volatility which tends to breed instability.


Emerging Tensions in the African Continental Free Trade Area

Emerging Tensions in the African Continental Free Trade Area

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is one of the most ambitious regional integration initiatives taking place in the world today. Full implementation is still at least a decade away but there is significant value for the countries participating in the process of engagement itself.  Beyond market access preferences, the AfCFTA is a potential catalyst to strengthen productive capacity, build trade-supporting infrastructure and prepare the required institutions for achieving inclusive economic development across the continent. It will bring together 54 countries, some of which are not members of the World Trade Organization and have limited experience in negotiating trade agreements, like Ethiopia and Sudan. The majority of the world’s least developed countries (LDCs) will be part of the AfCFTA and it will be the first time that some of these countries are required to make significant changes to their tariff structures as well as negotiate rules in areas such as investment and electronic commerce.

The framework agreement of the AfCFTA has been ratified by 38 countries as at the beginning of September 2021 while it entered into force on 7 July 2019. It sets out an overall ambition to remove duties on 97% of all goods traded in the AfCFTA over a two-stage implementation process. Trade in services and non-tariff barriers are also the focus of Phase 1 of the agreement. Although it was possible for trade to commence from 1 January 2021, negotiations are ongoing with rules of origin still to be finalized for key sectors, such as clothing and textiles. All of this is happening at a time when it has not been possible for in-person interactions and negotiators have had to adapt to a virtual process.

It is not surprising therefore that some tensions are starting to emerge in the negotiations of the AfCFTA. First, there is a tension between the political ambition to complete this agreement in a short period of time and the technical process that is needed to achieve consensus on the complex rules that will govern African trade going forward. On the one hand, the strong political commitment to the AfCFTA is welcome and has been an important contributor to the momentum behind the process. There are however challenges when the technical process cannot keep up and meet the deadlines set by African leaders. In these circumstances, negotiators could run the risk of cutting corners and not agreeing on the level of detail required for the smooth implementation of the agreement. Following high profile events to mark milestones in the AfCFTA process and the announcement of trade commencing from the beginning of 2021, the fact that the negotiations are ongoing is causing confusion among traders about the status of the agreement. The advice to under promise and over deliver comes to mind.

A second area of tension is between the vision of the AfCFTA and the national economic development priorities of the participating countries. This is not unique to this trade agreement and is often at the heart of any modern negotiation process. Where the AfCFTA has a particular test is in the way that the process has unfolded with few specifics included in the framework agreement.  It is in the ongoing phase 1 negotiations that countries and customs unions are required to put forward offers that meet the framework criteria. This requires, for example, identifying 3% of goods that will be excluded from AfCFTA tariff reductions. In those African countries that rely on tariff revenue as a key part of domestic resource mobilization or that use tariffs as a tool of industrial policy, this could involve some difficult choices – a situation that is further complicated by an increasing focus on local content requirements and import substitution by African policymakers.

The framework agreement of the AfCFTA has also left some key concepts to be fleshed out as the negotiations proceed. For example, it is not clear how ‘reciprocity’ will be assessed in terms of the trade in goods negotiations – on a product by product basis, in terms of commercial benefit or based on a broad overall balance in commitments. In terms of the time available to implement tariff reductions, the provision of 10-13 years for LDCs is now being used by more developed countries that are taking up the longer implementation period as a member of a customs union. Special and differential treatment is an important principle of the AfCFTA but LDCs will only have the same period for adjustment to the liberalization impact of the agreement as their more advanced neighbours.

Thirdly, there is also a tension between the reality emerging of how the AfCFTA will be implemented and the overarching objective to create a more streamlined and less complex trade architecture in Africa. The AfCFTA will not replace the existing regional trade arrangements, such as the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), but will create an additional layer that plugs the gaps where there is no bilateral or regional agreement in place between members of the AfCFTA. This could create additional complexity for traders, especially where there are differences in the rules applied.

In conclusion, the AfCFTA has enormous potential to progress the integration of African economies but it should be viewed as a long term initiative. There are difficult issues that still need to be resolved under phase 1 of the negotiations, and implementation of commitments is likely to only be delivered in 10-15 years’ time. This needs to be clearly communicated to stakeholders, including the private sector. Greater transparency would go a long way to ensuring that the process is better understood. The tensions emerging require African trade ministers and officials to recommit to the overarching aims of the AfCFTA. There is room for the more developed, larger economies on the continent, such as South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria, to lead by example by opening up their markets in line with the original ambition.

Phase 2 and 3 negotiations on investment, competition policy, intellectual property rights and electronic commerce will be particularly challenging. There is however value in the process and not just in the end outcome. African countries should continue to build on the momentum created by the AfCFTA to strengthen productive capacity, build trade-supporting infrastructure and prepare the required institutions for achieving inclusive economic development.


The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Tutwa Consulting Group and/or the Tutwa editorial team.

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Making Local Government Coalitions Work

Making Local Government Coalitions Work

The 2021 Local Government Elections are testament to the success of the initial purpose of proportional representation in our electoral system. The objective was to ensure that numerous smaller parties representing local interests would have an opportunity to gain support, thus avoiding the dominance of large ethnically-based parties, possibly with a different ethnic group dominating each province. Coalitions are a feature, not a bug, of our electoral system.

Now we have what the founders of our democracy sought in a number of local government jurisdictions – the next objective is to achieve the alliances based on compromise, which will be necessary to enable our leaders to negotiate policy platforms that include the most key elements of each group’s policies. As an electorate, we send our leaders into the “town square” to negotiate a shared platform to implement over their term.

Compromise in countries dominated by two or three large parties is not easy, where party bosses prefer to hold out for the next spin of the electoral wheel when their party might return to winner-takes-all power. The USA presently shows what can happen in a two-party system where each party becomes dominated by its extreme flank and sees no space for compromise. It is even more challenging at the local authority level, where the focus tends to fall on the personalities who win the better-paying committee leadership positions and less on the policy approach of each party.

Back home, the initial prospects do not seem promising, with the larger dominant parties drawing the line at which parties they are prepared to work within coalition governments. It goes without saying that we cannot hope for success in every local authority, but out of 66 hung municipalities gearing up for coalitions, some will be led by leaders who seek the common ground and can find coalition partners.

So how do we support coalition politics? As voters, we need to give our vocal support to leaders who, when faced with significant support but not an outright majority of votes, are able to enter coalitions with others to craft a workable majority, without surrendering the core principles of their party. This might mean that all parties are able to agree on a platform that excludes one or more of their top priorities. Party leaders in this position need to accept that there is just not majority support for their cherished number one priority – but that does not mean that other lesser priorities might not be achievable.

With multiple local authorities seeking to achieve similar objectives – delivering services, maintaining infrastructure and building more, attracting new investment and jobs, we now have hundreds of different authorities each attempting different experiments on how to achieve similar objectives. National bodies have been developed, not least in the Ministry of Finance, to track the performance of local government against targets. Perhaps now is the time to focus more attention on these scorecards of progress, and associate more successful authorities with the parties, and more importantly, the coalitions of parties that drive their progress.

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LGE votes counted as SA politics enters a period of testing coalitions

LGE votes counted as SA politics enters a period of testing coalitions

As the IEC announced the final election results, South Africans reflected on the outcomes: whether their candidate or party of choice saw the results they were hoping for, whether their protest vote made a difference to the municipal makeup or, for the majority, what the election results looked like without their vote. Most were however, celebrating the fact that they had gone without power cuts for at least three days.

After the dust settled, it emerged that the majority governing party, the African National Congress (ANC), lost some ground while maintaining their hold on 161 municipalities. The Democratic Alliance (DA) achieved a majority in 13 municipalities, while the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) won 10 municipalities. The largest change, however, was in the number of hung councils, i.e. those in which no party achieved an outright majority and would require parties to form a coalition or minority government. A total 66 Municipalities were reported as hung councils by the IEC, more than twice the number compared to the previous election’s 27.

Council members have 14 days after the announcement of the electoral results to meet and appoint (elect) its representatives, including the council speaker. While this does not pose a problem for councils with an outright majority, negotiating coalitions or minority governments can be very challenging. This involves agreeing on a broad policy agenda, which for many parties means compromise on their own electoral platform and ideals and agreeing on the composition of the executive mayoral committee, which have extensive executive power to run the municipality. However, a municipal council by resolution may remove its speaker (and mayor) from office with the support of a simple majority of council members, which makes these types of governments less stable.

Experience from previous hung councils are discouraging. Some worked for a while thanks to minimal commitments made by the parties involved, some worked initially as parties extended olive branches (mayoralty) as a show of good faith which was eventually abused, while others failed to work from the onset due to grandstanding and seemingly irreconcilable differences. This often left municipalities without the critical executive mayor or mayoral committee, which meant that many operations ground to a halt, and in most cases also saw career civil servants lose their jobs, amounting to a loss of institutional memory and experience in municipal operations.

Some hung councils will likely survive the first bout of appointments and horse-trading, some may even become shining examples for other councils to look up to, but many with persistent challenges are likely to fail and drag their constituents down with them. This is not outright pessimism over elected council members, or the parties involved, but rather the immense pressure of having to get a lot done with dwindling resources while building the proverbial house of cards.

What many South Africans are too keenly aware of is the mismanagement and corruption that accompany the financial crisis faced by local municipalities. While poor management and corruption has eroded the institutions and infrastructure that deliver basic services, the underlying structural economic issues are what really fuel the crisis in local municipalities.

Municipalities are mostly funded by subsidies from national government, charging property rates and selling services, like water and electricity, to their constituents. However, these main income streams are under pressure from a number of factors which are particularly prevalent in small town South Africa.

Horse trading might be the order of the day for many councils, but as the euphoria of playing politics fades and the reality of running a municipality sets in, the seemingly insignificant flaws of an uneasy coalition will push many to the brink and may make things worse for everyone. Of course, municipal mismanagement and financial stress is also present in outright majority run municipalities, but as conversations about the fairness in the division of revenue continue, the quality of governance at municipal levels could prove harder to address in coalition governments. Time will tell if we can learn something about governance from coalitions, or if perhaps the pressure will shift the political centre of the governing parties towards a new political moderate.


What we need for truly inclusive elections in South Africa

What we need for truly inclusive elections in South Africa

Rafia Akram and Maymoona Chaugley

For many, heading out to cast our vote may seem like a standard process with the only concern being who to vote for. For others, there is unsaid complexity that goes unseen by many and perhaps even the organizers of the elections. This begs the question of inclusivity. Are the organizers taking persons living with a disability into account? Before jumping into perspectives on inclusion, I would like to reflect on the experiences of Maymoona Chaugley, who details her various arduous journeys to cast her vote as a  visually impaired citizen.

My reflections on the 2021 elections and earlier experiences –  Maymoona Chaugley

Being completely blind I have never had a voting experience that I can say was confidential. When we hear terms such as “human right, confidential, freedom of choice”, I can say that this local government election (LGE) was my fifth experience where such a ‘right’ was infringed upon.

I have tried different approaches such as asking for assistance from my stepmother and my younger brothers. However, this ended up being a mess because they marked with a tick instead of a cross, which as you can imagine, I was not able to confirm. I even asked an Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) official to assist me in the last election, which was done in the presence of a party official. This experience was far from confidential. Would you believe that before I left that particular booth, the party that I voted for announced my vote to all present, and the other officials even asked my dad who he voted for seeing as his daughter had voted for the named party!

In 2021, I thought things would be better. I do not expect perfection, but I do expect a system that works to reasonably accommodate persons living with a disability to ensure a fair and free voting opportunity. In short, I expected a level of confidentiality. Sadly, my experience over the voting weekend was not a true reflection of what was advertised and campaigned by the parties.

On Saturday 29 October 2021, after registering for a special vote, I was accompanied to the voting station by my uncle and his wife, and when we got there I asked for a braille ballot. The official apologized, telling me that, unfortunately, they did not get the required stationary and that there was no braille ballot. All the official could say was “sorry”. I decided that I was not going to vote.  

The presiding officer then announced that he could get the braille ballot by the following day on Sunday.  I explained that I could not come back a second time and should not have had to. The presiding officer agreed to collect me from my house and assist me to vote and take me back home.

The next day, the presiding officer was true to his word and did come to fetch me. However, he explained that the braille ballot did not correspond with the print ballot; and he decided to be creative. He explained to the parties what he would do to accommodate me. The presiding officer took a metal stick and made one small dot next to each party so that I could feel the dot and count to 25 and 46 respectively. He then read all the names on the first ballot and took me to the booth where he allowed me to count them. Before I could make my mark with a cross, he confirmed that I indeed wanted to make my mark where my finger was. We repeated the process for the second ballot and thereafter, he assisted me to place it in the envelopes and walked me to place it in the box. Despite the fact that it worked and allowed me to cast my vote, it was not a confidential process, and I felt my need for dependence galling.


These past local government elections have seen a lower voter turnout and the impact has reverberated across the political spectrum. Of the people who registered to use the special vote like Maymoona Chuglay above, eight out of ten people voted. This is an extraordinary turnout keeping in mind the hurdles faced.

It is now time to take stock not only of the political outcomes, which will have an inevitable economic and social impact, but to look forward to refining the system to ensure the a well-run election process that is inclusive of all South Africans. And that way forward can be reached through the use of technology.

Technology is a divisive subject in an unequal society where access differs widely depending on where in the country one is. South Africa has one of the largest ICT markets on the continent, and a smartphone penetration of 80% with 91% of South African adults with mobile phones. However, the internet is mainly used through smartphones and the internet penetration was estimated at 62% for January 2020.

This was one of the main opposing arguments raised by opponents of the proposal tabled by the IEC to Parliament for an electronic voting system in 2020, a process which was initiated as early as 2009. For this to take effect, the IEC needed to set a process in motion to change three legislations. The proposed amendments under the Bill seek to align three key pieces of electoral legislation, namely the Electoral Commission Act, the Electoral Act and the Local Government: Municipal Electoral Act to allow for an electronic voting system. Amongst the concerns raised was the risk of electoral fraud, hacking and the rigging of election results. There were also concerns raised about the costs of an e-voting system, given South Africa’s current fiscal constraints, as well as the exclusion of communities who may not have access to digital technologies.

Voting technology is advancing and the use of electronic or internet-based technology has been deployed across the globe in developed and developing countries alike. Pakistan, for instance, uses internet-based technology for overseas citizens, and Australia uses it specifically for those with a disability. 17 countries utilise Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines with and without voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT); among these are Bangladesh, France, India and Mexico. A true mixed bag of countries.

What would be the ideal system for South Africa? Certain requirements will have to be in place, particularly the legal infrastructure around elections.

Initially, it would need one singular voting system, which allows for a transition from paper to electronic, so that we can move away from paper over time, taking into account the fact that some voters will only feel comfortable with paper votes. It would also have to be a closed system so that there is minimal tampering with the vote itself. Finally and importantly, it would need to be inclusive and easy to use for people living with disabilities; providing options for voice, typing, and choice through easy scrolling. In such a system, a visually impaired person would review the ballot via speech output through headphones (voice) and use buttons to scroll through the ballot and choose candidates with certain accessibility features.

South African voters deserve a voting system that includes those living with disabilities, and not one that creates a separate stream for them. We must aim for an equal experience, one that facilitates inclusivity, confidentiality and independence for everyone.