The tracking of the national dialogue on coalition as a process of institutionalizing coalition politics in South Africa.

November 6, 2023 Dineo kgatle

This case study provides a real-life tracking of the national dialogue on coalition as a process of institutionalizing coalition politics between political parties in South Africa. It focuses on The National Dialogue on Coalition Governments.

Problems and Purpose

The national dialogue on coalition government was aimed at bringing together members of political parties, faith organizations, civil society, academics, and students. The notion is to establish a national framework to guide the management of coalition governments as they become a reality in all spheres of government in South Africa. Due to the fact that coalition governments have not been that of a success, they also present the threats of political instability for the country. Since it is very important for political parties and citizens to recognize the significance of tracking and regulating coalition government as a means to ensure responsible and efficient governance. Furthermore, the purpose of the dialogue was to provide a direct response to the questions that were raised in the parliament regarding the need to come up with stability within a coalition government in the absence of a legislative framework (Manyana,2023)

Background History and Context

The African National Congress (ANC), which is the ruling party has been gradually losing support as party politics in South Africa continue to change. Whereas in the 2019 national elections, the ANC’s vote share fell to a record low of 57.5% that is according to Albert&Twongyerwe (2023). The declining of vote support for the ANC has led to debates or dialogue around the percentage of votes it might receive in the 2024 national election. The Ipsos estimates that the ANC would receive 40% of the vote if elections were held in South Africa today, this information raises questions about the possibility of a coalition government at the national level, and who will form part of the coalition. Since there have been talks about a coalition between the ANC and one of the main opposition parties either the Democratic Alliance(DA) or Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). 

Things were stable in Johannesburg since the EFF and former DA Mayor Herman Mashaba appeared to get along. The coalition partners' cooperative efforts resulted in the city regaining buildings that had been taken over and the municipality hiring security guards on an in-house basis. Following internal party conflict within the DA, Herman Mashaba was forced to resign from his mayoral position. In another coalition agreement mayor did not serve out his full five-year tenure. With the assistance of lesser parties, the ANC was able to retake control of the metro shortly after Mashaba's resignation as mayor. After the 2021 LGE, the DA was able to retake control of Johannesburg with the aid of ActionSA and other smaller parties. The DA's hold on power lasted for just over ten months, as the party's mayor was removed through a motion of no confidence that had the backing of the ANC and the EFF. The ANC returned to power in Johannesburg with the election of Dada Morero as regional leader, thanks to the no-confidence move against the mayor. The South Gauteng High Court also ordered Dada to step down. Since the ANC and EFF were unable to agree on a candidate to succeed departing Mpho Phalatese, Thapelo Amad of Aljama has been elected as the new mayor of Johannesburg.

However, given the political ideologies and policy differences between the two parties is very evident that such a coalition might not take place. While on the other side a coalition between (ANC) and the(EFF) was going to be plausible due to ideological overlap. That will require the(ANC)to give in to the EFF’s radical policies. According to Hanabe & Malinzi(2019) when parties refuse to cooperate with persons who were employed by the winning party that was in charge of the administration, especially senior officials, the coalition results in administrative instability. These people are seen as being devoted to the political party that won the most votes. Services to communities are disrupted as a result, and the leadership is inadequate. This highlights that we cannot afford to have political instability in the national government. Drawing on the notion that studies have been conducted that showed that local government coalitions have created so much harm in terms of service delivery. For instance even after the newly established coalition government between the (DA) and EFF, the City of Tshwane has seen its fair share of communities protesting for the delivery of services. Due to the history of the coalition in South Africa, Deputy President and Leader of Government Business Paul Mashatile organized a two-day debate at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) that brought together political parties, the government, and other civil society organizations only one of the parliamentary parties, the (EFF), chose not to participate in the discussion (Besent,2023). It was referred to as The National Dialogue on Coalition Governments, which came to an end on produced a draft declaration that will need additional feedback from consultations. Lastly and most importantly it will be the main focus of this Participedia case study.

Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities

The national dialogue on coalition government was organized and led by Deputy President Pual Mashatile, and the Minister of Cooperative Governance &Traditional Affairs (Simelane,2023). It was also supported by other independent civil society organizations like the Dullah Omar Institute at the University of the Western Cape and Political parties in the Parliament. The design of the two days and the content of the dialogue also included four breakaway sessions, which were designed to collect input towards improving the functioning of a coalition government and were all developed by the presidency government office. Furthermore, the dialogue was funded by the South African government

Participant Recruitment and Selection

The national dialogue on coalition government was comprised of Political parties in the South African parliament and those political parties included the African National Congress (ANC) to the heads of the Democratic Alliance (DA), Freedom Front Plus (FF-Plus), Good Party, Congress of the People (COPE), United Democratic Movement (UDM). Some of the delegates included academics like Susan Booysen who have done some research related to coalition government and other legal expert such as Mr Tselane and Pierre De Vos a constitutional law expert. The were also diplomatic representatives from Kenya, Germany, Netherlands, and Denmark who shared their coalition experience from their respective countries. For instance, in Kenya's coalition governments, legal regulation played a crucial role. While in the German case study, they emphasized implementing "constructive votes of no confidence" in which a replacement is chosen concurrently with the motion. The Dutch experience presented that coalition discussions do not have to be excessively long or brief in order to allow for proper consideration. The need for coalition agreements to be made public and monitored by an independent entity was expressed by the discussions' general consensus. Most of the delegates were invited based on their expertise in relation to coalition government and additionally not all members of the public were invited.

Methods and Tools Used

The national dialogue used principles of deliberative democracy which prioritizes quality above numbers by limiting decision-making to a more condensed but still representative sample of the public that is given the time and resources to concentrate on a single subject. It frequently incorporates aspects of majority and consensus rule. Deliberative democracy is different from traditional democratic thought in that real debate, not just voting, it is what gives laws their essential validity ( Bachtiger et al,2018). This was highlighted in how the program was structured and the sessions that it had. Because every political party has an opportunity to submit their ideas on what they think should be addressed in the dialogue. That created a balance in terms of promoting open-minded deliberations amongst the political delegates that were present in the dialogue. There was also a discussion paper that was provided to the delegates before the dialogue that had detailed information on coalition government and the issues around them, most importantly it also states the reason behind the need for a framework.


What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation

Prior to the national dialogue on coalition government, different political parties made submissions on coalition government and also participated in the question session in the dialogue. From the secretary general of the (ANC) to the heads of the (DA), Freedom Front Plus (FF-Plus), Good Party, Congress of the People (COPE), United Democratic Movement (UDM), and Al Jama ah, they all contributed and stated their various opinions on coalition government?.

In the dialogue, there were four topics the first one being the motion of no confidence. Which was highlighted by the DA in their submission that was centered around the limitations of the tabling motion of no confidence. According to the DA, such motions should be brought forward once every year. Siviwe Gwarube, the DA Chief Whip, delivered a speech. She informed the delegates that No Confidence motions can only be submitted more than once per year if laws have been broken. According to Gwarube, this is a part of the legislative recommendations the DA has made to stop the misuse of motions of no confidence. However, Vuyo Zungula, the leader of African Transformation, criticized the DA for suggesting that the number of vote-of-no-confidence resolutions be restricted. After presenting his suggestion, Zungula left the debate and rejected it. He added that the dialogue on coalitions is premature. “Mandates are the focus of elections no one in this room has been given a mandate for 2024, furthermore he gave an example stating that some political parties in 2014 thought they would be big political parties whereas they did not become big parties and what kind of democratic systems. The second aspect or topic that was discussed in the dialogue was the notion of setting up a commission and non-racialism it was raise by the IFP. According to Besent (2023), the IFP presented the four elements that coalition governments should be governed by, which are communication, consultation, consensus, and compromise. They furthermore mentioned potential Coalition partners must exchange information, speak openly, and agree on decision-making procedures. To engage the general public, a coalition must convey its objectives and successes. While other Political parties such as the GOOD party emphasized respect as one of the key elements for a successful coalition government. Their leader Patricial De Lille stated it is very important to listen to lessons around the world.

The third notion was that of the creation of units and the framework for a successful coalition this was discussed on the second day which was Saturday morning 5th of August 2023. Participants were split into four units that gave feedback to the delegates. In the unit that dealt with aspects of culture and the political-social contract for coalition governments. Political analyst Susan Booysen stated that South Africa must accept the realities of a new culture of compromise in politics If we look at how coalition, stable coalition governments have evolved across the globe, we need to accept that we are in a new period where give and take may not be a one-off thing (Grootes,2024). There was also another unit that was given the responsibility of investigating any proposed laws and rules pertaining to coalition administrations. Terry Tselane, the chairperson of the Institute of Election Management Services in Africa, spoke on the panel and discussed the idea of forming an organization to help build coalition stability. Pierre De Vos who was on the same commission and is a constitutional law expert, had some concerns regarding the regulation of coalitions. He stated that he was skeptical of coalition regulation and whether it would change anything. First, because politics are at the heart of the issue. It concerns politicians and political parties, on how they act, and the incentives they perceive to exist. In the constitutional aspects, the regulation you establish won't always have the same impact. Meanwhile, Bheke Stofile, the president of the South African Local Government Association (SALGA), who was on the same unit as Susan Booysen, agreed with Tselane's suggestion to create a body to resolve conflicts among coalition members. Additionally, there was another unit that provided feedback on the professionalization of the public service and the restructuring of the system for supporting municipalities under coalition rule. Representatives from Rise Mzansi, The Rivonia Circle, Build One South Africa (BOSA), Patriotic Alliance (PA), and Action SA were among the others who participated in the conversation by asking questions and contributing. Furthermore, DA leader John Steenhuisen also took advantage of the chance to defend some coalition government during the question-and-answer session with a panel from the various units. Lastly, after receiving input from the four units, a draft declaration was given to the delegates. Nevertheless, a number of adjustments and suggestions were made. The Plenary decided to allow more discussion of the declaration context. Broader consultation is one of them, as it enables political parties, civil society, and other interested parties to consult their supporters and organizations.


Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

 The national dialogue on coalition presented a model for how high-quality democratic discussions can be addressed in South Africa. This highlighted or showed a high level of deliberative democracy since political party representatives each gave their contributions and crucial suggestions for effective coalition governments. There was broad consensus on the need for coalition regulation, restrictions on motions of no confidence, and restrictions on political involvement in administration. However political parties could not agree on whether there should be electoral thresholds for getting into the MCs. The constitutional values of diversity and proportional representation, according to smaller parties would be restricted and would encourage exclusivity(Besent,2023). Therefore the dialogue showed elements of participatory and deliberative democracy, for instance with participatory democracy political leaders participated by adding their suggestions on what can be included in the framework. This had a good reflection on the South African democracy and it also provided a sense of relief and ease to citizens in terms of showing them that political parties are aware of what is happening in relation to coalition and that they are trying to find a framework that will work in the national coalition after the 2024 election. The National Dialogue on Coalition Governments ended on Saturday and concluded with a draft declaration that will require further consultation inputs.

Analysis and Lessons Learned

The national dialogue on coalition government overall, was good indicating that political parties can come together in one room and discuss the future of South Africa. However, most importantly the dialogue showed that the essence of democracy is not dead considering South Africa’s history of representative democracy has held sway, often to the detriment of participatory democracy. But with this dialogue, was a clear reflection of deliberative democracy since different political party leaders came together to discuss a framework for a possible national coalition. That highlights their attempt to make a consensus amongst themselves before the elections which is also an element of deliberative democracy. Furthermore, since this was a dialogue it shows the talk-centric element of deliberative democracy that replaces voting voting-centric theory that was stated by ( Bachtiger et al,2018). In terms of the deliberative democracy theory most importantly the theory that is presented by Bachtiger et al was very helpful in this case study since they provide an overview of deliberative democracy and they also talk about the challenges and opportunities of deliberative democracy. Where they are very much realistic about the outcomes of this theory. Their theory also provided us with a greater lens in terms of assessing how they talk to each other in and also the level of equality and inclusiveness of those dialogues.


Furthermore, According to Bregman (2023), the Ministry of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs has already developed a bill, which the government plans to propose soon, it was revealed at the dialogue. These findings raised the issue of whether this process was really intended to examine all points of view, or if it was more of a public relations stunt. While the public is welcome to comment on any proposed law that makes its way to Parliament, a matter with such wide-ranging implications demands adequate public consultation. This was one of the shortcomings because it might show that the whole dialogue was not based on the deliberative approach if they had already drafted their own bill. In fact, according to other political analysts, the event brought to light the profound disagreements, mistrust, and differences among political parties and individuals on coalition government (Bregman,2023). While some other political parties like the EFF stated that the whole coalition dialogue was a predetermined ploy by the ANC. Lastly, this process led to a daft framework but it is still not finalized since this case is still ongoing and there is new information almost every other day about coalition government at the national in terms of what should be done, but this step was a step forward in coming up with a potential framework that might be successful for South African.

See Also


Alberts, K .Twongyeirwe, S .South African, Coalition Ahead

 Bächtiger, A., Dryzek, J. S., & Mansbridge, J. (2018). Mark Warren, eds.

 Besent, M. (2023) National Dialogue on Coalition ends with declaration draft requiring consultation sabcnews

Bregman, J (2023) Coalitions & rules with Joel Bregman, MyVote Counts

Diamond, L., & Morlino, L. (Eds.). (2005). Assessing the quality of democracy. JHU Press.

Dryzek, J. S. (2017). The forum, the system, and the polity: Three varieties of democratic theory. Political Theory45(5), 610-636.

Habermas, J. (2008). Between Naturalism and Religion, trans. C. Cronin.

Hanabe, L. D., & Malinzi, U. (2019). Party coalition as a model to govern municipalities in South Africa. Journal of Public Administration54(1), 41-51.

Simelane, N.(2023) ACCORD attends the National Dialogue on Coalition Governments in CapeTown.




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