During the past decade, we have seen an increasing number of coalitions formed in municipalities and metros around the country. Due to its position as the second biggest party in the country and being the official opposition, the DA is involved in, and in most cases, the biggest block in these coalitions. While these are not “DA led” but rather multi-party coalitions, the DA does bring the largest group of votes/seats into the coalitions.
Coalition governments are meant to be alliances to serve the people of the municipality, metro, provincial or national government they represent. They are not, and should never be, an opportunity for a party or parties with minimal representation, to change sides and destabilize governments purely in the selfish interest of positions, power, and publicity. The horse trading, ship jumping, supporting of no confidence motions without substance and internal fights for positions are the biggest threat to what should be a united front to fix broken systems and remove corrupt or incompetent people from government.
In the City of Johannesburg, there has been a move by the representatives of other parties in the Technical Task Team, which is responsible for the day-to-day management of the Coalitions, to re-open negotiations on the allocation of positions to different political parties, with particular emphasis on the position of Speaker in Johannesburg. Internal party conflicts have already caused severe delays and disruptions in the City, including the inability to appoint a permanent City Manager, and the current vacancy in the position of Speaker. This move, initiated by ActionSA in respect of the speaker of Johannesburg, has now extended to other positions and also impacts Ekurhuleni and Tshwane. The citizens of these metros and indeed the other coalition partners cannot be held to ransom by the greed and self interest of a few.
The recent removal of DA speaker Vasco de Gama as speaker was a classic example of how coalitions shouldn’t operate. Renegade councillors voted against their own parties’ positions on the vote. These councillors have since been suspended or fired from the parties they failed to represent. Putting aside the allegations of bribery, councillors are elected by citizens who expect them to stick to the values and principles of the party they represent. Power and positions should never be the driving factor especially for a party will minimal representation.
Coalition agreements are not decided on a whim by party representatives around a braai. There are weeks and sometimes months of meetings, discussions, negotiations before a written and binding agreement is in place. These agreements are important for the effective and efficient running of the government the coalition is in charge of. These are not decisions that can or should be changed like children swopping collectables during break, because individuals or parties’ quest for positions may impact heavily on the smooth running of the service delivery plan.
We have already seen that, too often in our political landscape, small parties change allegiance from the governing coalition to the opposition or vice versa, based entirely on what position they will be offered in the other group without any regard given to values, principles, or mandates of the party they represent.
The public are tired of seeing politicians haggling over positions, when they were elected to advance service delivery, and to fix the broken municipalities or metros they represent. The delays caused by internal squabbles is infuriating to residents who want the services due to them and which they believed the coalition governments could deliver. It is equally frustrating for the parties that go to work every day to do the best they can for the residents, only to be pulled into the greedy need for positions and power by some individuals and the parties they represent.
The DA is firmly of the view that the phase of negotiations for positions in the City of Johannesburg is now over. In fact, it ended when the Coalition Agreement was signed on 22 February 2022 in front of the media and to significant public acclaim. Furthermore, any review of the coalition agreement is, in terms of the coalition agreement itself, is meant to be a structured and careful review, and cannot be done on an ad hoc basis.
We have now firmly entered the delivery phase, when all coalition partners must focus on achieving the joint objectives for government, spelt out in the coalition agreement, and not re-open negotiation on positions. The coalition agreement is not just something everyone signed to then be stuck away in a drawer somewhere. It is the guiding document on what was agreed to, what systems are in place for any disputes and what each signatory had agreed to comply with. It is certainly not a guideline or list of suggestions and any attempts to portray it as such should be dismissed with the contempt it deserves.
If certain parties cannot even honour a coalition agreement that they publicly signed and declared fealty to in front of the whole country, then voters would be right to ask how these same parties could ever be trusted to honour the promises they make to the electorate.
There will come a time, probably sooner than later, when the question must be asked: Is it worth continuously struggling in a dysfunctional coalition or could more be achieved from the opposition benches? Those who thrive on power and position would do well to remember that
Crucially, if coalitions are going to be the form that governments take in the future, including at national level, coalition agreements must be respected as the basis of building viable and functional governments. If they can be disregarded with impunity by parties seeking other positions, these coalition agreements will not be worth the paper they are written on. These agreements must be the cornerstone of the alliances, the binding document that ensures the initial plans to work together in the interests of the residents and not the politicians and must be adhered to.
The DA is committed to coalition government that provides, stability and good service delivery. We cannot support a process that in effect makes coalition government no better than the factional, extortionist and rent-seeking politics that characterised ANC government. This approach to government is the primary reason for corruption, collapsing service delivery and the failed state. We have to do better than that.