Coalition politics can have stabilising effect

Staff Writer | Apr 28, 2019
Coalitions can deliver better governance outcomes … but it all depends on the parties involved.

A quarter of South Africa’s 20 best-performing municipalities are governed by coalitions, according to a new report by Ratings Afrika.

While the results of local elections are not generally a useful guide as to how parties will fare in national and provincial elections, consideration of how coalitions have or have not worked at the local level may still provide important insights. 

The Ratings Afrika report, which focuses on the financial well-being of municipalities, finds that of the nine provinces, municipalities in the Western Cape tend to be the best governed, financially.

The worst-performing province is Free State where municipalities obtained an average score of 17 – two points lower than the worst-performing Western Cape municipality, Drakenstein, with a score of 19.

Ratings Afrika concentrates on municipal finances, with a particular emphasis on whether a municipality runs an operating surplus.  However, it is not the role of municipalities to make a ‘profit’ and operating surpluses may reflect unnecessarily high service charges or taxation levels.

That one quarter of the 20 best-performing municipalities are governed by coalitions contradicts the commonly held belief that coalitions are necessarily bad for government performance. Coalitions are only formed when no single party has a clear majority and the assistance of political partners is required to form a government.

Successful coalitions can stabilise governance and ensure improved levels of oversight of those administrations. Increased oversight, coupled with the consequences of the coalition performing poorly, help to limit abuse and improve government performance.

But, and this is a big ‘but’, much depends on which parties are in the coalition. With the exception of a coalition with the Congress of the People, the successful coalitions in the 20 best-performing municipalities are coalitions with predominantly Afrikaans parties like the Karroo Genmeenskap Party (KGP), Freedom Front Plus (FFPlus) or the Khoisan Revolution (KSR).

Coalitions or alliances with other parties yielded different results. Cape Town, which is governed by the DA alone, is generally regarded by different ratings agencies as the best-performing metro.

The worst-performing metro is Johannesburg, which is governed by the DA with the support of – it is not a genuine coalition – the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Alliances with the EFF generally have proved fragile and less conducive to improved performance.

Several other DA coalitions dependent on EFF support (such as Nelson Mandela Bay and Mogale City) became unsustainable and collapsed, thereby undermining government performance.


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