Eish,coalition politics

Athol Trollip, mayor of the Nelson Mandela Bay metro.

The forlorn hope for 2019, that meaningful change will come to pass, is predicated on the ANC losing an outright majority in the National Assembly and more than one provincial legislature.

If that happens, the opposition may be able to cobble together workable coalitions which will permit the hard work of undoing the damage wrought by 10 years of a Zuma-led ANC government.

But, for that to happen, those coalitions must be workable, capable of governing, rather than dog-in-the-manger expedient arrangements designed to simply keep the ANC out of power.

Coalition politics by its very nature is fraught with complications. After all, if the protaginists in a coaltion were ideologically aligned, they would all be members of a single party.

Coalitions come into being on the premise that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, and perhaps the most extreme example in our politics, is the uneasy accord between the DA and the EFF in the Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay Metro councils.

How on earth can one expect that two parties as ideologically divergent could possibly co-govern, without compromising their respective policy platforms?

In Johannesburg and Tshwane, the coalitions seem to be working despite the odd public spat between the partners, but in Nelson Mandela Bay the coalition is under threat of collapse.

Were it simply a matter of ideoligcal differences, it would perhaps make more sense, but the parties to the unseemly spat – the DA and the UDM – are as closely aligned ideologically as one can get without merging into a single party.

Without delving into the merits of the the case from either side – allegations of corruption, fraud, mismanagement, brinkmanship, arrogance, voting with the opposition, the list goes on – what is really at stake is the political stability of the Nelson Mandela Bay metro.

As fragile as the coalition has been, it has managed to do what it was elected to do – deliver services – which is at the heart of the co-governance agreement.

That capacity is now under threat, for if the UDM pulls out of the alliance, there is no certainty that what remains of the coalition can retain control of the metro.

Such is the nature of our politics, that if the ANC regains control of the metro, a slew of axings from key positions in the administration would follow, as coalition-appointed officials are replaced by ANC deployees.

The citizens of Nelson Mandela Bay metro would pay the price in discontinuity of service delivery, as the new administration implements its own policy agenda.

It would be easy to argue in favour of the ultilitarian calculus, as postulated by Jeremy Bentham, that the greater good for the greater number ought to inform the deliberations of the coalition partners in Nelson Mandela Bay as they bicker, but that would amount to maintaining the staus quo – perpetuating an unworkable coalition by papering over the chasms that exist between the warring parties.

With 2019 looming, the very nature of coalition politics is on trial.

If the DA and the UDM cannot muster the political maturity needed to resolve their differences and get the co-governance agreements back on track, what might be the impact on the other two opposition coalitions in Johannesburg and Tshwane?

If these accords also unravel, the prospects for workable opposition coalitions at national and provincial level after the 2019 election recede, if the ANC polls less than 50% plus one, ushering in the dispiriting prospect of ANC-led coalitions instead.