Coalitions and electoral numbers


NOTHING has demonstrated a turning point in South African politics than the never thought possible EFF and DA non-coalition or alliance in three Metros following the 2016 Local Government Elections. Although no formal coalition agreement exists between the two parties, the imperative for the parties to persuade each other or at the very least agree on a governance programme in order to vote together in council is a necessity.

Coalition governments require, among other things, that the parties involved have a basic understanding of their constituencies’ electoral or social concerns, an agreed upon responsive plan on how to address these concerns, and most importantly make concessions and compromises to achieve them. This isn’t the case between the DA and EFF. Consequently, the EFF engages and disengages its support depending on the issue at hand and/or whether they were able to get a concession from the DA on any issue of the party’s most concern.

Coalition governments are not easy to come by and are generally a hard sell to the respective party’s divergent constituencies, especially when there are no policy commonalities. The EFF and the DA co-operation is unprecedented, with the parties standing on pole opposites on core policy positions that include land, transformation, and nationalisation. Governing the three Metros has given the DA a clear head start for positioning itself as the alternative to the ANC government, given the upcoming 2019 General Elections. The events of the recent weeks are however a real threat to the DA’s electoral message of “we govern better”.

In Nelson Mandela Bay and Tshwane, the EFF used a hard hand approach quite skilfully, impressing upon the DA to appreciate the fact that they are governing the Metros on backroom negotiations and not the will of the people. There are certainly lessons for the new leadership of the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro to reflect on. In Johannesburg on the other hand, a soft hand approach seems to be working, thus far. Developments here signal a show of leverage favourable to the EFF in this uneasy ‘political romance’ of endless courtship.

The collapsed vote of no confidence against Tshwane Mayor Solly Msimanga comes across as more a win for the EFF than the DA. The EFF may have failed to see its vote of no confidence through but evidently got what it wanted. The EFF’s stated wishes for insourcing of contract workers in the city, has held sway. This had previously been deemed unfavourably by the DA on account of budgetary constraints.

This should be music to the anti-brokers’ movement spearheaded by NUMSA’s Irvin Jim. Albeit the anti-brokers’ campaign has its roots in COSATU, SAFTU, through NUMSA, has been the fiercest shaker of the tree to fruition. The consequent fall of the fruits for insourcing irrefutably resonates with the crusading role the EFF has been playing and remains uncompromising on.

Insourcing of workers is a big electoral issue for the EFF. Their support base will appreciate this more than the removal of the mayoral chain from around the neck of current Tshwane head honcho Msimang.

Elections are about bodies, the electorate, and power of numbers that can be mustered through the ballot. What both parties need to keep their eyes on are the numbers.

In the 2016 Local Government Election, the DA received 381 146 party votes in the Tshwane, 483 018 in the City of Johannesburg, and 307 664 in Ekurhuleni. These numbers saw the DA increase its electoral gains over the decade, 2006 to 2016, from 30.69% to 43.15% in Tshwane; 27.05% to 38.41% in the City of Johannesburg; and 25.80% to 34.15% in Ekurhuleni. In the same Metros, the EFF got 102 895 party votes in Tshwane, 141 303 in the City of Johannesburg, and 102 242 in Ekurhuleni. This puts EFF’s election gains at 11.63% in Tshwane, 11,09% in the City of Johannesburg, and 11.23% in Ekurhuleni.  

These are impressive numbers considering that only 3,6 million of the registered 6,2 million people voted in Gauteng. If the ANC, DA and the EFF continue on their current growth trajectories and the EFF continues to successfully extort concessions from the DA, it stands a very good chance of removing the DA as the 2nd largest political party in Gauteng after the 2019 National Elections.  

In its second National Election campaign, the EFF will be able to demonstrate more than just intent and will to change the lives of the many South Africans who find themselves politically and economically marginalised. This it will do by pointing to their victories in the National Assembly, which include #PayBackTheMoney and its motion on the Amendment of Section 25 of the Constitution. At Local Government, they will point to the concessions they have pushed the DA to make with respect to insourcing.

As the only two parties running a government, the DA and ANC are now judged on more than just their word, but on their performance at both local and national government.  

With the DA desperate to govern at all costs, they need to make peace with the fact that a lot more concessions will be made as the race to the 2019 General Elections hots up. The reality they have to live with is that the EFF is governing by proxy. While claiming not to be governing with DA because a formal coalition does not exist, they are happy using the DA to implement their manifesto, demand consultation on key governance issues, in the meanwhile accepting zero accountability albeit sharing the spoils   

The 2016 Local Government Election results showed a number of interesting facts about the South African electorate including its appreciation of a maturing democracy. Public expression of protest and people’s dissatisfaction with their material conditions resulted in changes in voting behaviour.

People in urban areas who were unhappy about their social conditions voted differently. The DA, EFF and other minority parties in coalitions across the country will be held to the same standards, with regards to service delivery, as the ANC.

Therefore, all opposition parties should ask themselves what they are gaining for their constituency in the current coalition agreements or alliances and whether this will increase or decrease their electoral support. Ultimately, the party that will win elections will have to convince a significant part of the South African electorate that it has a better understanding of their immediate and long-term social, economic, and political issues and are best placed to address these.  

Anele Mtwesi is an Entrepreneur and Strategist based in South Africa