Lehlohonolo Kennedy Mahlatsi
The recent local government elections has brought about new development in the history of our country resulting in 66 hung municipalities.
In order for those municipalities to be properly constituted the coalition talks among political parties were inevitable. The love feast between the pseudo-revolutionary adventurism of left-wing opportunists and right-wing which emerged as a result of the coalition is a bitter, humiliating, difficult, but essential and useful lesson.
Different parties represent different ideological orientation and constituencies. It seems as if ideological inclination is not a defining feature of the coalition. This means that any coalition is possible because of the ideological affinities between most of the parties. Unfortunately, these coalitions tend to begin and end at the elite level. Yet what matters is not the bringing together of the elites but the coalition of the constituents they represent.
Coalitions work when the leadership of the parties brings those constituents together to meet their common needs. If the coalition is formed solely to serve the interests of the elites, it will simply not be sustainable. Coalition entails compromises that are based not only in principles but must also be principled.
Strong leadership is needed to keep the coalition together. Politics and a leader are inseparable, because politics is conducted by a leader. When a leader deviates from the standpoint of defending the interests of the people and affirming them, he is already not a leader and his politics is corrupt and degenerate. When greeting a good, far-sighted leader, the people can hew out their destiny and the prosperity of their country and nation can be guaranteed.
The qualifications and personality of a genuine leader are formed and hardened when they are based on trust in the people. When having a viewpoint that the people are the main agent of history, the motive force of its progress and the most precious and powerful beings a leader becomes modest before the people and has a simple disposition. At the same time he can solve everything, relying on their strength.
In his book, The Politics of Party Coalitions in Africa, published in 2006, Denis Kadima evaluated the failures and successes of coalitions in Africa. He observed that satisfying the personal ambitions of divergent constituents in relation to promotion, appointments and various favours and privileges has been the main challenge to the maintenance of party coalitions, given that expectations are high while the means of meeting them are limited.
At times tensions or splits have occurred because of inadequate consultation and dialogue within the coalition. One of the weaknesses of coalitions is the fact that there is no law governing them. They should be registered and their objective, duration and agreement be made public. The agreements linking political parties in coalitions should be in the public domain.
At the same time, excessive regulation of coalitions and political parties should be avoided, as this could impinge on the constitutionally enshrined freedom of association. Tensions within a coalition make it difficult for the coalition to be sustainable, a factor exacerbated by the absence of regular dialogue among the partners.
The frequent collapse of party coalitions is the result of many factors, including, inter alia, the lack of internal democracy and transparency within the affiliated political parties, personal ambition and power struggles, mistrust, and the absence of ideology. Some of the political parties are led by the corrupt tenderprenuers who tend to find it normal that the leaders make deals for their personal benefit. This will result in leaders joining another party or alliance in exchange for a position or for financial and material advantages, and often members are not consulted on such decisions.
Democracy will depend on political parties that are able to come together to form principled, viable, well-structured and organised coalitions with a view to advancing the aspirations of hitherto downtrodden African masses. If a coalition is to survive, it should be based on political honesty, mutual trust and respect.
The motives, roles and personality of party coalition leaders also influence alliances. More generally, the inadequate institutionalisation of democracy, the domination of founding leaders over their parties and the structural and organisational weaknesses or strengths of political parties also affect not only the parties themselves but also party alliances.
The political economy of the remote municipalities without a revenue base, especially in the context of limited career opportunities outside of government, often leads to the building of unprincipled coalitions.
Regular meetings help coalition partners to harmonise their views in a transparent manner and iron out differences.
All of this contributes to building trust and confidence, which are indispensable to the sustainability of any coalition. The collapse of coalitions may also be the result of internal political problems. Since some of the coalitions are elitist and are not based on principles or ideological proclivity, there is a likelihood that coalitions might collapse because of petty squabbles and infightings among coalition partners.
This will further cripple the local government in fulfilling its developmental mandate and constitutional obligations. The dream of building better communities will not be realised.
Dr Mahlatsi is an SACP Free State PEC Member writing in his personal capacity