A race against time as political parties rush to meet the deadline to form coalition

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It’s a race against time for political parties as they try to meet the deadline to form South Africa’s new local councils. The pressure is on the 70 hung municipalities in which no single political party was able to get a majority in last week’s local government elections.

Failure to reach coalition agreements through the negotiations currently taking place may result in provincial MECs responsible for local government having to make a determination about what form the council should take or residents having to go back to the ballot box.

With the Municipal Structures Act stipulating that municipalities must be convened 14 days after the declaration of the local government election results, political parties are hard at work brokering coalition agreements amongst themselves in hung councils.

With parties such as the Democratic Alliance (DA) vowing not to work with the African National Congress (ANC), this process may prove intractable.

The Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) is responsible for ensuring the smooth running of local government.

“For now, what we are doing as a department is to give political parties space to reconstitute these councils and we thought it would be proper to give them space to run their processes. However, if they fail to reconstitute those councils within the next 14 days, which is by the 23rd, then the MEC in that respective province can then declare that there are by-elections in those hung municipalities,” says National Spokesperson, Lungi Mtshali.

Such by-elections must be held within 90 days according to the Act, with municipal managers tasked to run councils in the interim.

Mtshali says that running by-elections is not the ideal solution in terms of bringing resolve to hung councils since there is not guarantee that a fresh result will change the balance of voter support. He says the South African Local Government Association has sought to assist these councils.

“At the moment, we have worked with Salga to develop guidelines for political parties in terms of how they formulate or constitute these hung municipalities. The guidelines are there in terms of the Structures Act and the MEC having assessed the situation on the ground can then determine which course of action is best suited for those municipalities. The Structures Act does give us options and which option is taken by the MEC is taken on a situation by situation basis,” Mtshali added.

MEC’s have an alternative to commonly adopted Executive Mayor System, which has necessitated the brokering of coalitions. This is a system which the mayor wields considerable power together with a management team he or she appoints.

The system, according to Attorney at law firm Webber Wentzel, Michael Evans is responsible for the high stakes placed on coalition negotiations by political parties as to who will take this position and others on the team.

Evans says that adopting another system, the Collective Executive system would allow the de-politicisation of the work of local government by allowing the executive committee to be composed in such a way that parties are represented in the executive committee in the same proportion as they are represented in council.

“Let me give you an example; if we take the Johannesburg situation at the moment, where we have the hung council, if we had a collective executive committee then the ANC would have four representatives; the DA would have three; Action SA would have two and the EFF would have one and that would be the leadership structure on the council. So, there are lots of checks and balances in the process, because we have seen so much ineptitude and so much corruption in our municipalities throughout the country and I think there would be less scope for that if we had a leadership structure that was represented by the various major political parties not dominated by one political party,” says Evans.

For now, the ball is in the court of the political parties to carve out their own future within the different municipalities. Once that opportunity lapses, it will be the provincial MEC, the majority from the ANC, that will decide how the councils will work or if a by-election is necessary.

Deadline approaches for political parties to finish coalition talks: