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National Dialogue on Coalition ends with declaration draft requiring consultation

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The National Dialogue on Coalition Governments which ended on Saturday, concluded with a draft declaration that will require further consultation inputs.

Political parties, the government, and other civil society organisations came together for the two-day dialogue that was organised by Deputy President and Leader of Government Business Paul Mashatile on Friday and Saturday at the University of the Western Cape (UWC).

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) was the only party represented in Parliament that did not attend the dialogue. 

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was expected to be the main speaker on the first day, also did not show up at the event.

The first day of the event was opened with a prayer session from  various Interfaith leaders. 

HOPE

UWC Rector and Vice Chancellor, Tyrone Pretorius welcomed the guests and delegates with a message to inspire hope. Pretorius said he hoped that the dialogue would bring back hope that South Africa needs currently.

“In fact, most of us emphatically live with the hope that  this country will turn the corner and overcome all its hardships. There are those that have abandoned all hope of a better tomorrow. It is my wish that this national dialogue will serve to inspire even those that have given up all hope. Hope is a powerful emotion, a mighty tool that gives rise to greatness. Hope effects change and hope sparks power.”

WELL WISHES BUTHELEZI

In his opening remarks, Mashatile also took the opportunity to extend well wishes to former Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) leader and Member of Parliament (MP) Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi who remains in hospital. 

“I think honourable members we should take this opportunity to convey our well wishes to honourable Buthelezi, leader of the IFP who’s not  well and in Hospital. We send our  well wishes  and speedy recovery from this  national Dialogue.”

“Let me begin to say on behalf of the IFP and Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, I want to convey our gratitude for the support the people of South Africa  are giving to Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi during this critical time in his live.  Thank you South Africa” said IFP leader Velenkosini Hlabisa, before he made the party’s submission on coalition governments.”

COALITION TALK

Different political parties including the IFP made submissions on coalitions and also participated during question sessions with panellists.

From African National Congress (ANC) Secretary General to the leaders of the Democratic Alliance (DA) Freedom Front Plus ( FF-Plus) Good Party, Congress of the People( COPE), United Democratic Movement (UDM) and Al Jama ah, they made their contributions and expressed their different sentiments.

“We believe coalition governance is neither good or intrinsically bad. It is their degree of effect on the functionality of government systems in a given context that determines whether coalitions are good or bad. In democratic rationale, coalitions reflect split public opinion and a degree of  political fragmentation where no party has been given  a clear mandate  to govern on its own. This is currently the case  in eighty municipalities across the country,” Mbalula told delegates when he presented the ANC’s submission.

One of the DA’s proposals in its submission centred around limitation on the tabling motions of No Confidence.

The party had suggested that such motions should be tabled once a year.

DA Chief Whip Siviwe Gwarube made a presentation. She told delegates that No Confidence motions can only be tabled more than once a year, if there are laws that have been broken.

Gwarube said this is part of the legislative proposals the DA has made to curb the abuse on No Confidence motions.

“The first Bill that we are looking at that has already been introduced in Parliament, is the one that seeks to amend the constitution. It is our view that the abuse of Motions of No Confidence in local councils in fact has created the instability and we believe that while motions of No Confidence are an important accountability mechanism, they can in effect create the instability that we have seen if they have been abused and so what we are seeking to do at a national level, is to limit the amount of motions of no confidence to once a year.”

However, African Transformation leader Vuyo Zungula slammed the DA for its proposal that the number of vote of no confidence motions should be limited.

Zungula, who walked out of the dialogue and rejected it after making his submission, also said the dialogue on coalitions is premature.

“Election are about a mandate. No party here has received a mandate for 2024. Why should we bust our heads nine months before the elections when we should wait for elections first. Some parties after 2014 think they will be big parties whereas they will not be big parties. As that was not bad enough the DA went on to say that we need to limit the motions of No Confidence that should called.”

“What Democratic System is that. Calling for a vote of No confidence is a constitutional right which is enshrine in section 102 of the Constitution. Parties cannot be sidelined from forming a coalition government then told they would not have a way to hold that government accountable if it goes astray.”

COMMUNICATION, NON-RACIALISM, “BAAS-SKAP”

The IFP submitted that communication, consultation, consensus and compromise are four elements to regulate coalition governments.

“Potential Coalition partners must share information, communicate honestly and agree on decision making processes. The coalition must communicate with the public at large and highlight goals and accomplishments. We believe this national dialogue could be considered to form part of the communication element as various stakeholders are gathered to share information”, explained Hlabisa why the importance of communication among coalition partners.

FF-Plus Leader Pieter Groenewald said: “The Freedom front Plus agrees with the following principles, putting the people first, committed to combating poverty as well as building a growing and inclusive economy, contribute towards building a prosperous society and meaningful participation in the economy, committed to building a non-racial non-sexist democratic, united and prosperous society and we are committed to good governance with no tolerance for corruption.”

For the GOOD Party respect for coalition partners is one of the key elements for stable coalitions.

“Listening to the lessons around the world, coalitions work when there is maturity and trust. As Good we support coalitions. We are part of coalitions and our experience informed us that respect for your partners is key. Arrogance, hypocrisy, BaasSkap mentality of some political parties, is the greatest-greatest threat to stable coalitions,” GOOD leader Patricial De Lille emphasised.

The convening of the dialogue also made UDM leader Bantu Holomisa to remind the nation about his proposed Economic Indaba.

“To bring key role players under one roof to discuss issues of national interest, thus it could also be to discuss the UDM’s concept of an economic indaba or CODESA. It could be done anytime soon as this is the bone of contention which we all know at CODESA we did not deal with this thorny issue. We dealt with political freedom, thinking that economic freedom would follow. Alas, 29 years later, we are found wanting. As a result the youth of today is uneasy about their future.”

THRESHOLD DEBATE

The proposed threshold to curtail the number of political parties who contest elections, was met with objections.

The AIC and Al Jama ah were some of the smaller parties that have reservations.

“As the argument goes, a five percent threshold to curtail the number of political parties who contest elections, thereby averting disorganised coalition governments. The claim is not backed by evidence- based facts. It is not small political parties who are at the centre of poor coalition governments, but dominant political parties, pre-positioned to power josling. If this threshold is allowed, it will potentially erode the fundamental value of multi-party system of democracy which was designed to ensure accountability, openness and responsiveness”, says African Independent Congress Councillor Margret Arnolds who made a submission on behalf of her party.

“Small parties without a threshold have made a difference and besides getting cabinet to accept, that definition of the thirty years, we also assist with running the City of Johannesburg. I want to remind the men in this dialogue of the Directive of the Leader of Parliament Business, our Deputy President and Deputy President of the ANC, that they have breakfast with their kids everyday. He said that in Parliament. Al Jama ah agrees with this but not the law to govern coalitions governments in South Africa.”

The Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) was represented by its national spokesperson Azania Tyhali.

Addressing delegates, Tyhali said, “Political flip flopping in South Africa leads us to where we find ourselves in currently. It is also equally important since we are gathered at an institution of higher learning, perhaps what we need to implore and what we need to think off, it is how do we have think tanks and intellectuals who are going to take this country to an envisaged society. By think tanks refer by people who are going to work towards or legal and legislative framework in addressing coalitions.”

African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) Deputy leader Wayne Thring and National Freedom Party (NFP) Parliamentary leader, Ahmed Shaik Emam, made contributions on behalf of their parties.

“We must ask ourselves, what type of democracy is envisioned and supported by our constitution. Even an elementary read would confirm that our constitution supports a multi-party democracy. Clearly then if the constitution supports a multi-party democracy, then this must be factored into any legislative amendments, all coalition systems and agreement that are to be developed going forward. It must be made abundantly clear that the cause of the collapse of the majority of municipalities is not coalitions, but corruption, nepotism and a flouting of the rule of law,” Thring told delegates.

Shaik-Emam had questions on the real reason parties are entering into coalitions.

“Parties that are entering into coalition governments are only entering into coalition governments for positions, for power for control and most importantly for financial resources. I can assure you, bags and bags of cash change hands. People are obsessed with power, it’s not about serving the interest of ordinary South Africans.”

COMMISSIONS AND THE FRAMEWORK

Participants split into four commissions which reported back on Saturday morning. There were four commissions that gave feedback to the delegates.

In the commission that dealt with elements of culture and political social compact for coalition governments, political analyst Susan Booysen said South Africa has to face the reality of a new culture of give and take in politics.

“We need to come to terms now that we’re in a new era in which give and take may be not a once off suddenly (in) 2024, but in the give and take in the next few years, terms, maybe decades, if we look at how coalition, stable coalition governments have emerged across the world. There are often many of them have often taken several decades to be established. And maybe that is what South Africa is facing to now.”

“There was a commission tasked to look into proposed legislation and regulations on coalitions governments. Chairperson of the Institute of Election Management Services in Africa, Terry Tselane, who was on the panel, touched on the proposal to establish a body to assist in creating stability in coalitions.”

“We are saying in that document that there is a requirement that create stability by creating an organisation. For the purpose of today we’ll call it Entity on Coalitions like IEC. But, in reality it should be an organisation like CCMA, where once the political parties have agreed to an arrangement, they deposit that agreement to that body.”

“And that body should be the body that then facilitates conversations, deals with voter education to the extent that coalition arrangements would actually require and any other challenges that emerges from there”, Tselane told delegates during the feedback session by panellists.”

Constitutional Law Expert Pierre De Vos who was also part of the same commission expressed some reservations about the regulation of coalitions.

“I’m quite sceptical about regulation of coalitions and whether it will make a difference. Firstly, because the problem is mostly political. It is politicians and political parties and how they behave and what the incentives are that they think they have. Secondly, when you impose regulations in the constitutional field that regulation will not have the same effect in each situation. In South Africa the regulation that might work nationally might not work at a local level, or it might work in some municipalities but not others and it might have unintended consequences.”

Meanwhile the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) President, Bheke Stofile, who was in the same commission as Susan Booysen, agreed with the proposal presented by Tselane of creating a body to deal with disputes amongst coalition partners.

“I fully agree with the notion that says probably it would be important to have an entity that look into how to deal with disputes in the event of disputes amongst coalition partners in the process of implementing that. I’m raising this chair being involved in the local government practice. Most of the dispute that are taking place in government are not about service delivery. It’s about how many people I should employ. It’s about what cape should go to me and therefore go to my party.”

There were also commissions on the professionalisation of the Public Service and transforming the system of supporting municipalities in coalition government that gave feedback. Other participants who asked questions and made contributions during the dialogue, included representatives from Rise Mzansi, The Rivonia Circle, Build One South Africa (BOSA), Patriotic Alliance (PA) and Action SA.

During the question and engagement session with panellists from the different commissions, DA leader John Steenhuisen also used the opportunity to defend some coalition government.

“Not all aspects of coalitions are negative. And there are, I would say the overwhelming number of coalitions that we are involved with, are working and working well. You don’t read about them in the media because they are getting on with the job of delivering services and being accountable to the people who elected them.”

Congress of the People (COPE) leader Mosioua Lekota, touched on how the role of the people in governing has been eroded.

“Our people long time said the people shall govern. The people shall govern. We are now in the process. We can elect people we can do all of these things but we are at a point at which we give out all the resources to the people who have been elected, national provincial and so on. But the critical thing is the manifestos of the parties make all kinds of general statement. When it comes to the distribution of resources, the citizens are left out,” added Lekota.

International Relations and Co-operations Minister Naledi Pandor described as intellectually dishonest, the notion that South Africa’s democracy has matured after its three decades of existence.

Pandor was participating during a question session and engagement after feedback from some of the commissions.

“I think it’s intellectually dishonest to say that it’s possible to have a mature democracy after thirty years. I know democracies that are over five hundred years old that don’t call them mature. So I really believe we need to be rather more modest in our reference to our democracy, particularly govern our experience. I think we are still in transition and it’s a very young democracy. Indeed that doesn’t mean there haven’t been awful reaches, but the notion of being mature after 30 years, I really think it’s intellectually really dishonest and I think we really need to curb the manner in which we over-assume.”

DECLARATION

A draft declaration was presented to the delegates after the feedback from the four commissions. However, various amendments and suggestion were made.

The Plenary resolved to allow further engagement on the draft declaration. These include broader consultation and allowing political parties, civil society and other interested participants to consult with their constituencies and organisations.

ANC veteran and facilitator Joel Netshitenzhe, who read the draft declaration, mapped the way forward.

“We will say we noted the importance or noted with appreciation, the importance of this gathering. We noted the draft declaration and agreed that the parties will take their declarations to their constituencies, their parties and make inputs thereafter. I think that would be in the declaration. And it will be made public, because we can’t emerge from here as if we were wasting taxpayers money over these days.”

Another facilitator of the national dialogue Thuli Madonsela also made a proposal to redefine the term, “Public Good”, to be in line with the constitution principles, which was added to the draft declaration.

“I’m just recommending two words to cover the gap around how do we define concepts such as Public Good. Each country will define it differently, so were we say people-centred, just add constitution grounded, because that automatically grounds it in what the constitution requires everyone to do which includes advancing social justice and fundamental human rights in a transformative way that leads to nation building”, Madonsela suggested.

REMOVE SUSPICION- MASHATILE

The event ended on Saturday afternoon, with Mashatile delivering his closing remarks. He told delegates how the dialogue has agreed that coalitions are reality.

“And we have agreed that this issue about coalition it’s something that is with us and needs to be discussed and we must learn for those who have walked this road before us. So, we must be prepared to learn from others, but we must also learn from our own experiences.”

“I was sitting with some of the colleagues and we were saying at the beginning of this democracy right from 1994, the founding fathers of this nation engaged with parties. I recall very well, that there was a time that we worked with the National Party. I think you will recall the National Government of Unity.”

Mashatile also cautioned delegates to steer away from suspicions. He says coalitions will not succeed if there is suspicion.

“I think the most important for me is that let’s remove suspicions. There were inputs yesterday that suggested that the ANC and the DA has made some deal, now they are using this to rubber-stamp that deal. There is no deal. There is no deal. We are here to make sure that we come up with a framework that is agreeable to all of us, all parties.”

“So, we need to entrench trust when we deal with these issues. And I think from international delegates that issue was emphasized, issue of trust. We collaborate, we engage, but there must be trust. If we suspect one another, we are not going to succeed.”

Following the conclusion of the dialogue, Chairperson of the Public Service Commission, Somadoda Fikeni, described it as a turning point and an important beginning when he spoke in an interview with SABC Radio News.

“This is one of the most important moments which could be a turning point because, even if you professionalise public service, if you do not work on the efficiencies and professional approach on how our politics are conducted, one is going to affect the other. So, this discussion on coalitions and how we should have a common understanding on how we resolve some of the issues and how we adopt certain conventions to avoid what we have seen recently in Johannesburg Municipality, in Tshwane, in Gqeberha and in other places, this is an important beginning. There are still trust issues, there’s a lot of trust deficit, there is a lot of suspicion. Transparency co-creation and inclusiveness will take us forward,” added Fikeni.

The video below is reporting more on the story:

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