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Coalition Government – A new path towards governance and public administration

11 June 2024

By Mark Rogers

The 2024 national and provincial election results released by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) on Sunday 2 June 2024 have been met with mixed reactions by political parties and citizens alike. While many political commentators, analysts and scholars predicted that the African National Congress (ANC) would not garner the required 50% nationally to secure its position as the governing party – not many would have foreseen the sheer scale of its electoral decline.

Parallels have been drawn between the country’s historic elections of 1994 and the 2024 polls, mapping out new paths towards governance and public administration. The ANC no longer monopolises the ideology and discourses driving government policy and action. With the ANC’s hegemony firmly uprooted, South Africa’s redistributive and developmental policies intertwined with leanings towards neoliberal market principles will be contested as new ideologies enter the fray.

Negotiations and compromises

The coming days will be characterised by numerous ‘back-door’ talks and political horse-trading as political parties navigate the challenging path towards forming a coalition government at a national level and in Gauteng, the Northern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal. Whether these negotiations and compromises will be undertaken responsibly, putting aside narrow sectarian interests and differences to advance the public good remains questionable. In this culture of coalition politics, will political parties display the kind of political maturity to hold together in an accepted governance framework?

The intricacies of forming these coalitions will test the country’s constitutionally enshrined requirement of embedding a multi-party approach to governance, premised on drawing in a plurality of voices and ideas into the body politic. Section 1(d) of the Constitution requires that beyond transforming the country’s governance architecture, a multi-party approach must inculcate a culture of accountability, openness and responsiveness.

This new path towards governance and public administration has important implications for redefining competing narratives about ‘what the state should look like’ and ‘how it should function’ in rapidly evolving socio-political and socio-economic contexts. Consequently, formulating present-day statecraft in the context of negotiated settlements while pursuing developmental and redistributive policies could lead to complex and unpredictable administrative systems and processes.  


This complexity is exacerbated by current shifts in the country’s political landscape underpinned by a realignment of political alliances and a proliferation of new political parties and formations. The waves of change sweeping through the country’s political environment are rooted in a maturing electorate that has become increasingly critical of party-political rhetoric and heightened levels of discontent and disillusionment with seemingly intractable levels of poverty, inequality, unemployment, crime and rampant corruption. Compromised state capacity and capability have routinely resulted in catastrophic failures of governance disproportionately affecting poor and marginalised communities – keeping them trapped in cycles of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

As political parties jostle for power and influence in establishing coalition governments at the national and provincial levels, there are important lessons to be drawn from local government experiences with adopting this mode of governance. The inherent instabilities and uncertainties of coalition politics observed at the municipal level could have far-reaching consequences for the decision-making capacities of the state, and its governance and policy architecture. Key considerations will centre on how power, discourse and ideology intersect in this complex system, and the patterns of behaviour they generate. Heightened levels of conflict, disruption and instability between competing political factions have resulted in paralysed administrative councils and compromised service delivery.  

New paths 

The uncertainties associated with coalition government make it increasingly difficult for policymakers to predict how different variables in the system will interact, and thus the policy outcomes they will produce. Nevertheless, scholars have argued that this new path towards governance and public administration can restructure the country’s institutional architecture – creating the conditions that support an incremental approach to decision-making that allows for more flexibility in adjusting to policy issues and providing more 'real-time' responses to service delivery needs. This is premised on adopting ‘trial-and-error’ approaches to policymaking and implementation that support the development of a more nuanced understanding of the prevailing complexities and building greater reflexivity and adaptability in response to constantly shifting and evolving socio-political and socio-economic landscapes.

This is grounded on developing the required level of interdependence among policymakers to advance the development of more pragmatic solutions for dealing with the country’s deeply embedded socio-economic challenges. Consequently, striving for more practical approaches to governance and administration will provide the basis for mitigating and managing the dysfunction and instability associated with coalition governance and acting with a greater sense of realism about what can be achieved. Effectively, policymakers are called upon to be increasingly reflexive to adapt state policy and programmes in line with feedback from the external environment to ensure that community needs and aspirations are met.  

This hinges on creating a coalition policy platform representative of all partners' shared ideas and contributions. Fundamentally, such a framework depends on institutionalising binding coalition agreements that outline the coalition’s objectives, processes for structuring the government and its administration, and crucially, the obligations of all partners. Importantly, these agreements must be made public to strengthen openness and accountability.    

As we eagerly await the outcomes of this horse-trading and political machinations, it is incumbent on potential coalition partners to compromise and negotiate in good faith to arrive at outcomes that will strengthen the capacity and capability of the state to realise the country’s immediate and long-term socio-economic developmental objectives.

Mark Rogers is a Master of Management (Public Policy) candidate at the Wits School of Governance.