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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
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DUVENHAGE, André. Coalition politics in South Africa: The art of the (im)possible?. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2023, vol.63, n.1, pp.99-121. ISSN 2224-7912.

Recently conducted opinion polls on the support bases ofpolitical parties vary, but nevertheless emphasise significant decline in political support for the governing ANC, already ruling for 28 years. Since its peak of support in 1999 (at national level nearly 70% support, in other words a majority ofmore than two-thirds), a gradual decline in support for the ANC has been evident. In the municipal elections held in 2021 the ANC could mobilise only about 46% support across municipalities and provinces. Following this trend of gradual declining support, some of these polls indicate a decline in support for the ANC to as low as 37%, while others estimate it at 42%. Against the background of a rapidly changing political environment, driven by political, economic and social factors, the South African political scene reached a tipping point, with large demands arising with regard to, amongst other things, the consolidation of democratic values. The third decade of the democratic dispensation can be decisive for the consolidation of democratic values in South Africa. Regarding the desired consolidation of democratic values, the political situation has however changed to such an extent that the municipal election held in 2021 resulted in nearly 70 hung councils in which no party could secure an absolute majority. With the general election of 2024 lying in store, coalition politics and/or alternative forms of political collaboration will become a highly probable scenario at both national and a few provincial levels. Coalition politics is a relatively new phenomenon in the South African political scenario, which has only since the municipal election of 2016 been realised, initially in the Western Cape, with a few other exceptions across provinces. Coalition politics in all its forms requires a new set of political rules, holding far-reaching implications for the perpetuation of our relatively young democracy and political stability, increasingly causing new challenges. Numerous coalition governments are currently caught up in crisis situations or are confronted by patterns of political instability. Metropoles like the City of Johannesburg, City of Ekurhuleni, City of Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay metropole attest to such situations. It also seems to be the destiny of numerous local municipalities currently governed by minority coalitions. This research is focused upon coalition politics in the South African context; the challenges and opportunities, described as the art of the (im) possible. Focal points of this presentation include: general points of departure; the status of the constitutional democracy; political parties and party systems; the South African voting system; coalition politics, and evaluating perspectives. In a period of rapid political, economic and social change, and the accompanying challenges, politicians and political elites will have to master the "art" of coalition politics for the benefit of survival - a challenge that is going to put huge demands to a democracy in the process of consolidation.

Keywords : South African politics; party systems; political spectrum coalitions; alliances; political stability; tipping point; constitutional democracy.

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