SA conducted its sixth set of municipal elections since the start of the democratic era – and the introduction of democratically elected local government in 2000 – on 1 November 2021. 27 years into South African multiparty democracy, the 2021 local government elections revealed remarkable declines in levels of participation generally.

The Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA), in partnership with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung South Africa (FES) recently published a report titled ‘When Wedding Bells Ring: Coalitions with(out) concord: Analysis of South Africa’s 2021 local elections and coalitions’ at a Business Day DialoguesLIVE event moderated by Professor Susan Booysen, Director of Research at MISTRA with an expert panel including Professor Mcebisi Ndletyana from the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Johannesburg; Advocate Jennica Beukes, Doctoral Researcher and Research Assistant at the Dullah Omar Institute; Wandile Ngcaweni, Junior Researcher at MISTRA and Amuzweni Ngoma, Researcher at MISTRA.

The report, which comes at a time of political turmoil when party dominance is fading, goes beyond the historic event of 1 November 2021 and explores the conversion of the electoral mandates with local government and the increase in the number of hung councils which requires coalition governments to be constituted.

Joel Netshitenzhe, Executive Director of MISTRA pointed out that the outcome of the elections contains many salutary trends, at both aggregate and sub-national levels, including the dipping of the African National Congress (ANC) below the 50% support mark at national level and its sub-40% performance in all Gauteng metropolitan councils.

The other two largest parties, the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), had a mixed performance. The dynamics revealed by this election may portend some shifts in the political landscape going forward, said Netshitenzhe.

He questioned whether these elections were a harbinger of things to come in the 2024 general election and beyond. “There were many factors that were unique to the 2021 elections such as the timing, the Covid-19 pandemic, parties’ access to resources and the long weekend, amongst other. But macrosocial trends such as the state of the economy, service provision, corruption and other factors had a massive impact on the outcome.”

Whether these local elections are a bell weather of things to come should be examined at three levels: the unique features of this election; broad macrosocial trends such as economic growth and service provision; and lastly, how the parties address subjective issues specific to them. With regard to this latter point, how the ANC navigates issues of corruption and internal divisions; how the DA defines its existential personality on liberalism in an unequal society; and how the EFF positions itself with regard to its penchant for hyperbole and drama. The challenge for the IFP and ActionSA will how they profile themselves both in government and in opposition, and how they address any internal organisational challenges.

In his concluding remarks, Dr Yacoob Abba Omar, Director of Operations at MISTRA, said the lessons learned from the coalitions formed in the wake of the 2021 local government elections will be important for all political parties to consider going into the next general election.

To download the full report: https://mistra.org.za/mistra-research-projects/when-wedding-bells-ring-coalitions-without-concord/