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Topic: National and Provincial Elections in May 2024: What Are the Implications for Intergovernmental Relations?

Programme Moderator: Prof Jaap de Visser

Prof Nico Steytler: Professor Emeritus, Dullah Omar Institute

Ms Tessa Dooms: Director, Rivonia Circle

Prof Tinashe Chigwata: Head of Multilevel Government, Dullah Omar Institute

Students from the University of the Western Cape

Ladies and gentlemen – both in person and on online platforms

Good day

It is with great pleasure and enthusiasm that I extend my warmest greetings to each and every one of you, especially the young minds who are the future architects of our society. As we convene for this Conference, we embark on a journey of exploration and inquiry into the intricacies of intergovernmental relations in our nation.

The Conference presents us with a unique opportunity to look into pressing questions that shape the landscape of governance in South Africa. Two questions, in particular, stand at the forefront of our discussions: Firstly, how is the intergovernmental relations system tested when different parties or coalitions govern at different levels? And secondly, how do we ensure that this system remains resilient enough to weather any political changes that may arise?

In addressing the first question, we confront the inherent complexities that arise when political power is dispersed among various parties or coalitions at different levels of government. The intergovernmental relations system, designed to promote cooperation and coordination among the three spheres of government, faces its most formidable challenges during such times. Conflicting agendas, differing priorities, and divergent ideologies can strain the fabric of intergovernmental cooperation, testing the system’s capacity to function effectively.

What lessons have we learnt from the 2021 Local Government Elections?

It is accepted that coalitions are as a result of a maturing democracy and competitive politics in, hence after the 2021 Local Government elections, the number of coalitions grew to approximately eighty-two (82). Of course, the challenges emanating from coalitions cannot be underestimated in as far as instability, impacting negatively on political administrative interface, good governance, service delivery and good financial management practices in local government.

Clearly, these councils have highlighted the need for a framework to guide their formation and management. Various stakeholders, including political parties, have identified the need for the regulation of coalitions to ensure stability at the local government level. Having listened to the call from these stakeholders, we in CoGTA have developed a draft framework to address these challenges which we will subject to further engagement before finalization.

The instability caused by the change in executives due to coalition dynamics since the local government elections has underscored the fact that some political parties in South Africa are clearly struggling to cope with the delicate demands and dilemmas of coalition politics, hence the many challenges they continue to face, which includes, but not limited to the following.

  • Unscrupulous manipulation by smaller parties to have governance by a small unrepresentative group of individuals;
  • Coalitions incentivized by promises of senior positions or outright bribes with little thought on the impact of the same to the municipality and its ability to deliver services;
  • In-fighting in councils characterized by walkouts resulting in inquorate councils failing to execute their legislated mandates;
  • Inability to adopt budgets resulting in an administration that cannot spend its budget to address service delivery backlogs; and
  • Lack of due diligence when making key appointments which results in compromised individuals appointed in critical positions.

Yet, it is precisely during these moments of divergence that the resilience of our intergovernmental relations system is put to the test. How do we navigate the waters of political pluralism while upholding the principles of cooperative governance? How do we bridge the divide between divergent political entities to ensure the seamless delivery of services and the pursuit of shared objectives? These are questions that demand thoughtful consideration and innovative solutions.

Which brings us to the second question: How do we fortify our intergovernmental relations system to withstand the ebbs and flows of political change? Building resilience within the system requires a multifaceted approach that encompasses legal frameworks, institutional mechanisms, and, perhaps most importantly, a commitment to dialogue and collaboration.

By fostering a culture of inclusivity and mutual respect, we can cultivate an environment where political differences are not obstacles but opportunities for constructive engagement. Investing in capacity-building initiatives, enhancing communication channels, and promoting transparency can further bolster the resilience of our intergovernmental relations system, ensuring its adaptability in the face of evolving political landscapes.

Now let us get into our engagement starting from the very basics. While we may assume a shared understanding of the electoral process, it is essential to ensure that we are all on the same page to avoid any confusion along the way. The last general elections took place on the 8th of May 2019, as dictated by Section 49 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996. This section stipulates that the term of the national assembly cannot exceed five years, with elections mandated to occur within 90 days following the end of this term.

Fast forward to the 20th of February 2024, when President Cyril Ramaphosa officially announced the date for South Africa’s seventh national elections: Wednesday, the 29th of May 2024. This decision aligns with the constitutional provision outlined in Section 49(2), in conjunction with Section 17 of the Electoral Act of 1998.

With this in mind, it is important to also grasp the essence of the electoral roll. The Independent Electoral Commission is tasked with compiling this roll, which essentially catalogs individuals eligible to cast their votes in specific elections within designated voting districts. Following the President’s declaration of the election, a crucial development unfolds: the closure of the voters’ roll. This signifies a halt to any further voter registrations, whether conducted at local offices or online. Currently, rigorous processes of voter verification and other validations are underway to ensure strict adherence to the legal provisions governing voter eligibility.

Having being part of the IMC on elections, I have the advantage of sharing with you the meticulous planning by the IEC, highlighted by the publication of the 2024 General Elections Timetable. Following consultations with the National Political Liaison Committee, the Commission unveiled a comprehensive roadmap on the 24th of February 2024.

This timetable serves as a guiding beacon, outlining critical milestones and deadlines essential for the seamless preparation of the elections.

These are just a few highlights from the extensive timetable meticulously crafted to ensure the integrity and fairness of the electoral process. Each deadline and action item plays a role in shaping the forthcoming elections.

Ladies and gentlemen

As we approach the upcoming national and provincial elections in May 2024, it is important to reflect upon the implications these elections hold for the intricate web of intergovernmental relations within our nation. Rooted in the Constitution, these elections serve as a fundamental moment not only for the democratic process but also for the ongoing cooperation and interaction between the three spheres of government: national, provincial, and local.

At the heart of our Constitutional framework lies the principle of cooperative government and intergovernmental relations. Section 41 of the Constitution highlights the imperative of continuous interaction and cooperation between governmental institutions and Departments. This interaction, grounded in mutual trust and good faith, is important for fostering effective governance and advancing the collective welfare of our society.

Central to the notion of intergovernmental relations is the recognition of the interdependence among the three spheres of government. Each sphere possesses distinct powers, functions, and institutions, yet they are inherently interconnected. Therefore, there exists a duty for all spheres of government to respect each other’s autonomy while keeping one another informed of new policies and developments.

Intergovernmental relations extend beyond mere cooperation; they encompass a complex network of interactions involving government institutions and civil society. From program reporting requirements to the allocation of resources through grants-in-aid, these relations are manifested in various fiscal and administrative processes. Effective coordination of public policies among national, provincial, and local governments is essential for ensuring coherent and impactful governance.

Regardless of the electoral outcomes, we believe that it is important for all political parties to adhere steadfastly to the principles outlined in the Constitution. Upholding the ideals of cooperative government and intergovernmental relations is not contingent upon political affiliation but is a shared responsibility integral to the fabric of our democracy.

As indicated, the IGR system forms the backbone of our democratic governance, facilitating cooperation and coordination among different spheres of government. Yet, in the wake of political changes that may arise post-election, we must and are working to ensure that this system remains resilient enough to weather any storm.

So, how do we ensure that the IGR system remains resilient in the face of political changes?

  • Firstly, we are emphasizing the importance of continuity and stability in governance. Regardless of which political party assumes power after the elections, there must be a commitment to upholding the principles of the IGR system.
  • Secondly, we are, through instruments such as the District Development Model, continuing to develop a culture of trust and cooperation among different spheres of government. Political changes should not hinder the collaborative efforts aimed at addressing the needs and challenges faced by our communities.
  • Thirdly, we believe in the need to invest in building institutional capacity and resilience within the IGR framework. This entails providing adequate resources, training, and support to government officials responsible for intergovernmental relations. Strengthening these institutions ensures that they can adapt and respond effectively to changing political dynamics.
  • Furthermore, promoting transparency and accountability within the IGR system is essential. Clear channels of communication, well-defined roles and responsibilities, and mechanisms for oversight help to mitigate the risks associated with political transitions.

In conclusion, safeguarding the resilience of the IGR system in South Africa requires a collective effort from all stakeholders – government officials, political leaders, civil society, academia, and citizens alike.

We believe that by upholding the principles of collaboration, trust, transparency, and accountability, we can ensure that the IGR system remains a cornerstone of our democracy, capable of withstanding any political changes that may come our way.

With these few words, I call on each one of you to recognize the immense power that lies within your hands—the power to shape the future of our nation. As we stand on the brink of the 2024 General Elections, I urge you to embrace this opportunity to participate in our democratic process and exercise your right to vote.

Your vote is not merely a mark on a ballot paper; it is a voice—a voice that speaks volumes, resonating with the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of our society. It is a symbol of your commitment to the principles of democracy.

On the 29th of May 2024, we should unite in our diversity and go to our designated voting stations with purpose and conviction.

Regardless of your political affiliations or beliefs, your vote is a precious right—one that countless individuals have fought and sacrificed for throughout our history. It is a privilege denied to many around the world yet bestowed upon us as South Africans. Let us not take this privilege for granted, but rather cherish it and wield it wisely.

I thank you.