What happens now? Negotiating South Africa’s way forward

by Craig Nudelman

It seems as though the South African soap opera just gets better with age.

The results of our 2021 Local Government Elections proved to be a mixed bag for the political parties involved. The ANC continued its decline in big metros, losing eThekweni (Durban), and not gaining any points in Nelson Mandela Bay, Johannesburg, or Tshwane. However, the DA didn’t do much better. With hung municipalities throughout the Western Cape, the blue wave was hampered by smaller independent parties. It seems as though the biggest winners were Herman Mashaba’s ActionSA and Gayton McKenzie’s Patriotic Alliance. But now that the elections are over and we’ve identified the ‘winners’, who will actually be able to run our municipalities?

We’ve now entered the realm of coalition politics. Although we’ve seen it in many South African metros in the past (Cape Town in 2006, Tshwane, Jo’burg, and Nelson Mandela Bay in 2016), hung municipalities just weren’t that prominent before this election.

We aren’t used to it in South Africa, and it’s easy to see. All three metros that entered a coalition in 2016 have just not worked out. One must remember that the biggest winner in an election is supposed to be the people! That certainly has not been the case. But now that there are 66 hung councils, with an election in 2024 that might yield similar results, how will our political parties negotiate through these muddy waters? Let’s look at two categories of negotiation types that we can use in everyday life and see which one will be most beneficial to us.

The first category is distributive negotiation.This is also known as zero-sum or win-lose negotiation and sees one party succeeding only if the other loses. This normally involves a single issue. In this scenario, we can have a kingmaker making a bargain with a party which may or may not share its best interest but can give it what it wants. If party A can’t give party C what they want, they can just go to party B for the best deal in town. Party C will often take a hard stance on their principles and will emphasise that they are non-negotiable. To leverage power, you have to appear forceful, confident, and persistent.

The second category is integrative negotiation, which is sometimes called a win-win negotiation. This collaborative negotiation process is where parties will try to reach a solution which is mutually beneficial. This process can involve multiple issues. Here the parties will collaborate to determine how they can best succeed at governing cooperatively. By openly putting needs and interests on the table, as well as principles, the parties can use bargaining to problem-solve collaboratively.

Unisa’s Professor Dirk Kotzé, writing for IOL, says that negotiations in political situations often have both distributive and integrative processes involved. Once the political parties have jostled for power, they need to then adopt a more principled approach. He states that this can be “more effective in reaching agreements”.

Another interesting process in 2021 is that parties are far more transparent as to how the negotiations will be handled. The four main parties vying for Gauteng’s hung metros all have announced who their negotiation teams are. Paul Mashatile (ANC), Helen Zille (DA), Floyd Shivambu (EFF) and John Moody (ActionSA) all have a mighty task at hand. They have to form a government 14 days after the election results have been declared. This is a big ask in what will be a very interesting scenario. At the time of writing, the winners have not been declared. If there is still a stalemate after that period of time, by-elections will have to take place within 90 days. Will voters punish their leaders for not resolving to lead their municipality within the designated time period?

Indeed.com, a career guide, has a really interesting section on negotiations, and speaks about a multiparty negotiation. One of the challenges that a multiparty negotiation has, is that there are fluctuating BATNAs, or ‘best alternative to a negotiated agreement’, a strategy that has been used effectively in mediating and creating alternative solutions to multiple issues. The DA and ActionSA have made it clear that they will not collaborate with the ANC or EFF. However, there are differences within their, and other smaller, political parties which have specific agendas.

As time wears on, each party can change their BATNA within the negotiation, which can make it even more difficult to agree. They can check to see what their BATNAs are at each stage in the negotiation to understand what the results would be in the proposed agreement.

It will be difficult for leaders from across a vast ideological spectrum to put their differences aside and ensure that what they give or get is for the betterment of their municipality. We can apply these negotiation tools for our own lives — whether it is in a personal or formal relationship — to create more understanding as to how to negotiate with the different people in our lives. When I tell my daughters Jessie and Livi to bath and they disagree with my instruction, perhaps I need to realise that my sanity is sometimes more important in the long run than one day of them being slightly unhygienic.

2021 has been a year to remember, for good or for worse. The continuation of Covid, loadshedding, an ever-weakening Rand and an ever-increasing petrol price has made it a struggle of a year. But hopefully there is light around the corner. Vaccinations are going up; we haven’t had a fourth wave (yet); and we may see really interesting and positive political change in 2022.

I hope that you have a safe and healthy December break and are ready to get back to the nitty gritty South Africa we all love.

Craig is a writer, Jewish professional, and tour guide extraordinaire. His deep bass voice has graced stages, synagogues and studios. He is an obedient husband, father to two spectacular daughters, and is known for dad jokes and trivia.

• Published in the PDF edition of the December 2021/January 2022 issue – Click here to get it.

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