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The journey towards a thriving normative majority rule and the subversion of a prerogative tyranny of the majority took 30 years. Despite the animating force majority rule had sometimes used to block the ethical and accountability demands of society, it could not stop the fitful march of proportional representation.

The less-than-50% performance by all political parties has been lying low as a counter-animating force to secure the triumph of accountability when the numbers start to dictate political sanity and humility, crucial elements for a healthy, functional democracy. 

The preamble of the constitution, adopted by freely elected representatives to ensure it becomes the supreme law under which any order can thrive, provides for legislative, executive and judicial authorities that vest in parliament, the president, and the courts. Since its inception, the reception tradition within which the constitution had to evolve was one of a single-party-dominated multiparty system.

Despite the safeguards through which the constitution had to manage the animating force of the majority parties in all spheres of government, the risks and temptations of one-partyism created a context in which the national executive got into a duality of normative and prerogative decision-making. Unless challenged, unconstitutionality settled as a subcontext in governing. 

The election results have led to a hung parliament, a situation that demands immediate attention. There is no constitutional provision to manage this impasse. The transition to form a government will largely be according to the preferences of political parties, the investment environment influencing agencies, and benchmarking from similar democracies and circumstances. While there are options SA can look to, the emerging scenario is a preoccupation with one option. The dominant discourse is about a coalition government, to the exclusion of paths such as a minority government, which could be a viable, beneficial alternative.

A minority government could bring about significant benefits. It would allow the majority party to form a government, eliminating the need to choose a coalition partner. This would elevate the centrality of consensus or issue-specific lobbying and coalescing as and when required. A legislature of national unity could become a mechanism used to enforce public accountability. Presiding officers of parliament could be from parties other than the majority party, fostering a sense of inclusivity and shared responsibility. 

A minority government option would establish a context in which the president understands the limits of his or her mandate. He or she will be the president of SA and will be expected to act the same. The National Assembly can consider allowing the president to look beyond it when constituting the cabinet. The threshold of two people can be stretched to not more than 10. That way, the accountability ecosystem will integrate the much-bandied about meritocracy into government. Ministers can be recruited from capable, underutilised South Africans anchored on the mandate of all representatives of the people in parliament.

Given the reliance on evidence and logic that President Cyril Ramaphosa has thus far displayed, albeit at the cost of rapid decisiveness, he will be released from the dictates of one political party and be chained to what the constitution and the national interests expect of a president. The election outcome might be an opportunity to confirm our seriousness that SA is too big to fail.

The alternative of entering into a coalition might send SA into chaos in two distinct ways. The fragile ensemble that the ANC ideological ensemble has become, and Jacob Zuma’s performance in the elections is evidence only hallucinating and brave people can refute, is in a politically brittle state to put Ramaphosa in a condition in which he must choose a coalition partner.

The first risk to the stability of the democratic order is to insist he gets into a coalition with the DA. Regardless of whatever logic is presented, the DA represents what is most in the influence centres of the ANC ideological complex, current and past members.

A coalition with the DA would create perfect conditions for murmurings about convening a national general council or special conference of the ANC to consider the “what is to be done” question. As legitimate as the conference may or may not be, insisting on a DA-ANC coalition, even if it is an investment-creating environment, will not fly given the truth of a 64% ANC ideological complex parliamentary majority required to settle matters arising from the Codesa arrangement.

The election outcomes are an echo whose voice lies inside the ANC, EFF, MK and the smaller parties articulating the fundamentals that inspired colonial struggles.

Tensions between the ANC, MK and EFF should not be read as differences on how to deal with fundamental existential policy positions of the ANC as a liberation movement. The fragility of the ANC as a centre that holds the stability of the democratic order cannot be stretched beyond what the 40% outcome has done.

Equally, a coalition with MK and the EFF would create perfect conditions to unleash an otherwise prepared cocktail of measures to neutralise the moral prowess of the ANC over any condition of apartheid or racism in general. The ability of the ANC to co-ordinate the Global South, Russia and China for several causes, with the Palestinian genocide as a near-memory geopolitical matter, requires a sober analysis of how the SA state and the institutional power it embodies should be managed through the lows and ebbs facing the democratic order. The geostrategic, constitutional order defending and consolidating the post-1994 gains the ANC has made can be done through loosely arranged partnerships working on an issue-by-issue basis that a minority government option can deal with.

The election outcomes are an echo whose voice lies inside the ANC, EFF, MK and the smaller parties articulating the fundamentals that inspired colonial struggles. Thabo Mbeki’s calls for a national dialogue, potentially late or contaminated by the relations between the convening node and critical figures in the ANC-ideological complex, might be an intervention through which points of convergence could be established as a minority government threads the required stability.

The secret of the post-May 29 context is that the election results are a truth hiding in plain sight yet buried by political economy-defending hindrances and status quo traditionalisms.

In the profound words of the IEC chief electoral officer “[our] democracy has spoken. Indeed, the people have expressed their political choices through the ballot box. We now must honour the voters’ choice, for an election is essentially an inquiry on the political choices of the moment. In an election, the choice of the voter is sovereign.” Lest we subvert, our order might lurch into chaos. Mr President of the ANC, there is no need for a coalition; negotiate differently.

• Dr Mathebula is a public policy analyst, founder of The Thinc Foundation, and a Research Associate at Tshwane University of Technology.

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