Letter: Huge challenges ahead - Business Day

The cabinet having been appointed, SA’s attention now turns to whether the new government can work.

The cabinet having been appointed, SA’s attention now turns to whether the new government can work. 

The country should be under no illusions as to the magnitude of the challenge: there is very little institutional experience of coalition government (certainly not at national level), and there is an extraordinary array of parties involved, along with deep distrust between them.

Despite the declarations of principle and injunctions to co-operate “for the good of the country”, these are parties with profound ideological differences. This has enormous implications for the ability to make policy and implement it.

The split of the ministry of agriculture, land reform & rural development into two portfolios (separating agriculture from land reform and rural development) makes sense in that agriculture and land reform are separate issues and would benefit from dedicated attention being accorded to each. But there is sufficient overlap between them to mean a common understanding of the issues is necessary for them to complement each other.

That DA leader John Steenhuisen is now responsible for agriculture and his counterpart in the PAC, Mzwanele Nyhontso, for land reform, places two starkly opposing world views in close policy proximity. This raises serious questions about policy coherence and co-ordination. Expect attempts to promote commercial agriculture to jostle with demands premised on dismantling commercial agriculture — expropriation without compensation is likely to remain a live issue.

Nor is it necessarily helpful to claim that a common position will be reached in the cabinet, to which all will be held. The very identities of some of the parties involved are bound to their policy positions; debate around them will always risk crossing ideological red lines.

All in all, this points to a tough, extended learning process, with ample opportunity for undermining nominal partners, and no guarantee of success. Those in business, the media and civil society who have welcomed the coalition era for the opportunities it presents for growth-focused reform would be well advised not to relax their vigilance.

Terence Corrigan 
Institute of Race Relations