OpEd: Is the coalition experiment over in South Africa’s municipal governments?

PUBLISHED: Thu, 30 Aug 2018 16:14:15 GMT

By Gary van Staden, Senior Political Analyst at NKC African Economics

The decision – of which the legality is in dispute – by councillors and provincial officials in the Nelson Mandela Bay (NMB) Metro to remove Democratic Alliance (DA) Mayor Athol Trollip in a vote of no confidence on Monday, August 27, signals the end of the coalition experiment in South Africa’s municipal governments.

It failed for the reasons it usually tends to fail: the tyranny of minorities and the elevation of position and power over principle.

While the DA announced on Tuesday, August 28, that it intended to challenge in the courts what it called “a sham and a mockery and an insult to the voters,” the fact of the matter is that these battles tend to be fought on political terrain. Even if the courts overturn the decision and reinstate Mr Trollip it would only prompt an intensified effort to get rid of him, which will, at some point, succeed.

The African National Congress (ANC) has spent the past two years attempting to reverse its electoral losses in the NMB Metro as well as in the Tshwane (Pretoria) and Johannesburg Metros by repeated motions of no confidence and political shenanigans that show no respect for the will of the people.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), who do not want to go into the general election next year as a friend of the DA, will do everything they can to put distance between themselves and the DA by trying to assist in the removal of all DA administrations for overtly political reasons.

We expect that the combination of the ANC and the EFF will eventually remove the DA-led administrations in both Tshwane and Johannesburg while both strenuously deny they are working together. (In both those metros, an ANC-EFF coalition would have the majority of council seats.)

The courts have still to decide on the legality of events in the NMB. The deciding vote was cast after the Speaker had been fired, to prevent him casting a decider in Mr Trollip’s favour, and the DA councillor who abstained to let the motion pass had supposedly been sacked by the DA’s Federal Executive Chair James Selfe in the hours before the vote, but was still counted as present, so the DA’s case may have some merit.

Still, the fact of the matter is that the residents of the Metro who roundly rejected the ANC in 2016 now have an ANC-EFF backed executive Mayor in Mongameli Bobani of the United Democratic Movement (UDM) whose party managed less than two percent of the popular vote in 2016.

The proud kingmaker EFF managed slightly better at 5.1% in 2016.

Mr Bobani then appointed his own Mayoral Committee that comprised mainly ANC members. An ANC member is now also Speaker. This new coalition – if it can hold – is not guaranteed a smooth ride and nor are the people of NMB guaranteed that the focus of their council is going to be on service delivery and governance. More likely it is going to focus on making sure the DA cannot manage to find a voice or two and bring its own motion of no confidence.

Senior officials from the mayor down will be constantly looking over their shoulders for the next attempt to unseat them. So much for governance.

The next target, as the EFF and its allies have already made clear, is the DA administration in Tshwane that inherited a near bankrupt, faction-riddled ANC administration sinking into a bog of corruption and mismanagement.

We expect that Tshwane Mayor Solly Msimanga and his coalition crew will suffer the same fate. The ANC has yet to succeed in a motion of no confidence in the Johannesburg DA executive despite several attempts (and although it has the most seats on that council, though 15 shy of a majority), but it is going to keep on trying until it succeeds.

The new willingness of the EFF to cosy up to the ANC suggests Johannesburg’s DA-led administration is on borrowed time.

Mr Trollip, as many have pointed out, is not an easy man to get on with and he tends to make enemies relatively easily, which is how the DA alienated the UDM. But he was the representative of the party that secured the most votes in 2016 and managed to negotiate a coalition government. Now the second-placed party – and one that voters had roundly rejected, slashing its share of the vote by close to 20% – controls the Mayoral Committee and probably the mayor with his 2% share of the vote.

People and parties wear tags of democracy and the will of the people on their exposed sleeves for all to see yet are quite prepared to usurp the will of people for short-term political gain and, frankly, in a spirit of bad-tempered malice.

Not only is this usurping the will of the people: it signals that South Africa’s political environment has been Zumafied to the point where everything is about power, position and access to resources and where public service and sacrifice for the common good are campaign slogans of no further use.

Coalitions in South Africa have now become mechanisms for gaining by stealth what was lost at the ballot box and for personal gain above service. This undermines democracy and deprives the people of what should and could be a relatively stable and productive mechanism for governing.

Sign Up for Our Newsletter Daily Update
Get the best of CNBC Africa sent straight to your inbox with breaking business news, insights and updates from experts across the continent.
Get this delivered to your inbox, and more info about about our products and services. By signing up for newsletters, you are agreeing to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.