In the race for national power, local government elections are usually important signposts of how the wind is blowing. The fact that the vote of the average South African is now more valuable than it has ever been because there is more contestation means that parties have to fight harder than ever before in this year's polls. Which makes the choice of candidates more important than ever. The DA has now decided the Herman Mashaba will be its candidate for Joburg. The ANC is still deciding whether to tell us what seems almost certain, that Parks Tau will remain its candidate. Tau is probably fairly safe in the job. But just the fact Mashaba has been picked for this election could mean that he is planning a big future for himself in the DA. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
Mashaba is an example of that quite rare group of people, those who were black and yet still somehow managed to overcome the obstacles apartheid had put in their path to achieve considerable success. That alone demands respect. He is a self-made man, and brings to the table an impressive life story and great skills. He also brings, rarely in our politics, a fierce belief in the power of capitalism, and a wholesale rejection of those who say government should provide. He also wants to do away with any mention of race when it comes to affirmative action and BEE legislation, saying that he does not want to still be classified as a black man by government. The Democratic Alliance’s core voters – urban whites – are going to lap him up.
But some of what he says is unlikely to gain him too many votes in Soweto. It is surely going to be a hard sell to tell people whose lives were formed by apartheid not to talk about race anymore, or that they should not have any form of redress. The ANC is bound to spin that he is saying black people should not have the jobs they have, because he is a critic of affirmative action, and that therefore he is being patronising to them. Mashaba, personally, can probably live with the ANC’s public criticism. But it will be a charge that could be very damaging politically.
Where Mashaba may be on stronger ground is his focus on the damage that drugs are doing to communities, particularly nyaope, an extremely addictive, dangerous and destructive drug, manufactured and sold on the streets of South Africa. The ANC has publicly tried to do what it can here, and failed. Mashaba is bound to link it to the lack of jobs, for which he will blame on Luthuli House. This could well resonate with older voters, who are worried about their children. Another strong plank of his campaign, an issue that is close to the heart of the FreeMarket Foundation which he used to chair, is the issue of title to homes. Mashaba says in his first statement as DA candidate that. “We will give title deeds to our citizens to buy their homes and land so that it becomes much easier for black people to access funds to establish businesses”.
This is the kind of policy shift that could have a very positive impact. The idea is that if people have title to their homes, they can unlock the value in that property by putting it up as surety to borrow money to start a business. At the moment, many people who have the ability to run a small concern do not have the capital to unlock opportunities. This is probably an attractive suggestion for many people in the city of Johannesburg, but also everywhere else in South Africa.
Mashaba only joined the DA only in May 2014, which means he has been a member of the party for less than two years. That may seem odd, but in fact he is following in the footsteps of the DA’s previous candidate for mayor of Joburg. Mmusi Maimane only joined the DA in 2009, before becoming its candidate in 2011. Maimane, of course, did not win that election, but he did become the DA’s leader in the Joburg city council, the party’s spokesperson, its Parliamentary leader and finally party’s leader, all in the space of four years.
Mashaba is very different from Maimane. For a start, at 56, he’s much older. This could go both ways.
He would perhaps have more gravitas with older voters. There is that back story of his to point to; he’s also a known quantity, bringing name-recognition and a track-record in business to the political field.
But he also may battle to connect with younger voters. And it is they who are more likely to break from the ANC, and cast their ballot in the favour of the party wearing blue.
The DA’s choice for this position is probably, in the end, a good one. Mashaba is tough, and certainly comfortable enough in his own skin to confront those who will attack his identity. Some self-made men have had considerable success in politics, think former Mexican President Vicente Fox, who managed to break up PRI’s 71-year long hold on power in Mexico. Mashaba is a fighter and should be taken seriously.
While Joburg is going to receive much attention during these polls, the situation in Nelson Mandela Bay is also going to be another focal point for DA resources. There, Athol Trollip is the mayoral candidate. There is a big story here about political come-backs. When Trollip lost the post of DA Parliamentary Leader to Lindiwe Mazibuko, much of the focus was on how a white man had lost to a black woman, and what this meant for the DA. Now, he is possibly the next mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay, which in itself is an amazing story.
The DA has been campaigning for months in Nelson Mandela Bay already. The ANC is well aware of the dangers it faces: it has already announced it will hold its local government elections manifesto launch there, presumably in a bid to bring its national resources to bear on the situation.
For the ANC, selecting mayoral candidates has become complicated. Until now it has always refused to say who would be running the councils it wins. Now, as our politics changes, it’s coming under more pressure to do this. In 2011 then Gauteng ANC provincial secretary David Makhura dropped several hints that Parks Tau would be the man. He was, of course, correct. Now President Jacob Zuma has suggested that local communities will have a hand in choosing councillors for areas, which could complicate matters further. All of that said, it does seem likely that Tau will remain the ANC’s choice. He has a good, strong profile, and is known to be a corruption-free, honest and dedicated man.
While there are some people who believe it is possible for the ANC to lose Joburg this year, it still seems unlikely, if just for the simple reason that the biggest group of voters live in Soweto. Life there has improved dramatically there in the last 15 years, the ANC does indeed have a good story to tell in Soweto. Roads have been tarred, parks have been built, shopping malls have been constructed. What is likely to be important is voter turn-out. The ANC is battling to get urban voters who used to vote for it, to come out and make their mark next to the face of Number One. But it still has an impressive ‘get out to vote’ machine, and it will make full use of it on voting day. What is likely to be lacking from this year’s campaign is a direct live debate between Mashaba and Tau. It would be fantastic. Two honest men, arguing about ideas and policy. It would be identity and character attacks-free and it would not descend into a slanging match. Residents in Joburg should be pleased that they get to choose between them. DM
Photo of Herman Mashaba by Greg Nicolson.