To infinity and beyond
21 October 2017 12:23 (South Africa)
South Africa

Analysis: Jesus comes to Gauteng. The DA will need him.

  • Stephen Grootes
    Grootes for DM.jpg
    Stephen Grootes

    Grootes is the host of the Midday Report on 702 and Cape Talk, and the Senior Political Correspondent for Eyewitness News. He's been part of the political hack pack since before the Polokwane Tsunami, and covers politics in a slightly obsessive manner. Those who love him have recommended help for his politics addiction. He quotes Amy Winehouse.

  • South Africa
Photo: Leader of South Africa's opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party, Mmusi  Maimane, addressing some of the thousands of people who attended the parties final pre election rally in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa, 30 July 2016.  EPA/KEVIN SUTHERLAND

On Friday afternoon, after a few delays inspired by yet more internal problems in the Tshwane ANC, Solly Msimanga was finally elected as the new mayor of our capital. It was a moment rich with symbolism. The DA is now running, technically at least, the capital of South Africa. On Monday morning, Herman Mashaba, barring political accidents, will probably go through the same process in Johannesburg, snatching the biggest and most significant metro of them all out of the ANC’s hands. For the DA, the really hard work starts now. And there is a mountain to climb. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

For many people, fed up with the scandals and corruption and arrogance and nondelivery – and Nkandla – that the ANC have given to South Africa, the second coming of opposition-led councils is the end of the story. It will be simple, they think; the DA will govern effectively, stamp out corruption, and Joburg will start to look like the richer bits of Cape Town. Of course, it is not at all like that. It is actually going to be rather rocky for the party for at least the next three years, providing they deliver on their electoral commitments, of course.

The first problem that the DA has is that it is actually governing, to an extent, on the nod of the Economic Freedom Fighters. This is going to be a complex relationship that will swing between the ecstasy of beating the ANC to the grind of working out budgets in less than a heartbeat. But, both parties do have a powerful joint interest. If they play their cards right, they’ll keep their momentum going by kicking the ANC out of power in Gauteng in just three short years. Should they manage to do that, they'll know that the back of the ANC’s power in South Africa will be broken.

To start, the DA is probably going to find ways to shore up its support from the EFF. This could be relatively easy for a while. Surely, the first items on various council agendas will be plans to investigate tenders and contracts awarded during the ANC administration. In Tshwane, this is likely to win quick results. There has been a stench of scandal around certain issues of governance for some time, and the fact that violence was used as a political tool during the ANC’s own internal fights suggests the stakes were high for both sides. But Joburg could well be another story. Parks Tau appeared to run a very clean ship as mayor; he created offices staffed with independent people to ensure that no corruption could take root (Amos Masondo, his predecessor, should also take a bow here), and it is unlikely that any evidence of institutional corruption will be found. More evidence that our politics has treated Tau very roughly indeed.

The DA also understands the power of symbolism. In his first speech as mayor, Msimanga spelt out that the only person allowed to use a blue light brigade in Tshwane will be the president himself (or herself, from 2019). This put the ANC in a very difficult spot. How can it argue against this? What arguments are there to say that ministers and MECs should be allowed to break the law? And should they simply try to defy this ban, Msimanga would surely be able to use the city’s automatic speeding cameras to make public evidence of when and how often ministers are breaking the law. One can imagine how much fun the Twitter handle @TshwaneIllegalBlueLight would be to follow.

Worse for the ANC, if a ban like this does go through in Tshwane and then in Joburg, the symbol of ANC cadres switching on their blue lights as they enter Ekhuruleni will be incredibly powerful. But not in the ANC’s favour.

One of the biggest problems for the DA-led administrations is going to be a simple lack of capacity. In governance, experience helps. And it will struggle to gather enough people with that specific kind of experience. Places like Joburg and Tshwane are big and complex, and places like Nelson Mandela Bay have incredible challenges to face. It will be an extreme test for the DA to ensure that a second tier of people who can actually manage these problems, the administrators who stand just below the councillors themselves.

That said, in some places, someone with less experience but is less tied in to any patronage networks may still be able to be effective. And of course, it is likely that many families of people currently working for the City of Cape Town are going to be looking for places in schools in Joburg and Tshwane. The other tack the DA is also likely to take is to convince the effective administrators who worked for the ANC governments to stay on. Already Athol Trollip has reassured people in Nelson Mandela Bay that if they do their jobs, their jobs will be safe. And it is surely logical that those workers who were only in their positions because of their political affiliations are unlikely to be effective in their jobs, and should just go.

In a way, as different parts of the ANC are reacting differently to being under pressure from the electorate, so different parts of places such as Joburg are likely to behave differently too. You might find that Pikitup’s management agrees to work quite happily with a new administration, but that the leadership of the Joburg Metro Police Department behaves quite differently.

In 2008, the JMPD went on strike. Their action eventually led to a shootout between the JMPD and the SAPS. Something more frightening to ordinary citizens than a cop vs cop shootout is hard to imagine. Seven people were wounded. Due to the fractured politics of the ANC-led alliance, none of those JMPD officers was fired. In Cape Town, in 2009, a group of Metro officers who held an illegal protest were fired by then Mayor Helen Zille. This is the kind of difference some voters may be hoping the DA is able to make.

The other big problem facing the DA is the unions. The attitude of the SA Municipal Workers Union (Samwu), which prefers striking to working, is going to be key. In the months before these local elections, this union, despite knowing what impact it could have on the outcome, went on strike. Rubbish was left all over the city. The number of votes lost to the ANC could well outdo the number of votes Thabo Mbeki’s stunt cost the party. The relationship between the DA-led administration in Cape Town and Samwu could well be described as unharmonious. There, the City was able to win a court order that held Samwu responsible for the damage caused during a protest in the Cape Town CBD.

This means that Samwu is likely to try to bring administration in DA-led metros to a halt. But it also faces a risk. It has tended to get what it wants through illegal actions and political pressure in the ANC through Cosatu. This time, it could well find that Mashaba, Msimanga and Trollip are tougher nuts to crack. In Tshwane and Joburg, they could use the metro police that they now control to enforce the law. And, more important, to be seen to be enforcing the law. And they will be far more public in their condemnation of the union’s actions: each time Samwu breaks the law, the mayor will be on the wireless explaining how they have broken the law. In the court of public opinion, this will be a much more confrontational fight than the softly-softly approach adopted, for political reasons, by the ANC mayors countrywide.

What’s more, Julius Malema is likely to back the DA here; he could see Samwu’s behaviour as protecting President Jacob Zuma, and to the detriment of his own voters. Samwu also has its own internal challenges, and can sometimes seem confused as to whether its members are actually on strike or not.

That said, this is going to be rough.

A major advantage the DA has in all of these big metros is that the ANC simply seems divided. It appeared to have no strategy that showed signs of coherence in both Nelson Mandela and Tshwane. The ANC didn’t even try to put someone up to contest the mayoral election. Considering how aggressive and confident they were before the local polls, this shows how conflicted the party actually is. It will be some time before they are able to pull themselves together again.

The metros in this country are politically powerful, institutionally important, and control massive/resources. It would be a mistake to believe that Jesus will come to these metros without bringing some turbulence with him. It is going to require more than careful governance. It will require divine guidance. DM

Photo: Leader of South Africa's opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party, Mmusi  Maimane, addressing some of the thousands of people who attended the parties final pre election rally in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa, 30 July 2016.  EPA/KEVIN SUTHERLAND

  • Stephen Grootes
    Grootes for DM.jpg
    Stephen Grootes

    Grootes is the host of the Midday Report on 702 and Cape Talk, and the Senior Political Correspondent for Eyewitness News. He's been part of the political hack pack since before the Polokwane Tsunami, and covers politics in a slightly obsessive manner. Those who love him have recommended help for his politics addiction. He quotes Amy Winehouse.

  • South Africa

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