South Africa

South Africa

Analysis: Coalitions no easy route come 2019, as current co-operation pacts wobble

Analysis: Coalitions no easy route come 2019, as current co-operation pacts wobble

Project 2019 is well under way in the ANC, DA and EFF as all eye victory in the next national elections. But each of South Africa’s three largest political parties has its own troubles: factional chair throwing in the ANC amid declining electoral performance, the DA’s internal ructions often steeped in racial overtones as it battles to shed its elitist image at the hustings, and pressure on the EFF to build grassroots structures to boost standing at the ballots. And so coalitions may again be the tool for clinching, or retaining, power. But it’s a fraught business with countrywide repercussions as the post-2016 local government elections coalitions are showing. By MARIANNE MERTEN.

As the ANC’s electoral standing dropped to around 54% in the August 2016 municipal poll, down from 62% in the May 2014 elections, the door opened to opposition parties to oust the governing party – but only if their threw their lot together. This happened in talks driven by national opposition leaders, who had been increasingly co-operating in Parliament, particularly over the Nkandla saga. And to the ANC’s political embarrassment it lost control of Johannesburg, South African’s commercial powerhouse, the seat of government in Tshwane and the Eastern Cape’s economic heartland, Nelson Mandela Bay Metro.

Elsewhere the ANC pulled a rabbit out of a hat. In Ekhuruleni the ANC, which scored just over 48% of the vote, secured co-operation of the African Independent Congress (AIC) to retain the Gauteng metro in a broader deal involving at least three other councils to return Matatiele from the Eastern Cape back to KwaZulu-Natal – a move that will require a constitutional amendment effected by Parliament. In Rustenburg, North West, where the ANC lost the council – it won 43 of the 89 seats four years after the killing by police in August 2012 of 34 Marikana miners – last-minute horse-trading ensured control with support of a community organisation. In Mogale, Gauteng, where the ANC holds 38 of the 77 seats, it took a little longer: some four months ago, on the back of DA internal wrangling over its then mayor, a secret ballot no confidence vote switched control back to the ANC which in July also rustled up enough votes to pass the Budget. In the fallout the DA and EFF took action against members, with the EFF announcing on Sunday that all its six councillors were expelled, pending possible appeals.

And so questions arise over backroom deals, including on positions, by the ANC to ensure maintaining power. The ANC national policy conference recommended “coalitions – ANC should develop strategic framework to guide the organisation”, according to the gathering’s official report, even as the governing party repeatedly emphasises it would turn around its current dire factionalised state to self-correct in time for the 2016 elections.

But the same questions can be asked of the DA, given that it emerged as the majority partner in various opposition co-operation pacts. And the gaaning aan in Nelson Mandela Bay Metro under DA Mayor Athol Trollip, who is also the party’s national chairperson, illustrate how when things go wrong in one place, the damaging impact reverberates elsewhere.

Whether tensions between Trollip and his deputy, Mongameli Bobani, of the United Democratic Movement (UDM) arose from personality clashes, office politics or whatever, the outcome was that Trollip went outside the co-operation partners to woo the Patriotic Alliance (PA), the party of sushi king Kenny Kunene.

It was PA councillor Marlon Daniels who tabled a motion of no confidence that ousted Bobani, amid allegations of maladministration contained in an as yet to be published forensic report. In return the PA had expected the deputy mayor’s position, or at least the council’s safety and security portfolio. When it was only offered the health post, according to an insider, this was turned down and the PA left its co-operation deal with Trollip in a huff.

For Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, these developments brought about a minority government of 59 opposition votes by the DA, Cope and African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) – the UDM’s two seats are up in the co-operation limbo, while the EFF plays sides with its six seats – in a 120-strong metro of nine political parties, including 50 ANC seats. Effectively, Trollip’s gamble has undermined a much celebrated opposition success in what had been dubbed political re-alignment across the opposition party spectrum in the wake of the 2016 local government election results.

The repercussions of the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro saga were far-reaching.

UDM leader Bantu Holomisa was furious at the scant discussions at national level to avert this crisis and any meetings that do happen are much chillier gatherings. After a deadline to re-instate Bobani passed without action, legal proceedings were instituted at the end of August and the court case is on-going – a crack in the co-operation agreement that, at least on paper, allows each partner to express their opinions.

The EFF announced a boycott of council meetings “to demonstrate to the DA that they cannot govern alone without smaller parties” on 1 September following the display of “arrogance of power and white supremacy” in Nelson Mandela Bay Metro.

While the EFF withdrew at least once from all opposition co-operation governed councils, Daily Maverick this week has been told this strategy would continue if and when needed.

In Johannesburg, the EFF’s repeated no-shows have stalled key decisions in a metro where DA Mayor Herman Mashaba is facing persistent if to date unsuccessful attacks by the ANC, including court action for a vote of no confidence, alongside internal DA grumblings over his leadership style. The situation has been described by one familiar with it as “critical, but stable”, with hopes of improvement now that the DA and EFF council leadership have met.

Unlike Nelson Mandela Bay Metro and Johannesburg, Tshwane has fared significantly better. There was one EFF boycott only as Tshwane DA Mayor Solly Msimanga is well regarded within the opposition co-operation. Respected for an even-handed approach – he would listen to others even to his own detriment, was how one Gauteng insider put it – Msimanga has staved off co-operation partners’ reservations.

For many in opposition circles this is how co-operation to keep out the ANC from the levers of power, and access to state money, should work. Instead the DA’s actions are frequently criticised – often expressed more privately than the EFF has, but criticised nevertheless – while its national leader Mmusi Maimane is slated for being more interested in photo opportunities than engaging and consulting those who have made it possible to wrest control from the ANC.

Or as EFF Chief Whip Floyd Shivambu cautioned in last month’s parliamentary debate on a DA motion to dissolve Parliament: “The DA must not take advantage of the mercy that we’ve given them. They must not take the vote that we have given them in municipalities for granted. They must not take the fact that we allow you to lead critical motions for granted”. Co-incidentally, that debate on 5 September showed there are limitations to opposition co-operation. Roundly criticised even by its co-operation partners as publicity-seeking politicking, the DA’s motion was trounced 229 votes against, with seven abstentions.

The DA is the largest opposition party and has made steady gains in the past three elections, often at expense of other parties. But it fell short of its own 30% voting support target for the 2016 municipal poll when it scored 26.9%. Whether the DA learns any co-operation lessons remains to be seen.

At the DA Western Cape congress at the weekend, Maimane focused on winning elections, invoking the party’s governance track record in Cape Town and the Western Cape as the model. “Everything – from the way we behave in government to the way we interact with communities to the way in which we implement pro-poor policy – must set us miles apart from the ANC,” he told delegates, saying the DA was not a party that coalesced around race, patronage or “big ego”.

But to date Trollip has escaped official sanctions from the DA for his bromance with the PA, and the bull-headedness that has undermined opposition co-operation in Nelson Mandela Bay Metro. One factor is his position in the DA: as federal chairperson all DA mayors report to him but as metro mayor, it’s a case of Trollip effectively reporting to himself.

Not so fortunate were the six EFF Mogale councillors who in July defied party orders not to attend the Budget vote. On Sunday the EFF announced their expulsion, pending possible appeals. In a statement the party said it “took exception to this conduct as it returned the public purse in the hands of the ANC… It is the same ANC that has been looting the public purse since 1994 to the exclusion and marginalisation of our people”.

And as the AIC has repeatedly threatened to pull out of its coalition with the ANC as the matter of Matatiele drags was unresolved, coalitions remain tricky, and not only for the opposition parties. What voters think about the power broking and political promises underscoring such coalitions remains to be seen in 2019. DM

Photo: Poll results from across the country start to filter in at the IEC nerve centre in Pretoria after the 3 August, 2016 municipal elections. Photo: Janet Heard.

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