A Johannesburg press conference between coalition parties governing three metropolitan municipalities took a bizarre turn on Wednesday when Cope leader Mosiuoa “Terror” Lekota took the mic.
He said there was a “flood” of foreigners entering the country and only a national coalition government could prioritise citizens, establish refugee camps, and protect South Africans’ access to housing and provide opportunities to locally-owned businesses.
Lekota claimed he was not xenophobic but said only a coalition (the DA, ACDP, IFP and Freedom Front Plus were present Wednesday) could keep asylum seekers in camps, with the assistance of international agencies, to prevent them competing against South Africans for jobs, housing and business opportunities.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane was more diplomatic. He said border enforcement needs to improve and home affairs offices reformed to allow for more accurate registration of foreign nationals.
ACDP national chair JoAnne Downs said, “I want to make it very very clear that we are not xenophobic.” She continued to list problems with hijacked buildings, human trafficking and safety in Johannesburg.
The DA has governed Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Tshwane in coalition with the ACDP, Cope, UDM, IFP and Freedom Front Plus (FF+) for almost two years. On Wednesday, the coalition highlighted its successes in the three cities and championed multiparty governance as the best possible outcome for the 2019 elections.
Ironically, Lekota’s comments reflect the ANC government’s plans, as well statements made by Johannesburg Mayor Herman Mashaba. Although none of the politicians speaking alongside the Cope leader criticised his stance, Lekota’s attack reflected the various views and challenges in coalition politics.
“Coalitions are not really a straightforward line to success. They take work. They take collaboration,” said Maimane. “Coalitions exist to deliver for citizens, to pass budgets that deliver for citizens, to ensure that there’s no corruption,” he said.
The parties said there are no formal talks on establishing a coalition after the 2019 elections and each of them will continue to campaign independently. However, each speaker promoted the virtues of multiparty governance and said they would be open to talks once the election results are in.
The coalition in Johannesburg saw some friction after Mashaba fired his housing MMC from the IFP and at times it’s struggled to keep the EFF’s support, which is not a formal coalition partner but helped elect the DA mayor and pass budgets, with its own demands.
In Nelson Mandela Bay, the coalition has survived but has struggled to maintain control after the UDM’s deputy mayor Mongameli Bobani was fired and turned against the local government leaders. Maimane said the UDM, which wasn’t present on Wednesday, continues to the support coalitions in other cities.
Lekota said the coalition had strengthened despite its challenges. He compared it to a soccer team whose players might receive red cards or injuries during a match and could include different players at the end of a game.
“The structure of coalitions is self-correcting,” he said. “Anybody who does not fight corruption in the coalition, we will not protect them. On the contrary, we will confirm to the public that that is corruption and the party is accommodating it.”
FF+ leader Pieter Groenewald said, “I think today is proof that coalition governance is a success and we believe that the only way to win [against] the ANC is through a coalition because we know there is not one single opposition party that will on it’s own be able to win the national government in next year’s election.”
The DA aims to take over provincial governments in Gauteng and Northern Cape in 2019, which it would most likely do through coalitions.
Party leaders on Wednesday highlighted aspects of what were called “pro-poor” budgets recently passed in each of the three cities. They said the ANC had left infrastructure backlogs, a history of corruption, and cadres employed in the city who were difficult to fire.
Maimane said that for the first time Nelson Mandela Bay has an operating bus service, a metro police department, and is reducing the reliance on bucket toilets. In Johannesburg they said the budget for tarring roads, improving traffic light outages, and providing housing had increased. In Tshwane they emphasised funds allocated to infrastructure in energy, roads, storm water drains, and housing.
Lekota, who is likely to face criticism on his comments on foreigners soon after he repeatedly took flak during the expropriation of land hearings, noted the challenges. “Those difficulties we faced, but we are satisfied that we have begun to show to South Africans on the ground the difference that coalitions can bring about.” DM