While the Democratic Alliance (DA) will field Funzi Ngobeni as its candidate for Johannesburg mayor on 28 November, there is a view among some that there won’t be tears if the party fails to secure the mayoral chains for South Africa’s major city.
A senior party leader told Daily Maverick that the party had to consolidate after a year in which it lost public support as measured by the election and later also lost its leader, Mmusi Maimane, who resigned with former federal chairperson Athol Trollip in a fight about the party’s direction.
The DA governs in Johannesburg with a coalition of smaller parties and with the EFF in what it calls a “voting arrangement”. The EFF has not entered the coalition government although it is the kingmaker party in the council. The red beret party has given DA negotiators the cold shoulder this week when the official opposition reached out for talks about the election of a mayor after Herman Mashaba resigned in a coordinated action with Maimane last month.
The ANC, which has the highest number of seats in Johannesburg but not enough to form a government on its own, is gearing up to field Lindiwe Maseko as mayor, according to reports. The governing party was wounded when both the economic capital, Johannesburg, as well as the political capital, Pretoria, fell to the DA in the local government election of 2016. It wants both back and is likely to be sharpening deals with the EFF ahead of Thursday’s vote.
But there is an opposing (and sources say, a majority view) on the DA’s federal executive that it try to hold on to Johannesburg as a symbol of its intent to become a party of government, rather than an opposition force alone.
“The DA has turned Johannesburg around. In three years, it has turned off the taps [of corruption],” said a senior party leader, who added that the party needed the remaining period of the term ahead of local elections in 2021 to make a discernible impact on city government.
The party claims to have finalised 3,000 cases of corruption allegedly committed during the ANC’s administration of Johannesburg ready for the National Prosecuting Authority. While a high-profile case of a transport rental tender to the company Afrirent showed that kickbacks allegedly flowed back to EFF slush fund accounts, the DA leader said Johannesburg anti-corruption head Shadrack Sibiya had found no evidence of corruption in that case.
The party’s Fedex had recommended that rather than throwing out the baby (Johannesburg) with the bathwater (the relationship with the EFF), polling should be done to establish how voters and potential voters felt about Johannesburg being governed by an ANC-EFF alliance. Those results have not yet come in.
The DA review by strategist Ryan Coetzee, former leader Tony Leon and businessman Michiel le Roux identified the relationship with the EFF as a key reason for the DA losing support. It slipped from a high of 31% support recorded after the 2016 local government election to just over 20% in the 2019 election.
It found that, “While appreciating the complexity and difficulty of the decision at the time, our view is that forming governments with the EFF’s support in Johannesburg and Tshwane was a mistake. There are two related problems with the move: first, our governments in those cities are unable to prosecute a properly DA agenda because we are overly beholden to the EFF; second it is corrosive of the DA’s brand to rely on the EFF’s support to govern, given the party’s political philosophy, policy agenda and general behaviour.” DM