South Africa


The lowdown on the small parties that may have a big say in municipalities

Former DA Western Cape leader Patricia de Lille’s Good party could make some waves in the Garden Route, where there will be by-elections in four wards currently controlled by the DA. (Photo: Leila Dougan/Daily Maverick)

Alliances could be tested as residents of 12 municipalities emerge from Covid-19 lockdown to vote in the first by-elections to be held in eight months.

In politics, there are no permanent friends or enemies, and potential kingmakers are playing their cards close to their chest ahead of next Wednesday’s by-elections. Parties with one or two seats in municipalities where no party has a clear majority often have negotiating power that can pack a disproportionate punch and score them a good deal.

Al Jama-ah

The cooperation of the Al Jama-ah party in Johannesburg was so valuable to the ANC that there was talk that its sole PR councillor, Thapelo Amad, could replace Herman Mashaba as mayor when he resigned in 2019. The ANC’s Geoff Makhubo was eventually voted in. 

Amad is also chairperson of a section 79 oversight portfolio committee on governance. “A coalition should be about governance, so you have to keep an eye on the ANC and deflate their arrogance and deflate their ego,” he said. Johannesburg was governed by an opposition coalition for the first time after the 2016 elections when the DA cooperated with the EFF and the IFP to vote Mashaba in as mayor.

The EFF’s agreement with the DA fell apart after Mashaba’s resignation and the only other alternative for the blue party to stay in government would be to work with the ANC – a partnership that it avoids as far as possible. 

Amad said the DA and the ANC are two devils, but “Al Jama-ah remains resolute to vote with the ANC because they are the better devil, but a devil nonetheless”. The party is contesting Ward 9, in Lenasia, and Amad said his party has put up a strong candidate there and “will take Ward 9” from the DA on Wednesday because the ward councillor there “betrayed” the voters by resigning. “Us being an identity party gives us an upper hand. We are a party for all communities,” he said. 

If it does succeed, this would be the first ward controlled by Al Jama-ah and would bode well for the party in next year’s local government elections. An extra ward would also strengthen the party somewhat in the 11-party Joburg City Council, especially since the ANC’s partnership with the Patriotic Alliance, which has one seat, fell apart this week due to a disagreement about the suspension of Johannesburg Property Company senior managers. 

Following Mashaba’s resignation, the ANC had an agreement with the African Independent Congress, Al Jama-ah, the Congress of the People, IFP, Patriotic Alliance and the United Democratic Movement to cooperate. 

Regional ANC spokesperson Sasabona Manganye said he wasn’t too worried about the fall-out. 

“Remember the strength of the DA is the EFF. If the EFF doesn’t vote with the DA, then the DA will not defeat us.” 

Manganye said the ANC was hoping to keep at least two wards out of the five, but also to win “one or two” from the DA. The Patriotic Alliance has, however, threatened to take the ANC to court over the split. 

United Democratic Movement (UDM)

The UDM is only contesting two or three of the 108 seats up for grabs on Wednesday, but could see itself play a more significant role in Rustenburg should the ANC lose Ward 2 in Chaneng to the EFF. This ward was a close contest in 2016 but the ANC made some headway here in 2019 in the provincial ballot. 

The local Forum for Service Delivery’s Maruping Steve Madibo said the party could not work with the ANC government, “which fails people in terms of service delivery”. That leaves the FF-Plus, which will only go into a coalition agreement that keeps the ANC out of power, and the UDM.

UDM leader Bantu Holomisa, who has led negotiations to bring opposition parties closer in a united front, said: “Once the results are announced, that’s when the negotiations will start.”

The party’s councillor in Rustenburg has been working with the EFF and other small parties, but almost all these parties would have to unite, together with the DA, to have more seats than the ANC. 

“We don’t know what is going to happen [in the by-elections]. We don’t normally choose parties before the election results,” said Holomisa.

He said the UDM had no uniform principles according to which it chose coalition partners, and it was also not concerned about other leaders.

“We don’t look at personalities, we look at the interest of communities.”


Former DA Western Cape leader Patricia de Lille’s Good party could make some waves in the Garden Route where there will be by-elections in four wards currently controlled by the DA. The party has 28 out of the 53 seats in the council and will lose its outright majority if it loses two seats. Leaders there are, however, confident that this will not happen and said the party was not negotiating about possible partnerships.

Good did, however, gain a number of votes in George in the 2019 general elections, and could establish itself in council for the first time following next week’s by-election.

Good spokesperson Cameron Arendse said the party had not yet put out any feelers about possible coalitions. 

“We’re in it to win it, now, and to lay the seeds to assume leadership of municipalities after local government elections next year,” he said. 

“We remain focused on winning the by-elections and will deal with the outcome once we know what it is. We are encouraged by the enthusiasm and response from the communities who are signalling disillusion with the old parties. That is our total focus.”

Given the bad blood between De Lille and the DA, which forced her out in 2018 after allegations of wrongdoing, the DA might rather approach the African Christian Democratic Party or the Freedom Front Plus, each of which has a single seat, should it need their support. Good is perhaps more likely to work with the ANC, given the fact that De Lille is also a Cabinet minister, but the party might also choose to retain its independence and vote on a case-by-case basis as De Lille’s Independent Democrats did when it entered an opposition coalition government with the DA in the City of Cape Town in 2006.

Freedom Front Plus

This small right-wing party was one of the success stories of the 2019 elections when it more than doubled its national support to over 2% of the vote. Its head of elections, Wouter Wessels, said the party would be contesting 23 wards and its data shows that it could win Ward 5 in JB Marks Municipality (around Potchefstroom) and Ward 18 in Emalahleni off the DA, as well as PR seats in Phokwane and Renosterberg in the Northern Cape.

The FF Plus could work with the DA in George if it loses two or more seats there, but Wessels said it would certainly not work with the ANC or the EFF because it would not be to the benefit of any residents in any municipalities.

“Our coalition policy directs that we form coalitions in the interest of our voters and to keep the ANC out of power,” he said. “Coalitions can only be formed after the elections and based on the de facto results.”

The party is currently in coalitions and minority governments with the DA, the IFP and the ACDP, and its conditions are that taxes and levies should be reasonable and officials should be appointed on merit. It only expects possible coalitions after Wednesday in Renosterberg and Phokwane, where the councils were dissolved.


Party spokesperson Narend Singh said the party was not expecting any new coalitions following the by-elections. This is despite the cooperation agreement with the ANC falling apart recently in Mtubatuba, when the ANC led a vote of no confidence against the IFP mayor, Velenkosini Gumede, and elected Thobelani Ncamphalala from the ANC as the new mayor.

The municipality has been in IFP hands since 2016, with the help of the DA, EFF, and AIC, but the IFP ditched these in favour of a sort of package deal cooperation agreement with the ANC, which included the City of Joburg and other hung municipalities in KwaZulu-Natal. In return, the IFP supported Makhubo’s election as mayor in Johannesburg. 

Singh said the election of an ANC mayor last month would not cause a rift between the IFP and that party, because some within the IFP had voted with the ANC, and the matter would have to be dealt with internally by the party, as much as with the ANC. DM


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