South Africa

ANALYSIS

The future of politics in South Africa shifts after coalition window closes with seismic changes at metro level

From left: Helen Zille. (Photo: Gallo Images / Beeld / Deaan Vivier) | EFF leader Julius Malema. (Photo: Gallo Images / Frennie Shivambu) | DA leader John Steenhuisen. (Photo: Gallo Images / Die Burger / Lulama Zenzile) | An EFF supporter at CPUT Bellville Campus Sport Ground on 22 October 2021 in Bellville, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

The decision by the EFF to vote for the DA mayoral candidates in Joburg and Ekurhuleni may well lead to seismic changes in our politics. It may mark the end of the EFF and the ANC of Ramaphosa ever forming any kind of coalition. It could also be a final shift in the nature of our politics, where decisions are made solely for short-term gain, and sometimes to cause chaos.

That said, there are still many questions to answer about how the next few months will play out. Key to this will be the decisions made by the DA, and how it will operate in these councils. This may depend on if and how they form coalitions. Meanwhile, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema may believe he has shown how useful, and powerful, a small fraction of support can be in important metros.

The first indication of the seismic events of this week, the election of the DA’s Raymond Dlamini as Speaker of Ekurhuleni, must have sent shockwaves through the political establishment, and particularly Luthuli House. The electoral maths of that council showed this could only have happened with councillors from the EFF and Action SA joining to vote for the DA.

And so it proved, in the end, the DA’s mayoral candidates for both Joburg and Ekurhuleni were duly elected, with the support of both ActionSA and the EFF.

On Tuesday, the ANC did not put up any candidate to oppose the DA candidates, thus denying the EFF what would have been perceived as a clean sweep of political spectaculars.

On Tuesday morning, ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba told SAfm that it had been his idea, that he had gone to the EFF leadership and suggested that they vote together for the DA candidates.

Mashaba has been consistent in his claim that his main mission in politics is to remove the ANC from power wherever and whenever he can. He says this action is consistent with that.

But it also leads to questions about his behaviour.

Before Monday afternoon’s voting, he had spent several days lamenting the way he had been treated by the DA, claiming it had betrayed him. And here he was, claiming credit for the election of the DA’s mayors in two metros.

The Chair of the DA’s Federal Council, Helen Zille, was then asked if she believed Mashaba. She said that she would like to see corroboration of his claim. She also said that she was very “sober” about the results.

In other words, she could see it for what it was, there was no gesture of support for the DA here, it was all about damaging the ANC, and removing them from power where possible.

One of the more important issues, especially with the longer-term implications, is how this may change the nature of our politics.

As Professor Steven Friedman suggested on Tuesday morning, there has been a new level of almost deceit in our politics. He said that it now appeared that political parties would say something in public about who they would work with, and then not feel beholden to that in any way.

In other words, there has been the introduction of a new level of lying in our politics, which is likely to feed upon itself.

As Friedman put it: “You may find at the end of this that the only party in the entire country which made a public agreement and kept its word, is one which is led by a man who served time for crime.” This was a reference to the Patriotic Alliance, which appears to have stuck to its promises to support the ANC.

And, in bitter irony, it has lost some of what it hoped to gain by doing this.

If it is the case that there is a new level of deceit in our politics, it will make forming any kind of coalition harder in the longer term. As it is possible that both national government and provincial governments will need coalitions to be formed in just three years’ time, this could be a very significant development.

If parties cannot trust each other it may mean prolonged periods of no governance at all, with no proper direction for the country, or for provinces.

It could all be worse than Nelson Mandela Bay.

There are other longer-term implications, too.

Before Monday’s vote the ANC’s Mayoral candidate for Ekurhuleni, Mzwandile Masina, had been widely viewed as sharing the political aims of Malema. He once tweeted that he preferred the economic policies of the EFF to his own party, for which he was publicly rebuked by Luthuli House.

Now, he has been cast aside by Malema, who has instead ordered his councillors to vote for the DA, a party that holds very different beliefs to Malema and Masina.

While Malema tweeted on Tuesday that it was “nothing personal”, and that he was sending Masina strength “my brother”, Masina may see it differently.

It may also be that another impact of Malema’s decision here is that it becomes virtually impossible for him to ever form a coalition with the ANC of Cyril Ramaphosa.

It may now be that the presumed first choice coalition partner for the ANC is simply no longer the EFF. Which could be a momentous change in itself.

For Malema, there are other questions here too.

Is it really the case that he decided to do this just because Mashaba suggested it? If so, it may mean that Mashaba and Malema are much closer than previously assumed, that the DA was not wrong to claim that Mashaba was “EFF’s mayor” when he was “their” mayor in Joburg.

But perhaps more important for the long-term future of the EFF, is what do those who voted for the party think of this move?

Before Monday there was a significant risk that Malema was going to end this election weaker than in the previous local elections five years ago. That he would have perhaps some small influence in one or two rural councils (the EFF has elected its first mayor, leading a coalition in Metsimaholo in the Free State), but nothing in the metros. This would be a sign that his party is going backwards.

It may be hard for him to now sell to his supporters that he supported the DA. This could be claimed, by his critics, to be another sign that he is a flip-flopper, that he cannot be trusted and changes his tune at the drop of a hat.

This may cost him support in what could be our most important elections yet, in 2024.

Within all of this are the decisions that will now be made in the short term, by the party which appears to have won the most from all of this: the DA.

The first question it faces is whether it will form coalitions in the metros where it now has mayors. The party’s national leadership has already indicated that it will, and that it will make generous offers to smaller parties. This may well be enough to keep in power for some time in some councils.

But at some point, it may need the support of either every single smaller party, or the ANC or the EFF, to pass budgets. If it fails to do this it could lose the metro.

There are many ways this could end, the other parties could combine to simply vote the DA out, at a moment convenient to them. Particularly if our politics has sunk to new levels of deceit.

But it could also be the case that the DA treats this as a life line, and works incredibly hard at forming durable coalitions.

It is even possible that if relations between the ANC and the EFF have now fallen to a new low, that the ANC feels it can support the DA on some occasions (there is some slight precedent for this, at the start of the pandemic the DA voted with the ANC on Joburg’s budget). The ANC’s Gauteng Provincial Secretary, Jacob Khawe, told Newzroom Afrika on Tuesday afternoon that such a decision would depend on the “material conditions” of the moment, if such a situation occurred.

There is one last point to consider about our politics, a point which may go a long way towards improving it.

Friedman also suggests that one of the reasons this kind of situation can happen is because councillors are allowed to vote for positions in council by secret ballot. Thus there is nothing to tie them to their voters. Voters do not know what they did. His point must be correct. Councillors are elected, they are not voting for themselves, they are voting for people who voted for them.

Thus, as is the case here, there is nothing to stop them from betraying their constituencies. As the EFF has arguably done here.

Of course, it may be difficult to get such a change through Parliament at the moment, because it would require agreement. But it may be an important change to make which could make our politics more honest.

It is clear that going forward, honesty in our politics may soon be in short supply. DM

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All Comments 39

  • Very interesting article Stephan. Following even more interesting events the last two days. But I will focus my comment on your very last sentence. ” …honesty in our politics may soon be in short supply”. I think honesty from the three largest parties, ANC, EFF and DA, have been in short supply for a number of years already. In the case of the ANC, for at least the last two decades, the EFF ever since they started, and in the case of the DA, at least three years. Especially after Tony Leon referred to Maimane as “an experiment that went wrong”, and then publish such a comment in a book “nogal”.
    I think we can safely predict some chaos in the council meetings of most of the Metro’s, with honesty possibly the last concern of many, many councillors. That will no doubt result in significant changes in the political landscape over the next 3 years leading up to the 2024 national elections.

  • Another “may/could” article. (The words occur 19 and 13 times respectively). Throughout this campaign the DA has done exactly what it said it would do and the may/could narrative-building commentariat have been wrong. Initially the DA was told its merit-based appointment policies may/could lose the Black vote. The final voting tallies were cited to prove this. Mashaba and others were painted as a victims of the DA’s racial insensitivity. The diversity of the DA’s mayoral candidates somewhat belies accusations that it is a party for Whites. Now the narrative is that the DA is the winner of a fragile victory and the power for change may/could lie with ActionSA/EFF. Although this is a truism, I venture to suggest that it will become the principle narrative around which the commentariat will sagaciously sprout forth various may/could scenarios.

    But all of this is noise that distracts from what seems to me to be driving DA behaviour. In a recent interview, Zille pointed to the core problem for governing well: corruption is endemic in that there are deep corruption hierarchies within the employment structures of local governments. You cannot govern well unless you get rid of these hierarchies. You cannot get rid of them if they are protected by personalities embedded in parties with whom you ally. If you cannot find reliable allies, rather form a forceful opposition. It seems to me that that is the central narrative that the commentariat needs to analyse and critique.

      • I broadly agree. However, readers should be aware that, unlike professional futurologists (Clem Sunter comes to mind), journalists tend to focus on the dramatic and the depressing. They also tend to amplify and build upon each others narratives. In their attempts to appear fair, they try to suggest symmetries between parties where the asymmetries are massive. There is, for example, no symmetry to be found in any other party to balance Malema’s explicit racism (he has not yet decided to kill the Whites); nor is there any symmetry to be found in any other party to balance the decades of explicit ANC tolerance of corruption in its ranks. May/Could articles by journalists should be read with these kinds of caveats in mind.

    • “… deep corruption hierarchies within the employment structures of local governments.” Exactly. Eskom is a good example of just how endemic and entrenched these hierarchies are. Cape Town is another example of the loyalty of workers vs councillors. Partisan politics is local government is the cause of this.

      • I don’t think the situation in Cape Town is comparable to the mass cadre deployment of the ANC over the last 25 years in …and while there is the one or other exception, the DAs appointments generally use people that have at least some skill in the fields that they are. What we are seeing in ESKOM is not just a completely different league, it’s an entire different game…like comparing elephants with mosquitoes.

      • You miss my point. If you were to listen to Zille’s in depth discussion with Alec Hogg (available on yesterday’s Biznews — look it up), you would know the DA anticipates all the may/could scenarios narrated here. Nevertheless, it is sticking to its guns: rather be an effective opposition than in coalition with partners who are not serious about tackling the corruption hieararchies.

    • Journalists write May/Could articles so that they can never be accused of being wrong. DM May/Could write some support for liberal democratic parties. Probably will not.

  • Stephen, your analysis is insightful. Politics is for the dogs and we certainly have enough of them.
    This is a lifeline for the DA if it can form stable coalitions, break the corruption hierarchies mentioned below, and improve peoples lives with service delivery. It is also a lifeline for the country with the 2024 elections looming.
    I think this is what Mashabe also wants but does Malema really want it ? – I think he really just wants the power and the loot (the socialist agenda is just a smokescreen) and he is going to try to disrupt these coalitions to get what he wants.

  • Two clear points emerge – voting in Council should not be secret, and the partisan politics in local authorities should never have been allowed. As for our political leadership … words actually escape me to describe what I think of them.

  • As pointed out by many who commented… it MAY be good news and the DA manages to stop some of the corruption and rot and improve services, but the bar is set so low how can any action not make a difference? …however, it COULD all go very wrong, with every decision a battlefield, horse trading left and right, while we citizens go largely forgotten… my view is not so much a poisoned chalice as a Trojan horse.

  • It is not only honesty that has been in short supply in politics, but competence. If we raised competence and integrity barriers to entry to election for any public office, most service delivery issues would be solved. It is the deficit in these two areas that results in politics focused on the party and the politician, rather than the citizens. Change those and you save the country, but the incumbents will not vote for their own demise.

    • Exactly, and is most succinctly summarised by Aristotle’s opinion that neither the upper nor the lower classes are fit to govern. Only the middle classes tend to have the ability and the temperament for fair play and the big-picture perspective required for it.

  • We are definitely into the realms of confused politics now but in a country with our history confusion generally means more scope for corruption. I’m very tired of political party power play I believe we have very few political parties here who consider the welfare of the people above themselves. As a joburg ratepayer and a taxpayer I just want to know that basic facilities are maintained and improved, the responsibility of our ward councillors to push for. Common sense tells me that investment in improving the living conditions of those living in horrendous conditions especially in the informal settlement around our city is essential. I live in hope. ActionSA was my party of choice, unfortunately they have been put in the position of having to supporting the DA, their political policies are perhaps the closest, I count them as being similar to DA but hopefully without the racial and colonialist undertones of the DA. The ludicrousness of the EFF supporting the DA is bizarre until you understand that their main agenda is to undermine the ANC. The well being of the residents in these municipalities is probably not the top of the agenda for any of the parties.

  • My guess is EFF is trying to destroy the current leadership in the ANC in order to make way for the Zuma supporters to get back control. By voting for DA, Malema has helped destroy CR.

    • I was thinking the same thing, but it does seem as a desperate last resort? the only victory Malema can claim is that he helped unseat the ANC. It isolates the EFF somewhat. If CRs faction retains control of the ANC then the EFF would be further isolated. ASA, VF and DA are fairly close policy wise.

  • Politics is deceit! has Masina been arrested for stealing a car, driving whilst under the influence, crashing it and leaving the scene of an accident? Clearly not and yet he is nominated for mayor. Eish!

  • All the more reason to get cracking with a formal system of accountability similar to the CCMA but for coalitions. In fact, it may need to include the general public as well since the only way Joe Average can hold their representatives to account is once every 5 years and even then that measure is heavily aggregated with the population at large. This is not efficient enough to entrench the culture of accountability and responsibility that is required to right this ship.

  • As Professor Steven Friedman suggested on Tuesday morning, there has been a new level of almost deceit in our politics. He said that it now appeared that political parties would say something in public about who they would work with, and then not feel beholden to that in any way.

    The DA has not broken any promises.

  • I really wish our politicians would stop with swinging their narratives around like they keep them in their pants. At a time when the country needs positive sentiment, sober, yes… but nonetheless positive the narrative should be a bout an “alliance of the willing” – a phrase I am happy to donate should you be reading this Madame FedChair. You can seed an important change in politics that has been missing due to the subversion of what the founding fathers of our democratic dispensation were aiming for through proportional representation – a larger table where all the voices would be heard to reduce Black domination, or White domination or Indian, Coloured, Chinese, or even a First nation hegemony (to borrow from Madiba). You could seed in more personal accountability, for councillors striving together based on their conscience and desire to serve constituents… I could continue but then I’d sound like a politician.
    My point is that rather than trying to sound arrogant or ungrateful – which I’m sure the erstwhile (and incredibly accountable) Premier of the Western Cape wasn’t – why not buoy the sentiments of all those who stood by you. Even without a heroic soundtrack ala John Williams in a superhero movie, you’d inject that feeling into the very people who’ll have to stand by you to make good on the ambitious projects we sorely need to turn things around.
    Here’s hoping for future utterances tempered with emotional savvy and steely determination.

    (impromptu TEDTalk ends)